Sjeng Scheijen



Diaghilev, a Life. Oxford & New York: Oxford University Press 2010 [American Edition]

Diaghilev, a Life. London: Profile Books 2009 [British Edition]

Sergei Diaghilev, een leven voor de kunst. Amsterdam: Bert Bakker 2009

De zwijgende kastelen op jouw heuvels. Nederland door Russische ogen. Amsterdam: de Wereldbibliotheek 2007 (with Otto Boele)

Working for Diaghilev [exhibition catalogue]. Gent: Bai 2005

Ilya Repin, Russia’s Secret [exhibition catalogue]. Zwolle: Waanders 2001 (with Henk van Os)



Contributions to books

(in print) Diaghilev, the Man, in: Pritchard, Jane ed., Serge Diaghilev and the Golden Age of the Ballets Russes 1909-1929 [exhibition catalogue]. London: Victoria & Albert Museum

Reaction and Revolution, Sergei Diaghilev’s formative years, in: Bowlt, John & Tregulova, Zelfira eds., A Feast of Wonders, Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes [exhibition catalogue], Milan: Skira 2009

Slaves of Literature: Literature, Visual Art and Landscape Art, in: Wageman, Patty & Jackson, David eds., Russian Landscape in the Age of Tolstoy, Gent: Bai 2003


Diaghilev, a Life

Featuring an eight-page gallery of full-color illustrations, here is a major new biography of Serge Diaghilev, founder and impresario of the Ballets Russes, who revolutionized ballet by bringing together composers such as Stravinsky and Prokofiev, dancers and choreographers such as Nijinsky and Karsavina, Fokine and Balanchine, and artists such as Picasso, Matisse, Bakst, and Goncharova. An accomplished, flamboyant impresario of all the arts, Diaghilev became a legendary figure. Growing up in a minor noble family in remote Perm, he would become a central figure in the artistic worlds of Paris, London, Berlin, and Madrid during the golden age of modern art. He lived through bankruptcy, war, revolution, and exile. Furthermore he lived openly as a homosexual and his liaisons, most famously with Nijinsky, and his turbulent friendships with Stravinsky, Coco Chanel, Prokofiev, and Jean Cocteau gave his life an exceptionally dramatic quality. Scheijen’s magnificent biography, based on extensive research in little known archives, especially in Russia, brings fully to life a complex and powerful personality with boundless creative energy.



  • A major new biography of this creative genius, shedding new light on his career
  • Based on unprecedented access to Russian archives
  • Beautifully illustrated, including full color illustrations
  • New account of Diaghilev – Nijinsky relationship turns the tables on the traditional telling of the story

Product Details

560 pages
8-page full color inset
64 halftones
7 x 10
ISBN13: 978-0-19-975149-5
ISBN10: 0-19-975149-8



Diaghilev, a Life at Oxford Press

Diaghilev, a Life at Profile books



“The parade of great dancers, composers, and artists through Diahilev’s life give this book the sweep of a Russian novel with a fascinating, brilliant, and complex protagonist who, according to the author, lived a very public life, but kept his most intimate feelings hidden.”

— Publishers Weekly

“A vivid portrait of this morbid, nomadic, charming-yet-secretive visionary.”

— Classic FM Magazine

“Drawing on a great deal of new research, and relying wherever possible on contemporary journals and letters, Scheijen puts Diaghilev into a different frame to any of his previous biographers…. Scheijen masterfully recounts the phenomenal way in which Diaghilev contrived, under virtually impossible circumstances, to nurture a sequence of works, from Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Debussy, Ravel, Falla, Milhaud, designed by Bakst, Picasso, Derain, Matisse, Miró, danced by Nijinsky, Karsavina, Massine, Lifar, choreographed by Fokine, Nijinsky, Nijinska, Massine, each more audacious than the last, many of them still in the repertoire.”

— Simon Callow, The Guardian

“An expansive, immensely readable text… A must for anyone intrigued by the Ballets Russes and the ingenious impresario indelibly linked with its achievements.”

— Times Higher Education

“Sergei Diaghilev was a transformative force in the history of 20th century culture thanks to his promotion of Russian art, Russian opera and, of course, the Ballets Russes. After exhaustive research in Russian, European and American archives, Sjeng Scheijen presents us with a multi-facetted and synthetic portrait of Diaghilev, adducing much new biographical and critical material. With important sections on Diaghilev’s family, education, esthetic criteria and psychological makeup, Sergei Diaghilev: A Life is a luminous, engaging and refreshing study of Diaghilev’s national commitment, international mission and deep influence on the evolution of the visual and performing arts.”

— Professor. John Bowlt, University of Southern California

‘Sjeng Scheijen’s new book about Diaghilev is absolutely wonderful. It is filled with the most fascinating information and is a completely intriguing read…. [An] exceptional book’

— Dame Monica Mason, DBE, Director of the Royal Ballet

“No biography is definitive – yet I cannot imagine any book that will supersede this account of how Diaghilev ballets came into being. It is an astonishing achievement.”

— Michael Holroyd

“Previous biographies… have said little or nothing of the family Diaghilev left behind in Russia. Mr. Scheijen, a Dutch expert in Russian art, demonstrates, however, that Diaghilev made repeated efforts to contact them… Mr. Scheijen draws happily from a wide range of sources that have become available in recent years in Russia and the West… an important addition to the large shelf of Diaghilev literature.”

— Alistair Macauley, The New York Times

“New documents enable Scheijen to sweep out many cob-webbed corners in the Diaghilev story… The leading edge of Scheijen’s revisionism, however, is not his fact-correcting but his reinterpretations… An admirable book. Apart from its revisionism, its most striking quality is its avoidance of clutter, and hence its rhetorical force… Above all, [Scheijen[ has tried to provide a deep and unified account of Diaghilev's personality. It's not a soul laid bare--Diaghilev was secretive--but something closer than we've seen before."

— Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

"Diaghilev's Ballets Russes attracted devotees who behaved as if under the spell of an almost cult-like intoxication. The rapture of art at its most transformative seemed to infect everyone connected to the impresario. The major achievement of Diaghilev: A Life is probably its detailed portrait of Diaghilev's private life, but at the same time Mr. Scheijen helps us to feel something of that rapture."

— Joel Lobenthal, The Wall Street Journal

"[A] meaty and rigorously researched new biography…Diaghilev: A Life is especially excellent on its subject’s formative years… Scheijen dexterously plays his sources against one another to examine the erotic and professional dynamics between Diaghilev and his stars.”

— Jennifer B. McDonald, The New York Times Book Review

“Diaghilev was larger than life, and this biography is an absorbing and dramatic account of an extraordinary individual and his time.”

— Library Journal

“In Scheijen’s hands, this is quite a read, quite a life, and quite a book.”


“Scheijen provides a comprehensive, well-balanced chronicle of the professional and personal life of the famous, and infamous, Russian impressario Serge Diaghilev… A substantial addition to the literature on Diaghilev and his Ballet Russes, the book benefits from Scheijen’s access to and selective use of materials from previously inaccessible Russian archives.”

— Choice

“An admirable biographical study, and a fascinating overview of the Russian art world and its European connections in the early twentieth century.”

— Times Literary Supplement