Drawing the Curtain

Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet

June 16 - September 11, 2022
Hostetter Gallery

Maurice Sendak (1928–2012), author and illustrator of beloved children’s books, was an avid fan of music who had his own successful “second act” as a set and costume designer for opera and ballet. Sendak’s iconic, muted color palette and whimsical but sophisticated designs for theater reflect his love of Old Master artworks and literature and reference popular animation, folklore, and comic and picture book art. Like his children’s books, these stage designs present worlds that are both magical and mysterious, joyful and volatile, places where one might feel at times like an outsider, a theme which resonated with Sendak’s own lived experience.

This summer, experience the art of Maurice Sendak as you have never before. Organized by the Morgan Library & Museum, Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak’s Designs for Opera and Ballet features more than one hundred enchanting illustrations, detailed dioramas, and clever costumes — all in Sendak’s signature style — created for stage productions of Mozart’s The Magic Flute, Prokofiev’s Love for Three Oranges, Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker, and his own Where the Wild Things Are. This exhibition is suited for all audiences, young and old, and welcomes wild things and ferocious beasts; kings, queens, and nobles; mischievous children; and lovable characters of every kind.

Join us and be transported from page to stage to faraway places.


View Gallery Guide


Maurice Sendak (1928-2012) was born on June 10, 1928, in Brooklyn, New York, to Jewish immigrant parents from Poland, and much of his extended family died in the Holocaust. Recognizing from a young age that he was gay and coming of age during World War II, he had an early awareness of his multifaceted identity as a Jewish, gay, and chronically ill person. This experience formed his mission as a children’s author and illustrator: providing young readers with stories to help them negotiate their own complicated emotions as they grow up in an inevitably flawed world.

A largely self-taught artist, Sendak wrote and illustrated over one hundred-fifty books during his sixty-year career. His best known works include Very Far Away, Nutshell Library (consisting of Chicken Soup with Rice, Alligators All Around, One Was Johnny, and Pierre), Where the Wild Things Are, In the Night Kitchen, Outside Over There, We Are All in the Dumps with Jack and Guy, and Presto and Zesto in Limboland (co-authored by Arthur Yorinks). Sendak collaborated with such celebrated authors as Tony Kushner, Randall Jarrell, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, and illustrated editions of classic tales by Mother Goose, the Brothers Grimm, Herman Melville, and Leo Tolstoy.

He had been working in children’s literature for two decades when he was asked to design costumes and sets for a new production of Mozart’s The Magic Flute. A lifelong opera fan, Sendak leapt at the opportunity and said of his initiation into the world of stage design, “Fifty is a good time to either change careers or have a nervous breakdown.” He went on to design sets and costumes for multiple productions.

Maurice Sendak remains the most honored children’s book artist in history. He was the recipient of the 1964 Caldecott Medal, the 1971 Hans Christian Andersen Award, the 1983 Laura Ingalls Wilder Award, and the 2003 Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. In 1996 President Bill Clinton presented him with the National Medal of Arts in recognition of his contribution to the arts in America.


This summer, we invite you to enjoy a suite of programs celebrating the literary and performing arts and designed for visitors of all ages. Details coming soon!

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Drawing the Curtain: Maurice Sendak's Designs for Opera and Ballet was organized by the Morgan Library & Museum, New York, and reimagined by the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum for its Boston premiere.

The exhibition is supported by:
Nora McNeely Hurley / Manitou Fund
Gregory Maguire
Patricia Romeo-Gilbert and Paul Gilbert

Media Partner: WERS and ERS+

The Museum receives operating support from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, which is supported by the state of Massachusetts and the National Endowment for the Arts.