Cartoonist, graphic illustrator, theater artist
Ivan Bilibin was born in Tarkhovka, a suburb of St. Petersburg. He studied in 1898 at Anton Ažbe Art School in Munich, then under Ilya Repin in St. Petersburg. After graduating in May 1900 he went to Munich, where he completed his training with the painter Anton Ažbe. In 1902–1904 Bilibin travelled in the Russian North, where he became fascinated with old wooden architecture and Russian folklore. In the period 1902 to 1904, he also went to the ethnographic section of the museum of Alexander III to collect Ethnographic material and to photograph monuments of old village architecture in the Vologda, Archangelsk region, Tver; Skaja; olonezkaja and Petrozavodsk. He published his findings in the monograph Folk Arts of the Russian North in 1904. Another influence on his art was traditional Japanese prints.
After the formation of the artists’ association Mir Iskusstva, where he was an active member, his entry into the newspaper and book graphics scene began with a commission for the design of magazine Mir Iskusstva in 1899. Artistic design of other magazines such as Dog Rose (Шиповник) and expenditure of the Moscow publishing house followed. Bilibin gained renown in 1899, when he released his illustrations of Russian fairy tales. During the Russian Revolution of 1905, he drew revolutionary cartoons, especially for the magazine “Župel” (Жупелъ), which in 1906 became prohibited. He would further serve as the designer for the 1909 première production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov‘s The Golden Cockerel.
After the October Revolution in 1917, he left Russia after the revolution proved alien to him. After brief stints in Cairo and Alexandria, he settled in Paris in 1925, where he took to decorating private mansions and Orthodox churches. He still longed for his homeland and, after decorating the Soviet Embassy in 1936, he returned to Soviet Russia, delivering lectures at the Russian Academy of Arts until 1941. Bilibin died during the Siege of Leningrad and was buried in a collective grave.