The Erste Russische Kunstausstellung [First Russian Art Exhibition] of 1922 was a remarkable event not only for Berlin’s art lovers at that time, but also for the history of twentieth century art. Held at Galerie van Diemen, the show gave a comprehensive overview of Russia’s artistic achievements from late Tsardom to the Russian Civil War. Of all styles in the exhibition, the non-objective art movements of suprematism and constructivism provoked the greatest sensation among the visitors, many of whom were Western artists. Relating Russia’s variations of non-objectivity with their—assumed—political notions, Western modernists reacted in various ways. This article aims at tracking the long-lasting vestiges of the Erste Russische Kunstausstellung in the personal and artistic developments of two key-figures of Germany’s modern art scene: Kurt Schwitters and Hans Richter. While the role of El Lissitzky, who designed the catalogue’s cover, has already been canonized, this article wants to highlight lesser-regarded aspects.
The article treats of the artistic collaboration between writer Jean Giraudoux, actor Louis Jouvet and painter Pavel Tchelitchew (Chelishchev) in Paris in the 1930s. While reference is also made to precedents such as Christian Bérard’s interpretations at the Théâtre de l’Athénée, the main subject of discussion is the production of Giraudoux’s Ondine in 1939 with Madelaine Ozeray in the lead role and with Tchelitchew’s eccentric stage sets, backdrops and lighting—and costumes for dramatis personae Ondine, Bertha and Hans. Also discussed are the connections between these designs and Tchelitchew’s major studio paintings such as Hide and Seek.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926) started his work on the cycle Poema semi skazok [The Poem of Seven Fairy Tales] (1900-26). This self-imposed task included seven monumental paintings depicting popular Russian folktales. Yet, among the representations of famous Russian fairy tale characters, there is a canvas that centers on the Spiashchaia tsarevna [Sleeping Tsarevna] (1900-26), a character originally from Western Europe. This article will focus on the depths of the impact of Western traditions on this seemingly Russian painting by first elaborating on the development of Sleeping Beauty as a character in fairy tales and the spread of her popularity as far as Russia and second by analyzing the painting itself for Russian and European elements in composition and style.
With the Soviet Pavilion of the 1962 Venice Art Biennale, the Thaw era made its entrance onto the international art scene. Artists from different generations and Soviet republics were entrusted to illustrate “the deeply human dimension of Soviet art.” Among younger painters, one prominent figure was 30-year old artist Viktor Popkov. Along with the drawings and sketches produced during his travels in the virgin lands and building sites of Siberia, he presented the monumental painting The Builders of Bratsk (1960-61), an iconic artwork of the so-called “severe style.” The exhibition took place just a few months before the Moscow Manege Exhibition of December 1962, which prompted Khrushchev’s notoriously negative reaction and the first stop to Soviet cultural détente.
The present article explores the genesis of the canvas as the expression of a new “severe romanticism,” against the backdrop of the ongoing debate about romanticism in Soviet culture. It also analyzes the reception of Popkov’s work both in Italy—the country with the largest communist party in the West—and in the international press. On the basis of archival materials and press reviews, the article sheds light onto an artistic encounter between East and West in a divided Europe and discusses missed connections and unmet expectations of Western, mostly Italian, art critics.
The Russian futurists were masters of scandal and provocation as ways of promoting their ideas, and their exhibitions, disputes, and performances often caused public outrage. One of the little-known scandals took place on the opening night of Pink Lantern cabaret in Moscow on October 19, 1913. Following Vladimir Mayakovsky’s taunting declamation of his poetry and Konstantin Balmont’s improvised speech honoring the futurists, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova engaged in a confrontation with the public already irritated by the provocative performances and alcohol. As a result, Goncharova slapped a gentleman across the face, which led him to challenging Larionov to a duel. Larionov refused the challenge, however, in a bizarre twist, Goncharova counter-challenged, causing the discussion of what is and is not futuristic behavior.
Using newspaper articles, interviews, and futurists publications, the paper analyzes this scandal through the prism of Commedia dell’Arte. Recognizing Mayakovsky as the red clown and Larionov as his naïve and cowardly white counterpart, the spectators experienced the cognitive dissonance when Goncharova as the futuristic Columbine took center stage and challenged the public to a duel. Looking at this incident in the broader context of dueling in European history, the paper also addresses the role of the duel in Russian culture and juxtaposes Goncharova’s never-acted-upon challenge with the tragic final duel of Alexander Pushkin fought to defend the honor of his wife and Goncharova’s namesake.
In 1862, the collector Pavel Tretyakov made his second visit to Britain, and lent three paintings to the International Exhibition held in London that year. Then aged just thirty, he had bought his first Russian paintings just six years previously, yet his collection was already of sufficient calibre for the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg to desire works from it for the Russian submission to the London event. Moreover, the genre paintings which Tretyakov lent added spice to what was otherwise a rather routine academic display. In this respect, Tretyakov’s contribution to the 1862 exhibition could be seen to foretell his later patronage of the Peredvizhniki, who similarly unsettled the academic status quo.
Yet one small but telling fact disrupts this narrative of a collector who championed the innovative and the marginalized. Tretyakov had in fact suggested lending to the exhibition paintings by Vladimir Borovikovsky, Fedor Bruni, Karl Briullov and Vasily Khudiakov, all of whom were established members of the academic firmament. But his proposal was overruled and replaced by the alternative selection of genre paintings put forward by Fedor Iordan, a stalwart of the Academy. Far from confirming an image of Tretyakov as a nonconformist whose pioneering vision shook up the practices of the establishment, the case of the 1862 exhibition thus sees the binary which has often been drawn between this ground-breaking collector and the hidebound conservatism of the Academy significantly reversed.
While the aspiration to harmony, utopian in its essence, became a distinctive feature in the particular vein of modernist aesthetics, interested in constructive principles, which came to the fore after the October Revolution in the early 1920s, another line, which will interest me the most in this essay, had been predominant during 1912-17, and developed in quite a different direction, striving for dystopia, dissonance, and the absurd. The metaphor of war in the pre-revolutionary avant-garde was paradigmatic to the concept of innovation and directly linked to the rather symbolic “destruction” of previous achievements. A deeper understanding of avant-garde ideology—on social, political, and aesthetic levels—appears when contextualized in relation to World War i. Natalia Goncharova’s series of lithographs Misticheskie obrazy voiny [Mystical Images of War] (1914), Pavel Filonov’s artist book Propeven o prorosli mirovoi [Canticle of World Flowering] (1915), Olga Rozanova’s linocut portfolio Voina [War] (1916), and Aleksei Kruchenykh’s album of collages Vselenskaia voina [Universal War] (1916) were among the most profound artistic responses to the war. These unique works represent three different artistic explorations of the theme, as reflected in neoprimitivist, futurist, and suprematist aesthetics.
The world of women’s fashion in early twentieth-century Russia provides a rich context for measuring shifts in class identity and in gender norms, as the major cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg were witnessing broad social transformation. If not for the Revolution, the late-Imperial period may well have anticipated the mature markets of the West, where haute couture and the garment industry fueled widespread consumption and became what are now essential components of modern collective social behavior. In Russia, the intensified urbanization of the early twentieth century also ushered in the rise of new forms of popular culture, which often intersected with the world of women’s fashion. Specialized periodicals, such as fashion magazines and the new art of cinema, fueled a cult interest in the latest sartorial trends. A reflection of this phenomenon can also be found in Teffi’s (pseudonym of Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Lokhvitskaia, 1872-1953) broadly circulated stories, which allowed readers to better understand the perceived transformative power of fashion, even when expressed on the seemingly minor level of a small collar or hat.
The goal of this article is to make a preliminary survey of the liturgical embroideries made or commissioned by the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna and her sister Grand Duchess Elizaveta Fedorovna. It suggests that the sisters’ needlework for sacred purposes was invested with a significance not seen in elite Russian society since the late seventeenth century. At a time when the arts of Orthodoxy were undergoing a state-sponsored renaissance, the wife and sister-in-law of the Nicholas ii were the last in a long line of royal women seeking to assert their piety and their power through traditional women’s work. In the closing years of the empire, to make and to donate sacred textiles was a way to emulate ancestral women, while providing modern women with examples of piety, industriousness, and patriotism.