This is an amazing coincidence! Remember when I found the web journal {feuilleton} with a post simply named Chiaroscuro which, in turn, led to my post Farsa di chiaroscuro?  

I do. In his web journal, artist and designer John Coulthart catalogues his interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms. He has an abiding fascination with the Ballets Russes, or so he says on his post Images of Nijinsky.

Costume Study for Nijinsky in his Role in La Péri by Léon Bakst

Actually, he’s in awe of Sergei Diaghilev, whose company Ballet Russes is. Coulhart’s post is so awesome and so relevant to my blog that I’m copying and pasting it in its entirety. I hope he doesn’t mind.

I have an abiding fascination with the Ballets Russes, Sergei Diaghilev‘s company which electrified the art world from 1909 up to the impressario’s death in 1929. One of the reasons for this—aside from the obvious gay dimension and the extraordinary roster of talent involved—is probably Diaghilev’s success in carrying the Symbolist impulses of the fin de siècle into the age of Modernism without losing any richness or exoticism along the way.

Diaghilev’s arts magazine, Mir Iskusstva (1899–1900), was as much a product of fashionable Decadence as The Savoy, and its principles were easily transported into the world of ballet.

Looking around for images of dancer and choreographer Vaslav Nijinsky in his celebrated (and notorious) role in L’Après-midi d’un Faune turned up not only Leon Bakst’s luscious drawing but some marvelous Beardsley-esque pictures by George Barbier (1882–1932).

I’d seen some of Barbier’s work before but didn’t realise he’d created a whole book devoted to the dancer. Artists like Bakst, Erté and Barbier show how Aubrey Beardsley’s art might have developed had he not died prematurely in 1898. You can see the full set of book plates here.

"L’Après-midi d’un Faune" program cover by Leon Bakst 1912

NOTE:  Yes. I was momentarily diverted from this post’s title, Afternoon of a Faun (L’Après-midi d’un Faune.) The ballet was first performed in the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on May 29, 1912. Nijinsky choreographed and danced the main part himself.

In a Le Figaro review, editor Gaston Calmette wrote, “We have had a faun, incontinent, with vile movements of erotic bestiality and gestures of heavy shamelessness.”  To him, Nijinsky’s dance was  “the too-expressive pantomime of the body of an ill-made beast, hideous from the front and even more hideous in profile” and his paper started a campaign against the ballet.

In reply, the sculptor Auguste Rodin published a defense of the choreography and in a letter to Le Figaro, painter Odilon Redon expressed the wish that his friend (French symbolist poet) Mallarmé could have seen “this wonderful evocation of his thought.”

NOTE II: The costume study above is courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s HEILBRUNN TIMELINE OF ART HISTORY.

It says Léon Bakst was already an experienced portraitist, illustrator, and set designer in 1909 when he joined with Serge Diaghilev to found the Ballets Russes. This design for a costume to be worn by the renowned male dancer Vaslav Nijinsky (1890–1950) demonstrates Bakst’s involvement with Symbolism and Art Nouveau, as well as his dramatic use of color and sensuous line.


Persequendum Est ~  Scaena II

 The Artistry of Leon Bakst