Diaghilev, Serge (1872–1929) By Quinton, Laura
Impresario, critic, curator, and founder-director of the Ballets Russes (1909–1929), Serge Diaghilev was a towering figure and pioneer of early 20th-century modernism. Through his various projects, Diaghilev offered a cosmopolitan, dynamic, and synthetic vision of art that revolutionized the multiple disciplines with which he came into contact. With the Ballets Russes, in particular, the impresario created a significant space for experimentation by artists of the Russian and Western European avant-garde. Among the visual artists he commissioned were Léon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, André Derain, Juan Gris, Max Ernst, Joán Miró, Pavel Tchelitchev, and Georges Rouault. Composers linked to the Ballets Russes include Igor Stravinsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel, Richard Strauss, Erik Satie, Francis Poulenc, Darius Milhaud, Henri Sauguet, and Manuel de Falla. The company was also a major platform for the choreographers Michel Fokine, Vaslav Nijinsky, Léonide Massine, Bronislava Nijinska, and George Balanchine, innovative artists whose careers Diaghilev significantly advanced and developed. Through his commissions, Diaghilev brokered partnerships among artists that guided the avant-garde in new directions. A perfectionist with serious business acumen and immense resolve in the face of financial and artistic reverses, he played an active creative role in all his company’s productions. Although a proponent of modernism and internationalism in art, Diaghilev was also a romantic, remaining throughout his life a champion of Russia’s cultural riches, past as well as present. So closely was Diaghilev’s forceful, larger-than-life personality linked to the identity of the Ballets Russes that within months of his death in 1929 the company collapsed.