viernes, 3 de marzo de 2017


1. Having dealt with and admired the sophisticated figurines by Paul Philippe, and the elegant architecture by Pablo Monguió i Segura, we are ready to meet the genius of

Léon BAKST, originally Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg,(Leib-Haim Izrailevich) born in 1866 (died 27th December 1924, ParisFrance). Jewish Russian artist who revolutionized theatrical design. Painter, graphic artist, scene-designer, master of decorative and applied arts, and art theoretician.

Léon Bakst.
 20th century ballet was born in St Petersburg, from a group of artists who were disenchanted with the arts scene in Russia. They included the painters Leon Bakst and Alexandre Benois, Serge Diaghilev, who had won fame for organising exhibitions of Russian paintings in Paris, and the choreographer Michael Fokine, who had become disaffected with the conservative, traditional ballets of Petipa.

 (George Gratham Bain Collection/Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. (Digital File Number: LC-DIG-ggbain-22745)Encyclopaedia Britannica, Katleen Kuiper 5/10/2016)
They rebelled against 19th century stage realism, which had turned pretentious and unimaginative lacking theatricality. Bakst’s designs for the Ballets Russes were opulent and innovative, and his influence on fashion and interior design was widespread.

 His artistic development on his own words progressed “From a graphic artist I became a pure painter” (He wrote to the collector and critic P.D. Ettinger in 1910). “It is easier to feel and synthesize form through paint; it is more real.” Bakst wrote to the artist A. P. Ostroumova-Lebedeva. 
Luminous colours and forms are distinctive features in his work. Light, graceful strokes, expressive lines, and bright, contrasting colours. According to Bakst, costumes should identify the character apart from showing the plasticity of the human body.

 Works by Lev Bakst are in many museum collections, including the State Tretyakov Gallery, the
State Russian Museum and others. ( Victoria & Albert Museum)

 “ … In place of the traditional dualism, the ballet must have a complete unity of expression, a unity which is made up of a harmonious blending of the three elements-music, painting and the plastic arts… dancing should be interpretative. It should not degenerate into mere gymnastics… it should explain the spirit…” Michael Fokine’s principles for the new Ballet. (
The subject matter of each ballet dictated the style of the choreography, music and design. Choreography became more expressive without formal mime movements and the corps de ballet became an integral part of the ballet instead of just a decorative background.                                                                                                                                                                                         


   Diaghilev Ballet souvenir programme, 1912 by Bakst
2. Overnight European ideas about ballet were overturned and ballet became an important art form. The success of Vaslav Nijinsky and Adolph Bolm restored the male dancer to popularity, the dancers became household names, and the designers the rage of Paris.

Schéhérazade, with music by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, libretto by Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois and Michel Fokine, and sets and costumes designed by Leon Bakst, was premiered 4th June in 1910 at the Theatre National de l’Opéra de Paris with Ida Rubinstein and Vaslav Nijinsky. The influence it cast on the world of art, music, culture, fashion (it  inspired a fashion for harem pants, turbans and floor cushions), and literature was unprecedented, and is still a source of fascination to this day. It was performed over five hundred times between 1910 and 1929.

This dance drama was the first production completely devised by Diaghilev and his collaborators, bringing together vivid visual spectacle, powerful choreography and a re-orchestrated version of the 1888 symphonic suite that Rimsky-Korsakov had based on tales from The Arabian nights. Bakst’s costumes are an imagined orientalist amalgam of Ottoman and Persian styles, pale and diaphanous silk harem pants for the almées contrasting with strongly coloured, embroidered and intricately structured silk and velvet costumes for the lead male characters. Bakst’s drawing for Shah Zeman is an earlier, more ornate, version of the Shah’s actual costume, accentuating the strong rhythms of the dancer’s body by depicting the fabrics and the skirt ornaments as moving and floating. With gold body paint and bejewelled outfit, Nijinsky commanded the stage with his voluptuous and feline performance as Zoebéide’s favourite slave. Against the set’s emerald green walls and red carpets, the massed costumes of dancers in frenzied motion created a moving spectacle of colour intensifying towards the ballet’s orgiastic and violent climax.
Léon BAKST | Costume design for an odalisque                                                                               

Costume design for the Blue Sultana from Schéhérazade 1916-17, (page 31.2 h) x 23.2 (w) cm 


3. However, I would like to remark another ballet
The Firebird (ballet in one act and one tableux).

As a reaction from Paris criticism demanding an innovative musical composition according to the new ballet design, Diaghilev turned to the young composer Igor STRAVINSKYThe Firebird represented Stravinsky’s first commission from the Ballets Russes and proved to be the catalyst that began his ascent to international acclaim.

The premiere was on 25 June 1910, Théâtre National de l’Opéra, Paris.

It is considered one of Michel Fokine’s best choreographies and one of Diaghilev’s most successful collaborative efforts [The work was restaged in 1926 with sets and costumes by Natalia Goncharova.]

 Michel Fokine's 1910 ballet The Firebird was based on Russian fairy tales. The Firebird has magical powers. In order to escape capture by the young Prince Ivan, she gives him an enchanted feather that will summon her if he is in trouble…

 Visually, the first Ballets Russes seasons were marked by Bakst´s exotic designs. His bejewelled colours, swirling Art Nouveau elements and sense of the erotic re-envisioned dance productions as total works of art.
... 1979; S.639&A, B, 635&A, C-1980. © Victoria & Albert Museum, London
Costumes for brigands in Fokine's ballet Daphnis and Chloé, designed by Léon Bakst, 1912. Museum no. S.508&A, B-1979; S.639&A, B, 635&A, C-1980, © Victoria & Albert Museum, London

... firebird ballet the firebird paint 1866 1924 ballet bakst 1866 1924the <b>firebird</b> leon <b>bakst</b> 1910 more 1910 leon <b>bakst</b> fire costumes design ...
 Léon Bakst (1866-1924) Costume design for Firebird, signed and dated 'Bakst/1922' pencil, watercolour and gouache, heightened with gold and silver, on paper 26¾ x 19¼ in. (67.9 x 48.9 cm)
This is the work of art which I have chosen to analyse. The astonishing apparel of the Firebird builds movement and dynamism all around the design. The surreal nature of the character is reflected in the body features, its limbs, and basically its face.     

Her long golden plaits frame the character in bending position. The striking yellow, orange and red predominant colours highlight the impossible balance of a static picture.
A triangle shape set at the centre of the drawing becomes the focus of attention. It displays a pattern of flying birds and flowers. Then, the sight seems to raise and fall clockwise following the feathers skirt at the back.

Bakst’s goal was to design the protagonist in the ballet, the fabulous creature, the Firebird.
The whole array conveys the character’s nature and story. It is a vehicle to drive the spectator into the realms of fantasy, far away from conventions and restrictions.

Symbolism is a relevant aspect too. None of the elements chosen is optional. They are meaningful and explicit instances of the character. Consequently, the profusion of warm bright colours dazzles the observer. It might suggest confusion and excitement.

The silk thread lightness and transparency reveals with vivid realism the dancer’s legs, muscles and flesh. The exoticism of the richly embroidered pants and shoes lead our eyes to the left to meet in a symmetrical fashion the  overskirt of feathers flowing around the energetic drawing, and pointing towards an overellaborate headdress.

There is a sharp contrast between the lower and upper part of the design. Her ample bosom, her long arms which escape human shape to end up in claws...
Abstract lines define her neck and realistic proportion is deliberatedly abandoned.

Several jewels complement the luxurious costume. A string of pearls holds her hair, fine long earrings and a necklace which fastens her throat dangerously.
A sophisticated blue and purple flowered belt in a heart-shape tightens her waist.

Traditionally, the turkey’s feathers on the skirt and on the headdress stand for abundance, pride and fertility. Once again, it seems to play with symbolism reminiscence and irreverence.
A bracelet combining the dress oriental pattern with a large red stone completes the glowing spinning vision.

Therefore, the spectator is thrown in quest of further detail. This path, inevitably leads us to her terrible face. A mask. Gorgon like. Her plaited hair miming the snakes of the Greek mythical creature.

 Bask had been entrusted previous works by Diaghilev. He was already a popular setting and costume designer in Paris. It was the beginning of the most successful moment for the Ballets Russes in Europe.

An expert from the MOMA in New York considers this design as an artwork. However, other people disagree. I would not dare argue scholars. All in all, Bakst was a painter who developed and turned to different fields of art, photography, settings and costume design included. Obviously, he became an innovative and unprecedented artist.

This particular sample of his art has made an impression on me. Not only the drawing, but León Bakst as a total artist. As he, together with Diaghilev’s company and others later on, came out with a brand new approach to art, music, culture, and broadly speaking a new perspective on life.

 Nowadays, there is a certain rebirth of mythical dreamlands. As a result, I think this picture could belong to these fantastic kingdoms because it unfolds a sensuous, sophisticated and fascinating universe for us.  
Tamara Karsavina y Adolphe Bolm The Firebird

For further information. (Igor STRAVINSKY conducts The Firebird) (Library of Congress) (programa de mano de la temporada 1910)
 (The Firebird video)