Bakst, Leon (1866-1924) by Scholes, Robert

Leon Bakst (Lev Samoilovich Rosenberg) was born to a middle class Jewish family in Grodno, Belarus, on May 10, 1866 and died in Paris on December 27, 1924. He was educated at the gymnasium in St. Petersburg and then at the Academy of Fine Arts. He started his artistic career as an illustrator for magazines but changed his mind when he met . He travelled through Europe and came in contact with European artists. After his return to St Petersburg, he began to gain notoriety for his book designs and his portraits. In 1898, together with Benois and Serge Diaghilev, he founded the group World of Art (Mir Iskusstva). In 1906 he became a teacher of drawing in Yelizaveta Zvantseva’s private art school where, among other students, he taught Aleksandr Benois and Marc Chagall.

Bakst’s greatest achievements are related to theatre. He debuted with the stage design for the Hermitage and Aleksandrinskii theatres in St. Petersburg in 1902-03. Afterwards, he received several commissions from the Marinskii theatre (1903-04). In 1909 he began his collaboration with Diaghilev, which resulted in the founding of the Ballets Russes, where he became the artistic director. His stage designs quickly brought him international fame. Most notable are his costume designs for Diaghilev’s (1910). He settled in Paris in 1912, after being exiled because of his Jewish origins.

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