Alexandre or Alexander Benois (3 May 1870, St. Petersburg – 9 February 1960, Paris)was born to a family of artists, architects and intellectuals. His father, Nicholas Benois, born of French parents, was a prominent Russian architect as was his son Leon Benois (born 1856 in Peterhof – died 1928 in Leningrad [St. Petersburg]). Leon Benois is the grandfather of Sir Peter Ustinov. Alexandre’s other brother, Albert Nikolayevitch Benois (March 14, 1852 – May 16, 1936 [Fontenay-aux-Roses]) was a notorious painter.
Watercolour Artist: Versailles
As for Alexandre, he started out as a painter in the early years of the twentieth century. He painted using watercolours mainly. After visiting Versailles, he was inspired to produce a series of watercolours depicting the Last Promenade of Louis XIV, the Sun-King. These were historical paintings as is the painting featured at the top of this post.
Alexandre’s Versailles paintings were exhibited and attracted the attention of Sergei Diaghilev and of Ballets Russes artist Leon Bakst. The three men went on to found a journal, Mir iskusstva (World of Art) and promoted the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau. Benois was an intellectual.
Scenic Director & Illustrator
Alexandre had a successful career as an artist, but in the broader acceptation of this term. In 1901, Benois was appointed scenic director of the Mariinsky Theatre, home to the Imperial Russian Ballet, but at that time he also worked for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. In 1905, he moved to Paris, though not permanently, and worked as a stage designer and decorator.
During that period of his life, Benois also published several monographs on 19th-century Russian art and Tsarskoye Selo, the Royal Village. In 1903, he illustrated and published illustrations to Pushkin‘s poem Bronze Horseman, written in 1833. He therefore gained notoriority before the Revolution of 1917
The Revolution of 1917
After the Revolution of 1917, Benois was appointed curator of the Old Masters in the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg (the former Leningrad). However, he did not remain in Russia for very long. In 1927, he moved to Paris permanently where he worked mainly as a set designer.
Several members of his family, beginning with his brothers Albert Nikolayevitch Benois, an artist, and Leon Benois, a Russian architect, became famous. His son Nicola Alexandrivoch Benois (1901-1988) also rose to prominence.