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  • Writer's pictureJulia Sumzina

Diaghilev 150: The cultural bonds of Diaghilev’s universe. Part I

Sergei Diaghilev by Valentin Serov, 1904

Sergei Diaghilev or Serge Diaghilev is known as an art critic, patron, ballet and opera impresario and founder of the Saisons Russes, the events which were extremely popular in Europe in the first decades of the XX century. It included Ballets Russes, the iconic performances, which made the dancers and choreographers idols in the dance world. Today is Diaghilev’s 150th anniversary and I would like to start talking about the international cultural bonds, one of the most important things in “Diaghilev’s universe”.

Why “universe”?

It’s impossible to look at the life of Sergei Diaghilev from one point of view whether it is the World of Art (the artistic movement and magazine) or ballet, or opera, or his interest to Pushkin, or his art collections, etc. There are few points connected to each other and to many remarkable people of that time: Gabrielle Chanel, Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and many others.

When we’re talking about Diaghilev’s childhood and youth, we immediately remember Diaghilev and Pyotr Tchaikovsky were distantly related. The sister of Diaghilev's father, Natalya Pavlovna, was married to Tchaikovsky’s cousin Antipov, and the foster mother's sister, Alexandra Valerianovna, was married to his nephew Kartsev. He respected “uncle Petya” and admired his compositions, but he did not dare to stage the ballets to Tchaikovsky's score for a long time.

Oscar Wilde by Napoleon Sarony (1882) © National Portrait Gallery, London

Aestheticism became his first passion in art when he moved to Saint Petersburg. Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley inspired a lot of young people in Russia in 1890-s, including Sergei Diaghilev, Dmitry Filosofov and Alexandre Benois.

Later they chose the "Studio", where the career of Beardsley had its climax, as one of the models for their magazine. Benois recalled that, when conceiving their own magazine, they wanted “something similar to the English “Studio” to appear in Russia.”

The result of this passion was Diaghilev's trip to Wilde in France in 1897. And then, many years later Vaslav Nijinsky in his L'Après-midi d'un faune (1912) made Beardsley’s fauns, beautiful and ugly, but always sensual and alive.

Cover Design for Yellow Book Prospectus for Vol V, 1895

Nijinsky as the faun by Baron de Meyer

Vignette, for Mallarme's L'Apres-Midi D'Un Faune by Aubrey Beardsley

Nijninsky et Lydia Nelidova dans le pas de deux

Was the aestheticism the idealized view for Diaghilev during all his life? I would say “yes”. Life and fashion was changing, new artists, composers, writers inspired him a lot, but his lifestyle itself his image were much about Oscar Wilde… don’t you think so?

To be continued...

Text: Julia Sumzina

The pictures are from the open sources.

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