Aleksandr Nikolaevich Benois (b St Petersburg, 4 May 1870 – d Paris, 9 February 1960) studied at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg from 1887–88.
Benois began to exhibit in 1891 with the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. He became a founding member of Mir Iskusstva, exhibiting with them from 1899–1904; and with the Union of Russian Artists from 1903–10. His work was included in Diaghilev’s exhibition of Russian art at the 1905 Salon d’Automne.
Benois first visited Paris in 1896 with Léon Bakst, living at Versailles. During this time he produced paintings based on the court of King Louis XIV, a historical period that became an intrinsic theme of his career. His first theatre design, in 1895, was for the unrealised production of Christoph Willibald von Gluck’s opera Orpheus and Eurydice; he also designed costumes for Act I of another unrealised production, Léo Delibes’s ballet Sylvia, in 1901. In 1900 he created stage designs for Aleksandr Taneev’s opera Cupid’s vengeance (1902) at the Hermitage Theatre in St Petersburg, followed by countless designs for stage productions in Russia and Europe, and was the artistic director of the Moscow Arts Theatre from 1909–14.
Beginning with the Ballets Russe’ Le Pavillon d’Armide in 1907, Benois became one of Diaghilev’s chief theatre designers for a total of nine productions. Following his split with the company in 1924, Benois worked in theatre design in Russia and Europe for many years. From 1950–59 he worked for La Scala theatre in Milan and in 1955 his memoirs were published in two volumes.
Bibliothèque nationale de France, Paris, Fonds Kochno, BN 79