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.

Opposing Official Nationality

The Protest Operas of Savva Mamontov and Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov

John Nelson


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.

The Poetics and Aesthetics of Otherness

Orientalism and Identity at Abramtsevo

Maria Taroutina


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.

Nathanaëlle Tressol


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.

Regulating Russian Arts and Crafts

The “Second All-Russian Kustar Exhibition” of 1913

Ludmila Piters-Hofmann


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.

Viktor Vasnetsov


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.

Russia in Rome

Kokoshniki in the Collection of George Wurts and Henrietta Tower

Lucia Tonini


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.

Inge Wierda


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.

“A Special Place”

On the Significance of Abramtsevo

Elena Voronina

“The Spirit of Old Aksakov … Added to the Charm”

Early Extracts from “The Chronicle of the Abramtsevo Estate”

Savva Mamontov and Selected and introduced by Elena Mokhova


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.

Stacking National Identity

The Lucrative Legacy of the Matreshka

Helena Goscilo


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’s Architectural Projects

Between the Neo-Russian Style and National Romanticism

Elena Kashtanova


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.

Karina Pronitcheva


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.

Viktor Vasnetsov’s New Icons

From Abramtsevo to the Paris “Exposition Universelle” of 1900

Wendy Salmond


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.

Musya Glants


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.

Musya Glants


A new life began with my enrolment in the Ph.D. program at Leningrad State University. I describe the intellectual milieu of that moment as well as the ideological and material impediments to normal social and private life—fraught with injustice and the constant struggle between spiritual uprightness and political humiliation.

Musya Glants


A growing dissatisfaction with second-rate status, i.e. with the ideological stigma of being Jewish, brought many personal changes. For my husband and me, for example, the decision to move to Siberia, where, thanks to geographical remoteness, the rules were less stringent, granted us a respite and a chance to overcome the boundaries of national and ethnic inequality.


Musya Glants


When Germany declared war on the Soviet Union, for me, a child, the world turned upside down to become an alien condition of cruelty and death, hunger and fear. Evacuated, our family faced the War far away from Riga, our hometown, in Uzbekistan—with its strange and unfamiliar landscapes, exotic people, and very different lifestyle. Normal life ended long before the outbreak of World War II.

Andrei Sarabyanov

Mikhail Allenov


Aleksandr Ivanov visited Alexander Herzen in London in 1857. By that year, Alexander ii’s plans to abolish serfdom had been already announced, prompting Herzen to call the tsar a “liberator” in one of his articles of 1858. In this context, Ivanov’s painting The Appearance of Christ before the People mirrored, to some degree, the current situation, and this influenced the artist’s decision to bring the painting to Russia.

Between East and West

Reconsidering Mikhail Vrubel’s “Nativist” Aesthetics

Maria Taroutina


Taking cue from Dmitry Sarabyanov’s seminal publications on the Stil Modern and turn-of-the-century Russian visual culture, the present article resituates Mikhail Vrubel’s œuvre “between East and West” by demonstrating that the artist moved beyond the narrowly circumscribed nationalist agenda typically attributed to the work he produced at the Abramtsevo and Talashkino artistic colonies. In addition to indigenous sources, Vrubel also assimilated a number of external artistic influences such as Jugendstil, medieval Gothic and Renaissance ceramics, Japanese and Chinese porcelain, and Egyptian and Assyrian art. Through a close analysis of Vrubel’s orientalist paintings, as well as his cycle of folkloric works such as Mikula Selyaninovich and the Volga (1896), I demonstrate that his aesthetic program crossed multiple boundaries: geographical, temporal, material, and institutional. Through a complex renegotiation of the global and the local, the past and the present, and the traditional and contemporary, Vrubel arrived at a strikingly modernist visual syntax, which paved the way for an entire generation of avant-garde artists such as Mikhail Larionov, Natalia Goncharova, Kazimir Malevich, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Liubov Popova, Vladimir Tatlin, and Naum Gabo, among others. Using Vrubel as a case study, this article thus proposes to rethink the opposing binary categories of avant-gardism and revivalism, historicism and innovation, Orientalism and Occidentalism, regionalism and cosmopolitanism, as they have been applied to the trajectory of modern Russian art—a set of ostensibly fixed dichotomies that Dmitry Sarabyanov had repeatedly and successfully challenged in his own work.

Viktoria Schindler


This article focuses on manuscripts on color theory by the lesser-known Russian artist Ivan Kliun (1873-1943), who, in the early twentieth century, worked together with leaders of the Russian avant-garde in the cultural centers of Moscow and St. Petersburg and made a significant contribution to the development of abstract art.

Kliun belongs to a group of Russian avant-garde artists who endeavored to discover entirely new methods for investigating artworks, to develop art theory backed by science, and to renew art. He faced these great challenges by scientifically researching the various elements of art such as color, form, texture, light, space, and the principles of their combination in a composition in order to illustrate which aspects of a work of art have an impact on the viewer and his psyche.

Kliun left behind a large body of writings, many of which are still unpublished. These writings contain his own reflections as well as excerpts from various scholarly treatises on color theory composed by international scientists. Kliun’s manuscripts offer a summary of relevant insights into the physical properties of color, tenets of contrast, and the sensual effects of color from works by Wilhelm Ostwald, Hermann von Helmholtz, Leopold Richtera, Matthew Luckiesh, and Albert H. Munsell.

Kliun’s writings reveal that, in the 1920s, the studies of color theory in Russia were based on the same sources as those abroad. Russian avant-garde artists and scientists followed the ongoing developments in color research and gained access to the latest foreign publications.

Creative Intuition

The Russian Interpretation of Henri Bergson’s Metaphysics

Isabel Wünsche


Among the artists of the Russian avant-garde, there was general agreement that the new art forms they were seeking were not to be found in the visible world but rather the artist’s own creative intuition. The true artist created freely and independently, without regard for the appearance of the objective world or conventional approaches to its depiction. In their explorations of the artistic process and the creative endeavor, the artists found inspiration in Henri Bergson’s concept of intuition as a philosophical method, which the French philosopher had formulated in his 1903 essay “Introduction à la métaphysique” (An Introduction to Metaphysics). Bergson’s ideas were further developed and integrated into the larger discussion about organic perception and creative intuition within the Russian cultural tradition by the Russian philosopher Nikolai Lossky. Lossky’s own concept, which he called intuitivism, was developed as an alternative to Bergson’s philosophy; it was an attempt to unite pre-Kantian rationalism, particularly Leibniz’s monadology, with the strong tradition of mystical rationalism in Russian philosophy.

Kazimir Malevich related non-objectivity in art to creative intuition and promoted suprematism as a theory of unbounded creativity that could overcome the narrow notion of art and encompass all spheres of life. In suprematism, “art advances toward creation as an end in itself and toward domination over the forms of nature.” Malevich’s suprematist elements can be compared to Lossky’s substantival agents—they are a creation of the absolute, i.e., intuitive reason, and serve as fundamental building blocks of the world. The essay discusses the Russian interpretation of Henri Bergson’s L’Evolution créatice (Creative Evolution) by Nikolai Lossky and the role Lossky’s concept of intuitivism played in the art and art theory of the Russian avant-garde, specifically Malevich’s suprematism.

Ekaterina Bobrinskaya


The paper deals with anti-Western motifs in Russian avant-garde culture, especially their refraction in Russian futurism. On the one hand, the tendency is linked to a strategic goal—asserting independent versions of this or that new form of art and, on the other, it coincides with fundamental features of Russian modernism such as archaization, national self-identification and Eastern cultures.

Dmitry Vladimirovich Sarabyanov’s Speech to the First Congress of the Union of Artists

Introduction by Elena Borisovna Murina (Translated and annotated by Jane A. Sharp)

Elena Borisovna Murina and Jane A. Sharp

East and West, Past and Present

The Manifold Iconographic Code in Valentin Serov’s Portrait of Ida Rubinstein (1910)

Tanja Malycheva


Valentin Serov’s (1865-1911) nude depiction of Ida Rubinstein, created in Paris in 1910, is one of the most striking examples of how the artist processed various Eastern and Western iconographic codes and subsequently found his own unique portrait formula.

Exhibiting Russia

Revising, Reframing, and Reinterpreting the Russian Avant-Garde

Roann Barris


Although we have some first-hand accounts of visits by American drama critics and theater directors to the Soviet Union in the 1920s and 1930s, with one or two exceptions we do not know much about how American visual artists gained first-hand knowledge of the works of the Russian avant-garde at this time. Tracing the surprisingly rich history of American exhibitions of Russian art in the first half of the twentieth century, this paper examines the influence of Berlin and Vienna in shaping American exhibitions and also shows how curatorial decisions often determined which artists were associated with which movements, even when these associations would later be contradicted by historical facts. Indeed, style may be said to have played a subservient role as curators strove to associate the avant-garde with spirituality or to gain public support for starving Russian artists. Nevertheless, these exhibitions did bring significant works to the attention of American artists and the American public, revealing the significance of certain artists as well as collectors and curators in shaping the American understanding of the Russian avant-garde.

Jakub Hauser


Through several examples of the representation of Russian art in the milieu of interwar Czechoslovakia, the article shows the specificity of the local Russian cultural community which was exiled there following the October Revolution and the ensuing civil war. It examines the community’s international contacts and the role its strong institutional background played in establishing several art collections—most importantly at the Slavonic Institute and the Russian Cultural-Historical Museum in Prague—as it attempted to capture and preserve for the future the art production of Russian artists abroad. It also looks at a remarkable artistic strategy used by The Scythians artist group, which was based on an alleged otherness and even exoticism of the Russian artists residing in Prague and drew on the ideology of Eurasianism promoted in the Russian exiled community of the period.

Ada Raev


The article describes German sculptor Georg Kolbe’s two direct engagements with Russia and its culture in the early twentieth century. The first, brief but fruitful, encounter, in 1912, the same year that Kolbe’s bronze sculpture Tänzerin (Female Dancer) was purchased by the National Gallery, was with Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, who had returned for a second visit to Berlin. Kolbe received Vaslav Nijinsky and Tamara Karsavina in his studio; photographs and drawings of the two star dancers served as inspiration for works such as Tänzer (Dancer) and the Heinrich Heine monument in Frankfurt am Main, and also strengthened Kolbe’s interest in modern dance. The second opportunity came in 1932, when Kolbe, as a successful and established sculptor, was invited to tour the Soviet Union. In 1933, Kolbe published a brief account of his travels under the title “In einem anderen Land” (In another country); his observations, enriched with picturesque details, convey a feeling of empathy for the host country and its inhabitants. Only once does Kolbe admit to a certain discomfort with regard to the atmosphere in the Stalinist Soviet Union.

An Inspirational Milieu

St. Petersburg Cosmopolitan Collections of Old Masters

Fabio Franz


This paper focuses on the provenance, conservation history, and critical fortuna of some selected Western European paintings that were placed in Saint Petersburg between 1850 and 1917. In my research, I link archival information with scientific bibliography and material data for three purposes: Firstly, I compare the two stays in Russia, in 1861 and 1862, by the German expert Gustav Friedrich Waagen with the 1865 visit to St. Petersburg of the Italian connoisseur Giovanni Battista Cavalcaselle. Secondly, I investigate Cavalcaselle’s alleged meeting with the Russian expert Fedor Antonovich Bruni regarding the technique, fruition, and state of conservation of the paintings Saint Sebastian Barbarigo by Titian, Apollo and Marsyas Litta by Bronzino, and Virgin and Child with the Infant Saint John, now attributed to Pontormo. Thirdly, I explore to what extend Duke of Leuchtenberg’s art gallery, Nikolai Dmitrievich Bykov’s collection, and some other private collections, among them those of Princess Kotchubey, Counts Buturlin and Stroganov, and Armenian general Lazarev, were accessible to Western scholars. The research results will enable art historians, curators, and restorers to fill in some blanks in the provenance research and conservation history of these Western masterpieces that used to enrich the Saint Petersburg art scene before the October Revolution.

Ivan Puni and the Flight of Forms

From St. Petersburg to Berlin

Christina Lodder


In February 1921, Ivan Puni organized an exhibition at the Galerie Der Sturm in Berlin. Orchestrating small-scale individual works with letters and numbers (cut from paper as if they were separate visual components in a painting), he used the wall as an enormous canvas in order to create a large pictorial composition, transforming the entire space into an avant-garde Gesamtkunstwerk. This paper examines this installation in terms of pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary artistic theory and practice, including zaum, alogism, suprematism, Kazimir Malevich’s display at the Last Futurist Exhibition of Painting 0.10 (Zero-Ten), suprematist decorations for the revolutionary festivals, and Puni’s work in running the agit-prop department at the Vitebsk Art School in 1919. Above all, this essay will argue that the synthesis of the arts that Puni created in Berlin in 1921 was particularly indebted to his experience of the way in which the revolutionary decorations had created totally new, potentially socialist environments. Yet while assimilating and to some extent replicating this experience, Puni’s 1921 display could also be seen as a protest against communism—acting as a powerful declaration of individualism against the collective, as well as an emphatic statement concerning the importance of art, the enduring value of aesthetic values, and the crucial necessity of maintaining the freedom of art, and its independence from all external pressures.

Yulian Khalturin


The article presents the results of researching works by Kazimir Malevich in the Stedelijk Museum and Khardzhiev-Chaga Foundation, Amsterdam. The materials, including a list of pigments and detailed analysis of the specific peculiarities of certain paintings, were culled on the basis of various technical investigations. Malevich’s personality also serves as a subject of research inasmuch as the analysis of the material aspects of his creativity and his painterly process are related to an understanding of his way of thinking, conceptualizing, and his temperament.

John E. Bowlt and Nicoletta Misler


The article treats of the early land-art or Artifacts (often incorporating snow and ice) produced by Moscow artists Frantsisko Infante and Nonna Goriunova, especially with regard to the notions of landscape, reflectivity, play, infinity, and fluidity or limbo.

Moscow Merz and Russian Rhythm

Tracking Vestiges of the Erste Russische Kunstausstellung, Berlin, 1922

Miriam Häßler


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.

Georgy Kovalenko


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.

Sleeping Beauty

A Western European Immigrant to Russian Culture

Ludmila Piters-Hofmann


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.

Matteo Bertelé


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.”1 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.

Ekaterina Yudina


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.

An Unexpected Role Reversal

Pavel Tretyakov and the International Exhibition of 1862

Rosalind P. Blakesley


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.

Nina Gurianova


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.

Elizabeth Durst

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.

Wendy Salmond

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.

Louise Hardiman

This article examines several important designs by Elena Dmitrievna Polenova (1850-1898) for art embroideries and textile panels. These are the least studied of Polenova’s works, but offer new insights into the artist’s role as a leader of the neo-national movement in late nineteenth-century and early twentieth-century Russian art. Linking extant designs with photographs of exhibition displays and unpublished archival sources, including contemporary accounts by the British art journalist Netta Peacock (1864-1938), this project seeks to initiate the important process of identifying and analysing Polenova’s designs within the context of the movement.

John E. Bowlt

The focus of this article is on Léon Bakst’s activities as textile and dress designer during the 1910s and early 1920s, especially in the United States. Particular note is made of his interest in questions of nationality—whether Persian, Indian, Siamese, Jewish or American Indian—as reflected in fabrics and clothing. Bakst’s interaction with American patrons, such as the Garretts, is discussed as are his pedagogical and theoretical concerns.

Djurdja Bartlett

Nadezhda Lamanova was the only well-established Russian pre-revolutionary fashion designer who declared her loyalty to the new regime following the 1917 Bolshevik insurrection. The juxtaposition of the extraordinary glamour of her pre-1917 designs with her dedicated post-revolutionary service to the Bolsheviks has contributed to Lamanova’s mythical status in Russia. This paper contextualizes Lamanova’s designs within the pre-revolutionary and post-revolutionary modernist arts and applied arts movements, and shows that Lamanova’s work and her personal life were embedded in the social, cultural, and artistic avant-garde of her times. In turn, the paper forges a link between Lamanova’s pre-and-post-1917 careers, periods that, previously, had been strictly delineated.

Katherine Pickering Antonova

This article explores the needlework practices of a provincial gentrywoman in mid-nineteenth century Russia. Natal’ia Chikhacheva (1799-1866) managed her family’s modest estates in Vladimir province, in the heart of the textile region surrounding the village of Ivanovo. She oversaw serf labor in textiles, especially the growing and processing of flax and weaving, but she also did spinning, knitting, sewing, and lacemaking herself. The products of her needles were used not only by her own family, but also by their serfs, while some were sold for profit or given as gifts to friends. Chikhacheva provides a rare glimpse of everyday Russian needlework of the period, its uses, and cultural associations.

Alexandre Vasiliev

The life and work of Sonia Delaunay (1885-1979), especially her clothing and textile designs as reflections of the theory of Simultanism, are the focus of this article. Also discussed are her works for the Ballets Russes and other theater companies, her commercial undertakings, the impact of her color theory on Russian artists such as Georgii Yakulov, and her connections with the Paris avant-gardists such as André Lhote and Tristan Tzara.

Nicoletta Misler

This article is concerned with the life and work of Aleksandra Kol’tsova-Bychkova in Imperial Russia, France, and the Soviet Union, especially her experiments with embroidery in the 1920s and 1930s. Specific attention is given to her association with the Stroganov Institute, her interest in Art Nouveau, and her subsequent interest in abstract composition, as well as her working relationship with her husband, the sculptor, Sergei Kol’tsov, known for his Socialist Realist monuments.

Alison Hilton

The diverse components and decoration of peasant costumes in the north and south of Russia are the focus of this examination of the materials, stitches, and colors of textile arts. The identification of the wearer’s stage of life, village, kinship, and local traditions is analyzed through the sartorial elements and embroidered designs of garments and headdresses. Other textile work, especially embroidery on towels and bed linens, with repeated patterns and stylized motifs, shows formal similarities with designs on wooden distaffs, suggesting shared historical origins of certain forms. The essay emphasizes both the conservative nature of peasant clothing and the adaptability of textile arts to new materials, techniques, and functions.

Medieval Jewelry and Burial Assemblages in Croatia

A Study of Graves and Grave Goods, ca. 800 to ca. 1450


Vladimir Sokol

The Croatian medieval archaeological heritage from the 8th to the 15th century consists mostly of jewelry (earrings) findings from cemeteries. This book uses vertical and horizontal stratigraphy, on the basis of around 20,000 burial assemblages from 16 cemeteries (out of several hundred so far excavated in Croatia), to establish relative and absolute chronology of jewelry and burial architecture divided into three horizons and four phases in comparison with materials from neighboring regions of Europe.

Arts and a Nation

The Role of Visual Arts and Artists in the Making of the Latvian Identity, 1905-1940


Suzanne Pourchier-Plasseraud

Focusing on the role of arts in the construction of national identity, Suzanne Pourchier-Plasseraud has chosen to study the case of a country lacking an ancient state history of its own, Latvia. This book analyses the part played by the visual arts in transmuting the cultural concept of a nation, advocated by a small intelligentsia, into a widespread claim for independence. By the end of the 19th century, fretting under Russian political domination and German economic and cultural supremacy, the Latvians turned back to their own language, culture and folklore, with a special interest for their dainas, their timeless common heritage rooted into a mythical golden age. Latvian artists thus found themselves entrusted with the mission of creating a national iconographic representation and a specifically Latvian art, freed from Russian and German influences. The author shows how the links between the cultural and political spheres evolved between 1905 and 1940, including during the period of authoritarian government preceding WWII. An enlightening contribution to understanding how art and history can be turned into social and political instruments, this book reaches far beyond the Latvian case to a European and even global scope.

The Russian Passion for Dutch Painting of the Golden Age

The Collection of Pyotr Semenov and the Art-Market in St Petersburg, 1860-1910


Irina Sokolova

In The Russian Passion for Dutch Painting of the Golden Age, Irina Sokolova presents the collection of paintings created by Pyotr Petrovich Semenov-Tyan-Shansky (1827–1914), an outstanding scholar and Russian statesman during the era of liberal reforms in Russia. Not only did this man of great erudition assemble a unique body of more than 700 works by Dutch and Flemish masters, but he pushed hard to ensure that it entered the Imperial Hermitage in 1914. His activities as a collector have until recently remained largely unknown. For the first time in English, this richly illustrated book unfolds the history of Semenov’s gallery against the background of cultural and artistic life in St Petersburg and the close ties between Russian and European connoisseurs of his time.


Suzanne Pourchier-Plasseraud