A painter mainly in watercolors, stage designer and art historian, Benois was born in St Petersburg of French and Italian descent. His father was Nikolai Benois, architect to the Imperial Palaces in Peterhof.
In 1887 he attended a part-time course in stage design at the Academy of Arts, but was otherwise self-taught as an artist. Benois studied law at the University of St Petersburg from 1890-1894, and during that time belonged to a circle of friends, including Diaghilev, Somov and Bakst, who came together to study art. This informal circle later developed into the World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) and held exhibitions and published a journal of the same name from 1898 to 1904.
Benois was influenced by
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