Judith: A Collaboration

30 Jun

On March 24, 1965, Jean Giraudoux’s play “Judith; a tragedy in three acts” opened at the Phoenix Theatre, New York. The artists who contributed to this endeavor were at the height of their careers, and the production involved numerous collaborations to bring the story to life.

In visual arts, Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning – pioneer couple of the Dada movement and Surrealism – brought their irrationality, nonsense and anti-bourgeois sentiments to set design and costuming for the production. Ernst began his career as painter-sculptor-graphic artist-poet in Germany during the 1920’s, and collaborated with Joan Miró on designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes production of Romeo and Juliet (1926) (1).  Separately in America, Tanning’s career began the early 1940s, working on her own surreal paintings while supporting herself as a commercial artist in New York –  where she designed sets and costumes for several ballets of George Balanchine, including The Night Shadow (1945).  Ernst and Tanning met in 1942 and married four years later.

Max & Dorothea, NYC - 1947

Max & Dorothea, NYC, 1947


Joan Miró and Max Ernst, set for Romeo and Juliet, 1926


Dorothea Tanning, program cover for Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo, 1945

For the production of Judith,  Ernst designed sets while Tanning created costumes.


Max Ernst, “Judith: Les deux elements,” 1961, oil on canvasboard construction, 32.7 x 23.5 cm, auctioned by Christie’s, New York,May 2, 2012 (Lot# 374)

Judith (1961) Dorothea Tanning

Dorothea Tanning, “Costume Design for Judith: Judith,” 1961, Gouache on paper 13.75 x 9.5 in,


Dorothea Tanning, “Costume Design for Judith: Holopherne,” 1961, Gouache on paper, 16.94 x 12.88 in,

In performance art,  Judith was played by Rosemary Harris and Holofernes by Paul Sparer.   At the time, Rosemary Harris was an English actress experienced in Shakespeare and historical drama – although now most people know her as Aunt May in the Spiderman franchise.   Paul Sparer was a television actor who became known as The Narrator in Tales from the Darkside.


Rosemary Harris as “Judith” (1965)


Rosemary Harris as “Aunt May” in Spiderman (2002)

Judith (1970) Manus Presse

In 1970, the German publisher Manus Presse issued a book of the text of Judith by Jean Giraudoux, with 6 color lithographs by Max Ernst and 6 color lithographs by Dorothea Tanning.   Signed editions of the book are currently available from online book sellers for $1,800 to $ 5,000 – depending on the condition.  Not bad for an old book!  Now if i could just read German … but no worries.  It has pictures.


Jean Giraudoux, Judith, Illustrated by Max Ernst and Dorothea Tanning. 50pp, 12 color lithographs on Arches Paper, 43 cm x 30 cm. Stuttgart, DE: Manus Presse GmbH (1970)

(1) Valerie Lawson, Happily ever after: The Ballets Russes’ Romeo and Juliet. The Australian Ballet website: Behind Ballet, December 5, 2011.

Leave a comment

Posted by on June 30, 2013 in Story


Tags: , , , , , , ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: