This article examines the activity of the Abramtsevo circle, mainly in the spheres of theater and church architecture. The partnership of two close friends, Savva Mamontov and Vasilii Polenov, generated most of the circle’s ideas and shaped its grand plans. The article analyzes the group’s cultural and educational projects, revealing the different ways in which the educational ideas of the Abramtsevo community influenced the realization of Polenov’s concepts and plans, which in turn were implemented in the artist’s social and theatrical life during the 1910s and 1920s.
This article analyzes the Neo-Russian style in children’s book illustrations in Russia and compares it to analogous artistic developments in England, revealing a similar evolutionary path to that of other national variants of Art Nouveau. The initial aesthetic impulse for this evolution came from the promotion of crafts and medieval handicrafts by “enlightened amateurs.” The history of children’s books, with its patently playful nature, aestheticization of primitives, and free play with quotations from the history of art, is an important episode in the history of Russian and English Art Nouveau. Starting with a consideration of the new attitude towards the “theme of childhood” as such, and a new focus on the child’s perception of the world, this article reveals why the children’s book, long treated as a marginal genre, became a fertile and universal field for artistic experimentation at the turn of the twentieth century. It then focuses on Elena Polenova’s concept of children’s book illustrations, which reflected both her enthusiasm for the British Arts and Crafts movement, and, in particular, the work of Walter Crane, and her profound knowledge of Russian crafts and folklore. The last part of the article deals with the artistic experiments of Ivan Bilibin and the similarities of his book designs to those of Walter Crane.
This article examines the role of the revival of majolica in the search for a national art. It argues that the reinvention of majolica and the reform of the kustar art industry were intimately linked with the rise of ethnographic research and the revitalization of vernacular culture. The Abramtsevo circle became a nucleus for both. The endeavor to revive national heritage and to encourage the handicraft industry was spearheaded by private patronage, which had largely originated from the new urban elite in Moscow. The works made in the ceramics workshop in Abramtsevo were a significant manifestation of the Neo-Russian style and emblematized the typical “Russian” handicraft objects. This article posits that the revival of majolica pursued two main goals: the manufacture of high-quality products to stimulate the art market and the creation of national “Russian” art through the use of vernacular forms. The invention of a national style was publicized at international exhibitions and through reproduction in art magazines. The painter Mikhail Vrubel, who worked in the Abramtsevo ceramics workshop from 1890 until around 1900, became a key figure in the revival of majolica.
Maria Vasilievna Iakunchikova designed three works of applied art and craft in a Neo-Russian style for the Russian section of the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900—a wooden dresser, a toy village in carved wood, and a large embroidered panel. Yet, so far as the official record is concerned, Iakunchikova’s participation in the exhibition is occluded. Her name does not appear in the catalogue, for it was the producers, rather than the designers, who were credited for her works. Indeed, her presence might have been entirely unknown, were it not for several reports of the Russian display in the periodical press by her friend Netta Peacock, a British writer living in Paris. The invisibility of the designer in this instance was not a matter of gender, but it had consequences for women artists. In general, women were marginalized in the mainstream of the nineteenth-century Russian art world—whether at the Academy of Arts or in prominent groups such as the Peredvizhniki—and, as a result, enjoyed fewer opportunities at the Exposition. But the Neo-national movement, linked closely with the revival of applied art and the promotion of kustar industries, was one in which women’s art had space to flourish. And, in the so-called village russe at the Exposition, which featured a display of kustar art, by far the larger contribution was made by women, both as promoters and as artists. In this article, I examine Iakunchikova’s contribution to the Exposition within a broader context of female artistic activity, and the significance of the Russian kustar pavilion for a gendered history of nineteenth-century art.
It was political turmoil in Russia that brought Savva Mamontov and his Abramtsevo circle together with Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. The composer questioned whether the “Official Nationality” decree of Tsar Nicholas I, with its emphasis on autocracy, Orthodoxy, and nationality—which together asserted despotic rule—truly represented the values of a changing Russian society. In addition, his operas found little favor within the Imperial theater directorate. This changed, however, when the Imperial theater monopoly was abolished, allowing private theaters to operate freely. Mamontov opened his Private Opera in 1885 at Abramtsevo and in 1895 in Moscow. His aim was to demonstrate that a private opera house could compete with the Imperial theaters, in addition to giving Moscow the opportunity to see Russian-themed operas. It was Mamontov’s new approach to stage direction, including the incorporation of fine artists in the creative process, that attracted the composer.
Harassment by the Tsar, the bureaucracy of the Imperial theaters, and the western-orientated repertoire committee, had all alienated the composer. Mamontov’s dedication to filling a gap in the Russian music world, as well as his challenge to the Imperial theaters, caught Rimsky-Korsakov’s attention. Through their collaboration they questioned the bureaucracy and publicly registered their protest against Nicholas II. Together, they challenged the foundations of the “Official Nationality” doctrine propounded by the tsars since the rule of Nicholas I, which in a changing Russian society had acquired a new meaning.
Although traditionally associated with the ascendance of National Romanticism, Slavic folklore, and the Neo-Russian style in painting, architecture, and the decorative arts, the Abramtsevo artistic circle was also privy to the inception and production of a number of manifestly Orientalist works, such as Vasilii Polenov’s Christ and the Adulteress (1888), Mikhail Vrubel’s ceramic sculptures of The Assyrian, The Egyptian Girl, The Pharaoh, and The Libyan Lion (1890s), and the costumes and set designs for the theatrical productions Judith (1878, 1898), Joseph (1880, 1881, 1887, 1889), The Black Turban (1884, 1887, 1889), King Saul (1890), and To the Caucasus (1891). In addition, a series of hybrid works that fused elements of the exotic with national thematic and stylistic content, such as Viktor Vasnetsov’s Underwater Kingdom (1884) and Mikhail Vrubel’s Princess Volkhova (1898), were likewise produced under the auspices of Savva Mamontov and the Abramtsevo community, thus blurring the boundaries between native and foreign, local and global, self and other, and Slavophilia and Orientalia. The present article posits that an understanding of the romanticized, Neo-Russian artistic and theatrical productions, and the nationalist polemics of the Abramtsevo artistic circle is necessarily incomplete without a detailed examination of the various Orientalist crosscurrents which informed and structured many of the group’s artworks throughout the 1880s and 1890s—a narrative that has been largely left out of scholarly accounts of the movement.
This article focuses on the French reception of Russian Arts and Crafts in the early 1900s. As a consequence, firstly, of the Russian display at the 1900 “Exposition Universelle,” and, secondly, of the increasing number of Russian exhibitions and other cultural events in Paris, French art periodicals and sections on art in the mainstream press contained many reports about the movement. Several writers expressed their opinion about Russian modern Arts and Crafts and participated in their promotion in France. The main purpose of the article is to shed light on those French critics who were responsible for this process of mediation and the way in which their discourses adopted a comprehensive approach to Russian Arts and Crafts experiments. It examines which artists and which exhibitions were particularly welcomed in around 1906; special attention is paid to Abramtsevo and Talashkino, and, therefore, to Maria Tenisheva.
On March 10, 1913, the “Second All-Russian Kustar Exhibition” opened in St. Petersburg under the patronage of the Empress Alexandra Fedorovna. The largest display of folk art and kustar goods in Imperial Russia, it was a huge success with the public and significantly shaped the layman’s view of Russian folk art. Although this exhibition has garnered considerable attention within the scholarly discourse, it has mainly been discussed from the critics’ point of view. This article provides complementary insights by reconstructing the organizational efforts that contributed to the public success of the exhibition and by analyzing the reaction of the organizing committee to criticism in the contemporary press.