The BnF

Performing arts department

Bertrand René. Max Dearly and Mistinguett dancing the swaying waltz. BnF | Performing Arts Departement

The Performing Arts Department holds the traces of all forms of performing arts: theatre, circus, dance, puppets, mime, cabaret, music-hall, street art as well as cinema, television and radio. One of its missions is to preserve all types of documents created before, during and after a show: manuscripts, letters, models, scenery pieces, costumes and objects, photographs, audiovisual documents, posters, drawings and prints, programmes and press clippings as well as books and magazines.The Department also houses many archives and collections from personalities or institutions (performance halls, festivals, companies...). A service of the Performing Arts Department is settled in Avignon.

The reading room is open to the readers of the Research Library: academics, researchers, students, professionals in the field of performing arts, librarians.

Collections of the Performing Arts Department

The couple, puppets from the Georges Lafaye collection, 1943

The couple, puppets from the Georges Lafaye collection, 1943

The collections of the Performing Arts Department cover:

  • playwriting and directing
  • stage design
  • acting
  • stage photography
  • audience reception

They also cover specific issues such as theatre, festivals and companies, cabaret, music-hall and musical theatre, dance, circus and street arts, mime, puppets, cinema, radio and television in the first half of the 20th century.

These collections include nearly 4 million documents:

  • 400 archive collections
  • 10 000 manuscripts
  • 1 million photographs
  • 30 000 sketches of sets and costumes
  • 80 000 posters

These collections are complemented with prints, drawings, programmes, press kits, sound and audiovisual archives, books, periodicals, stage costumes and props, puppets, masks, paintings, sculptures.

 Sweet Dreams, Nederland Dans Theater, photograph by Claude Gafner, 1990

Sweet Dreams, Nederland Dans Theater, photograph by Claude Gafner, 1990

The documents housed at the Performing Arts Department complement each other which makes the originality of the collection. The various archive collections echoing each other, the comparison of written documents (printed documents and manuscripts), moving images and scenic objects allow to study all aspects of performing and street arts.

 La fille de Tabarin, set sketch,  Lucien Jusseaume, 1901

La fille de Tabarin, set sketch,  Lucien Jusseaume, 1901

30 000 documents are added to the collection each year: donations from artists, institutions and collectors more particularly, regular collections of documents made by 1100 performing arts organizations collaborating with the Department, programmes collected through the legal deposit system. In parallel, the collections are enriched by acquisitions made in public sales to specialized booksellers or individuals.

The Department's collections are progressively digitized and made available in Gallica digital library. Major collections of photographs and illustrations, a selection of masks and puppets, compendia of press clippings are particularly available.


La photographie de spectacle dans la bibliothèque numérique Gallica
Over half a century of photographic capture available online.

History of the Performing Arts Department

Burmese puppet in a sitting position, Craig collection

Burmese puppet in a sitting position, Craig collection

The Performing Arts Department was born in 1920 when Auguste Rondel (1858-1934) donated to the French State an outstanding collection of documents about performing arts overtime and everywhere. Settled at the Arsenal Library in 1925, this 'theatrical library' then never stops growing and becomes the Performing Arts Department of the Bibliothèque nationale in 1976. In 1979, a decentralized section of the Performing Arts Department is created in Avignon at the Maison Jean Vilar founded in parnership with the Jean Vilar Association and the Avignon Council. Since its creation, the Department has been widely developed; it has been part of Richelieu specialized departments since 2004. Many exhibitions are organized to highlight the Department's collections: Renaud-Barrault, Gérard Philipe, Sarah Bernhardt, Cinéma au rendez-vous des arts, Craig et la marionnette, Eugène Ionesco, Théâtre de la Huchette, Carolyn Carlson...


  • Archives, patrimoine et spectacle vivant. Revue de la bibliothèque nationale de France, no5, juin 2000
  • Le théâtre au plus près: pour André Veinstein sous la direction de Jean-Marie Thomasseau. Saint-Denis, Presses universitaires de Vincennes, 2005

Thursday, November 27, 2014

See also


Joël Huthwohl
Phone : 01 53 79 37 30
Fax : 01 53 79 37 33
Email :

For a bibliographic research, use our "Ask a librarian" service, SINDBAD.
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