LEON BAKST

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Rosenberg Lev Samoylovich called Bakst was a painter and a stage designer of Belorussian birth. He was born in Grodno on 10 May 1866 ans dead in Paris on 27 December 1924. Born into a middle class Jewish family, Bakst was educated in St Peterburg, attending the gymansium and the Academy of Arts (1883-1886). He began his professional life as a copyist and illustrator of teaching materials but quickly moved on to illustration of popular magazines. His tastes was influenced and horizons enlarged when he met Alexander Benois and his circle in 1890. Bakst traveled regularly to various countries into Europe and North Africa and studied in Paris with a number of notable artists including the French Orientalist painter Jean-Leon Gerome at the Academie Julian and, from 1893 to 1896, the Finish landscape painter Albert Adelfelt. Returning to the St Peterburg, he became active as a book designer and fashionable portrait painter. With Benois and Serge Diaghlev he was a founder of the WORL OF ART (Mir Iskusstva) group in 1898 and was largely responsible for the technical excellence of its influential magazine. Later he contributed graphics to such publications as “Apollon” and “Zolotoe Runo” (“The golden fleece”). In 1906 he became a drawing teacher at the Yelizaveta Zvantseva’s private school in St Peterburg, where his pupils included Mark Shagall. The portrait of the dancer “Isadora Duncan” (Oxford, Ashmolean) in brush and ink, dating from her Russian tour in 1908, is typical of his draughts-manship in its sensual and flowing movement.

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Bakst realized his greatest artistic success in the theatre. Making the debut with designs for stage productions at the Hermitage and Alexandrinsky theatres in St Peterburg (1902-1903), he was then commissioned for several works at the Maryinsky theatre (1903-1904). In 1909 he collaborated with Diaghilev in the founding of Ballets Russes, where he acted as artistic director, and his stages designs rapidly brought him international fame. His colourful exotic costumes and decors for Diaghilev’s Scheherezade (Paris, 1910) caused a sensation whenever the ballet was performed and prompted new fashions in dress and interior decorations. Between 1909 and 1921 he designed more Diaghilev productions than any other artist, his name became inseparable from the Ballets Russes. He also designed for other celebrities, included the artist producers Vera Komissarzhervskaya in 1906, Ida Rubinstein between 1911 to 1924. Rubistein’s ballet “Le Martyre de saint Sebastien” (Paris, 1911) provided him with another spectacular triumph. He settled in Paris in 1912, having being exiled from St Peterburg where, as a Jew he was unable to obtain a residence permit.

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A dedicated professional who was able even in mid-career to make stylistic developments, Bakst was arguably the most accomplish painter, as well as designer, in the World of Art group. His early preferences were for Realist painters and Old Masters, such as Rembrandt and Velazquez. The animated line and relaxed postures in his portraiture also suggest the influence of his close friend Valentin Serov. Through Benois and his circle Bakst was attracted to “retrospectivism” and Orientalism, and motifs from ancient Greece and Egypt became signatures in his easel paintings and theoretical work. The Benois circle also introduced him to Symbolism and Art Nouveau. From 1900 these tendencies, and sensuousness similar to that of Konstantin Somov, characterized his graphic ornamentation and designs for the stage. Bakst did not experiment with Cubism, abstraction or any other innovations of the early 20th century, yet he modernized stage design and had many imitators. Through his Kinetic forms and bold color schemas, he integrated vertical space with the movement on stage. His costumes, though lavish, did not restrict dancers: in the manner of Isidora Duncan’s tunics, they freed the torso. However his costumes for Diaghlev’s revival of Imperial Ballte, The Sleeping Princess (London, 1921) were appropriately traditional as may be seen from his Design for Columbine from the ballet (London, Theatre Museum). Other examples of his designs for Diaghelev are to be found in the Australian National Gallery in Canberra.

Taken from Geocities

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