Léon Samoilovitch Bakst (1866–1924)
Léon Bakst was a painter who became stage and costume designer for Sergei Diaghilev‘s Ballets Russes, a prominent private ballet company that was active during la Belle Époque (1890-1914), a golden age in France, and remained active until Diaghilev’s death, in 1929, the year the stock market was allowed to crash.
We have already met the cast, so to speak. When Sergei Diaguilev produced Scheherazade (1910), his star dancer was Vaslav Nijinski, his choreographer, Michel Fokine (23 April 1880 – 22 August 1942) and his stage and costume designer Léon Bakst, whose art I am featuring today.
Léon Bakst was Russian and Jewish. He was born in Grodno (currently Belarus) to a middle-class family and his real name was Lev (Leib) Samoilovich Rosenberg. He studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts as a noncredit student, working part-time as a book illustrator.(Wikipedia) Bakst was his mother’s maiden name.
The Mir Iskusstva art movement
Bakts’s association with Sergei Diaghilev dates back to the mid-1890s. He was first a member of the circle of writers and artists formed by Sergei Diaghilev and Alexandre Benois, which later became the Mir Iskusstva art movement.
During his visits to Saint Petersburg he taught in Zvantseva’s school, where one of his students was Marc Chagall (1908–1910) and, in 1914, one the eve of the Revolution, he was elected a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts.
After 1909, Bakst lived mainly outside Russia. As a Jew, he had to live in the Pale of Settlement. He broke with Diaghilev in 1922, travelled to America where he had a patron in art philanthropist Alice Warder Garrett (1877–1952). He worked as her personal interior decorator in her Baltimore residence, Evergreen (now a museum and a gallery).
Two years after parting with Diaghilev, he died in Paris of what seems a lung disease.
With Léon Bakst, we are not looking at landscapes and seascapes, but at human beings in full flight. No backdrop encroaches on the dancer.
I hope you enjoy these few pictures.