English Influences, Russian Experiments

Exploring the Neo-Russian Style in Russian Children’s Books

in Experiment


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.

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