Tamara Toumanova’s Perfume Collection

Called “the Black Pearl of the Russian Ballet” for her glamorous look and dramatic beauty, Tamara Toumanova (1919-1996) was as memorable on stage as she was behind the curtains. I very much like this photo showing the ballerina before a performance surrounded by icons, flowers and perfume bottles. It reminded of the gift that the American avant-garde artist Joseph Cornell presented to her in 1968.

Called Untitled, the box contained eleven perfume bottles filled with objects that captured the essence of Toumanova’s performances. Some bottles contain fragments of the costumes she wore to dance Don Quixote and Les Sylphides. Another one includes fragments of painted eggs, colored beads and gold threads, referring to Easter rites and the importance of the Orthodox faith for the dancer. Looking at the photo above, I can see why Cornell’s was an ideal gift for Toumanova.

Anyone care to guess the names of the perfumes on her vanity table?



  • mayfly: What a beautiful image! I’m a fan of Joseph Cornell’s work, and the idea of the curator as artist/ curiosity cabinets etc. It must have been a delightful gift! September 20, 2019 at 8:42am Reply

  • Meg Jamieson: What an interesting pairing of people! I just taught a lesson on Cornell in my Experimental Film class. And I see Shocking on that vanity. September 20, 2019 at 9:41am Reply

  • Heidi: Is that a Coty on the bottom left? And I can’t think of a more thrilling present than a Cornell box made specifically for me! September 20, 2019 at 10:33am Reply

  • Debby: I love everything about this photograph, thanks for sharing it with us. September 20, 2019 at 2:12pm Reply

  • Peg: I love this photo! I think I see Shalimar and Chanel No. 5. September 20, 2019 at 3:34pm Reply

  • Berengaria: Top left: Shocking by Schiaparelli September 20, 2019 at 5:26pm Reply

  • Notturno7: What a beautiful and inspiring post!
    Just lovely!
    Please, help us with the perfumes list 😀 September 20, 2019 at 6:00pm Reply

  • Tourmaline: Hi Victoria,

    What a fantastic gift from Cornell.

    I can only contribute some fantasy fragrance names: Amazing Grace; Pink Satin and Tulle; and Silken Sylph!
    A bit twee, I know; forgive me but I couldn’t resist!

    With kind regards,
    Tourmaline September 21, 2019 at 4:44am Reply

  • Silvermoon: Beautiful photo! Beautiful gift!
    Such a sense of romance in both.
    Thanks Victoria for this dreamy post. September 21, 2019 at 8:16am Reply

    • Aurora: She looks so lovely, these dark eyes like a doe, thank you for sharing this photography. Some good guesses already, there is indeed a bottle with a big S, perhaps she would have a Caron too. September 22, 2019 at 3:09pm Reply

  • Ruby Ott: Stunning photo! September 21, 2019 at 12:41pm Reply

  • Sapphire: I wonder if Jean Patou Joy is one of them. September 21, 2019 at 10:47pm Reply

  • Gențiana Crăciun: Lovely photo of a special person and her special environment. September 23, 2019 at 2:27am Reply

  • Klaas: What a great picture! And I didn’t know Toumanova nor Cornell, so thank you for sharing… September 23, 2019 at 1:34pm Reply

  • Lydia: How wonderful! I love vintage ballet photos, and the perfume display makes it even more evocative.

    I wonder if that Cornell box is on display anywhere. A lot of beautiful images appear when you google Tamara Toumanova + Tamara Toumanova, but I didn’t see the box described here.

    Ballet and perfume are a natural match – both can be exquisite, ephemeral beauty, poetry without words.

    I remember reading about Balanchine choosing perfumes for his Ballerinas which they were then expected to wear, a rather shocking form of identity ownership. I would rather know what those dancers would have chosen for themselves.

    The blog Born Unicorn has a lot of vintage movie stills with beauty products, including perfume. I love this dressing table image from The Red Shoes:
    https://borntobeunicorn.com/2014/01/18/the-red-shoes-chanel-no-5-perfume-on-victoria/ September 27, 2019 at 10:06am Reply

    • Lydia: Oops, I meant Tamara Toumanova + Joseph Cornell, of course.
      (TVery tny phone screen + very tired eyes + inadequate reading glasses perscription = occasional missed typos, sadly.) September 27, 2019 at 11:36am Reply

  • Catherine: The S is definitely Shocking by Schiaparelli, Mum and Nana wore it when they wanted to be a bit glamorous on a night out. I still have a bottle but it’s almost too strong to wear in these days of more delicate scents. Shame. Victoria, tell us the others! September 28, 2019 at 1:55pm Reply

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