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Photo Credit: The Red List 
Narcisse, 1911
Comoedia, 1914
Négress, Shéhérazade, 1923
Cléopâtre, 1909
Salomé in La Danse des Sept Voiles, 1908 
Jules Émile Frédéric Massenet (12 May 1842 – 13 August 1912): Méditation from Thaïs, an Opera based on a novel by Anatole France (16 April 1844 – 12 October 1924)
Librettist: Louis Gallet
Violinist: Michael Rabin 

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.

Biographical Notes

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.

In 1899, Bakst co-founded with Sergei Diaghilev the influential periodical Mir Iskusstva, meaning “World of Art.”  It is at that moment that his graphics started to bring him fame.(Wikipedia)

He started showing his work in 1890 as a member of the Society of Watercolourists.  From 1893 to 1897 he studied at the Académie Julian in Paris, but returned to Saint Petersburg often.

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, traveled 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.

© Micheline Walker
22 August 2012
composer: Jules Massenet (12 May 1842 – 13 August 1912)
work: Méditation, Thaïs
violinist: Michael Rabin (2 May 1936 – 19 January 1972)