About the Artwork of the Ballet Russes

The Ballet Russes was a Russian performance group that resided in Paris and toured internationally from 1909 to 1929 and included performers, dancers, and music. The artwork of the Ballet Russes was controversial and applauded for its use of actual artists instead of stage designers. This brought an entirely new element to the visual arts and dance genre. Colors were integrated and matched with the style of dance and music. For the first time in history, costumes and sets were coordinated to create an overarching visual theme.


Primitivism and exoticism were primary elements in the artwork of the Ballet Russes. Artists would reconstruct basic, tribal costumes and use earth tones to create the tapestry of color for sets. The art, including costumes, used elemental and three-dimensional images of natural, outdoor scenes usually coupled with animals. The style was interested in borrowing colors and themes from other cultures, specifically, Chinese influences for the production of "Parade," with a Chinese conjuror and the erotic India influenced red sultana from "Scheherazade."

Leon Bakst

Leon Bakst was a Russian painter that created artwork for the Ballet Russes from 1908 to 1922. He made a name for himself by painting background scenes and providing the inspiration for many of the costumes. His artwork made use of orange, red, hues of brown and natural warm hues mixed with vibrant reds. One of his most famous works was the creation of the costume for the main character of "The Firebird."

Pablo Picasso

Pablo Picasso was responsible for the stage design and artwork of the production "Parade" in 1917. This was the first production that made use of an art technique called cubism. The costumes and the artwork followed the basic principles of this new art style. In this form of art, the painting breaks up into smaller, abstract blocks and fragments. In many ways, cubism reflects the image of broken glass in which the shards are super-imposed upon each other creating an abstract and shallow use of space.

Natalia Goncharova

Natalia Goncharova worked for the Ballet Russes beginning in 1921 with her design of the artwork for "Le Noces" which translates to "The Wedding." Her art was highly influenced by Russian folk art, Fauvism, and cubism. Fauvism was a form of art that used unusual, bright and unnatural colors to create vivid imagery. Originally, her creations for the play were inspired by fauvism, but the director requested that she take a simpler, more folk-like approach. The end result was a collection of images that were very simple and sober, with black and white paintings that helped to reinforce the feelings of bleakness and isolation created by the war.


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