Ivan Bilibin

Born: 1876, Tarkhovka (St Petersburg Province)
Died: 1942, Leningrad

Graphic artist, painter, theatrical designer, illustrator, decorator, teacher. Born in the village of Tarkhovka near St Petersburg to naval surgeon Jacob Bilibin and his wife Varvara Bubnova (1876). Studied at the Faculty of Law of St Petersburg University (1896–1900), under Jan Ciagli?skj at the School of Drawing of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (1895–98), at Anton Ažbè’s school in Munich (1898) and under Ilya Repin at the Princess Maria Tenisheva School of Art (1898–1900) and  Imperial Academy of Arts (1900–04). Illustrated children’s books, Russian folktales and the fairytales of Alexander Pushkin, developing his own original style inspired by Slavic folklore and Old Russian decorative art (from 1899). Member of the World of Art (1900, 1910 – founding member, 1916 – chairman). Married English artist Mary Elizabeth Veronica Chambers (1902), who gave birth to his sons Alexander (1903) and Ivan (1908), before their marriage collapsed (1911) after he fell in love with his student, French-Irish porcelain artist Renée O’Connell (1907). Travelled across Vologda, Olonets and Arkhangelsk Provinces for the Alexander III Russian Museum (1902–04), studying old wooden architecture and Russian folklore and publishing his findings in an article on Folk Arts of the Russian North in the World of Art magazine (1904). Worked for theatres (from 1904), designing the sets and costumes for productions of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden at the National Theatre in Prague (1905), Rutebeuf’s miracle play Le Miracle de Théophile at the Historical Theatre in St Petersburg (1907) and the premiere of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Golden Cockerel performed by the Zimin Opera at the Solodovnikov Theatre in Moscow (1909). Collaborated with the Bugbear and Hellish Post satirical magazines (1905–06) and the Community of St Eugene (1910s). Taught at the School of Drawing of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (1907–17) and the Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of the All-Russian Academy of Arts (1936–42, professor emeritus from 1939). Contributed to Sergei Diaghilev’s Saisons Russes in Paris, helping to design the sets and costumes for Modest Mussorgsky’s musical drama Boris Godunov at the Théâtre de l’Opéra (1908), Mikhail Fokine’s Le Festin at the Théâtre du Châtelet (1909) and Modest Mussorgsky’s opera Boris Godunov at the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées (1913). Founding member of the Society for the Rebirth of Artistic Rus (1915–17). Designed a double-headed eagle without a crown as the new emblem of the Provisional Government (1917). Moved to the Crimea (1917), where he served as an artist in the White Army of General Anton Denikin (1917–19). Lived in Cairo (1920–23) and Alexandria (1924–25), where he decorated Russian Orthodox churches and designed the sets and costumes for the Egyptian tours of the Anna Pavlova Ballet Company (1920–25). Married his former student Alexandra Shekatikhina-Pototskaya in Cairo (1923) and travelled with her across Syria and Palestine (1924) and Upper Egypt and Abyssinia (1925). Moved to Paris (1925), where he lived at 25 Boulevard Pasteur and collaborated with French and German publishing houses (1925–36). Designed icons and frescoes for the Russian Orthodox church of the Dormition at Olšany Cemetery in Prague (1927), worked for theatres in Paris and Buenos Aires (1929–31) and Brno and Prague (1934–35). Decorated the Soviet Embassy in Paris (1935–36) and decided to return to Leningrad (1936). Designed the sets and costumes for a performance of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Tale of Tsar Saltan at the Leningrad Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet marking the centenary of the death of Alexander Pushkin (1937). Illustrated Alexei Tolstoy’s novel Peter I (1937) and Mikhail Lermontov’s poem The Song of the Merchant Kalashnikov (1939). Died of hunger during the Siege of Leningrad and buried alongside other professors of the Academy of Arts in a mass grave on Decembrists’ Island near the Smolensk Cemetery (1942). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1900). Contributed to the exhibitions of the World of Art (1900–03, 1906, 1911–13, 1915–17), Noir et Blanc in Prague (1904), Union of Russian Artists (1905, 1909, 1910), Sergei Makovsky Salon (1909), Art in the Crimea (1918), Salon des Tuileries (1920s), World of Art (Selected Artists) at the Galerie Bernheim-Jeune in Paris (1927), exhibitions of Russian art in Paris (1906–09, 1931, 1932), Vienna (1908), Brussels (1928), Birmingham (1928), Copenhagen (1929), Belgrade (1930), Berlin (1930) and Prague (1935), international exhibitions in Venice (1907), Brussels (1910), Rome (1911) and Leipzig (1914) and one-man shows in Alexandria (1924), Prague (1926) and Amsterdam (1929).

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