Sergei Diaghilev


ABOVE: In emigration after 1917, Natalia Goncharova painted this witty cubo- futurist "portrait" of Diaghilev.

Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929) was one of the world’s great cultural impresarios. He was one of the founders of the elegant journal Mir iskusstva (The World of Art) that did a great deal to make Russians acquainted with the latest developments in Western visual art. Between 1897 and 1906 he organized a series of major art exhibitions, showing not merely the best in European and Russian contemporary art but also reviving interest in the Russian eighteenth century and in the icon. But his greatest claim to fame was the organization of the "Russian Seasons" in Paris. They began in the spring of 1907 with a grandiose series of concerts. Glazunov, Rachmaninov, and Rimsky-Korsakov conducted their own works, but the greatest success was that of Chaliapin in excerpts by Borodin and Mussorgsky. Even more successful were the ballet performances that Diaghilev began in Paris in 1909. Diaghilev engaged the greatest Russian and Western European dancers (Nijinsky, Karsavina, Lifar), composers (Stravinsky, Poulenc, Satie), choreographers (Fokine, Nijinsky, Lifar), and stage designers (Benois, Bakst, Goncharova, Roerich, Picasso, Cocteau) of his day and, despite almost continual financial difficulties, produced a dazzling series of collaborative productions until his death. Probably the best known of these ballets was Rite of Spring (Sacre du Printemps), which debuted in Paris in 1913.