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Benois Alexander Nikolaevich

Alexander Nikolaevich Benois (French: Alexandre Benois; April 21 [May 3] 1870, St. Petersburg - February 9, 1960, Paris) - Russian artist, art historian, art critic, founder and chief ideologist of the World of Art association. Born April 21 (May 3), 1870 in St. Petersburg, in the family of the architect Nikolai Leontyevich Benoit and his wife Camilla, daughter of the architect A.K. Kavos. He received his primary education at the gymnasium of the Human-Loving Society. In 1885-1890 he studied at the private gymnasium of K.I. May, where he met future colleagues in the World of Art Dmitry Filosofov, Walter Nouvel and Konstantin Somov.

He studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts for some time, but did not finish it, believing that you can become an artist only by continuously working. He also studied fine art independently and under the guidance of his older brother Albert. In 1894 he graduated from the Law Faculty of St. Petersburg University.

First presented his work at the exhibition and attracted the attention of specialists in 1893. In 1894, he began his career as a theorist and art historian, writing a chapter on Russian artists for the German collection History of Painting of the 19th Century. At the end of 1896, he first arrived with friends in France, where he wrote the Versailles Series - the paintings depicted the parks and walks of the «King Sun» by Louis XIV. In 1897, he gained fame with the series of watercolors «The Last Walks of Louis XIV», written under the impression of being in Paris and Versailles. Three paintings from this exhibition were acquired by P. M. Tretyakov. In 1896-1898 and 1905-1907 he worked in France.

He became one of the organizers and ideologists of the art association «World of Art», founded the magazine of the same name. Together with S. P. Diaghilev, K. A. Somov, and other «Miruskusniks», he did not accept the tendentiousness of the Wanderers and propagandized new Russian and Western European art. The association drew attention to applied art, architecture, folk crafts, raised the authority of book illustrations, graphics, and decorative art. Promoting old Russian art and Western European masters of painting, in 1901 he began to publish the magazines «Old Years» and «Art Treasures of Russia». Benois - one of the most significant art critics of the beginning of the XX century, introduced avant-garde and Russian Cezannism into circulation.

In 1903, Benois created one of the masterpieces of Russian book graphics - a series of illustrations for the poem by A. S. Pushkin «The Bronze Horseman». However, they were rejected as «decadent». The illustrations were acquired by S. P. Diaghilev and printed them together with a poem in the journal «World of Art» (1904. No. 1). Benois drawings «made a splash and were recognized by all book connoisseurs as an ideal graphic work». In 1905, the artist continued to work on illustrations for the publication issued in 1912 by the St. Petersburg Literacy Society, and then in 1916 for the Community of St. Eugenia. In 1917, the book was typed at the printing house of R. R. Golike and A. I. Vilborg, but this enterprise was nationalized, and the book was published only in 1923 - under the guise of the Committee for the Promotion of Artistic Publications. It was printed at the State Printing House. Ivan Fedorov under the supervision of its director V.I. Anisimov and with the assistance of the Petrograd branch of the State Publishing House. The book includes 37 drawings by Benois.

In 1904, the ABC in Pictures was published (1904), almost his only major work for children. The artist worked on it for about a year, but it seems that all the illustrations were made «in one sitting» and that the drawing process was accompanied by games and conversations with his young son Kolya, later a famous theater artist. Looking at a book causes a lot of associations, and when performing a traditional «story by picture» task for children, the imagination of young readers and their parents or mentors can be simply limitless. The ABC received censorship permission on October 24, 1904, the production cycle for its publication took about six months. According to some reports, 34 chromolithographs with gold and silver were printed in collaboration with the printing house of I. Kadushin. A high retail price of 3 rubles was set for the book. The circulation was 2500 copies.

In 1908-1911, he was the artistic director of Russian Seasons, Sergei Diaghilev, who glorified Russian ballet art abroad. In 1911, perhaps the best pre-revolutionary edition of the famous story by A. Pushkin «The Queen of Spades» with illustrations by A. N. Benois was published. The basis of the design idea is 6 page illustrations, where the main line of the graphic story goes: the card prize of a young Russian countess; the countess’s evening dress, already aged and decrepit; Hermann's rapid passage through the dead countess' bedroom; ghost night visit; fatal loss at Chekalinsky; symbolic image of Death. Superbly composed, sonorous, these illustrations resemble completed paintings. The artist in detail, thoughtfully, lovingly reproduces urban architecture, costumes, life of Pushkin’s time. The influence of the theater is also noticeable in the illustrations: the theatrical Damn and Fortune fly over the gambling table in chapter six, and the final sheet illustration - Death draws the theater curtain and extinguishes candles, the last musician leaves the orchestra pit - gives rise to a direct analogy to the end of the play. Although subsequently critics repeatedly noted the shortcomings of the illustrations for The Queen of Spades, whose «graphic outfit» seemed to them too magnificent, picturesque and somewhat heavy for the «naked charms of the Pushkin text», nevertheless the publication of the book was a significant event in Russian art life. XX century, and contemporary Benois saw in it a living embodiment of the spirit of artistry.

In 1919, Benoit headed the Hermitage Art Gallery, published its new catalog. He continued his work as a book and theater artist and director, in particular, he worked on the production and design of the performances of the Petrograd Big Drama Theater. The last work of Benoit in the USSR was the design of the performance «The Wedding of Figaro» in the BDT (Saint-Peterburgs Big Drama Theater).

In 1922, Benois published the largest graphic work of the years of the revolution - the Versailles album, where the artist's watercolors are accompanied by his own text. The publication includes 26 watercolors of the artist; In addition, introductory article and a list of drawings are accompanied by screensavers and endings - they are printed in the technique of zincography. Benoit also designed the title page with an allegorical splash screen and the motto of Louis XIV «Nec pluribus impar» («Not inferior to the multitude») and the illustrated cover.

Versailles was one of the artist's favorite topics. The basis of this work is numerous field observations: back in October 1896, Benoit made his first trip to Paris, where he painted the views of Versailles that laid the foundation for his famous Versailles series. Versailles for Benoit is the personification of a harmonious unity of man, nature and art. In the article preceding the album, he formulates this important idea for him: «... Versailles is not an ode to royal power, but a poem of life, a poem of mankind in love with nature, dominating this very nature ... a monumental hymn to courageous power, inspiring female charms, united by human efforts for common goals».

In 1925 he took part in the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris. In 1926, A.N. Benois left the USSR. He lived in Paris, where he worked on sketches of theatrical scenery and costumes. He participated in the ballet entreprise of Sergey Diaghilev “Ballets Russes” as an artist and production designer. In exile, he worked a lot in Milan at the La Scala opera house.

During this period, he created a series of views of St. Petersburg and its suburbs under the general name «Memories». He illustrated books by Russian and French authors - «The Suffering of Young Werther» («Les souffrances du jeune Werther») by A. Morois (1926), «Lessons of Love in the Park» («La leçon d'amour dans un parc»), 1927), «Grigory Orlov» A. Popova (1946). In 1927, he worked a lot on the watercolor cycle for the novel by A. de Rainier, «The Sinner» («La pécheresse»). In 1945, he created a suite of forty-four watercolors for the story of A. S. Pushkin, «The Captain's Daughter». Unfortunately, these last books have not been published - the originals of the first drawings are kept by Rene Guerra, several watercolors for both books have been preserved in the collections of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. On the whole, Benoit has not so many book works of the Paris period and they are not as bright as in the pre-revolutionary years.

In the last years of his life, the artist worked on the memoirs «My Memories», on the pages of which he recreated the atmosphere of spiritual and creative searches of the Silver Age. No less significant was the publication «Alexandre Benois thinks ... Articles and letters of 1917-1960». He died on February 9, 1960 in Paris. He was buried in the Batignolles cemetery in Paris.



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