This book is the first biography of Nikolay Punin (1888-1953). One of the most prominent art-critics of the avant-garde, in 1919 Punin was the Commissar of the Hermitage and Russian Museums, he was lecturing at the Academy of Arts and at the State University in Petrograd (and subsequently Leningrad). He was the right hand of Lunacharsky and the head of the Petrograd branch of the Visual Arts Department of Narkompross. From 1913 till 1938, Punin worked at the Russian Museum and organized several major exhibitions of Russian art. Yet his name is not widely known in the West, primarily because his file languished in the KGB archives since he died in 1953, partly because his grave in the Gulag where he died is marked only by a number, and partly because his own reputation became submerged under that of his lover, poet and writer Anna Akhmatova. Through the life and inheritance of Nikolay Punin, this book will examine the very phenomenon of the Russian avant-garde and its fate after the October Revolution, as well as the artistic trends and cultural policies which dominated Soviet art in the 1930-1950s.
For an interview with the author on
The Voice of Russia (July 19th, 2012):
Natalia Murray graduated from the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg before taking the PhD course at the Hermitage Museum in 1995. In 1998 she moved to England; over the past five years she has been lecturing on XIX-XX c. Russian Art at the Courtauld Institute of Art and at the University of Sussex. In 2010 she started her second PhD course at the Courtauld.
"This is an important book that is extensively researched and well written. However, what makes this a significant text also is that the author had access to personal archives. The rich primary material here is taken predominately from the Punin archive held by the subject’s granddaughter, Anna Kaminskaya, and her son. Other useful sources are from the archive at the Akhmatova Museum. One of the strengths of the book is that Murray includes a large number of quotations from Punin’s beautifully written articles. She has also helpfully reproduced a full list of his books and articles at the end. Most of them have never been re-printed, or even translated from Russian, so she provides an invaluable service for other scholars. No doubt after this publication, further translations of his writings will be undertaken and other historians will be inspired to do more research on this great unsung hero of the Russian avant-garde." – Theodora Clarke, in:
East-West Review: Journal of the Great Britain-Russia Society, Winter Edition 2012, p.39
List of Illustrations
PART I: ORIGINS OF THE HERO
1. Punin’s background and origins.
2. The time in Tsarskoye Selo.
PART II: EDUCATION
1. Studies and teachers.
2. Influences and interests.
PART III: WINDS OF CHANGE
FIRST WORLD WAR AND EMERGENCE OF THE NEW CREATIVITY IN RUSSIA
1. The breeding-ground – the last years of Imperial Russia. Foreign influences in Russian Art (French artists’ exhibitions).
2. Growth of interest in Russian art. Foundation of the Russian museum.
3. The First World War and promise of the revolution.
4. Ideas, ideas, ideas. The new faces. Punin and his role among them.
5. Private Life. Marriage and infidelity.
PART IV: THE DAWN OF NEW HOPES.
THE OCTOBER REVOLUTION AND THE SEARCH FOR THE NEW ART.
1. The October Revolution.
2. The Proletarian Art enigma.
3. The fight against old art.
4. The saga of the statues.
5. Art and the State.
PART V: NO FUTURE FOR THE FUTURISTS?
ATTEMPTS TO EDUCATE THE MASSES.
1. Punin and the State Hermitage Museum.
2. The Art of the Commune.
3. Closure of Art of the Commune and the State’s first limitations of artistic freedom.
PART VI: GATHERING CLOUDS, BUT HIGH HEART
1. Punin’s first arrest and first disillusionments.
2. Anna Akhmatova.
3. Ginkhuk and Tatlin. Punin’s lectures and courses.
PART VII: THE SLOW STRANGULATION OF FREE CULTURE
1. The new rules emerging.
2. Keeping the flame high. Russian Museum exhibitions.
3. Events on the home front. Life in the Fountain House.
PART VIII: THE VICTORY OF SOCIALIST REALISM
1. Punin’s last articles and exhibitions. From avant-garde to Socialist Realism.
PART IX: TIME OF TERROR
1. Hard times. Attack on principles and individuals.
2. The second arrest of Nikolay Punin.
3. Life and work after the arrest. Separation from Akhmatova. The arrival of Martha Golubeva.
PART X: THE GREAT PATRIOTIC WAR
1. Beginning of the Great Patriotic War. Leningrad under siege.
2. Evacuation to Samarkand.
3. Return to the North.
PART XI: THE BROKEN POST-WAR DREAMS
1. The post-war cultural scene.
2. Punin’s dismissal and criticism.
PART XII: BITTER END
1. The final arrest and interrogations.
2. Life and death in the Gulag.
Abbreviations and Notes.
Bibliography of published writings of Nikolay Punin.
All those interested in art, in Russian art, history and culture, as well as specialsts and students of the history of art and of social and political history.