Terror Antiquus

Artist: Léon Bakst
Date: 1908
Media: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 250 x 270 cm
Ownership: Russian Museum, St Petersburg
Donated in 1965 by the artist’s relatives, A. L. Bakst, S. S. Klyachko and R. S. Manfredi, Moscow
Style: Symbolism
Léon Bakst, Terror Antiquus, 1908


In 1907, Léon Bakst visited Greece in the company of Valentin Serov. During his time there, he sketched the country’s historical monuments and Mediterranean nature and read the works of Ancient Greek philosophers and writers.

All of this helped to form a specific image of Greece and Hellenic culture in Bakst’s imagination – one both concrete and simultaneously abstract. This duality can be seen in Terror Antiquus, in which the artist uses symbols to express the apocalyptic nature of the modern age.

The painting depicts the destruction of an ancient city (possibly Atlantis) and its inhabitants, who are powerless in the face of the elements. The image of the Archaic kore reigning over the chaos personifies the inexorable force of human fate and is also simultaneously concrete and abstract.

Bakst faithfully reproduces several ancient edifices, including the Lion Gate in Mycenae, the ruins of the palace at Tiryns and the Acropolis of Athens. The natural landscape in the picture is a generalised image and also reflects the artist’s study of Greek geography.

Although the critics found many professional shortcomings in the painting, Terror Antiquus enjoyed great success when shown at the Salon d’Automne in Paris in 1908 and won a gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Brussels in 1910.

Version: Terror Antiquus (1908, whereabouts unknown)

Exhibitions: Salon d’Automne, Paris, 1908, No. 79; Salon [Sergei Makovsky], St Petersburg, 1909, No. 3; VII Exhibition of the Union of Russian Artists, Moscow, 1909–10, No. 20; Exposition universelle et internationale de Bruxelles, 1910, No. 31 (gold medal); Exposizione Internationale di Roma, 1911, No. 6; World of Art, Prague, 1912, No. 1; Léon Bakst Personal Exhibition, London, 1913

Literature: A. N. Benois, “Khudozhestvennye pis’ma. Yesche raz o ‘Salone’”, Rech’, 11 February 1909; Vyach. Ivanov, “Drevnii uzhas (po povodu kartiny L. S. Baksta ‘Terror Antiquus)”, Zolotoe runo, 1909, No. 4, pp. 51–65; “Rossica”, Apollon, 1913, No. 7, p. 79; P. Pertsov, “Na vystavke Serova”, Golos Moskvy, 16 February 1916; LI, “Léon Bakst”, Krasnaya panorama, 1925, No. 4, p. 4

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