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Alison Hilton


The strong national voice at Abramtsevo, based on a sense of harmony among native landscapes, religious and folk life, and estate culture was intrinsic to Slavic revival movements of the late nineteenth century. The estate and its surroundings were settings for Russian-themed paintings and inspired artists to seek and express a Russian “spirit of nature.” The search for a national landscape was connected with literary and intellectual culture fostered at Abramtsevo and neighboring estates, and with the presence of religious centers in the area. Local topography and collaboration among the Abramtsevo artists in the 1880s led to new ideas about a national landscape as artists ranged further afield in the next decade. Landscapes of mood and decorative works based on natural forms shifted the role of landscape from concrete subject to a source for formal experimentation.

All the Folk Art News Fit to Print

Russian Needlework Publications of the Late Imperial Period

K. Andrea Rusnock


Neo-nationalism was concerned with a new aesthetic, not just in the fine arts but also in the crafts, particularly needlework. One way that this aesthetic was disseminated for needle art was through publications—magazines, pattern books, how-to-manuals, guides for schools, and the like. Publications on needlework were produced throughout the nineteenth century, and their output increased toward the end of the 1800s, with many portraying peasant imagery and patterns associated with this new style of Neo-nationalism. This article explores how needlework publications propagated Neo-nationalist art to a broad audience and the key role they played in shaping the cultural milieu of the Russian late Imperial period.

Artists at Play

Natalia Erenburg, Iakov Tugendkhold, and the Exhibition of Russian Folk Art at the “Salon d’Automne” of 1913

Anna Winestein


The exhibition of Russian folk art at the Paris “Salon d’Automne” of 1913 has been generally overlooked in scholarship on folk art, overshadowed by the “All-Russian Kustar Exhibitions” and the Moscow avant-garde gallery shows of the same year. This article examines the contributions of its curator, Natalia Erenburg, and the project’s instigator, Iakov Tugendkhold, who wrote the catalogue essay and headed the committee—both of whom were artists who became critics, historians, and collectors. The article elucidates the show’s rationale and selection of exhibits, the critical response to it and its legacy. It also discusses the artistic circles of Russian Paris in which the project originated, particularly the Académie russe. Finally, it examines the project in the context of earlier efforts to present Russian folk art in Paris, and shows how it—and Russian folk art as a source and object of collecting and display—brought together artists, collectors, and scholars from the ranks of the Mir iskusstva [World of Art] group, as well as the younger avant-gardists, and allowed them to engage Parisian and European audiences with their own ideas and artworks.

Olga Khoroshilova


This article focuses on the revival and development of a “national style” in Russian civilian and military dress from the 1880s to the period of World War I. The Slavophile movement [slavianophilstvo] and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 played a large part in the Russian style revival during the reign of Tsar Alexander III. The idea of a national style was a source of inspiration for the Tsar when he ordered the introduction of new army outfits based on peasant dress. This policy also served to represent the Tsar visually as a skazochnyi silach-bogatyr [mighty fairytale bogatyr]—symbol of a new and powerful Russia. This article analyzes ways in which Russian civilian dress changed under the influence of the Russian-style military outfits of Alexander III’s army. It then examines the impact of the later “Neo-Russian” style on costume from nineteenth-century Russian operas, to the All-Russian Art and Industry exhibitions of the 1880s, to the boutiques for national dress which opened in Russia during this period. The second part of the article focuses on the later evolution of the national style in civilian dress during the reign of Tsar Nicholas II. It analyzes examples of early designs for reformed military outfits that were based on Russian folklore traditions. Although these were not actually manufactured, they were much discussed, and influenced the growth of public interest in Russian costume of the seventeenth century. Finally, this article argues that a new wave of popularity of a style in dress that was inspired by Russian folklore was connected with the beginning of World War I.

Eleonora Paston


This article examines questions related to dilettantism, typically defined in negative terms as engagement in an activity without proper professional training. However, this concept can also prompt a positive association, connoting freedom from inertia, ossified techniques, and professional stereotypes and clichés. The present article contends that dilettantism is especially necessary in transitional periods of art history. At such moments, innovations may arise more readily in intimate and amateur circles, rather than in professional contexts. Such a circle developed in the 1870s-90s among the community of artists who gathered around the prominent industrialist and philanthropist Savva Mamontov, a man of diverse talents, who astutely intuited new trends in art. This group of artists came to be known as the Abramtsevo artistic circle, after the name of Mamontov’s country estate located just outside of Moscow, where the vast majority of their artistic activities took place.

In Abramtsevo’s informal, creative atmosphere ideas for new aesthetic projects spontaneously materialized across a range of different artistic spheres—theater, architecture, decorative, and applied arts—in which members of the circle were essentially amateurs. But it is precisely in these areas that the artists would make their most significant contributions. Thus, the first seeds of a novel understanding of theatrical production as a single immersive entity were initially sown on the amateur stage of the Abramtsevo estate and subsequently fully blossomed in Mamontov’s Private Opera (1885-91; 1896-99), which played a foundational role in the development of Russian musical theater. The Church of the Spas nerukotvornyi [Savior Not Made by Human Hands], built by members of the Abramtsevo circle (1881-82), became the first exemplar of the Neo-Russian style in the history of Russian architecture, an important constituent of stil modern or Russian Art Nouveau. The activities of the kustar workshops in Abramtsevo—the carpentry workshop (1885) and the Abramtsevo ceramic studio (1890)—made a significant contribution to the development of the applied arts and industrial design in Russia, leading to their “rebirth” on a national level.

“Dreaming of Russia”

National-Romantic Features in Art Nouveau

Olga Davydova


The National-Romantic trend in Russian Art Nouveau is characterized by a lyrical approach to the past, including imagery from folklore. This tendency is also identifiable within the global development of Art Nouveau, each country expressing its national identity in highly characteristic forms in design and architecture. Art Nouveau coincided with the zenith of Symbolism and, therefore, transmitted both its universal ideas and the unique creative psychology of the individual artist, who often based personal quest upon local traditions and innate cultural memory. This article analyzes the poetics of this style in Russia. The lyrical and mythological approach towards artistic images, influencing design, form, and meaning, is studied through an examination of the works of artists close to the Abramtsevo circle and the innovative experiments of the World of Art group (1898-1904).

Darya Manucharova


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.

English Influences, Russian Experiments

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

Ekaterina Vyazova


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.

Fragile Treasures and Their “Russianness”

The Abramtsevo Ceramic Workshop

Josephine Karg


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.

Invisible Women

Re-examining the Arts and Crafts of Maria V. Iakunchikova at the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900

Louise Hardiman


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.