Bakst, Leon

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BAKST, LEON (born Lev Samuilovich Rosenberg ; 1864–1924), Russian artist. Born in St. Petersburg, he took the name Leon Bakst to honor his maternal grandfather. In his youth he was baptized but later returned to Judaism. At the age of 15, on the advice of the sculptor *Antokolski, he enrolled in the Academy of Fine Arts. In 1890 he met Alexander Benois, a Russian artist who introduced Bakst to the Mir Iskusstva ("World of Art") group that tried to overcome the prevailing provincialism of Russian art and to link Russia to the West. The impresario Serge Diaghilev was a member and he employed Bakst as chief designer of costumes and décors for his ballets. From its start in Paris, in 1909, until his death, Bakst was associated with Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. The subjects for the ballets were usually taken from Russian folklore, or from Oriental tales. Bakst, with his vivid imagination and his predilection for bright color, provided an atmosphere that carried the audience into a fairyland. While his creations are no longer in use on the stage, his sketches in pencil, pen-and-ink, crayon, watercolor, gouaches, or mixed media often appear in exhibitions of Russian art. They have become particularly appreciated since the recent revival of interest in art nouveau. As a teacher at the Svanseva School in St. Petersburg, Bakst had a strong influence on the young Marc *Chagall.


A. Levinson, Bakst (Fr., 1924); R. Lister, The Moscovite Peacock; A Study of the Art of L. Bakst (1954).

[Alfred Werner]