Leon (Samoylovich) Bakst was a Russian artist, painter, costume, and scene designer. He designed sets and costumed for the distinguished Russian ballet group Ballets Russes.
Leon Bakst was born in January 1866, as Leyb-Khaim Izrailevich Rosenberg, in Grodno, Belarus. He was born into a middle-class Jewish family. Also, his grandfather received an excellent work position from the Tsar due to his exceptional tailoring, a fact that positively influenced young Bakst, since later, he became a costume designer.
At the age of twelve, Bakst won a drawing contest and chose to become a painter, a decision his parents promptly rejected. After his graduation from the gymnasium, he studied at the Russian Academy of Arts, however, as a noncredit student, because he failed the admission. He also worked parttime as a book illustrator. He was admitted to the Imperial Academy in 1883.
By the time of his first exhibition, in 1889, he chose to use his mother`s maiden name “Bakst,” as opposed to “Rosenberg,” which he judged “too Jewish” and ultimately bad for business.
In 1893, Bakst traveled to Paris, where he lived for four years and studied at the famous Académie Julian. By the end of the decade, he entered the circle of artists and writers composed by Alexandre Benois and Sergei Diaghilev, who founded the very influential periodical Mir iskusstva, which means “World of Art.” His illustrations for the publication would rise Bakst to fame.
During the following years, Bakst painted portraits of several distinguished figures, such as Vasily Rozanov, Andrei Bely, Zinaida Gippius, and fellow artist Filipp Malyavin. Bakst also worked for Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich of Russia, as his children’s art professor.
In 1902, the artist received a significant commission from Tsar Nicholas II to execute the painting Admiral Avellan and Russian Sailors Meeting in Paris. However, the said painting would only be finished eight years later.
In 1909, the artist’s main occupation came to be as a set designer, developing stage sets for Greek tragedies. Bakst became noticed for his set designs. Soon, he was collaborating with the scenery of several distinguished plays.
During his periods in Saint Petersburg, Bakst taught at a local school, where one of his pupils was Marc Chagall. Bakst stated that Chagall was one of his favorites alumni. The artist was elected as a member of the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1914.
Leon Bakst died on December 27, 1924, in a hospital near Paris. He died of pulmonary edema.