At the memorial service held for Savva Mamontov after his death in 1918, Viktor Vasnetsov delivered his reminiscences by way of a eulogy. He describes his relationship with the impresario, some key moments in the history of the Abramtsevo circle and his own artistic life. In so doing, Vasnetsov conveys the deep affection held by artists in the circle for Mamontov, and hints at some of the reasons why his role was so critical and influential in coaxing the group towards their many artistic successes.
The presence of thirty-three Russian head-dresses, as well as other historical objects, in the collection of the American diplomat, George Wurts, and his wife, Henrietta Tower, is an uncommon example of collecting Russian folk objects abroad, and testifies to a universality of taste in international collecting during the late nineteenth century. The head-dress collection is part of a larger collection of around 4,000 pieces dating from antiquity to the early twentieth century, which was assembled at the Palazzo Antici Mattei and the Villa Sciarra in Rome between the end of the nineteenth and the beginning of the twentieth century. Wurts and Tower had a particular interest in arts and crafts, which was enabled by Wurts’s career as a diplomat and secretary at the American mission in St. Petersburg for a period of ten years (1882-93).
This article describes the key characteristics of the Wurts-Tower collection of folk objects, the circumstances of its formation, and its relation to the tendencies of taste during that time. It also testifies to the transformation of the kokoshnik in the eyes of collectors and viewers from a popular costume to a fashion accessory that was linked to a past world.
This article examines the historical and spiritual significance of Radonezh soil and its impact on the artistic practice of the Abramtsevo circle. Through a close reading of three paintings—Viktor Vasnetsov’s Saint Sergius of Radonezh (1881) and Alenushka (1881), and Elena Polenova’s Pokrov Mother of God (1883)—it analyzes how the Abramtsevo artists negotiated Saint Sergius’s legacy alongside their own experiences of the sacred sites in this area and especially the Pokrovskii churches. These artworks demonstrate how, in line with the prevalent nineteenth-century Slavophile interests, Radonezh soil provided a fertile ground for articulating a distinct Russian Orthodox identity in the visual arts of the 1880s and continues to inspire artists to this day.
This text is an extract from the “Chronicle of the Abramtsevo Estate,” a collective diary that details the daily functioning of the estate, as well as the special events, projects, and artistic activities that were held there by Savva Mamontov and his associates from 1870 until 1893. It thus provides a unique glimpse into both the personal and professional lives of one of Russia’s most important and influential artistic colonies.
The matreshka designed by Sergei Maliutin and turned by Vasilii Zvezdochkin has fulfilled a precisely defined function from its inception in the late 1890s until today. Conceived as a material embodiment of national identity amid Abramtsevo’s revival of endemic Russian traditions, the stacking doll symbolized robust national fecundity. Produced and sold in the workshop Detskoe vospitanie [Children’s Upbringing] established by the Mamontov family, it promoted Russianness in a range of stacked dolls garbed in the ethnic dress of the country’s various regions. During the Soviet era the matreshka became standardized and promoted as the quintessential emblem of a vital Russia, above all to foreigners.
The demise of the Soviet Union witnessed the spectacular rise of the author’s matreshka, one indelibly stamped with the creative imagination of its individual creator under new economic and cultural conditions. Political figures, American sports heroes, British rock groups, TV characters, and Hollywood stars all appeared as increasingly decorative stacked dolls. In short, the fate and the appearance of the matreshka accurately reflect Russia’s ideological biases and shifts. If early twentieth-century exploration of diverse national images yielded to a monochromatic defensiveness materialized as the unyielding, stoic child-bearer of Cold War Sovietism, then the post-Soviet matreshka conveys the chameleon-like, cosmetic veneers adopted and discarded by the consumerist society of the 1990s and subsequent decades. My article analyzes the vagaries of the matreshka’s legacy under Soviet and post-Soviet rule, during which the stacked doll has never lost its status as a unique symbol of national identity, though the terms of that symbolism have evolved.
Vasilii Polenov can be described as one of the most “architectural” Russian artists of the late nineteenth century. In his sketches and paintings of the Gospel cycle, his historical works, theatrical scenery, and landscape paintings, the artist could not imagine realizing the main themes of his work without reference to architecture. Polenov’s architectural work can be divided into three types: church projects—such as those at Abramtsevo, the school at the Kologriv monastery in Kostroma province, and the Church of the Holy Trinity in Bekhovo in Tula province; manor architecture in the style of Scandinavian Art Nouveau at the estate he founded on the banks of the Oka River near Tula; and his only urban project—the House of Theatrical Education in Moscow. Polenov pursued the Neo-Russian style with particular alacrity in the sphere of church architecture, which is the focus of this essay, for it was here that the artist offered his own original interpretation of the national theme.
The article is dedicated to objects in precious metal made after Viktor Vasnetsov’s designs at the turn of the twentieth century. It discusses several creations known to be by Vasnetsov, and others which are likely to be attributable to him. The collaboration between Vasnetsov and Russian silversmiths such as Postnikov, Ovchinnikov, and Fabergé is analyzed on the basis of letters preserved in the collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Viktor Vasnetsov Museum in Moscow, and newspaper reports of the period. The following artworks are discussed in detail, with special attention paid to the history of their creation: two presentational dishes of 1896, one for the Coronation of Emperor Nicholas II and one for the “All-Russian Industrial and Art Exhibition” of Nizhnii Novgorod, the khorugv (religious banner) for the coffin of Emperor Alexander III, the presentational dish of 1902 for French President Emile Loubet, the bronze and enamel iconostasis for the Cathedral of St. George in the town of Gus-Khrustalnyi, and the so-called “Ivan Kalita” bowl.
This essay examines Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov’s search for a new kind of prayer icon in the closing decades of the nineteenth century: a hybrid of icon and painting that would reconcile Russia’s historic contradictions and launch a renaissance of national culture and faith. Beginning with his icons for the Spas nerukotvornyi [Savior Not Made by Human Hands] Church at Abramtsevo in 1880-81, for two decades Vasnetsov was hailed as an innovator, the four icons he sent to the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900 marking the culmination of his vision. After 1900, his religious painting polarized elite Russian society and was bitterly attacked in advanced art circles. Yet Vasnetsov’s new icons were increasingly linked with popular culture and the many copies made of them in the late Imperial period suggest that his hybrid image spoke to a generation seeking a resolution to the dilemma of how modern Orthodox worshippers should pray.
I recount the hardship of returning from evacuation to a Riga ravaged by war—and of citizens who were the victim of a constant, inner duality, i.e. of the contradiction between the external conventions of Soviet reality and the inner falsity of Bolshevik ideology. I describe how difficult it was for young people to overcome the nagging moral deterioration of the regime and then the complex process of spiritual liberation in the wake of destalinization.