Artist in Focus - Leon Bakst


Leon Bakst, original name Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg, was a Russian painter and creator of lavish and outstanding ballet costumes and sets for the stage. He was born into a middle-class Jewish family in 1866 and by the age of twelve had decided he wanted to become a painter. After graduating secondary school, he travelled to St. Petersburg to study at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts as an unenrolled student. Here he took work as a book illustrator and art teacher to help fund his studies.

In 1889, at his first exhibition, he changed his surname from Rosenberg to a shorter version of his mother’s maiden name Baxter: Bakst. It was around this time that Bakst founded the Mir Iskusstva, or “World of Art,” movement along with Sergei Diaghilev. The movement was focussed on educating the Russian public about trends, movements, and issues in the arts.

His interest in theatre design soon followed, and in 1909 Bakst went to Paris, where he began designing stage sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s newly formed ballet company. This was the starting point to his time as a scene and set designer, which led to him receiving high praise, popularity and international fame. His work was revolutionary, innovative and opulent with its use of bold design, sumptuous colour and refined details had a clear influence on the fashion and interior design of the day.

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