Monday, 2 November 2015


"The art of becoming wise is the art of knowing what to overlook." - William James

For Art Sunday, the art of Léon Bakst who spent most of his life working in the world of costume and stage design. Léon Bakst (born February 8, 1866, St. Petersburg, Russia - died December 28, 1924, Paris, France) was the pseudonym of Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg. He was a Russian artist who revolutionised theatrical design in both scenery and costume.

Bakst attended the Imperial Academy of Arts at St. Petersburg but was expelled after painting a “Pietà” that was deemed to be too-realistic. He went to Paris to complete his studies and returned to Russia where he became a court painter. He was a co-founder with Sergey Diaghilev of the journal Mir Iskusstva (“World of Art”) in 1899. Bakst began to design scenery in 1900, first at the Hermitage court theatre and then at the imperial theatres. In 1906 he went to Paris, where he began designing stage sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s newly formed ballet company, the Ballets Russes.

The first Diaghilev ballet for which he designed décor was Cléopâtre (1909), and he was chief set designer thereafter, working on the ballets Scheherazade and Carnaval (both 1910), Le Spectre de la Rose and Narcisse (both 1911), L’Après-midi d’un Faune and Daphnis et Chloé (both 1912), and Les Papillons (1914).

Bakst achieved international fame with his sets and costumes, in which he combined bold, innovative designs and richly sumptuous colours. His attention to minutely refined details conveyed an atmosphere of picturesque, exotic Orientalism, well-suited to the works he designed. In 1919 Bakst settled permanently in Paris. His designs for a London production of Tchaikovsky’s Sleeping Beauty in 1921 are regarded as his greatest work.

Scheherazade is of course a retelling of the famous story of the Arabian Nights and the stirring, exotic music of Rimsky Korsakov (1844-1908) provided the artistic stimulus that Bakst required in order to produce some opulently magnificent oriental costumes and sets for this ballet (1910). Two costumes shown here: The “Blue Sultana” and an “Odalisque”.

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