The literature on Sergei Diaghilev is already vast, and this year's centenary of the inauguration of his greatest achievement, the Ballets Russes, is swelling it further. But Sjeng Scheijen's new biography, elegantly translated from the Dutch by Jane Hedley-Prole and Stephen J Leinbach, is a very useful contribution to the corpus. It doesn't break startling new ground or offer any radically different judgements, but it makes an excellent synthesis of post-glasnost research into Russian archives and presents a well-balanced, many-sided view of this most complex and exasperating of personalities. Richard Buckle's 1979 biography may be more romantic and impassioned (as well as being blessed with the fruits of the author's personal friendship with many of the story's subsidiary characters), but Scheijen's account is without doubt more objective and reliable.
The most accurate encapsulation of Diaghilev is his own verdict, made in a letter to his beloved stepmother when he was just starting out on his great enterprise:
First of all, I am a great charlatan, although one of brilliance; second, I'm a great charmer; third, I've