LÉON BAKST. His Family and His Art

Elena Terkel

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#1 2008 (18)

Many people and institutions have rendered invaluable assistance in the preparation of this publication, although particular thanks go to Nikolai and Pyotr Constantinowitz. In addition, we would like to acknowledge our debt to Tamara Esina, Lidiya Iovleva, Andrei Khorev, Olga Zemlyakova, Viktor Leonidov, Galina Marushina, Ira Menshova, Irina Manfred, Nancy Perloff, Evgeniya Petrova, Alexander Schouvaloff, Nina Shabalina, Vickie Steele; Archives Nationales, Paris; Russian Foundation of Culture, Moscow; and to the Getty Research Centre, Los Angeles; State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; University of California, Los Angeles; and the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Léon Bakst is the greatest theatre designer, a fine painter and a superb master of drawing, particularly of line drawing. This line - curved, tense, emotional and at the same time prodigiously harmonious - became a signature feature not only of Bakst’s art, but of the whole “Moderne” style as well, one that cannot be imagined without Bakst. What do we know about his life?

In official documents he is called Leib Haim Israilevich Rosenberg, and was born in Grodno into a family of Orthodox Jews. His father, Samuel Rosenberg, an influential Talmudist, according to Bakst’s niece Maria Klyachko[1], “was a very cultured person who had a big influence over his family”.[2] In later life she recalled, “My grandfather was a person of sublime anima, a rare species — so I was told by my mother, and the children (mother[3], Aunt Rosa[4], Levochka, and Isaiah[5]) — they all adored him.”[6] A person of modest means, he married the only daughter of a Grodno trader called Bakster, who supplied felt to the Russian army. Bakster adopted his son-in-law and supported all of his family[7]. Due to commercial and other considerations Bakst’s grandfather moved to St. Petersburg bringing with him the family of his only daughter (although he did not take with him his wife, Léon’s grandmother). As family legend has it, she did not want to go because the railway scared her. In St. Petersburg Bakster fell for a young society lady, a Jew. He divorced his first wife and married for the second time. Maria Klyachko wrote, “His flat impressed Levushka greatly: it was so handsomely, so tastefully decorated; the great-grandfather himself was a sharp dresser; he donated generously to poor houses, and the Tsar Alexander II shook his hand thanking him.”

Lev Samoilovich picked his family name, Bakst, from his mother’s maiden name, Bakster. According to Klyachko, she was called by the family “granny Gita”; she was married off at 15. She had ten children, of whom only four survived: Léon, Rosalia, Sophia, and Isaiah. They also had an elder sister, who died from burns in infancy, something which Bakst was to remember all his life with horror: “My elder sister died when she was a seven-year-old girl, because she overturned a samovar spilling boiling water on herself. Since then I had always been looking at children at a samovar with terror.”[8] As time went by one Rosenberg brother became a famous artist known as Bakst, another became a journalist and theatre critic. The sisters married. Rosalia became a writer, poet and translator; she died in St. Petersburg of hunger in 1918. Her son, Albert Manfred[9], was to become a renowned and widely published historian. Sophia married and devoted her life to the family and her genius brother.

The Rosenberg family for a long time was tightly knit, and the children received a good education. That was the kind of family where the phenomenal talent of the young artist was developing, although the parents discouraged his attempts to paint in earnest, according to Klyachko’s recollections; they often would go so far as throw out Levuhska’s paints when he said he wanted to dedicate his life to art. Time passed, circumstances were changing, and soon the children found themselves in a situation when they were left to their own devices. Something happened between the parents. Maria Klyachko reminisced: “The parents separated and divorced. Their mother re-married, and so did their father; he thought his children would live with him. But it became impossible for the grown-up children to live with their stepmother ... Uncle, mother, their sister and younger brother settled separately in a small flat; they had but modest means. Mother and aunt were the breadwinners giving private lessons; their younger brother wrote articles for the theatre section of a newspaper, and Uncle Leva would pick up any painting job that came his way...”

The oldest among the children, Léon had to devote his energies not so much to study as to bread winning and the search for commissions. This was rewarded with the boundless love the family bestowed on him, and the sisters plainly doted on their phenomenally gifted brother. They rejoiced at his every success and experienced his failures as their own. According to Klyachko’s memoirs, “mother[10] was crazy about him. When she was young, after she had lost one eye due to a severe brain fever she decided to avoid marriage and to devote herself to her brother and his art. But he insisted she would marry: he believed that family and children were woman’s main calling.” The sister and brother grew up but they never forgot how much they owed to their elder brother. And Bakst himself would often recall this, especially during difficult moments: “If I had told my sisters or brother about my true situation, . they would cry, and not only because of their love for me, but also out of a wounded pride, for during their whole life I have been for them their a prodigy, a source of pride and a pillar of support until they stood on their own feet.”[11]

Over the years the closeness between Levushka and his sisters and brother waned a little, but the spiritual ties remained — they never stopped seeing each other and exchanging letters, keeping an affinity for one another. “I call family my two sisters with their husbands and the brother. As for the rest, I do not recognize them, cannot stand them and shun them,” Bakst wrote to his bride Lyubov Gritsenko in 1903. Perhaps there was one more person whom the artist still considered a part of the family: throughout his life Bakst kept in touch with his wet-nurse and touchingly took care of her.

In 1908 he wrote to his wife: “Received a letter today from my wet-nurse from Novaya Ladoga. The poor old girl admires Andrusha’s photo; she writes she was kissing it and asks me to give you her compliments; she also asks that when Andrusha is one year old we send her an ‘enlarged’ photo; probably because of her age she has trouble seeing the small picture. She is about 73.”

Bakst loved children very much, and suggestions of this occur frequently in his letters: “Overall I am undeservedly spoiled, kind by nature... I dote on children and old people.” Of course this was reflected in Bakst’s art too. Many times he painted his sisters, nieces, brother, wife, stepdaughter, and son. Many portraits did not survive. Some are well known, such as the “Portrait of Maria Klyachko”,[12] “Portrait of Lyubov Gritsenko”,[13] “Portrait of Andrei Bakst”,[14] and others. Also well known are the widely reprinted images of Maroussia Klyachko’s on a poster for “Big Charity Bazaar of Dolls”,[15] and of Lyubov Gritsenko with her daughter Marina Gritsenko[16] on a poster for the exhibition “Artistic Postcards of the Red Cross”.[17] Less known are pencil portraits of Isaiah Rosenberg[18] and Maroussia Klyachko[19] and sketched images of Sophia Klyachko and her daughters, and of Marina Gritsenko. A kindly and tender-hearted person, Bakst became deeply attached to his stepdaughter: “I am moved that Marinushka remembers me, for I came to love her very much and, you know, I keenly sense her little soul of a child; when we remain eye to eye, she stops talking and listens to what I am telling her, and suddenly she expresses a delight and then calms down again!”

L.S.Bakst to L.P.Gritsenko. St Petersburg, [February 10th 1903]

Tuesday, 3.30 a.m.

Dear Lyubov Pavlovna

Your note livened me up for the entire day. I'm walking on air, as if it's my saint's day! Don't be angry about yesterday, for God's sake. I got so carried away, didn't give myself time to think before sending you that unfortunate letter.

Would you like to know more about the performance?[I] A 'colossal' success, to quote Telyakovsky.[II] I can't quite believe it — I don't like such a furore. Only today Golovin's The Magic Mirror was a disaster, although I think the stage décor is superb![III] That's fate for you! The artists in my ballet are absolutely delighted with it all, particularly the costumes, and they drank a toast to me at supper. Everything turned out well... Preobrazhenskaya[IV] was a really wonderful doll, much better than Charlotte Wiche. Pavlova[V] makes a lovely peasant girl, in the spirit of Goya and Théophile Gautier: stylish, noble and dainty. The costume and hairstyle really suit Kschesinsska well, and she danced very prettily.[VI] All in all this ballet has suddenly made me everyone's favourite and I'm on good terms with everyone, confusing all the parties, can't figure them out!

Today A. P,[VII] Somov, Arguton [Argutinsky][VIII] and Seryozha[IX] came to the theatre for the premiere of The Magic Mirror. Then we all went to the Medved [Restaurant].[X] D. Filos[ofov],[XI] Valichka[XII] and Pavka Koribut[XIII] turned up too. At supper I sat next to A. P and we spoke about you, but discreetly, since Arguton and Sergey Sergeyevich[XIV] 'pretaient l'oreille'.

Things have turned out badly for Shura — the editor of Treasures[XV] — because of the affair with Sabaneyev[XVI] he will have to resign as editor. On May 15th he'll be in Florence. I'd like to submit it much earlier, what do you think? Or maybe you don't have an opinion? Coming to you and upsetting your tranquillity, your habits, your beloved friends here, only to goggle at you all the time and seek opportunities to snatch a quick kiss or press your hand. (See how humble I've become!) If I came to see you I could see your dear, sweet expression, your sleepy eyes, your warm hand, slender little foot, elegance personified, but. alas, at the risk of compromising you!

Will you be as kind to me as you were before? Can you patiently endure the way I pester you, bother you, cover you with kisses, squeeze and torment you? You are so lovely, so submissive — I wait all the time for you to dart across and kiss me: I want to catch the moment when reason gives way to feeling. For this you must sincerely believe what I say — you believe me, don't you?

I kiss your neck with feeling.

Till we meet again!

Yours

Lev

 

Manuscript Department, State Tretyakov Gallery, archive 111, no. 32

  1. A reference to the ballet The Fairy Doll. A premiere for the Imperial family was held at the Hermitage Theatre on February 7th 1903.
  2. V.A. Telyakovsky wrote on February 5th: 'Today we had a dress rehearsal for The Fairy Doll at the Hermitage Theatre. The ballet was a great success. Bakst's scenery was more than satisfactory and many of the costume designs are very original.' // V.A. Telyakovskii, Dnevniki direktora imperatorskikh teatrov 1901-1903, Moscow, 2002, p. 426.
  3. Refers to A.N. Koreshchenko's ballet The Magic Mirror, with scenery and costumes by Golovin and Gurli.
  4. Preobrazhenskaya, Olga Iosifovna (1871-1962) — ballerina, took the role of Bébé in the ballet The Fairy Doll.
  5. Pavlova, Anna Pavlovna (1881—1931) — ballerina, danced the Spanish Lady in the ballet The Fairy Doll.
  6. Kschessinska, Matilde Feliksovna (1872—1971) — Russian ballerina, took the role of the Fairy Doll in the ballet of the same name.
  7. Botkina, Alexandra Pavlovna (1867—1959) — the sister of L.P. Gritsenko and member of the Tretyakov Gallery board (1899—1913).
  8. Artugmsky-Dolgorukov, Vladimir Nikolayevich (1874—1941) — Grand Duke, collector and official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
  9. Diaghilev, Sergei Pavlovich (1872—1929) — a prominent figure in the arts and theatre.
  10. The famous Medved Restaurant located on Bolshaya Konyushennaya Ulitsa belonged to A.A. Sudakov.
  11. Filosofov, Dmitry Vladimirovich (1872—1940) — S.P. Diaghilev's cousin; a writer and one of the founders of the World of Art group.
  12. Nouvel, Walter Feodorovich (1871—1949) — an important figure in the world of music and theatre, member of the World of Art journal editors' board and official with special chancellery responsibilities at the Imperial Palace ministry.
  13. Koribut-Kubitovich, Pavel Georgievich (1865—1940) — S.P. Diaghilev's cousin.
  14. Botkin, Sergei Sergeiyevich (1859—1910) — doctor, collector and husband of A.P. Botkina.
  15. The Artistic Treasures of Russia, a Russian monthly illustrated journal published by the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in St Petersburg from 1901 to 1907 (editors: A.N.Benois, A.V.Prakhov).
  16. At an exhibition preview Alexandre Benois started a fight with Ye.A.Sabaneyev, director of the art school run by the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, then spent an entire evening expecting to be challenged to a duel.

Bakst and Maria Gritsenko remained close until the artist’s death — and how many unaccomplished creative ideas there were! “I regret so much that I cannot bring myself to paint you and Andrusha[20]

with Marina at the dacha, that is against the background of a landscape — a shyness overwhelms me!” Bakst wrote to his wife in the summer of 1908. The theme of children was always important, if not for Bakst’s art then for his state of mind. Painting children was necessary for his inner equilibrium, for his peace of mind. Maria Klyachko reminisced how Bakst painted a joint portrait of her and her sister: “When my sister Beba[21] was about two years old — uncle lived then on Zvenigorodskaya Street — he wanted to paint our portrait . The sitting sessions were fairly wearisome: me and my sister had to stand for long spells of time on a scaffold. We wore dark blue dresses with white neckbands, and red ribbons on our heads ... I did not come off well in the portrait, the face too tense, the pose rigid. My sister, though, came off as remarkably lively and natural. Later uncle left only Beba in the picture and showed the portrait at a ‘Mir Iskusstva’ (World of Art) exhibition.”

Maria Klyachko wrote in her memoirs that Bakst made an oil painting of his mother.[22]

Art and family were inextricably linked in Bakst’s life. Of course, this was not the main component part of his life in art — Bakst gained his international fame through his work in theatrical productions, especially Diaghilev’s ballets. But Bakst’s career as a theatre designer started off not far from the “family theme” as well. It would be enough to say that for the sets of one of his first theatrical ventures, a production of “The Fairy Doll” at the Hermitage Theatre, Bakst used a portrait of Lyubov Pavlovna Gritsenko (his future wife) — he cut the image out from the canvas and secured it on the set amidst other dolls and toys, many of whom undoubtedly had their prototypes in the hands of the artist’s little nieces. In the heyday of his glory the artist never forgot his family. Moreover, he believed that his success in art was nothing in the absence of his dear ones, without whom he felt extremely lonely even at the summit of fame.

L.S.Bakst to L.P.Gritsenko-Bakst. St Petersburg, [July 9th 1908]

Dear Lyubochkin, it was such a treat to get your photographs — some of them are charming: the series of photos beside the poultry yard are a proper picture, an illustration of life at the dacha! I like the one of Marinushka[I] and Andryusha[II] playing cache-cache, the whole group of them sitting by the izba (where Marina has turned away slightly) is a magnificent shot, and I was delighted by the one of Andryusha as Hercules debout, fists clenched and bare legs (only the old lady's hands are showing). Not enough of you — only what I took — very feminine and touching, but not enough. Quite a few made me laugh, and as a whole they gave me great pleasure!

My cold is better today and the ache in my bones has gone, but although my head is clearer my nose keeps running. Yesterday evening Arguton and Valichka [Nouvel] came round and told me about Seryozha's new projects. He wants to stage Russian ballet in Paris next spring — Armide[III] and Giselle,[IV] or one of the composers could write a new ballet, most probably Akimenko,[V] and the scenery and costume design would be entrusted to Shura and myself — all this is a genre achevé and soigné. A committee has already been formed. Vladimir[VI] and M. P[VII] made a personal request to Seryozha, insisted! I can imagine Krupensky's fury and wrath![VIII] A pity I'm not working just now, but I'm sorting out a lot of things at home that had got neglected.

Goodbye for now, my dear, don't sit around, go for walks or a drive in the shade if you can, I was worried to hear about your hot flush; wishing you good health, here's a kiss on the lips, just like the one in Menton. Love to dear Marina and Andryusha, till we meet again.

Yours

Lyova

 

Manuscript Department, State Tretyakov Gallery, archive 111, no. 285

  1. Gritsenko, Marina Nikolayevna (1901—1971) — the daughter of L.P. Gritsenko from her first marriage, later became an art critic.
  2. Bakst, Andrei Lvovich (1907—1972) — the son of L.S. Bakst and L.P. Gritsenko-Bakst, later became a designer for film and theatre.
  3. N. Tcherepnin's ballet Pavillon d'Armide was staged at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris in 1909. Scenery and costumes by A.N.Benois.
  4. A. Adam's ballet Giselle was performed in Paris as part of S.P. Diaghilev's Saisons Russes in 1910. Scenery and costumes by A.N. Benois, with A. Pavlova as Giselle and V. Nijinsky as Count Albert.
  5. Akimenko, Feodor Stepanovich (1876—1945) — Russian composer, pianist, teacher and pupil of N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov
  6. Vladimir Alexandrovich, Grand Duke (1847-1909) - son of Alexander II, president of the Academy of Arts (1876-1909).
  7. Maria Pavlovna, Grand Duchess (1854-1920) — wife of Grand Duke Vladimir Alexandrovich, president of the Academy of Arts (1909-1917). VIII
  8. Krupensky, Alexander Dmitrievich (1875-1939) - official in charge of special affairs under the director of the Imperial Theatres (from 1903).

“Now I have made it: the unbelievable, unfathomable recognition in the centre of the world, Paris; all day long everybody who is any international somebody in art, music, literature — they all send me their visit cards, invite for lunch, breakfast, etc. — and I am feeling down, depressed and lonely,” he wrote from Paris to his wife in 1910. “I want to escape from here, so that no one recognizes or sees me, and my single joy is letters from Haapsalu[23] — sadness, sadness!

If Andrusha knew what feelings are boiling in me, and if one day he comes across this letter, he will understand what his father felt at so seemingly enjoyable a period.”

Unfortunately, Bakst’s family life did not work out, and for the most part he had to live alone, which caused him considerable suffering. Officially the divorce was finalized in 1910.[24] All through his life the artist got along well with his wife, son and stepdaughter, whom he missed so much: “There is nothing like the happiness of being surrounded with children and you — being within the ‘family’...” This happiness was never to be found by Bakst again, but still the joy of being with his family, the joy brought by the successes of his growing son warmed the artist’s heart, and was even reflected in his art.

.

L.S.Bakst to L.P.Gritsenko-Bakst. Paris, [March 1st 1913]

Dear Lyuba, thanks for all your efforts in setting up the exhibition, I was very touched.[I] I have seldom been so involved in my work as right now. Even in Berlin I couldn't break off for a couple of days and make a round trip to see my exhibition.[II] There are some 150 exhibits. Now I'm working on d'Annunzio's wonderful tragedy La Pisanelle, which he just finished writing.[III]1 went to Arcachon for a few days to see him and came back charmed by his hospitality, and his devotion to me and my art.

From another opera: did you know that the Maison Paquin[IV] has signed a contract with me and for the next 3 years two-thirds of the dress designs at her establishment will be made exclusively from my sketches and under my supervision? I've driven them crazy, judge for yourself: not only Mme Paquin herself,[V] but also all the premières and seamstresses dress in adaptations of my creations, wearing white stockings, checked patterns — daim and so on. Now of course they ape my styles: Camille Roger[VI] has signed me up as hat designer for a year, while Hellster will make shoes to my designs for a year. My sandals are very much in vogue and news of my embroidered stockings has most likely reached St. Petersburg by now. Je touche 10 pour-cent sur chaque robe, chapeau et chaussure. So far I find this terribly entertaining. The style of the dresses is fresh and unpretentious, predominantly a combination of bleu roi and white, sometimes with green incidents. There are also tailleurs the colour of red sealing wax with white. My head attire to be worn at home or for visiting is very successful, like a stocking or nightcap made of silk, embroidered and dangling down one side like a Garibaldi cap with beaded tassels.

Until next time! Greetings to you! Big kisses for the children. Hope you are well

L. B.

What do I owe you for the frame? Thanks.

 

Manuscript Department, State Tretyakov Gallery, archive 111, no. 435

  1. Probably this is a reference to the 'World of Art' exhibition in St Petersburg, to which Bakst contributed a sketch for the ballet Papillons.
  2. The London showing of Bakst's work in the summer of 1912 was so successful that he was invited to take the exhibits to Berlin and America.
  3. Gabriele d'Annunzio's drama La Pisanella was staged at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris in 1913.
  4. The Parisian fashion house Maison Paquin was established in 1891 by J. Beckers and her husband, the banker Isidore Jacobs, and finally closed in 1953 after merging with the House of Wbrth.
  5. Mme Paquin (Jeanne Beckers, 1869—1936) — French fashion designer, considered one of the creators of a modern style in haute couture during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
  6. Camille Roger headed the firm 'Roger Berthelin'. Bakst acted as designer for them until his death in 1924.

“I do not know whether I am being silly delighting as I do in Andrusha’s paintings, but I was excited to learn that he finally learned and saw that his father is a painter. I know that later he will censure me as a retrograde, this is the law of nature, but I am happy to know that he sees my works. Last time he sent a little picture which I love very much and whose colour scheme is so fascinatingly beautiful that I did not think long before I used it as the basis for a very important painting which will circulate widely. This is the combination of chocolate and lemon yellow colors, and I think this is admirable and novel (now). So, Andrusha is already ‘showing’ through his father!” — that was how Bakst felt about his son’s artistic achievements.

In the spring of 1914 the artist was over-tired and had a nervous breakdown, then depression, and all this was topped off with a hypertension which was bound to get worse from heat and the slightest disturbance. Doctors prohibited him from working or even talking about professional subjects. He had to leave for Montreux[25] in Switzerland to undergo a course of treatment. Rest and positive emotions were needed to overcome the crisis. The support of his sisters and brothers proved invaluable. Sophia Klyachko came to stay with her brother taking along all her children[26]. They entertained Bakst as best they could. The other sister, Rosalia, also wanted to visit the sick brother but could not because her children were unwell[27]. The younger brother, Isaiah, soon came, bringing his wife. The artist cheered up and started to feel better.

L.S.Bakst to Jacques Rouché. [Paris], May 17th 1921

May 17th 1921

My dear friend

I am writing to you at the earliest opportunity to ask one thing of you that could greatly enhance the beauty of this production of Daphnis et Chloë.[I] Namely, as already agreed I request that you assign me one working day in the theatre alone — I refer to the lighting of the two sets that have been subject to delicate yet very significant changes. If work on the lighting coincides with an orchestra rehearsal for Daphnis, as is usually the case, the result will be the same as ever in such circumstances: I will disturb the orchestra and vice versa, and the lighting will be altogether useless! Long experience leads me to the conclusion that ensuring the calm and careful preparation of scenic lighting is three-quarters of the way to success, even if the designer's work itself is superb! I hope you will take the necessary action in our mutual interest, and I'm writing to you well in advance so you have the opportunity to allocate me one entire evening (from 8 to 12 p.m.): a very short time for these two very important sets, bearing in mind all the 'marvels', all the transformations and scene changes for which they are used.

Another two matters. It was my idea, already agreed with M. Fokine, that both male and female dancers should wear wigs 'en fils collés', to give them that marvellous archaic look that so delighted the designers in L'Après-midi d'un faune and other productions in the Ancient Greek style. Muelle,[II] whom I have already mentioned, knows this wig very well. In this way we can avoid the burlesque of those obsolete productions that were neither modern nor 'conditionally Greek'! The material for the wigs is very cheap, and making them is no difficulty at all — I trust Muelle's property assistants.

The result will be very beautiful and very archaic, moreover the wig is remarkably durable because it stays immobile on the head.

I would also like to assign a day for Fokine and myself to select everything we need in the Opéra property department (lots of things there, no sense in wasting money on special orders). I may have to commission Paquereau[III] to paint several scenes all over again according to my instructions, in keeping with the spirit and tonality of my two sets — but that is a minor task, two days' work.

My sincere respects to you, dear friend

Lev Bakst

 

Archives Nationales, Paris, Call No. MN 49, sheet 1. Translation from the French by Andrei Khorev

  1. Jacques Rouché (1862—1957) was director of l’Opéra, Paris, between 1914 and 1935. Daphnis et Chloë — choreographic symphony in three scenes to music by Maurice Ravel, choreography by Michel Fokine, scenery and costumes by Bakst. The premiere was held at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris on June 8th, 1912, with Tamara Karsavina and Vaslav Nijinsky in the leading roles.
  2. The costumier Marie Muelle created most of Bakst's costumes in her Paris atelier.
  3. Reference to the French artist Paul Paquereau (1871-19??).

But the beginning of World War I upset everyone’s plans. It was decided to relocate to Geneva. At that point the doctors allowed Bakst to start painting little by little. “Gradually he began to settle down to work. His doctor told him to. At first Bakst was strained and taxed, but gradually he started working: he asked me to sit for him in the garden of the HOTEL and pencilled my portrait (the head) ... The portrait came off very well. Photographs of it exist while the original got lost (black pencil with a touch of red pencil),” wrote Maria Klyachko in her memoirs.

Once in Geneva, where Diaghilev was staying as well, Bakst again decided to take up his paintbrush. The entire company moved to Lausanne, and Sophia Klyachko with her children came too. Soon Bakst left for Paris and immersed himself in work. In 1918 news came from Russia that Rosalia had died from hunger. This shock led to a new nervous breakdown, and the illness was relapsing. Bakst was asking Sophia to come and stay with him. A dishonest maid took advantage of his troubles to take command in the house. Numerous letters from Bakst and his doctor persuaded Sophia Klyachko that she should move to Paris in spite of the wartime hardships.

In spring 1920 Klyachko’s family moved in with Bakst and found him in a horrible state. According to Maria Klyachko’s memoirs, “Uncle himself is unrecognizable — he grew a huge beard and wears black spectacles”. Following medical advice, the artist started to go for walks with his nieces in the Bois de Boulogne, then he moved to his dacha, and by autumn he recovered so well that he could spend the winter in Cannes (with a niece of Berta Markovna Klyachko). When Bakst returned to Paris and immersed himself in work, no longer needing permanent care, Klyachko’s family settled separately.

Only in the last year of Bakst’s life did his sister’s care again became necessary. Again his sister and nieces became attentive nurses — we learn about it from Lyubov Gritsenko’s letters: “I am happy for Uncle Lyova. Though we ought to know when he is to be sent to the south and where ... Write us where he sits, when he gets up, what interests him.”[28] On December 24 1924 Bakst passed away. Everyone in the family was grieving. It was decided to organize a posthumous exhibition, which was arranged by Lyubov Gritsenko-Bakst and Maria Klyachko. The show opened in November 1925 at the Charpentier Gallery. Lyubov Pavlovna died soon afterwards.[29]

L.S.Bakst to Jacques Rouché. Paris, September 16th 1921

112 B-d Malesherbes

September 16th 1921

My dear friend

I have already done some work with M. Paray[I] and apparently everything went well: at least, he is very pleased with it. As for Fokine, I must repeat Madame Rubinstein's words: I would prefer Massine, but so be it... Are you planning to engage him? As it happens I received a letter from Sao Paolo (Vera Cruz) in which he asks if I have anything particular in mind, and also says he would like to stage a ballet at the Opéra with me. In my opinion this is a lucky coincidence, but I don't think Madame Rubinstein will want Massine to come here specially because of her. As for our ballet with Fokine and Vuillermoz, all we need now is Fokine![II]

Why not invite Massine for two months, and Fokine for two months as well? Both of them will be delighted at the competition! This splendid strategy was employed by Italian patrons of the arts during the Renaissance! But even without Massine Fokine will be an asset for the ballet, although his treatment won't be very refined, rather in the classical spirit of Louis XIV, or even the baroque style! What's more, this short ballet to Chopin's music is now complete and I asked Fokine to be ready to stage it in America, just in case.

Yours sincerely Bakst

 

Today I read in a Russian journal published in Paris that the Austrian entrepreneur Sirota has engaged M. and Mme. Fokine for his performances in Vienna next January.[III]

 

Archives Nationales, Paris, Call No. MN 49, sheet 7. Translation from the French by Andrei Khorev

  1. Paul Paray (1886—1979) composed the music for the ballet Artémis Troublée (choreography by Nicola Guerra), staged by Ida Rubinstein with scenery and costumes by Bakst at the Théâtre National de l'Opéra on April 28th, 1922.
  2. Reference to Bakst's ballet La Nuit Ensorcelée, music by Chopin arranged by Emile Vuillermoz and orchestration by Louis Aubert. The premiere was held on November 23rd 1923 at the Paris Opéra. III
  3. The identity of Austrian theatrical agent Sirota has been impossible to establish.

Maria Markovna Klyachko married a musician — a cello player Yevgeny Constantinowitz.[30] She met her future husband in Switzerland, when she was tending to the sick Bakst. Her sons[31], endowed with artistic talent, became architects. Maria Markovna managed to preserve in the family a creative atmosphere and to fix in her children a love for art and Russian culture. The family has long treasured the memory of her genius uncle, about whom she wrote interesting memoirs. Maria Markovna’s children, Nikolai and Pyotr Constantinowitz, created in Meudon in the apartment where she lived, “Maroussia’s Museum”. The museum is a well-tended repository of what the sons inherited from their mother — Bakst’s works and letters, and a collection of Russian books. This museum represents Bakst’s world in all its glory and, at the same time, is the symbol of the mutual love of the close family. The museum has pencil portraits of Isaiah Rosenberg, Sophia and Maroussia Klyachko, and many other pencil drawings and sketches for theatre sets. The irreplaceable custodian of the museum, Nikolai Constantinowitz, tirelessly studies Bakst’s art, exhibits works from his collection internationally, and his store of knowledge is invaluable for Bakst scholars. The author of this article is grateful to Nikolai Constantinowitz and Irina Albertovna Manfred for their help in tracing the biography of Léon Samoilovich Bakst and in the study of the great artist’s legacy which left an indelible mark on world art.

L.S.Bakst to Jacques Rouché. [Paris], September 29th 1921

September 29th 1921

My dear friend

 

I have received your letter confirming my position as scenery and costume designer for my ballet Artémis Troublée, and Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien.[I]

 

Unfortunately I cannot accept the same conditions as for Daphnis et Chloë — i.e. one thousand francs for each scenery design and twenty-five francs for costumes.[II] This amount could not even cover the extra expenses essential to my task, which includes not only making models of the new décor and costumes, but also of supervising (as attentively as I deem necessary) the costumiers, hairdressers, footwear specialists and my assistant set painters. Not to mention the numerous rehearsals in which I have to participate, getting involved in every aspect: the role of extras, the stage manoeuvres, the lighting, the choreography rehearsals and positioning for the mise-en-scènes. Practice has shown that in my mise-en-scènes I also bear the responsibility of director. You may say all that is not strictly my job, but this is the key to the artistic integrity of the performance — an individual intention behind the entire work which reaches out to the spectator on an unconscious level. I consented to the conditions proposed for Daphnis et Chloë as a concession to Fokine, to try and get him work in Europe — he insisted I make this sacrifice for his sake.

Regrettably it is necessary to 'make a living' and also to provide for those people dependent on me, therefore I absolutely cannot accept your conditions. The only solution to the dilemma is if you can offer me favourable terms, e.g. the rate paid me by M. Diaghilev, my friend since childhood, although he is known for his judicious approach to the wages of artists and performers. For The Sleeping Princess[III] I was paid according to contract a uniform sum of five thousand francs for each act (scenery and costumes), in total 25 thousand francs. In addition, recognising that I would waste time travelling (time is money!), Diaghilev added another three thousand francs as compensation — in all, 28 thousand francs. I accepted these conditions, which are very modest compared with the amount offered by the English (15 thousand for each act), since I felt the work would help a childhood friend. I am proposing the same terms to you, in the knowledge that my great friend Madame Ida Rubinstein has an interest in these two productions. That is all I can do, no more. So please inform me whether I should consider myself engaged in this project until the spring, or not.

In anticipation of either reply, yours sincerely as always

Lev Bakst

 

Archives Nationales, Paris, Call No. MN 49, sheet 1. Translation from the French by Andrei Khorev

  1. The premiere of Artémis Troublée took place at the Opéra on April 28th, 1922, but according to contemporary reviews the ballet was one of the least successful examples of collaboration between Rubinstein and Bakst. Rubinstein, who danced the lead role, was even accused of the 'clearly evident stamp of dilettantism' (N.Zborovsky: 'The Theatre of M. N. Kuznetsova' in Teatr i zhizn', Berlin, May, No. 10, p. 15). Gabriele d'Annunzio's mystery play Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien with musical interludes by Claude Debussy, choreography by Michel Fokine and artistic design by Bakst was first staged on May 22nd, 1911 by Ida Rubinstein at the Théatre de Châtelet; the production was revived at the Opéra NNN in June 1922. An example of the artistic collaboration between Rubinstein and Bakst, Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien, gave Rubinstein the opportunity to make her debut on the Parisian stage in 1911, in the role of St. Sebastian. However, not all contemporary observers showed an enthusiastic response to the production, despite Bakst's ambitious design. Lunacharsky, for instance, criticised the décor as an 'anachronistic medley of styles' (A.Lunacharsky: 'Parizhskiye pis'ma. Misteria o muchenichestve sv Sebast'yana' in Teatr i iskusstvo, St Petersburg, 1911, July 10th).
  2. Reference to the ballet Daphnis et Chloë, see footnote I, p. 73.
  3. The Sleeping Princess, ballet in three acts with a prologue based on the fairytale by Charles Perrault, original music by Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky, original choreography by Marius Petipa and Ivan Vsevolozhsky. Staged by Serge Diaghilev at the Alhambra Theatre in London on November 2nd, 1921, with choreography by Nikolai Sergeyev and additional choreography by Bronislava Nijinska, partial reorchestration by Igor Stravinsky and artistic design by Bakst.

 

  1. Klyachko, Maria Markovna (1895-1994), married name - Constantinowitz, daughter of Léon Bakst’s sister, Sophia Klyachko.
  2. Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, item 2636
  3. Rosenberg, Sophia Samoilovna (1868/1870?-1944), married name — Klyachko, Léon Bakst’s sister.
  4. Rosenberg, Rosalia Samoilovna (early 1870s—1918), married name — Manfred, Léon Bakst’s sister, who later became an author and translator.
  5. Rosenberg, Isaiah Samoilovich (1870s-1920s?), Léon Bakst’s younger brother, who later became a journalist.
  6. Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, item 2632.
  7. All information about Léon Bakst’s relatives are culled from “My recollections of Uncle Lyova”, the memoirs of Maria Klyachko-Constantinowitz, the artist’s niece // Collection of the Constantinowitz family, Paris. Another source is Maria Klyachko’s letters // Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, items 2632, 2636.
  8. Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, item 412.
  9. Manfred, Albert Zakharovich (1906-1976) - a prominent Russian historian, teacher, scholar of French history.
  10. Sophia Samoilovna Klyachko, see ftn. 3.
  11. Léon Bakst’s letters are quoted from originals kept at the Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, items 53, 98, 115, 262, 283, 290, 351, 355, 434.
  12. “Portrait of Maria Markovna Klyachko.” Late 1890s. Pastel on carton. Russian Museum.
  13. “Portrait of Lyubov Pavlovna Gritsenko.” 1903. Oil on canvas. Tretyakov Gallery.
  14. “Portrait of Andrey Lvovich Bakst.” 1908. Paper on carton, watercolour, gouache, pastel, white paint. Tretyakov Gallery.
  15. “Big Charitable Bazaar of Dolls”. 1899. St. Petersburg, chromolithograph by I.Kadushin.
  16. Gritsenko, Marina Nikolaevna (1901-1971) - daughter of Lyubov Gritsenko from first marriage; later she became an art scholar.
  17. “Artistic Postcards of the Red Cross Are Sold Everywhere”. 1904. St. Petersburg, chromolithograph by I.Kadushin.
  18. Collection of Nikolai and Pyotr Constantinowitz, Paris.
  19. Collection of Nikolai and Pyotr Constantinowitz, Paris.
  20. Bakst, Andrei Lvovich (1907-1972) - son of Léon Bakst and Lyubov Gritsenko-Bakst; later he became a theatre and film designer.
  21. Klyachko, Berta Markovna, Razamat in first marriage, Tsipkevich in second marriage (1898-1975) - daughter of Sophia Klyachko, Léon Bakst’s sister.
  22. What happened to the portrait is not known.
  23. Haapsalu is a city on the Baltic shore (Estlandskaya (Estlandia) province), where Lyubov Gritsenko-Bakst lived with her children then.
  24. Bakst himself wrote about it sadly in November 1910: “The Consulate has a document notifying me that your petition to His Highness, after the Synod’s refusal to grant the divorce, has been satisfied and we are divorced. Keep this document for Andrusha, for it is my exculpatory document.” Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, item 374.
  25. Resort by Lake Geneva.
  26. Sophia Klyachko had four children: Maria, Berta, Pavel, and Emilia.
  27. Rosalia Manfred had four children: Zinaida, Yevgenia, Léontina, and Albert.
  28. Manuscripts department, Tretyakov Gallery, fund 111, items 2538;2539.
  29. Lyubov Gritsenko-Bakst died in 1928 in San Remo, Italy.
  30. Constantinowitz, Yevgeny Apollonovich (1890—1977) — a cello and piano player; he was receiving a treatment at the same resort as Bakst.
  31. Constantinowitz, Pyotr Yevgenievich (b. 1928) and Constantinowitz, Nikolai Yevgenievich (b. 1931)

Illustrations

Self-portrait. 1906
Self-portrait. 1906
Chalk, sanguine, coloured pencil on paper. 76 by 52 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Léon Bakst. 1890
Léon Bakst. 1890
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Léon Bakst with son Andrei. 1910s
Léon Bakst with son Andrei. 1910s
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Léon Bakst’s letter to Lyubov Gritsenko. 1 February 1903
Léon Bakst’s letter to Lyubov Gritsenko. 1 February 1903
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Lyubov Gritsenko. 1899
Lyubov Gritsenko. 1899
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Léon Bakst with son Andrei. 1910
Léon Bakst with son Andrei. 1910
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Léon Bakst. 1903
Léon Bakst. 1903
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Léon and Lyubov Bakst. 1903
Léon and Lyubov Bakst. 1903
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Gritsenko. 1908
Maria Gritsenko. 1908
Colour and graphite pencil on paper 9.8 by 15.5 cm. Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Maria Gritsenko. 1908
Maria Gritsenko. 1908
Colour and graphite pencil on paper. 9.8 by 15.5 cm. Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Andrey Bakst’s portrait. 1908
Andrey Bakst’s portrait. 1908
Gouache, pencil on paper. 45.5 by 59.5 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery
Soldier with a Doll. 1903
Soldier with a Doll. 1903
Sketch of the costume for Joseph Bayer’s ballet “The Fairy Doll”. Water-colour, pencil on paper. 28.2 by 17.3 cm. State Tretyakov Gallery
Sketch of a set for the production of “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian.” 1911
Sketch of a set for the production of “The Martyrdom of St. Sebastian.” 1911
Collection of the Constantinowitz family, Paris
Nude Female Sitter. 1905
Nude Female Sitter. 1905
Collection of the Constantinowitz family, Paris
Portrait of Isaiah Rosenberg. 1905
Portrait of Isaiah Rosenberg. 1905
Collection of the Constantinowitz family, Paris
Sketch for a set of the production of “La Pisanella” ballet. 1913
Sketch for a set of the production of “La Pisanella” ballet. 1913
Collection of the Constantinowitz family, Paris
Maroussia’s Museum
Maroussia’s Museum
Collection of the Constantinowitz family, Paris
Léon Bakst. 1913–1914
Léon Bakst. 1913–1914
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Natalya Goncharova, Igor Stravinsky (seated), Leonid Myasin, Mikhail Larionov, Léon Bakst. 1915
Natalya Goncharova, Igor Stravinsky (seated), Leonid Myasin, Mikhail Larionov, Léon Bakst. 1915
Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery
Sketch of a dress for Lyubov Bakst. 1903
Sketch of a dress for Lyubov Bakst. 1903
Gouache, ink, brush and graphite on paper. 27.2 by 18 cm. State Treryakov Gallery
Costume for a chorus dancer for the production of “The Fairy Doll” ballet
Costume for a chorus dancer for the production of “The Fairy Doll” ballet
Chromolithograph. Postcard published by St.Yevgenia’s Community. St. Petersburg, 1904
Costume of a porcelain doll for the production of “The Fairy Doll” ballet
Costume of a porcelain doll for the production of “The Fairy Doll” ballet
Chromolithograph. Postcard published by St.Yevgenia’s Community. St. Petersburg, 1904
Costume “Mask” for the production of Schubert’s “Carnival” ballet
Costume “Mask” for the production of Schubert’s “Carnival” ballet
Chromolithograph. Card published by St.Yevgenia’s Community. St. Petersburg, 1911

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