From the Vault: The Lore of Saint Nicholas

December 6, 2019 – March 15, 2020

The Lore of Saint Nicholas explores the mysterious and wondrous persona of Russia’s most popular saint. Saint Nicholas is one of the most popularized and propagated Saints in Christianity; his icons are perhaps the most numerous after those of Christ and the Mother of God. Throughout Christendom, he is known as a wonderworker, gift-giver, and protector; in the secular world, he is more commonly known as children’s hero, Santa Claus.

Historically very little is known about the life of this generous saint; there are no known written works by him, and the earliest document that mentions him dates back to the 6th century. The lack of historical documentation is unsurprising as the 4th century was turbulent, and much was left or oral histories. There is little doubt, however, that Nicholas existed; in the 5th century a church, dedicated to Nicholas, was built by Emperor Theodosius II and in the 6th century Emperor Justinian I (527-565) renovated a Church of Saint Nichols in Constantinople.

Scholars agree that Nicholas lived during the 3rd and 4th centuries in Lycia, a province in the area now known as Turkey. He became Bishop of Myra, a principal city of Lycia, and is believed to have been an effective and wise leader. Some accounts note that he was imprisoned during the “Great Persecution;” a series of anti-Christian edicts issued by Emperor Diocletian between the years 297 and 305. Nicholas was also listed as an attendee at the First Council of Nicaea in 325, where he is believed to have opposed the Arian movement.

Nicholas’s reputation for leadership, kindness, and generosity grew after his death, and as more people prayed for his help, countless miracles were attributed to him. Tales of the gift-giver and protector of children spread throughout Europe, and the pious, humble, saint became a figure of legend. By the 18th century, the Dutch figure Sinterklass (Saint Nicholas) had merged with the English folk figure Father Christmas which gave rise to many children’s stories and family traditions that bear little resemblance to the icons and hagiography of the 4th century Bishop.

Emil Hoppe: Photographs from the Ballets Russes

On view: November 15, 2019 – March 8, 2020

Curated by John Bowlt and Graham Howe

In the 1920s and 30s Emil Otto Hoppé (British, German-born, 1878–1972) was one of the most sought-after photographers in the world. Hoppé’s studio in South Kensington was a magnet for the rich and famous, and for years he actively led the global art scene on both sides of the Atlantic, making over thirty photographically-illustrated books, and establishing himself as a pioneering figure in photographic art.

Emil Otto Hoppé and the Ballets Russes pays homage to the genius of two men: Sergei Diaghilev who, more than a century ago, founded the Ballets Russes, and Emil Otto Hoppé, who, between 1911 and 1921, photographed the champions of that illustrious company.

With both studio portraits and ballet sequences, this visual chronicle presents not only the leading stars of the Ballets Russes such as Vaslav Nijinsky, Adolph Bolm, Michel and Vera Fokine and Tamara Karsavina, but also celebrities whose connection with Diaghilev was tangential rather than axial – such as Mathilde Kschessinska, Anna Pavlova and Hubert Stowitts.


Emil Otto Hoppé (1878-1972) was one of the most important art and documentary photographers of the modern era whose artistic success rivaled those of his peers, Alfred Stieglitz (1864-1946), Edward Steichen (1879-1973) and Walker Evans (1903-1975). Hoppé was one of the most renowned portrait photographers of his day, as well as a brilliant landscape and travel photographer. His strikingly modernist portraits describe a virtual Who’s Who of important personalities in the arts, literature, and politics in Great Britain and the US between the wars. Among the hundreds of well-known figures he photographed were George Bernard Shaw, H.G. Wells, A.A. Milne, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, G.K. Chesterton, Leon Bakst, Vaslav Nijinsky and the dancers of the Ballets Russes, and Queen Mary, King George, and other members of the Royal Family.


John Ellis Bowlt is an English art historian specialising in Russian avant garde art of 1900-1930. He is a professor at the University of Southern California and directs its Institute of Modern Russian Culture. He has received numerous awards and scholarships, including the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship and Fulbright-Hays Awards.

Graham Howe is a photographic artist, curator and writer – as well as the founder and CEO of Curatorial Assistance.

Images: © E.O. Hoppé Estate Collection / Curatorial Assistance Inc

Nuts About Nutcrackers

On view: November 15, 2019 – March 8, 2020

The Museum is pleased to present a mini-exhibition of nutcrackers this holiday season. The bulk of the exhibit is on loan from the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum in Leavenworth, Washington.

Archeological evidence shows that nuts have been a staple of the human diet as far back as can be traced with evidence of simple stone tools being crafted to open the shells. Throughout history, few tools have had such variety and style as the nutcracker. By the 15th century, European artisans had transformed the practical tool into functional works of art, most famous are the carved wooden nutcracker dolls.

Traditionally nutcracker dolls looked like toy soldiers and were the inspiration for author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s story The Nutcracker and the Mouse King, which was adapted into a ballet in 1892 by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Performances and recordings of the Nutcracker have since become a part of Western Christmas traditions. In an odd twist, many crafters of nutcracker dolls put form over function, and the over-designed tools became purely decorative.

The Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum was founded in 1995 by George and Arlene Wagner, who donated their enormous nutcracker collection and the building in which it is housed. The Museum’s collection has continued to grow and now contains over 7000 specimens, probably the world’s most extensive collection of nut-opening devices.