Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Leon Bakst

Ballettfigurine zu: Feuervogel (Firebird)
Wasserfarben, Papier
25 × 18 cm
Bearn Collection

Leon Samoilovitch Bakst (1866-1924) was a Russian painter and scene-and-costume designer. He belonged to the young generation of European artists who rebelled against 19th century stage realism, which had become pedantic and literal, without imagination or theatricality. His fame lay in the ballets he designed for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, and huge pageant spectaculars for dancer and patron, Ida Rubinstein. He designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes. These were Cleopatra (1909), Scheherazade (1910), Carnaval (1910), Narcisse (1911), Le Spectre de la Rose (1911), and Daphnis et Chloe (1912).

He started his career as a book illustrator and painter, achieving only moderate success as a portraitist. There were no specialist trained theatre designers, so painters like Leon Bakst turned their painting skills to theatre design. In 1890 he met Alexandre Benois and joined the Nevsky Pickwickians (an informal circle of art-loving and intellectual friends who were students at the University of St.Petersburg), through whom he also met Diaghilev. From 1893-97 he lived in Paris on and off, studying at the Academie Julian under the Academist painter, Jean-Leon Gerome, whose interest in Orientalism and Greek mythology were relayed to Bakst. He visited Spain, Germany, Tunisia, Algeria and Greece, settling permanently in Paris in 1912 after being exiled from Russia. From 1898-1904, he was Diaghilev’s art assistant for Mir Iskusstva. In 1901 he designed his first theatre work for Diaghilev. From that time he concentrated on designing both sets and costumes for various theatres in St Petersburg. In 1909, he was invited to design productions for the first Saison Russe in Paris. He continued working with the Ballets Russes, becoming the artistic director in 1911, until 1919. He designed more of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes productions than any other artist associated with the company, while also working as a freelance dress and costume designer for select clients. He died in 1924 in Paris.