Léon Bakst: Symbol of the Ballets Russes – at Palazzo Cini

Don’t miss the final fortnight of Palazzo Cini’s superb autumn exhibition, which explores the career of Russian artist, costume and set designer Léon Bakst (1866-1924).  Beautifully curated by Natalia Metelitsa and Maria Ida Biggi, the show presents a sweeping survey of Bakst’s prolific artistic output, with a wealth of rare exhibits including ravishing costume and set designs, archive photographs, original stage costumes and theatre programmes.  Beginning with little-known early works for productions such as Euripides’ Hippolyte and Sophocles’ Antigone, the heart of the exhibition features his celebrated creations for the most famous ballet company of all time, the Ballets Russes.

Having originally trained in St Petersburg and Paris, Bakst worked alongside the company’s founder Sergei Diaghilev from 1909 to 1921, serving as stage director and artistic director, and designing sets and costumes for ballets such as Michael Fokine’s Cléopâtre and Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé.  The exhibition not only features designs and stage photos for these two works, but also the original costumes made for the premières in 1909 and 1912.

Léon Bakst: Symbol of the Ballets Russes - at Palazzo Cini
Léon Bakst: Symbol of the Ballets Russes - at Palazzo Cini

Characterized by graceful lines and dazzling colours, Bakst’s designs were deeply influenced by traditional Russian art, ancient Greek classicism and European Symbolism, reinterpreted in a highly imaginative way. His costumes helped to express the hidden messages of music, underlining the mastery of composers such as Debussy, Stravinsky and Verdi, whilst also increasing the aesthetic and emotional impact of the performances of great dancers such as Anna Pavlova, Vera Fokina and Vaslav Nijinsky.  One of the most striking designs on display is that of the Queen of Egypt made for Ida Rubinstein, one of the most renowned dancers of the 20th century.

Staged by the Fondazione Giorgio Cini Institute of Theatre and Opera in collaboration with the St Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music, this fascinating exhibition is the first ever Italian display dedicated to Bakst, and a major highlight of the “Russian Season in Italy” organized by Russia’s Ministry of Culture for 2018.

 Léon Bakst, Symbol of the Ballets Russes is on view at Palazzo Cini, Campo San Vio, Dorsoduro 864 until 19th November 2018.