Did Benois’ Part Create a Surge in Diaghilev’s Balletic Art?

The above portraiture is of Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) illustrated by Alexandre Benois over a proscenium arch from which the showman from Petruschka draws the curtains to reveal a scene from Le Pavillion d’Armide, with Petruschka hiding in the corner.

Russian artist Alexander Benois aka Alexandre Nikolayevich Benois was born on 3rd May, 1870 in St. Petersburg into an artistic and intellectual family, who were prominent members of the 19th and early 20th-century Russian intelligentsia. Not planning a career in the arts he graduated from the Faculty of Law, St. Petersburg Imperial University, in 1894.

During his life he has been described as an influential artist, art critic, historian, preservationist and founding member of Mir iskusstva (World of Art), an art movement and magazine along with Sergei Diaghilev and the artist Léon Bakst which promoted the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau in Russia. According to Wikipedia; as a designer for the Ballets Russes under Diaghilev, Benois was considered a seminal influence on modern ballet and stage design.

  • In 1901, Benois was appointed scenic director of the Mariinsky Theatre in St. Petersburg, the performance space for the Imperial Russian Ballet.
  • In 1903, Benois printed his illustrations to Pushkin’s poem The Bronze Horseman, a work since recognized as one of the landmarks in the genre.
  • In 1904, he published his “Alphabet in Pictures,” at once a children’s primer and elaborate art book, and copies have sold at auction for US$10,000. (Illustrations from “Alphabet in Pictures,”were featured on video during the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics in Sochi in 2014).
  • He moved to Paris in 1905 and thereafter devoted most of his time to stage design and decor. During these years, his work with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes was ground-breaking.
  • His sets and costumes for the productions of Les Sylphides (1909), Giselle (1910), and Petrushka (1911), are counted among his greatest triumphs.

Although Benois worked primarily with the Ballets Russes, he also collaborated with the Moscow Art Theatre and other notable theatres of Europe. Surviving the upheaval of the Russian Revolution of 1917, Benois achieved recognition for his scholarship and was selected as curator of the gallery of Old Masters in the Hermitage Museum at Leningrad, (1918-1926).

  • In 1927 he left Russia and settled in Paris where he worked primarily as a set designer until his death on 9th February 1960, in Paris.

By the way, Petrushka’s were used as marionettes, as well as hand puppets in Russia. Traditionally he was a kind of a jester distinguished by his red dress and often portrayed as having a long nose – what is not dissimilar to Punch or Pulcinella in character.

If that is the case, then “That’s the Way To Do It!”

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