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Léon Bakst


Léon Bakst was a Russian-born painter and set and costume designer. He was a founder member of the Mir Iskusstva group, which was influential in literature, art and the stage in the early 20th century. During his day he thus contributed to reforming the arts overall, especially theatre and ballet.

Léon Bakst was born Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg in Grodno (now Belarus) but later adopted his mother’s maiden name, Bakst. He trained initially at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, while working part-time as an illustrator. In 1893 he moved to Paris, where he lived until 1897, entering the studio of Jean-Léon Gérôme and also attending the Académie Julian.

Bakst was a gifted landscape and portrait painter, and in 1898 had works in the exhibition of the Munich Secessionists and in the First Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists in St Petersburg, organised by Sergei Diaghilev. He soon became a member of the circle of writers and artists surrounding Diaghilev and Alexandre Benois who, with Bakst, co-founded the influential periodical Mir Iskusstva (World of Art).

During the Russian Revolution of 1905 he worked for several magazines, including Zhupel, Adskaja Pochta, Satyricon and the art magazine Apollon. He is best known as a designer of sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes from 1909 to 1912.