Russian artist illustrator Leon Bakst

Leon Bakst. The Supper. 1902. Russian artist illustrator Leon Bakst

The Supper. 1902. Oil on canvas, Russian museum, St. Petersburg. Russian artist illustrator Leon Bakst

Russian artist illustrator Leon Bakst

Leon Bakst was born Lev Samuilovich Rosenberg on April 27 O.S. (May 9), 1866 in Grodno. His father was a merchant, and his grandfather, who originally hailed from Paris, had been a fashionable tailor. Between 1883 and 1887, Leon Bakst studied as an auditor at the Academy of Arts where his teachers were Isaac Asknazi, Karl Wenig, and Pavel Chistyakov. Between 1893 and 1896, he attended art classes in Paris at Jean-Leon Gerome’s studio and at Rodophe Julian’s Academy.
Bakst was a founding member of the World of Art association and took an active part in many of its initiatives. He contributed to numerous exhibitions from 1889 on, including the Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Water colorists that Diaghilev mounted in 1898, and in all World of Art shows, from the first one in 1899.


Costume design for the Bœotian girls in Tcherepnin’s ballet Narcisse (Diaghilev Company). 1911. Watercolor and lead pencil on paper. Theater Museum, St. Petersburg

Costume design for the Bœotian girls in Tcherepnin’s ballet Narcisse (Diaghilev Company). 1911. Watercolor and lead pencil on paper. Theater Museum, St. Petersburg

In 1890, he met Alexander Benois, with whose companions Konstantin Somov, Sergei Diaghilev, Walter Nouvel, Dmitry Filosofov, and Alfred Nurok he soon established a close relationship, joining their “Society for Self-Education.” In 1891, he traveled to Germany, Belgium, France, Spain, and Italy. In 1897, he journeyed to North Africa.

The medium of each work is indicated in parentheses, except in the case of oil paintings, set designs, and book illustrations.

Vase (Self-Portrait). 1906. Gouache and watercolor on paper mounted on cardboard. Okunev collection. St. Petersburg

Vase (Self-Portrait). 1906. Gouache and watercolor on paper mounted on cardboard. Okunev collection. St. Petersburg

The World of Art group, which gave rise to this forceful influential movement, was formed in St. Petersburg in the early 1890s. Its nucleus consisted of several young students, the former members of the society for Self-Education. They were soon joined by the two young artists, Lev Rosenberg, better known by his pseudonym, Leon Bakst, and Evgeny Lanceray. By virtue of their versatile talents and fine cultural standards, the group was soon engaged in extensive social activity that greatly affected the artistic life of Russia.

Leon Bakst. Costume design for Orpheus in an unrealized production of Roger-Ducasse’s ballet. 1915

Costume design for Orpheus in not relealized production of Roger-Ducasse’s ballet (St. Petersburg, Mariinsky Theater) 1915. Watercolor, gouache, India ink, and silver paint on paper. Silberstein collection, Moscow

Russian artist illustrator Leon Bakst