Alexandre Benois (1870-1950)

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Soldiers of Catherine II

Soldiers of Catherine II

Alexandre Benois was a prominent member of the St. Petersburg artistic intellectual Benois family, an influential art critic, artist, preservationist, and founding member of Mir iskusstva. His influence on the modern ballet and stage design is considered seminal.

Promenade of the Empress Elizabeth through the Noble Streets of St. Petersburg 1903

Promenade of the Empress Elizabeth through the Noble Streets of St. Petersburg 1903

Alexandre’s father Nicholas Benois and brother Leon Benois were noted Russian architects. Alexandre didn’t plan to devote his life to art and graduated from the Faculty of Law, St. Petersburg University in 1894. Three years later, while in Versailles, he painted a series of watercolors depicting Last Promenades of Louis XIV. When exhibited by Pavel Tretyakov in 1897, they brought him to the attention of Sergei Diaghilev and Leon Bakst. Together they founded the art magazine and movement Mir iskusstva which aimed at promoting the Aesthetic Movement and Art Nouveau in Russia.

Royal Promenade at Versailles 1906

Royal Promenade at Versailles 1906

During the first decade of the new century, Benois continued to edit Mir iskusstva but also pursued his scholarly interests. He prepared and printed several monographs on 19th-century Russian art and Tsarskoye Selo. From 1918 to 1926, he ran the gallery of Old Masters in the Hermitage Museum, to which he secured his brother’s heirloom—Leonardo’s Madonna Benois. In 1903, he printed his illustrations to Pushkin’s Bronze Horseman which have since been recognized as one of the landmarks in the genre.

Set Design for Petrushka

Set Design for Petrushka

In 1901, Benois was appointed scenic director of the Mariinsky Theatre. Since then, he devoted most of his time to stage design and decor. Les Sylphides (1909), Giselle (1910), and Petrushka (1911) are counted among his greatest triumphs. Although he worked primarily with Diaghilev for the Ballets Russes, he simultaneously collaborated with the Moscow Art Theatre and other notable theatres of Europe. His Memoirs were published in two volumes in 1955. The Russian artists Eugene Lanceray and Zinaida Serebriakova were his nephew and niece, and the British actor Sir Peter Ustinov was his grand nephew. Still wondering about a late 19th or early 20th century Russian painting in your family collection? Contact us…it could be by Alexandre Benois.