Obituary: Dimitry Bushen

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The Independent Online
Dimitry Bushen, artist, painter, stage and costume designer, born St Tropez 26 April 1893, died Paris 6 March 1993.

DIMITRY BUSHEN was the last surviving artist of Sergei Diaghilev and Alexander Benois's avant- garde group Mir Iskusstva ('The World of Art'). He appeared in three of the St Petersburg group's exhibitions before leaving Russia in the 1920s for France, where, as well as continuing painting and drawing, he worked in haute couture and theatre and ballet design. He died in Paris seven weeks before his 100th birthday.

Bushen was born at St-Tropez in 1893, a descendant of a Huguenot family. His great-grandfather, Nikolai Bushen, moved in 1685 from France to Catherine the Great's Russia. Nikolai's son, also Dimitry, directed the elite Corps des Pages school in St Petersburg in the reign of Alexander II; his son, Dimitry Bushen pere, was head of administration of the city of Baku under Alexander III. Anna Mikhaltseva, the young Dimitry's mother, died when he was two and the boy grew up with two aunts. He was a pupil at the Second Imperial (Alexander I) gymnasium and attended evening classes at the art school attached to the Society for Encouragement and Promotion of Arts. Its director was the artist Nikolai Roerich - who introduced his talented pupil to Diaghilev and Benois and Mir Iskusstva.

In 1912 Roerich gave Bushen a letter of introduction to a friend in Paris, Maurice Denis, a co-founder and principal theorist of the Nabis movement. There Bushen met Henri Matisse, who taught him to paint not what he saw but what he felt about his subject.

On Bushen's return to St Petersburg he joined the staff at the Hermitage as Keeper of Fans. He then ran the department of Russian porcelain, silver and jewels. It was at the invitation of Alexander Benois, who had been appointed by Diaghilev to deal with the Mir Iskusstva exhibitions, that Bushen took part in those at Anichkov Palace in 1918, 1922 and 1924. In 1925 he obtained permission for a three-month holiday in Paris, travelling via Tallinn with his intimate friend, the art historian Sergei Ernst. They never returned to the Soviet Union.

In 1926 Bushen made costumes for Anna Pavlova in Paris. At the same time he began working for leading haute couture houses in the city - Jean Patou, Nina Ricci, Lanvin and Lelong - and for Jensen, a firm which specialised in interior decoration. In 1930 he designed sets for theatre productions by Jean Giraudoux and in 1934 costumes for Ida Rubinstein in the ballets Diane de Poitiers and Waltz. Mikhail Fokin invited Bushen in 1937 to design both sets and costumes for his Monte Carlo company London production, Elements. On the brink of the Second World War Bushen also worked for the German choreographer Kurt Jooss, who emigrated from the Hitler regime to London, where he ran a ballet school.

In the post-war years Bushen worked for Roland Petit and in 1948 he designed sets and costumes for Serge Lifar's 1948 production Divertissement, at the Paris Opera, the beginning of a regular collaboration which continued until Lifar's Firebird for the Gulbenkian Ballet in Lisbon in 1969. In the 1950s Bushen worked for La Scala and Rome Opera; in Amsterdam he created sets and costumes for Swan Lake, Eugene Onegin and Faust; and in the 1960s he worked for Berlin Opera, where he designed decor and costumes for Romeo and Juliet. Bushen's last work was the 1977 Paris production of Poem Without a Hero, after Anna Akhmatova's poem. He was 80 when he resigned.

Bushen was also a painter of still life, mainly flowers and fruit. He is well represented in the Taylor collection, now in the Metropolitan Museum, New York. In 1990 he made a gift of some 20 paintings and drawings to the Hermitage, which then mounted his first exhibition, 65 years late. Bushen was too old and ill to attend. The Russki Muzei in St Petersburg also received a few paintings and drawings for its Mir Iskusstva collection.

Dimitry Bushen's sister Alexandra, the pianist, music historian and translator, died a year ago in Leningrad, aged 100. He himself was buried at Montparnasse cemetery in Paris by the grave of his friend Sergei Ernst. His extraordinary archive will be given to the Netherlands Institute, according to his wishes.

(Photograph omitted)