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Collections & Critiques

By Jack Wilner

The Boston Museum now contains a collection of four small but expertly done paintings by Leon Bakst, chief artist for the "Ballet Russe" when Diaghilev was in charge of its production. Bakst is of great historical importance because his method and style revolutionized the application of the decorative arts to the theatre. The main tenet which symbolized the essence of his program was unity, unity not only as far as the technique of his art was concerned but also in regard to the emotional compactness of the entire artistic production. Bakst's designs for scenery and costume were unique in that every element (motif, color and content) was harmoniously combined in one complete impression. Colors used by him were in direct accord with the music of each particular ballet; and the line pattern supplemented the style of each respective dance.

Of the few paintings by Bakst which are now on exhibit, the finest by far is his polished rendition of the "Butterfly," a feminine character in "Le Dieu Bleu." This so-called sketch, which is in reality an actual painting, represents the spirit and movement of the ballet in a manner which equals that of Degas. The woman who represents the butterfly is clad in a billowy, wing-like costume, the decorative pattern of which is formed by means of juxtaposing solid, intense tones. Her figure is graceful and seems to be in the process of competing a turn, while the warm, brown color of her skin contributes a feeling of placid sobriety to the moving nature of the entire piece.

Bakst, in one respect, is an abstract artist. His color and lie are symbolic and seem to be the natural concomitants of musical and terpsichorean expression. But even without the intended accompaniment of the musician and the dancer, his designs and paintings are of great intrinsic value. it is interesting to think of Bakst in the light of his co-workers, men such as Picasso and Derain, for it was Bakst who supervised the artistic endeavors of these men while they were connected with the "Ballet Russe"; and it was about this time that Stravinsky, at the request of Diaghilev, composed his "Petrouchka" and "The Fire Bird" for presentation by the company.

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