Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942)

Russian illustrator and stage designer

Born in a suburb of St. Petersburg in 1876, Bilibin studied at Anton Ažbe Art School in Munich, where he was heavily influenced by Art Nouveau. His first inspiration came from Russian folk and fairy tales. After seeing an exhibition by Victor Vasnetsov, he was drawn to the remoteness of the wilderness of Old Russia that gave rise to the legends. His watercolours from this trip were seen and admired, and he was commissioned to illustrate a series of books of fairytales, which propelled Bilibin headlong into a career of illustration, set and costume design, teaching and mural painting.


After the October Revolution in 1917, Bilibin left Russia and moved to Egypt, where he set up a studio in Cairo then Alexandria before settling in Paris in 1925, residing there for the opening of the World Exhibition. He still longed for his homeland and eventually returned to Soviet Russia in 1936, where he died in February 1942 during the Siege of Leningrad, starving within the city when he refused to leave and was buried in a collective grave.