Over the years, the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts has assembled a rich and varied collection of art associated with the dance and the theater. Alma de Bretteville Spreckels who, with her husband, Adolph B. Spreckels, built the California Palace of the Legion of Honor, laid the foundation for this collection. Inspired by her friendship with the innovative American dancer Loïe Fuller, whom she met in Paris in 1914, Alma Spreckels began collecting dance sculpture and drawings as well as designs for opera and ballet productions. Because of her aesthetic sensibility and close connections with artistic circles in Paris, Mrs. Spreckels was able to purchase a number of exceptional works, in particular costume and set designs by Russian artists associated with Sergei Diaghilev’s famed Ballets Russes including Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Alexandre Golovine, Natalia Goncharova, and Mikhail Feodorovich Larionov.
Several generous gifts have served to augment and extend the Spreckels collection. In 1977 Mr. and Mrs. Nikita D. Lobanov-Rostovsky, prominent private collectors who resided in San Francisco from 1976 to 1979, presented to the Museums forty theatrical designs by Russian artists that admirably complemented the Spreckels collection. Their gift was intended to introduce works by the second generation of Russian stage designers, including Alexis Korovine, Sergein Soudeikine, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Alexandra Exter. In 1981, eighteen large-scale drawings of Anna Pavlova by the American artist Malvina Hoffman were given to the collection by the Hoffman estate and in 1985, twenty works by the Russian designer Boris Anisfeld came to the Museums as a gift from his daughter, Mrs. Otis Chatfield Taylor. In the 1990s, the collection was enhanced by gifts from Jane Daggett Dillenberger and John Dillenberger and the Elizabeth Tower estate. More recently a bequest from Joseph F. McCrindle provided additional material for this rich collection.
The Museums’ commitment to the specialized area of theatrical design is evidenced by selected acquisitions that build on the collection’s strength while extending its perimeters. The purchase of David Bomberg’s series of vorticist designs inspired by the Ballets Russes as well as Fernand Legér’s costume design study for the Ballets Suedois’ Création du Monde expand the collection in a modernist direction. These gifts and purchases, along with Mrs. Spreckels’s early and generous donations, have made the Museums’ Theater and Dance Collection one of the foremost repositories of theatrical design in the country today.