Rights sold:  France - MARE & MARTIN, Russia - NLO

A multitude of existing exhibition catalogs and books dedicated to Léon Bakst and his art all avoid two fundamental problems of Bakst’s complex personality: his biography and Jewish identity, and his intellectual ambition. The vagueness regarding Bakst’s biography is largely due to the fact that the biographical information was provided by the children of Bakst’s sister. Shunning any archival research, they relied on two types of sources: contemporary publications by Bakst (personal lore) and his sister’s memory (family tradition). Neither were discussed or challenged by archival material.

Many years of scientific research into the life and work of Bakst brought Olga Medvedkova to creation of a fascinating historical and artistic biography, exceptionally deep and substantiated, based on archival findings, documents, memories of Bakst's contemporaties and colleagues. Medvedvova offers a close look at great artist's life and mystifications he surrunded himself with, at steps he undertook in search for his historical roots, at philosophical basis of his creative activities, and his unique way of uniting East and West, Renaissance, Greece, and Nietzschean ideas interpreted by Russian philosophers. Thanks to Medvedkova's professional knowledge, curiosity, impartiality, and her original interpretation of historical context, a pictorial and extravagant figure of her protagonist to a different level of understanding.

The book is originally written in Russian and has around 120.000 words.


Léon Bakst (1866-1924) was a Russian painter and scene and costume designer. Bakst’s fame mostly lay in the ballets he designed for the Sergei Diaghilev Ballets Russes, for which he designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes. He belonged to that young generation of European artists who rebelled against 19th century stage realism, which had become pedantic and literal, without imagination or theatricality. There were no specialist trained theatre designers, so painters like Vuillard in France, Munch in Scandinavia, Léon Bakst and Alexandre Benois in Russia turned their painting skills to theatre design.

In 1910 Bakst settled in Paris where he worked on productions for Diaghilev. The premiere of Vaslav Nijinsky’s L’Aprés-midi d’un faune in 1912, the entire stage design for which was designed by Léon Bakst, was marked by scandal, discussion of which continued on the front pages of newspapers for days afterwards. The scenario shared the dreamlike ambience of Mallarmé’s poem. Nijinsky played the faun; roused from slumber, he tried to woo a passing nymph, who as she escaped left behind a veil. The faun embraced the veil with a final orgasmic shudder – a closing gesture that gave rise to the ensuing controversy. Yet it was analytical approach to movement that makes Faune a turning point in dance history; in it, Nijinsky and Bakst made the first steps towards abstraction in dance.

His depth of knowledge and feeling about period and place allowed him to absorb the spirit of a culture and translate it into theatrical terms without destroying the essence. Bakst’s brilliant control of colour, line and decoration give his stage pictures a visual rhythm. Particularly notable are Bakst's imaginative and sensuous use of colour, his eroticism, and his appreciation of the human body in movement.

Bakst's performances became a sensation, and his designs spilled over into fashion and interior design, sweeping away drab colours and introducing looser clothes. An example of the fame and recognition that Bakst gained in the first two decades of the 20th century is the fact that he is mentioned approvingly in Proust's A la recherche du temps perdu.

Léon Bakst died in 1924 but after nearly 100 years his magic is as potent as ever, rediscovered by every generation. His influence was such that people who have never heard his name now see the world in a different way.

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