Supper

Artist: Léon Bakst
Date: 1902
Media: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 150 x 100 cm
Ownership: State Russian Museum, St Petersburg
Provenance:
Received in 1920 from the Alexander Korovin collection, Petrograd
Style: Art Nouveau
Léon Bakst, Supper, 1902

 

The public first saw Supper – or Lady in a Restaurant, as Léon Bakst himself preferred to call the picture – at the fifth World of Art exhibition in St Petersburg in 1903. The painting was a succès de scandale and represented the artist’s first major triumph as a virtuoso stylist and future legislator of Parisian fashions.

Anna Kind (1869–1952), the charming and coquettish wife of Alexander Benois, probably provided the artistic inspiration for this work. At a soirée spent among friends, Bakst once made a sketch of her extravagant toilette, which he later employed in this sensual, captivating and enigmatic image.

Léon Bakst does not aspire towards a direct physical resemblance of Anna Benois. Rather, he creates an impersonal portrait of the frequenter of a fin-de-siècle restaurant. The subject is merely a starting point or prototype for a typical Art Nouveau image – the femme fatale, with her enigmatic half-smile, sensual feline grace and shapely figure tightly corseted in black.

The expressive silhouette, flowing brushstrokes and elongated proportions are all common aspects of Art Nouveau painting. The woman’s facial features are virtually indiscernable and are only of secondary importance in this portrait of a decadent Mona Lisa.

Supper evoked heated debate in the Russian press. Vladimir Stasov wrote: “A cat sits at a table in a woman’s dress, with a face in the form of a round plate, wearing some horned headgear. She stretches her scraggy, mittened paws out towards the table, while looking to the side, as if the dishes placed before her are not to her taste and she plans to pilfer something from another table.”

Vasily Rozanov saw the canvas in a completely different light: “A stylish decadent from the end of the century – black-and-white, thin, ermine-like, with the enigmatic smile of La Gioconda – feasting on oranges.”

Exhibitions: World of Art, St Petersburg, 1903, No. 11

Literature: V. V. Rozanov, “‘Baby’ Malyavina”, Mir iskusstva, 1903, Vol. 9, Khronika, No. 4, p. 35; V. V. Stasov, “Dve dekadentskie vystavki”, Novosti i birzhevaya gazeta, 25 April 1903, No. 112; Zolotoe runo, 1906, No. 4, p. 11 (reproduction); Vs. Voinov, “Sobranie A. A. Korovina”, Apollon, 1917, Nos. 2–3, pp. 14–25

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