Act 2 of the opera opens with a chorus of students, soldiers and villagers gathered at the city gates where they sing a drinking song. Act 5 also includes a dance sequence, in which villagers celebrate Walpurgisnacht (St. Walburga’s Night, traditionally celebrated in Germany with dancing around bonfires). Another costume design for two musicians in Act 2 is in the collection of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (see References below). Although the production location is not included in the notations for these costume designs, a 1948 set design Benois drew for Faust does include the notation “Milan.” Furthermore, another 1948 Faust set design sold at auction at Christie’s in 2016 describes it as follows:
The present work depicts one of Alexandre Benois’ set designs for Charles Gounod’s (1818-1893) Faust, most likely his design for the 1949 La Scala production. The scene is probably the opening of the second act, in which Faust and Mephistopheles arrive at a town fair to find themselves surrounded by a crowd of celebrating townspeople.
Alexandr Nikolaevich Benois was an influential Russian artist, designer, and art historian during the first half of the 20th century. He was born in St. Petersburg and studied art at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, then earned a law degree from St. Petersburg University. There he developed a life-long friendship with his fellow law student Sergei Diaghilev who later became a renowned choreographer. Benois lived in Paris and Versailles from 1896-99 where he conducted historical research into the Louis XIV period. From 1899-1907 Benois collaborated with Diaghilev to produce a series of ambitious international art exhibitions, as well as the publication of art catalogs, books and an art magazine. Their book History of Russian Painting (1904) became the first comprehensive work on the subject. Meanwhile, beginning around 1900, Benois also worked as a theatrical scenic director for the Imperial Mariinsky Theatre and the Moscow Art Theatre. In 1918-26 he was the Curator of Paintings at the Hermitage Museum, but in the political turmoil in the years following the Russian Revolution, he left Russia and settled in Paris. Over his extraordinarily productive lifetime he was involved in publications of more than 100 art books and editions and worked on productions of about 200 ballets and operas. In addition to his association with Diaghilev, he collaborated on productions with Igor Stravinsky and at the La Scala Opera House in Milan. Benois published his memoirs in 1955 and died five years later in Paris.
“Faust. II (Kermesse) and V (Place)/ Femmes de Soldats/ 2 costumes/ Danse. AB 1948.” [Faust, II and V, Wives of Soldiers, 2 costumes, Dance.]
“Faust. II (Kermesse). Musicien ambulant (Valse.) A. Benois d’aprés P. Brueghel 1948.” [Faust, II (Keronesse), Strolling Musician (Waltz). A. Benois after P[ieter] Brueghel 1948.]
Condition: Generally very good with the usual overall light toning, wear, handling. Few minor small pale areas of discoloration and light toning line from former matting very near outer edges of drawings, unobtrusive.
“Alexandre Benois. Set design for ‘Faust.'” Christie’s. 5 June 2016. https://www.christies.com/lot/lot-alexandre-benois-set-design-for-faust-5999773/?from=searchresults&intObjectID=5999773&lid=1&sc_lang=en (23 April 2021).
“Faust (opera).” Wikipedia. 3 February 2021. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faust_(opera) (23 April 2021).
“Pieter Brueghel the Younger – The Kermesse of St. George.” Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Pieter_Brueghel_the_Younger_-_The_Kermesse_of_St_George_-_WGA03622.jpg (23 April 2021).
“Project de décoration pour l’opéra Faust, au théâtre de la Scala à Milan.” Artnet. http://www.artnet.com/artists/alexandre-nikolaevich-benois/projet-de-d%C3%A9coration-pour-lop%C3%A9ra-faust-au-th%C3%A9%C3%A2tre-3KTg-0-Q9ZsfSrp3Gzbyhw2 (23 April 2021).
Shelokhonov, Steve. “Alexandre Benois Biography.” IMDb. https://www.imdb.com/name/nm0072216/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm (23 April 2021).
“Two Musicians from Faust.” Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. 2021. https://art.famsf.org/alexandre-benois/two-musicians-faust-2009215 (23 April 2021).
Webster, Andrew. “Featured Lot: Pieter Brueghel the Younger, “Return from the Kermesse.” Fine Art Connoisseur. 1 December 2016. https://fineartconnoisseur.com/2016/12/featured-lot-pieter-brueghel-the-younger-return-from-the-kermesse/ (23 April 2021).