Léon Bakst (1966-1924)
Léon Bakst (1966-1924)

Stage design for 'Daphnis et Chloé': Acts I and III

Léon Bakst (1966-1924)
Stage design for 'Daphnis et Chloé': Acts I and III
pencil and watercolour on paper laid down on canvas
31 7/8 x 46 in. (81 x 117 cm.)
Executed in 1912
The estate of the artist.
By descent to the present owners.
Exhibition catalogue, Léon Bakst, Milan, 1967, listed no. 20.
Exhibition catalogue, Mostra commemorative per il centenario della nascita di Léon Bakst, Spoleto, 1967, listed no. 20.
Exhibition catalogue, Bakst, London, 1973, listed no. 39.
Exhibition catalogue, Diaghilev: Les ballets russes, Paris, 1979, listed p. 55, no. 139.
Exhibition catalogue, Léon Bakst. K 150-letiiu so dnia rozhdeniia [To commemorate 150 years from the artist’s birth], State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 2016, illustrated p. 337.
Milan, Rome and Munich, Galleria del Levante, Léon Bakst, May-November 1967, no. 20.
Spoleto, Palazzo Ancaiani, Mostra commemorative per il centenario della nascita di Léon Bakst, 3-20 July 1967, no. 20.
London, The Fine Art Society, Bakst, 3 December 1973-4 January 1974, no. 39.
Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, Diaghilev: Les ballets russes, 1979, no. 139.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

Lot Essay

‘While hunting in a grove sacred to the Nymphs, on the island of Lesbos, I saw the most beautiful sight that I have ever seen: a picture representing a history of love’ (Longus, Daphnis and Chloe)
The charming Daphnis et Chloé by Maurice Ravel was the last Greek-themed ballet of the Ballets Russes. Commissioned by Sergei Diaghilev in 1909, the scenario was adapted by Michel Fokine from the pastoral novel by the second-century Greek writer Longus, which had been published in Florence in 1598. The ballet first premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet in Paris on 8th June 1912, conducted by Pierre Monteux, with ballet sensations Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina embodying the roles of the Greek lovers. The Ballets Russes repeated Daphnis et Chloé in 1913 and it was taken to London in 1914 with Fokine dancing the part of Daphnis. The ballet enabled Bakst to showcase his passion for Greece, which had been nurtured in 1902-1904 from studying the collection of Greek art in St Petersburg’s Hermitage Museum, and from his research tour to Greece in 1907, which he later recalled in his 1923 memoir. Bakst’s costume designs for the ballet drew inspiration from Greek black-figure ceramics, which contributed to the hieratic classicism of the costumes. The stage designs were infused with Bakst’s characteristic painterly palette, which was perfectly suited to the rich and passionate melodies of Ravel’s musical score.
The performance was heralded by contemporary commentators as an orchestral tour de force showcasing Ravel’s best music. Bakst’s stage designs were equally praised as a work of art enriched with Greco influence and mythological spirit.
A one-act ballet in three parts, Daphnis et Chloé takes place on the island of Lesbos and focuses on the tale of innocent love between the shepherd Daphnis and his lover Chloé. The young lovers gather in a grotto to celebrate the god Pan and his nymphs. The lovers bond is tested by Darkon, a shepherd and the temptress Lisinion. A band of brigands (pirates) abduct Chloé, leaving the despairing Daphnis to seek comfort with the nymphs who summon Pan, the protector of shepherds to come to his aid. Pan intervenes and Daphnis is awakened from his dreams, before Pan’s grotto to the joyous vision of his returned lover Chloé. Reunited, the lovers dance which ends in a communal dance of bacchanalian abandon.
In Bakst’s stage design for the opening act, he transports the spectator before a paradisal scene, where he delights in an aesthetic of rococo Arcadia. Akin to a painterly fresco, the dreamlike vista evokes the pastoral richness of Lesbos, which Bakst conjures with lush greens, umbers and ochres of the landscape. The towering cypress trees act as engaging repoussoirs, framing the scene, while the extensive perspectives and cavernous rocks of the landscape suggest a topographical realism and depth. The foreground figure, perhaps the bewitched Daphnis, takes centre stage, below an antique sculpture of three nymphs. Bakst’s enchanting treatment of the mise-en-scène acts as an idyllic backdrop for a tale of enduring love.

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