The art of the costume at the Comédie-Française

From June 11 to December 31, 2011

On the occasion of its fifth anniversary, the Centre national du costume de scène et de la scénographie pays homage to one of its founding institutions, the Comédie-Française. With the exposition of the most beautiful costumes from this symbolic theatre, the CNCS retraces the history of theatre costume and costume workshops, as well as the history of the Comédie-Française itself through the great figures who have marked it: authors, actors, directors and costume designers. Since its founding by Louis XIV, the Sun King, more than three centuries ago, the Comédie-Française has filled the mission it was assigned: to follow the road of excellence in all areas of theatre, including that of costumes.

Homage to the Comédie-Française, this exhibition is above all dedicated to its costume workshops and to their director, as well as to the illustrious names which have marked its history, and offers an exceptional ensemble of more than 200 costumes from the collections of the Comédie-Française already deposited to the cncs and from the theatre’s own collections. The exhibition is all the more spectacular in that the scenography, directly inspired by the famous Salle Richelieu includes a “theatre” section and a “backstage” section, leading the public on a theatrical path into the universe of the Comédie-Française.

At the heart of the historical panorama proposed, from the 18th century to today, a large place will be given to the costumes of plays by the great authors of classical theatre: Corneille, Racine, and especially Molière, the “patron” of the Comédie-Française. For the latter, although no costume remains from this period, the Comédiens-Français have kept an extremely moving stage element, the armchair of the invalid in which Molière gave his last performance of his last play, Le Malade imaginaire. The greatest actors and actresses will be evoked: Lekain, Talma, Rachel and Mounet-Sully to name only a few.

The exhibition will also deal with the decisive influence of certain directors and costume designers on costume art at the Comédie-Française in the 20th century. The “in-house designers” such as Suzanne Lalique and Renato Bianchi have put a lasting mark on the work realised by the workshops in their dual roles of workshop directors and costume designers, as have invited designers such as Sonia Delaunay, Christian Bérard, Carzou, not to mention Cecil Beaton, Christian Lacroix, Boris Zaborov, Thierry Mugler and so many others. Finally, the place of honor will be reserved for the work of the costume workshops of the Comédie-Française; skills in the shadows, some of which have almost disappeared “in town”, which are situated on the border between artisanal art and creation.

Some reference points

The oldest theatre troupe in France

For more than three centuries the troupe of the Comédie- Française has interpreted classical and contemporary repertoire. It has participated in all the revolutions which have marked the history of theatre in France, and notably that of the art of stage costumes. When, in 1680, Louis XIV ordered the creation of a single theatre troupe, choosing the best actors from two rival companies, his aim was to “make comedies more perfect”. The Comédie-Française has never departed from this preoccupation for excellence in the constitution of repertoire, its interpretation and its staging.

The “costume store”
Before the middle of the 18th century, costumes were the private domain of the actors. Little by little this was taken in charge by the institution, coinciding with the first aesthetic reforms concerning costumes. The “costume store” was born at this time, a stock of costumes with traces still present today, notably with the famous costumes for L’Orphelin de la Chine by Voltaire (1755), for which the author gave up his fee in order to finance a new genre of costumes.

Commissariat de l’exposition et direction artistique

Renato Bianchi

Director of costumes and clothing at the Comédie-Française

After training in the haute couture workshops in Paris, Renato Bianchi entered the Comédie-Française in 1965. Passionate about theatre costumes, he pursued his career there and quickly became workshop head...

Director of costumes and clothing at the Comédie-Française

After training in the haute couture workshops in Paris, Renato Bianchi entered the Comédie-Française in 1965. Passionate about theatre costumes, he pursued his career there and quickly became workshop head at the age of 26, then head of the costume workshops and the clothing department in 1989. Renato Bianchi desired to deepen his knowledge of the history of costumes, and especially the evolution of their forms. In his work, he tries to reconcile opposites, respecting the sensibilities of the designer and allowing for a costume which integrates a style and an era while remaining modern. This difficult balance is the creative element which he claims responsibility for, his sensitive intervention which interprets a virtual creation, that of the costume designer – and he has worked with the greatest of them, from Suzanne Lalique to Christian Lacroix – integrating his personal touch, as close as possible to that of the designer. Creating a costume from the maquette is the ability to transpose the will of the director and costume designer. Renato Bianchi designed costumes on his own for the first time at the Comédie-Française for Les Fausses confidences by Marivaux, directed by Jean-Pierre Miquel. He has since designed costumes for many productions, most recently for L’Espace furieux by Valère Novarina with whom he collaborates on a regular basis; L’Acte inconnu in the Cour d’honneur at the Palais des Papes in Avignon, Le Vrai sang at l’Odéon, Figaro divorce by Horvath, directed by Jacques Lassalle; The Merry Wives of Windsor directed by Andrès Lima and A Streetcar Named Desire, directed by Lee Breuer.

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Agathe Sanjuan

Curator-archivist of the Comédie-Française library-museum

Archivist-paleographer, Agathe Sanjuan has been curator-archivist at the Comédie-Française since 2008. Before that, she was curator at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in the Department of History,...

Curator-archivist of the Comédie-Française library-museum

Archivist-paleographer, Agathe Sanjuan has been curator-archivist at the Comédie-Française since 2008. Before that, she was curator at the Bibliothèque nationale de France in the Department of History, Philosophy and Human Sciences; then in the Department of Theatre Arts where she was in charge of the collections of stage costumes and several archive collections. She regularly contributes to the publications of the Comédie-Française.

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Roberto Platé

Exhibition designer

Born in 1940 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he quickly adopted drawing as his main means of expression. His father transmitted his native language, German, to Roberto, who chose to study at the Academie bildende Künste (Fine Arts Academy) in Munich,...

Exhibition designer

Born in 1940 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he quickly adopted drawing as his main means of expression. His father transmitted his native language, German, to Roberto, who chose to study at the Academie bildende Künste (Fine Arts Academy) in Munich, drawn by an interest for the Bauhaus. In 1965, back in Buenos Aires, he was part of the avant-garde circle which, during a short period of relative liberalism seethed in New York style in the art galleries, mixing painting, sculpture, music, dance and theatre. In 1966, with a dozen artists, including Alfredo Arias, having had the same European education in school and having been battered with the same American “cultural cudgel” of television, cinema and Coca Cola, he formed the group TSE (Théâtre Sans Explication), an artists’ collective born in the same area of Buenos Aires, The scandal provoked in 1968 by his installation Los Banios pushed Roberto Platé to consider exile. The censorship of the military regime put an end to the period of liberty which the avant-garde had benefited from. French culture had always been a great influence on the Argentine artistic scene, and the group TSE emigrated to Paris with an established repertoire, and gave several almost “clandestine” performances at the Musée d’Art Moderne and at the Théâtre de l’Epée de bois. Roberto Platé continued his collaboration with the TSE up through the end of the 1970s, and then moved on to other theatrical genres in state and private theatres as well as at the Opéra. He has exposed his painting and installations in Paris, where he lives, since 2000. He recently did the scenography for Les Oiseaux by Aristophane, directed by Alfredo Arias at the Comédie-Française, Salle Richelieu.

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Jacques Rouveyrollis

Lighting designer

Jacques Rouveyrollis created his first lighting designs with “Les Jelly Roll” and then collaborated with Michel Polnareff. Since then he has diversified his creations, going from live performances to grand events, and he has worked with more than...

Lighting designer

Jacques Rouveyrollis created his first lighting designs with “Les Jelly Roll” and then collaborated with Michel Polnareff. Since then he has diversified his creations, going from live performances to grand events, and he has worked with more than one hundred artists, from Serge Gainsbourg to Johnny Hallyday, Barbara, Charles Aznavour and Joe Dassin. He made his theatre debut in 1983 when Jean-Luc Tardieu called on his talent for Cocteau-Marais. A hundred creations followed. He has notably had the occasion to work several times with Alfredo Arias. He has won two Molière awards for the lighting of À tort ou à raison and La Boutique au coin de la rue. Jacques Rouveyrollis has recently designed the lighting for Les Oiseaux by Aristophanes, directed by Alfredo Arias at the Comédie-Française, Salle Richelieu.

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