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The National Art Museum presents the Leon Bakst exhibition Time and Artistry

Belgazprombank’s new art project: Belarus-born Leon Bakst

The National Art Museum presents the Leon Bakst exhibition Time and Artistry. It’s devoted to the 150th anniversary of the famous artist, stage and dress designer whose anniversary is included in UNESCO Memorable Dates Calendar.

On visiting the museum, an art lover can enjoy original pieces by Marc Chagall, the artistry of painters from the Paris School or the thousand-year-old history of Belarusian art. In recent times, Belgazprombank and its Head, Victor Babariko, has regularly invited Minsk audiences to become acquainted with something new. The new Minsk exhibition, featuring over 200 works by Leon Bakst and his countrymen from museum, corporate and private collections of Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Russia, is of great interest, as it showcases the entire era of the globally famous author. It also focuses on his homeland of Grodno where Leib-Chaim Rosenberg, later known all over the world as Leon Bakst, was born.

Belgazprombank acts as an initiator and financial partner of this large scale international project which has been in preparation for almost two years. This is not the first major show organised with the involvement of the bank and its Head, Victor Babariko, who actively invests in art. The previous shows — Belarus-Born Artists of the School of Paris and Ten Centuries of Art — enjoyed great success and last year’s Autumn Salon with Belgazprombank’ also received much recognition and attention.

The bank has formed a corporate collection based on the works of Belarusian artists. It also includes over 70 artefacts, including pictures by Chaïm Soutine, Marc Chagall, Ossip Zadkine, Ossip Lubitch, Michel Kikoine, Faïbich-Schraga Zarfin, Valenty Vankovich and Leon Bakst.

Leon Bakst (Rosenberg) was born in 1866 in Grodno. He was one of the founders of the legendary World of Art movement and the magazine of the same name. He was an outstanding portraitist, illustrator, decorator and dress designer of the time. He achieved world fame due to his co-operation with the ballet impresario, Sergey Dyagilev; on his invitation, Bakst designed decorations for performances of the Russian Seasons in Paris, including Cleopatra (1909), Scheherazade, Firebird (1910), Narcissus (1911), Daphnis and Chloe (1912). Exhibitions of his works are held in the most prestigious museums of the world. In 2012, his scenic sketch of the Yellow Sultaness was sold at Christie’s auction in London for over 1m Euros.

Interestingly, Leon Bakst took his artistic pseudonym from his grandmother whose maiden name was Bakster. According to one version, this family name relates to the village of Bakshty, in Grodno’s Lida District; in Bakst’s times, it was part of the Vilno Province.

Forty works by him are presented at the show; all of different genres and styles. Theatrical works brought fame to the artist and the show presents sketches of the costumes that he made for Dyagilev’s Russian Seasons. They have been brought to Minsk by the St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatrical and Musical Art, in addition to stage costumes of the era made from the author’s sketches.

The National Art Museum of Belarus presents three works as part of the exhibition: I. Levitan’s Portrait (1899), Filipp Malyavin’s Portrait (1899) and Zinaida Gippius’ Portrait (1910). These were acquired by the museum in the Soviet era. Thanks to their recent purchases, Belgazprombank is now seen as the holder of the richest private collection of works by Leon Bakst in Eastern and Central Europe, such as, A Fisherman with a Pipe (1890s) and Landscape with Cypresses (1907) which are open to the public. The show also features two picturesque canvases: Dawn over the Lake (1909) and Bathers on the Lido: Venice; the latter is the most valuable exhibit in Bakst’s collection. According to the records, it was bought from a private collector and no public sum was announced (however, there is a rumour that over a million Dollars were spent).

Much attention at the exhibition is paid to Bakst’s contemporaries, the artists of the World of Art association. Among them are A. Benua, I. Levitan, V. Serov, N. Roerich, M. Dobuzhinsky, M. Nesterov and K. Petrov-Vodkin. Their works are shown as part of the exhibition, but the curators indicate that some of these artists (F. Ruszczyc, M. Sorin, S. Zhukovsky and D. Steletsky) boast ‘Belarusian traces’. The name of Dmitry Steletsky is little known to the wider public but, this iconic painter, sculptor and artist (born in Brest) painted Paris’ Sergey Radonezhsky Church. Bakst’s era is known in history as the time of another famous artist, Mikalojus Konstantinas Ciurlionis. Original pieces by this painter were showcased in Minsk in 1911 but, this year, the Art Museum of Lithuania has agreed to present two of his works, breaking the century old impasse.

Napoleon Orda is another name who fits the concept of the show perfectly, owing to his depiction of 19th century Grodno. 12 watercolours have arrived in Minsk from Krakow’s National Museum and taking into consideration the fact that Belarus lacks Orda’s original pieces, it would be recommended that art lovers come and see the works of this famous literary man, composer, painter and teacher (who was born in Vorotsevichi). Apart from Bakst’s sketches, theatrical posters by a French poet, playwright, artist and film director, Jean Cocteau, have come to Minsk from St. Petersburg. This outstanding man wrote the script for the first surrealist show: The Parade.

The organisers of this major Minsk exhibition have ensured a comfortable experience for its visitors: a special information application has been developed to be operated on iOS, Android and Windows Mobile platforms. The author of The Time and Artistry of Leon Bakst concept is ex-chairman of the National Commission for UNESCO Affairs and art consultant at Belgazprombank’s art collection, Vladimir Schastny. He’s also written a book entitled Leon Bakst: Life with Firebird Wings presented on the eve of the show’s opening and its edition is another stage of the project.

By Veniamin Mikheev
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