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Léon Bakst (May 10, 1866 – December 28, 1924)

Léon Samoilovitch Bakst (10 May 1866 – 28 December 1924) was a Russian painter and scene- and costume designer. He was a member of the Sergei Diaghilev circle and the Ballets Russes, for which he designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes. (Picture: Bakst's Self-portrait, 1893, oil on cardboard, 34 x 21 cm., The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia)

Born as Lev (Leib) Samoilovich Rosenberg, he was also known as Leon (Lev) Nikolayevich Bakst.

Leon was born in Grodno (currently Belarus) in a middle-class Jewish family. After graduating from gymnasium, he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts as a noncredit student, working part-time as a book illustrator.

At the time of his first exhibition (1889) he took the surname of "Bakst," based on his mother's maiden name. The surname "Rosenberg" was thought to be too Jewish and not good for business. At the beginning of the 1890s he exhibited his works with the Society of Watercolourists. From 1893 to 1897 he lived in Paris, where he studied at the Académie Julian while still visiting Saint Petersburg often. After the mid-1890s he became a member of the circle of writers and artists formed by Sergei Diaghilev and Alexandre Benois, which later became the Mir Iskusstva art movement.

In 1899, he co-founded with Sergei Diaghilev the influential periodical Mir Iskusstva, meaning "World of Art." His graphics for this publication brought him fame.

He continued easel painting as well producing portraits of Filipp Malyavin (1899), Vasily Rozanov (1901), Andrei Bely (1905), Zinaida Gippius (1906). He also worked as an art teacher for the children of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia. In 1902, he took a commission from Tsar Nicholas II to paint Meeting of Russian sailors in Paris.

In 1898, he showed his works in the Diaghilev-organized First exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists; in World of Art exhibitions, as well as the Munich Secession, exhibitions of the Union of Russian Artists, etc.


Nijinsky in the ballet L'après-midi d'un faune 1912


Vasily Rozanov, 1901


Supper, 1902


Model, 1905


Andrei Bely, 1905


Zinaida Gippius, 1906


Terror Antiquus, 1908


Costume of Cléopatre for Ida Rubinstein, 1909


The Firebird, Ballet costume 1910

During the Russian Revolution of 1905, Bakst worked for the magazines, Zhupel, Adskaja Pochta, and Satyricon, then for an art magazine called Apollon.

Beginning in 1909, Bakst worked mostly as a stage-designer, designing sets for Greek tragedies, and, in 1908, he made a name for himself as a scene-painter for Diaghilev with the Ballets Russes. He produced scenery for Cleopatra (1909), Scheherazade (1910), Carnaval (1910), Narcisse (1911), Le Spectre de la Rose (1911), and Daphnis et Chloé (1912). During this time, he lived in western Europe because, as a Jew, he did not have the right to live permanently outside the Pale of Settlement.

During his visits to Saint Petersburg he taught in Zvantseva's school, where one of his students was Marc Chagall (1908–1910).

In 1914, Bakst was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts.

In 1922, Bakst broke off his relationship with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes. During this year, he visited Baltimore and, specifically Evergreen House - the residence of his friend and patron, art philanthropist Alice Warder Garrett (1877–1952). Having met in Paris in 1914, when Mrs. Garrett was accompanying her diplomat husband in Europe, Bakst soon depended upon his then new American friend as both a confidante and agent. Alice Garrett became Bakst's representative in the United States upon her return home in 1920, organizing two exhibitions of the artist's work at New York's Knoedler Gallery, as well as subsequent traveling shows. When in Baltimore, Bakst re-designed the dining room of Evergreen into a shocking acidic yellow and 'Chinese' red confection. The artist subsequently went on to transform the house's small c. 1885 gymnasium into a colorfully Modernist private theatre, which is currently believed to be the only extant private theatre designed by Bakst.

Bakst died in 1924 in Paris from lung problems.

In late 2010, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London presented an exhibit of Bakst's costumes and prints.

Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/L%C3%A9on_Bakst

Further Readings:

The Decorative Art of Leon Bakst
Paperback: 110 pages
Publisher: Dover Publications, Inc. (June 1973)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0486228711
ISBN-13: 978-0486228716
Amazon: The Decorative Art of Leon Bakst

The explosion of the Ballets Russes on the Paris stage in the early years of this century marked the beginning of a great new age in dance. Traditions were shattered, an almost superhuman new talent was introduced (Nijinsky), a new approach to ballet was created and explored, and perhaps most important, every facet of the art, from music to set design, was in the hands of a superior artist. Leon Bakst, the Ballets Russes's costume and set designer, was an outstanding member of the group; his visual imagination is lastingly associated with the greatest years of the modern ballet.

This book presents, in 48 full color and 29 black and white plates, the art of Leon Bakst, from costumes and set designs to independent paintings. Here are reproductions of Bakst's own water colors for the unforgettable costumes of L'Oiseu de Feu, Cleopatre, Scheherazade, Narcisse, Salome, Dphnis et Chloe, Carnaval and other major ballets. Some of these costume were designed for Nijinksy, or for Ida Rubinstein, or Tamara Karsavina. Here are the rajahs, high priests, sultans, eunuchs, nymphs, bacchantes, Boeotians, harlequin, faun, Indian dancers and all the rest of the fabulous figures that appeared in these productions. Here is also the scenery, the elaborate paintings, in which the colors are so vivid that they seem to become almost palpable. The costumes show Bakst's genius for 'line and color in movement,' and all represent his original contribution to the freshness and uniqueness of the Ballets Russes.

More Artists at my website: http://www.elisarolle.com/, My Ramblings/Art


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