Longus in the Mir Istkusstva: Léon Bakst, Maurice Ravel and Marc Chagall


  • Edmund P. Cueva


In 1958 Marc Chagall was asked to design the scenery for a performance of Maurice Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé, which had been originally presented by the Ballet Russe in 1912. It is believed that Chagall had received the inspiration for his Opéra de Paris production and for the “color-drenched” illustrations of Tériade's Daphnis et Chloé from his trips to Greece with his wife Madame Valentina. I argue in this paper that although Chagall was thoroughly enthralled by Greece, he nevertheless had been introduced to Longus’ novel by his former teacher Léon Bakst while a student at the Svanseva School in St. Petersburg. It was Bakst, moreover, who not only helped form Chagall’s conception of art and of the novel, but he was also the person who had initially designed the scenery for Ravel’s 1912 production. Ravel, in fact, had no special attraction to Greek subjects. It is assumed that he was familiar with Amyot’s translation and that he was acquainted with the artistic illustrations of the novel by Pierre Bonnard and Aristide Maillol. It has also been speculated that Ravel may have been inspired more by Stéphane Mallarmé’s L’Après-Midi d’un Faune than by Longus in his scoring of the ballet. It was mere “coincidence” that Longus became the subject of one of Ravel’s most spectacular creations; it had been offered to him as a project by Serge Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballet Russe.