Provenance: Estate of the artist.
Thence by descent.
Property of Madame Mila Barsacq, an heir of Léon Bakst.
Anonymous sale; Ballet and Theatre Material, Sotheby’s London, 5 June 1975, lot 39.
Private collection, UK.
Exhibited:VII Exhibition of the Union of Russian Artists, St Petersburg, 1910, No. 39, 40, 41 or 42. Exhibition of Drawings by Leon Bakst, The Fine Art Society, London, 1912, No. 40. Exposition des Oeuvres de Leon Bakst, Hôtel de Jean Charpentier, Paris, 5–15 November 1925, No. 4, 5, 6 or 7. Leon Bakst Memorial Exhibition, The Fine Art Society, London, May 1927, No. 80 or 81. Bakst. An Exhibition at the Fine Art Society, The Fine Art Society, London, December 1973–January 1974, No. 111 (label on the frame). Bakst. Centenary Exhibition, 1876–1976, The Fine Art Society, Edinburgh–London, August–October 1976, No. 92.
Possibly, The Diaghilev Ballet in England, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, October–November 1979 and The Fine Art Society, London, December 1979–January 1980, No. 42.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, VII Exhibition of the Union of Russian Artists, St Petersburg, 1910, p. 6, No. 39, 40, 41 or 42, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Exhibition of Drawings by Leon Bakst, London, The Fine Art Society, 1912, p. 12, No. 40, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Exposition des Oeuvres de Leon Bakst, Paris, E. Fuzat, 1925, p. 3, No. 4, 5, 6 or 7, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Leon Bakst Memorial Exhibition, London, The Fine Art Society, 1927, p. 14, No. 80 or 81, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Bakst. An Exhibition at the Fine Art Society, London, The Fine Art Society, 1973, p. 108, No. 111, listed.
I. Pruzhan, Lev Bakst, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1975, p. 215, listed under works from 1909.
Exhibition catalogue, Bakst. Centenary Exhibition, 1876–1976, London, The Fine Art Society, 1976, p. 45, No. 92, listed.
Possibly, exhibition catalogue, The Diaghilev Ballet in England, Norwich, Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, 1979, p. 20, No. 42, listed as Nijinsky at the Lido.
Léon Bakst’s canvas Bathers on the Lido. Venice is a uniquely important work of Russian art of the first decade of the 20th century and an imprint of the time itself. It was the era when Diaghilev’s seasons took off and the Russian Silver Age was head over heels in love with Italy and, most of all, Venice. This was the period when the Moscow avant garde were caught up in their headlong quest for a new artistic language which affected even the refined artists of the World of Art circle.
One such senior member of the circle was Bakst, whose recognition in his own lifetime, unprecedented for a Russian artist, was primarily to do with the triumph of Russian ballet. Paris, London, New York – the whole world was bowled over by the heady sumptuousness and aesthetic sophistication of Bakst’s costume designs. But the influence of his art spread outside the confines of the theatrical genre, to a large extent determining the decorative style of art in the 1920s. Oil paintings by Bakst, by comparison with his works on paper, are lamentably few in number and very rare indeed in private collections. Specifically, Bathers on the Lido. Venice is the last of the three large-scale pictures still in private hands from the artist’s Lido cycle that he painted in Venice beginning in the summer of 1909.
The cycle also includes the large canvasses Portrait of Nijinsky and Bathers on the Lido which now belong to such august collections as the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Robert Tobin Foundation respectively. In addition to which is the sketch for the present lot, now in the Israel Museum collection in Jerusalem.
These canvasses painted on the Lido open a new page in Bakst’s creative oeuvre. Henceforth he is ever more enamoured with painting, and colour itself now becomes the medium through which he conveys his perception of reality, his delight in the vivid brightness and variety of the world. The contrasts between white beach robes, the azure of the sky and the orange, brick-red, yellow and brown tones of sand and human bodies generate the sense of intense heat. Swept up by the force of a medium that was new to him, and having learned much from the Paris avant garde, with Bathers Bakst becomes almost more fauvist than Matisse.
The idea of turning living impressions of Venice into visions of the ancient past became a key-note for Bakst in the summer of 1909. But the artist found antiquity itself opening up before him as it were in a new light. Replacing the worn out phantasms of symbolism came the vision of a Hellas soaked in sunlight, her heroes strong and red-blooded, and homage to the beauty of nature and joie de vivre. Day after day, carried along by this idea, Bakst painted his five-foot high bathers – unlike anything he had done previously. If the impression Nijinsky had made on him in Petersburg was that of a youth, here on the beach he was a full-blown “young Hercules”. “An astonishingly harmonious figure”, the artist wrote admiringly, “put together like a young god”. And right there on the beach he painted his large portrait of Nijinsky frozen in a pose from the sculptures of Classical Greece – Apollo Belvedere as well as Antinous as Herakles and Apollo Sauroktonos, which he had just seen in the Louvre.
The provenance of this work is worthy of mention in its own right. It originates from the collection of Bakst’s niece Mila Markovna Barsacq (née Klyachko) who together with her mother, the artist’s sister Sofia Samoilovna Klyachko, left Russia in 1913 and soon after settled in Bakst’s studio apartment in Paris. Later, having held on to those works by her uncle that she inherited, Mila Markovna married André Barsacq, the famous French theatrical designer and producer. Only after his death in 1973 did she decide to part with some of the family heirlooms, and Bathers was sold for the first time at Sotheby’s in June 1975.