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 Ivan Bilibin

Born:   16 August [O.S. 4 August] 1876
Deceased:   7 February 1942

Russian artist, book illustrator and stage designer


The son of a naval doctor, the descendant of ancient lineage, Ivan Yakovlevich Bilibin was expected to become a lawyer and graduated from the Law Faculty of the St. Petersburg University (1896-1900). But at the same time he studied at the Drawing School of Society for the Encouragement of Artists, in the studio of A. Ashbe in Munich, and at M. K. Tenisheva's School under Ilya Repin.

After his first illustrations were published in a magazine in 1899 and in a year he became a member of the World of Art Association, he continued studying in Ilya Repin's class in the Academy of Arts. 

Ivan Bilibin gained popularity with his illustrations to Russian folk tales published for children: Frog Princess (1901), Vasilisa the Beautiful (1902), and Marya Morevna (1903). They were followed by illustrations to other fairy tales, bylinas (Russian epic tales), as well as Alexander Pushkin's fairy tales. The artist dedicated all his creativity to the realm of Russian fairy tales and thoroughly worked on proper background for it: he travelled across Russia a lot, especially in the North of Russia and passionately studied Russian folklore and folk arts and crafts.

Ivan Bilibin soon developed his own style based on carefully traced and detailed outlined drawing, tinted in water color. This style was named after him and inspired many to follow and imitate him. The artist expanded it from fairy tales illustrations to journal and industrial graphic art (post cards, posters, calendars and so forth), as well as political caricature, which he was engaged in during the first Russian revolution. 

He also used this style in theatre design: Bilibin was often ordered scenery for performances on the themes of Russian fairy tales or Russian antiquity. His debut as a stage designer was creating scenery to medieval miracle Play about Theophil (1907). Later he designed scenery for the operas Golden Cockerel (1909) and Sadko (1914) by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Ruslan and Lyudmila (1913) by Mikhail Glinka and at once became an acknowledged theatre artist.
In the heat of revolutionary events in autumn of 1917 Ivan Bilibin moved from Petrograd (St. Petersburg) to the Crimea, where he owned a land, and in the early 1920 managed to reach Egypt. Initially he lived in Cairo and then in Alexandria, where he designed ballet performances for Anna Pavlova's troupe and made sketches of frescos for Orthodox churches. 

In 1925 he moved to Paris, where his intense work resulted in sceneries for 10 performances. Those of them that became most popular were the operas Tale of Tsar Saltan (1929) and Legend on Kitezh and Fevronia the Maiden (1934) by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov, Prince Igor by Alexander Borodin, Boris Godunov by Modest Mussorgsky (both 1930), and illustrated folk fairy tales, including the French ones. 
In 1936 Ivan Bilibin returned to Russia and was very well accepted. He got the professor post in the Graphic Art department of the Painting, Sculpture and Architecture Institute in Leningrad, doctor’s degree in art criticism in 1939. At the same time the artist designed the setting for Tale of Tsar Saltan (1937) and Commander Suvorov (1939), and illustrated Alexey Tolstoy's novel Peter I (1937) and to The Song about Merchant Kalashnikov by Mikhail Lermontov (1939). 
In the very first winter in blockade Leningrad during World War II Ivan Bilibin starved to death.

Tags: Ivan Bilibin Russian painters    

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