Centenary of the Archdiocese of Orthodox Churches of Russian Tradition in Western Europe

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Albert Benois

Albert Benois, architect-decorator

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Albert Alexandrovitch Benois-Konsky, belonging to the famous dynasty of artists and architects, is born on June 11, 1888, in Saint-Petersburg. Son of the watercolorist Alexander Alexandrovitch Benois, and grand-nephew of the specialist of architecture, Nicolai Leontievitch Benois, Albert Alexandrovitch learns drawing and painting from his father who initiates him into the world of art since his childhood. In 1907 he is admitted to the Faculty of architecture of the Institute of Civil Engineers (Институт гражданских иженеров). In 1910 Albert A. settles in Paris with his wife, the artist Marguerite Alexandrovna Benois. He enrolls in the École spéciale d’Architecture and works in the studios of Henri Zoa and Pierre Vignal. When he finished school he travels to Italy, France and Corsica, and paints watercolor landscapes. From 1923 onwards he gives expositions of his paintings at the « Salon d’Automne » and the « Salon des Indépendants ». In 1925 he gives an exposition of architectural drawings of churches at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs de Paris and participates in the expositions of Russian art in Brussels (1928), Belgrade (1930), Paris (La Renaissance, 1932) and Prague (1935). He gives an exposition on his own at the galleries J. Charpentier (1924 and 1925), G. Petit (1929), V. Girchman (1931) and at the Paris American Club (1929).

In the years 1930 Albert A. becomes member of the Association « The Icon » and devotes himself above all to the construction of churches and religious painting. In 1937 he builds a memorial church at the Russian military cemetery in Mourmelon-le-Grand near Reims, where each year a pilgrimage is held to the memory of the Russian soldiers who died in France during the First World War.

The construction and decoration (mural paintings) of the church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, consecrated in 1939, at the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, turned out to be his life-work. The whole of the architecture which comprises the church with its crypt, the parish house, the wall, the portal and the bell-tower is made in the style of Pskov and Novgorod from the end of the XIVth to the beginning of the XVth century. Together with his wife Marguerite, who, too, was a painter, he makes the majority of the frescos in the church and in the crypt.

Albert A. is consultant for the project of the memorial church of Saint Alexxander Nevsky in Bizerte (Tunisia), built in 1938, and makes the project for the iconostasis. In 1948 he conceives a project for the architecture of the Russian church in Santa Fe (New Mexico), which is remained unfinished.

Alexander A. Benois has made the icons of the iconostasis and the mural paintings of the sanctuary of the church of Saint Nicholas in Bari, and several icons of the church of Notre-Dame-Joie-des Affligés in Menton and of the church in San Remo (Italy), and of the mural painting of the church of Saint Nicholas in the Maison de retraite des anciens combattants russes in Montmorency.

As a result of the damage caused by water, the crypt of the cathedral of Saint Alexander Nevsky in Paris is completely restored and completely decorated by Albert Alexandrovitch and his wife Marguerite.

Albert A. has made some hundred crosses and tombstones for the cemetery Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, such as the Memorial of Gallipoli (a copy of the monument erected at Gallipoli, Turkey) , the tombstones for A. Bunin, D.S. Merezhkovsky, Z. N. Hippius and I.S. Shmeleva.

He was member of the Union des travailleurs de l’art russe (Союз деятелей русского искусства), of the Comité central Pouchkine in Paris (Центральный Пушкинский комитет), member of the parish council of the Cathedral in Paris, member of the council of the Association for the preservation of the Russian cultural treasures (Общество охранения русских культурных ценностей), member of the Comittee of the protection of the monuments of the Russian soldiers who died on the French front in Saint-Hilaire-le- Grand (Комитет по охране памятников русским воинам павшим на французском фронте в Сен-Илер-ле-Гран), and the Committee of the protection and maintenance of the tombs of the cemetery of Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois (Комитет по охране и поддержанию могил на кладбище Сент- Женевьев-де-Ъуа ).

Albert A. Benois conceived many architectural designs for the apartment buildings in Paris and the houses in its surroundings. He died on August 13, 1960, in Paris. He is buried, together with his wife, in the crypt of the church of the Dormition at the cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des –Bois.