Saturday in the Museum with Léon

Image: Léon Bakst, The Supper (1902).

A couple weeks ago for our weekly art post, we focused on a painter from Russia’s so-called Silver Age of art.  For today’s post, we return to that era with a similar picture of a woman diner from another artist born under the Russian Empire who would spend the rest of his days outside its borders following the revolution.

Léon Bakst was born Lev Samoylovich Rosenberg, in Grodno, in what is now Belarus.  His grandfather was a favored tailor the Tsar, giving him access to the world of St. Petersburg.  He was accepted into the Academy of Arts on his second try. He lived in Paris in the mid-1890s where he continued his studies.  Upon his return to Russia he became part of a group of artists, including Serge Diaghilev and Alexandre Benois, that were known as the “World of Art” movement.  Bakst was able to live off the work he did on the associated magazine Mir Iskusstva.

It was the stage and costume work he did with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes that brought him fame.  After the death of his sister he fell into a deep depression and was taken advantage of financially by his servant.  He was rescued from the situation by an American, Alice Garrett.  She was the wife of a railroad magnate and diplomat John Work Garrett.  Bakst would come to the States in the early 20s to design a private theater for the couple for their home in Baltimore, now the Evergreen Museum and Library.  Garrett would also help organize two exhibits of his work at the Knoedler Gallery (which recently became infamous for its own kind of financial misdeeds).  Bakst died soon after in France in 1924.

The painting above dates from 1902, just as his career is taking off.  Translated at either The Dinner or The Supper, the clear subject is not the meal but the woman.  The model is Aysa, the wife of Alexandre Benois.  It was nicknamed “The Girl with Oranges” to compare it to another famous Russian painter, Valentin Serov’s Girl with Peaches.   One critic called it “an intolerable thing” while another described, “The stylish decadent fin de siècle is black and white, thin as an ermine, with a mysterious smile, à la Gioconda, eating oranges.” The subject of women alone in cafés was one of some popularity apparently, with all the innuendo that entails, especially among the Russian painters.


We here at 17° Cork by Northwest are all for women dining in cafés, men for that matter too.  When we are not rummaging around the internet for pictures to post about meals and food, we are a dining guide for Washington, D.C.  So if you have read this far, we encourage you to look around.  There are other art posts, and 300 recommended restaurants in our dining guide that you can sort by cuisine, neighborhood, and current operating status (dine-in and/or take-out, etc.) in either LIST or MAP format.

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