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Twee Ovchinnikovs: een triptiek en een icoon

Posted on September 5, 2021 at 3:00 AM

door Inge Wierda


In de wereld van Russische iconen is Ovchinnikov een naam van formaat. Hij behoort toe aan een bekende Moskouse juweliersfirma uit de 19e eeuw die gespecialiseerd was in goud- en zilverwerk met emaille designs. De kunstobjecten van de Ovchinnikov Firma waren geliefd bij Russische en Europese vorstenhoven, de adel en de geestelijkheid. Maar ook vandaag de dag zijn werken van Ovchinnikov nog steeds gewilde verzamelobjecten. Ze vliegen voor hoge prijzen als zoete broodjes over de toonbank bij grote veilinghuizen als Christie’s en Sotheby’s. Een Ovchinnikov staat immers garant voor kwaliteit en uitzonderlijk vakmanschap. We hebben het over objecten als serviesgoed, schalen en bekers, paaseieren, opbergdoosjes en… iconen.

 

Het levensverhaal van de bedrijfsleider van de befaamde Ovchinnikov Firma, Pavel Ovchinnikov (1830-188 is bijzonder. Hij groeide op in een gezin van lijfeigenen en behoorde toe aan Prins Dimitri Volkonsky en zijn vrouw, de kunstminnende Ekaterina Melgunova (1815-1854), die een landgoed in Sukanova bezaten. Het tekentalent van hun jonge lijfeigene Pavel viel op. Toen hij 12 jaar was – 19 jaar voor de afschaffing van de lijfeigenschap in 1861 – , ontboden de Volkonskys Pavel en stuurden hem voor een opleiding tot zilversmid naar Moskou. Het bleek een schot in de roos. De talentvolle student ontpopte zich tot een groot vakman en werd ontheven uit de lijfeigenschap. In 1851 betrok hij een eigen atelier en twee jaar later, in 1853, startte hij zijn eigen edelsmederij in Moskou. Hij was nu een vrij man, stichtte een gezin en kon nu zelf werknemers in dienst nemen. Uiteindelijk werd Pavel Ovchinnikov hofleverancier van de tsaar en uitgeroepen tot ereburger van Moskou. Zijn werk werd bovendien bewonderd en onderscheiden buiten de landsgrenzen, bijvoorbeeld op de Wereldtentoonstellingen in Parijs (1867) en Wenen (1973). Na zijn dood in 1888 ging de Ovchinnikov Firma over in de handen van Pavels zonen, maar in 1917 deelde de firma het lot van alle grote juwelierswinkels, verbonden aan het hof, en werd gedwongen te sluiten. De bolsjewieken smolten de zilveren kunstobjecten, waaronder processie-iconen, om teneinde er wapens mee te kopen, terwijl Stalin prachtige rijksjuwelen rücksichtsloos verkocht om zijn grootschalige projecten te financieren.

 


1. Triptiek, Firma Ovchinnikov, zilver, verguldsel, emaille, iconen, 39.6 x 22.8 cm, Staats Historisch Museum, Moskou.

 

Een Ovchinnikov-triptiek

Tijdens de tentoonstelling Splendeurs de Russie. Mille ans d’orfèvrerie in 1993 in het Musée du Petit Palais in Parijs, werd ik getroffen door het werk van Ovchinnikov. Met name een privé-altaarstuk van zijn hand is me bijgebleven, een triptiek met iconen tegen een achtergrond van filigrain met gouddraad en een decoratieve lijst met florale en geometrische motieven in emaille (afb. 1).

 

De triptiek is opgebouwd uit drie zilveren platen, die verbonden zijn door middel van scharnieren. Hoewel wat groot, 39,6 cm hoog x 22,8 cm breed, zou het triptiek als een voorname reisicoon gefungeerd kunnen hebben. Het middenpaneel heeft de vorm van een rechthoek met een кокошник – bekroning, een vijflobbige bloemvormige bekroning. De vleugels nemen in gesloten vorm de vorm van het middenpaneel aan (afb. 2). In dit raamwerk met opstaande rand zijn drie rijk bewerkte en uit zilver gedreven platen bevestigd met iconen, die omlijst worden door een polychrome decoratie in de email cloisonné techniek.

 

2. Idem 1. (gesloten vorm)

 

Zowel in geopende als in gesloten toestand is de perfecte symmetrische compositie opvallend. De in elkaars spiegelbeeld, geëmailleerde achterkant van de zijvleugels, met twee halve in elkaar grijpende cirkels en klaverbladkruisen, lineaire, plantaardige en uivormige motieven vormen een prachtig geheel en getuigen van een sterk staaltje kunstenaarschap. Centraal bovenop is een Russisch kruis geplaatst.

 

Op het middenpaneel is in de rechthoek de Transfiguratie op de Berg Tabor te zien, en daarboven in de bekroning God de Vader en een duif (een bekend symbool). In de zijpanelen zijn de apostelen Petrus en Paulus opgenomen, die het christendom wijd verspreidden, en grootvorst Vladimir, die het christendom in 988 in Rusland introduceerde. Ze zijn geplaatst tegen een gouden achtergrond bedekt met een fijnmazig net in filigrain. Dit is een oude uit het oosten afkomstige techniek van versiering met fraai gebogen, en op de oppervlakte gesoldeerde gouddraden.

 

Een inscriptie op de achterzijde van het triptiek onthult voor wie dit werk vervaardigd was: „Aan Vladimir Vassilievitsj Pijenski (1844-1905) van een deel van zijn kameraden van het regiment Preobrazjenski 1862-88.“ Het triptiek werd dus als geschenk aangeboden aan commandant Pijenski door zijn wapenbroeders van het regiment Preobrazjenski, mogelijk bij zijn afscheid in 1889. Wellicht had hij met hen gestreden in de Turks-Russische oorlog. Opmerkelijk genoeg wordt echter een andere militaire overwinning van voor zijn tijd herdacht. Op de voorkant van het triptiek is opzichtig in een inscriptie rondom de Transfiguratie te lezen: „Voor de heldendaden verricht tijdens de slag bij Kulm (Bohemen) op 17 augustus 1813“ [NB volgens de juliaanse kalender vond de slag bij Kulm plaats op 18 augustus, dus een dag later]. De overwinning op Napoleon stond in het nationaal bewustzijn van Rusland gegrift en sprak wellicht ook tot de verbeelding van deze commandant. Zo werd een militair-historische gebeurtenis met een religieuze voorstelling verweven door Ovchinnikov en zonen, welicht in opdracht. Wat mij betreft ontsiert de tekst rondom de Transfiguratie de schoonheid van dit triptiek. Die hoort daar niet echt. Je zou de titel van het type icoon daar verwachten. Maar in de 19e eeuw, nadat tsaar Nicolaas I de identiteit van Rusland articuleerde in de leus “orthodoxie, autocratie en nationalisme”, werd deze mix als okay ervaren. Of de eigenaar het ooit als reisicoon gebruikt heeft, mogelijk meenam op militaire missies, is onbekend. Het triptiek bevindt zich vandaag in het Staats Historisch Museum in Moskou.


3. Maria Magdalena-icoon, ca 1890, Firma Ovchinnikov, 27 x 22.3 cm, p.c.

  

Een Ovchinnikov-icoon

Hoe anders is het palet van een latere Ovchinnikov (afb.3), met een hemelsblauwe filigrain achtergrond, een verguld zilveren oklad en fraai geëmailleerde lijst met florale en gestileerde motieven, die ik onlangs tegenkwam. Volgens Veilinghuis Christie’s zou het om een Maria Magdalena-icoon gaan, die in ca. 1890 voorzien is van een bekleding door de Ovchinnikov Firma. De originele keizerlijke Ovchinnikov-stempel staat er inderdaad op, alsook de initialen AO, die richting Alexander Ovchinnikov wijzen, één van de vier zonen-opvolgers van Pavel Ovchinnikov. Wellicht werkte zoonlief in een iets andere stijl en palet dan zijn vader.

Maar is dit wel een Maria Magdalena-icoon, kan je je afvragen? Het kruikje en het apostelkruis ontbreken in haar handen en narcissen tref je er normaliter niet aan. Het is gebruik onder iconenschilders een inscriptie met de naam van de afgebeelde aan te brengen. Hier ontbreekt deze echter, en biedt dus geen zekerheid. In de veilingannoncetekst wordt verwezen naar de verdrietige expressie op het gezicht en de rouwende positie van de Magdaleense onder het kruis. Je zou er echter ook de nederige en ingekeerde houding van Maria, de moeder van Jezus, in kunnen lezen, als overwoog ze Jezus’ woorden in haar hart. Een soortgelijke houding tref je in de verte ook bij een Deësis-Maria aan. Maar de drie sterren (van Maria) op het gewaad missen, en dus kunnen we er ook niet automatisch van uitgaan dat het om een icoon van de Moeder Gods gaat.

Wellicht zijn de ongebruikelijke twee narcissen in de Maria Magdalena-icoon een verzinsel van de zilversmid en bieden uitgerekend zij de sleutel. Ze verwijzen naar een leven voor de ontmoeting met Jezus (‘zondig’, en na de ontmoeting (heilige). Tenslotte was het evident voor Alexander Ovchinnikov dat Maria Magdalena een transformatie heeft ondergaan en behoorde tot Jezus’ trouwe volgelingen.

Uit bovenstaande blijkt, dat gebrekkige kennis en toepassing van regels binnen de iconografische traditie (het correcte gebruik van opschriften en attributen van heiligen) niet altijd problematisch hoeft te zijn. Het leidt, enerzijds, tot verrassende interventies in de canon, daagt de toeschouwer uit tot reflectie en onderzoek, en het inzicht dat een ander soort ‘kennis’ een belangrijke rol gespeeld heeft bij de totstandkoming van de icoon. De Magdaleense Maria is intuïtief afgebeeld in de juiste houding van de “begenadigde”, degene “wier hart (… gericht is op het Koninkrijk der Hemelen” (citaat van Jezus, Pistis Sofia, 17). Anderzijds, wordt het ruimschoots gecompenseerd door het grote vakmanschap van de Ovchinnikovs.

 

 

Francfort en français-russkiy

Posted on March 4, 2020 at 3:09 PM Comments comments (7417)
Francfort en français-russkiy. Frankfurt auf Französisch-Russisch
Von Dr. Inge Wierda (Kunsthistorikerin)

Im Herbst des Jahres 2017 wurde Frankfurt am Main französisch, da Frankreich Ehrengast der Buchmesse 2017 war. Ähnliches hatte sich bereits in dem für die Frankfurter Kulturpolitik bemerkenswerten Jahr 1958 ereignet, als über Frankreich deutsch-russische Beziehungen etabliert wurden. Damals bedachten die beiden Kulturstadträte Heinz Vogel und Karl vom Rath den Frankfurter Künstler Eberhard Steneberg sowie einige in Frankreich lebende russische Künstler mit zwei besonderen Aufträgen.

Der erste Auftrag
Als Steneberg den Auftrag erhielt, war er gerade von der 6. Internationalen Kunstausstellung im Moskauer Gorki Park zurückgekehrt, wo seine abstrakten Bilder in der russischen Öffentlichkeit für großes Aufsehen gesorgt hatten. Vier Jahre nach Beginn des politischen Tauwetters zwischen West und Ost nahm die jüngere russische Generation die künstlerischen Entwicklungen im Ausland wie ein Schwamm auf. So überrascht es nicht, dass sich nach dieser Moskauer Ausstellung eine Wende in der Kunstwelt Russlands vollzog. Später unterstrich der kürzlich verstorbene non-konformistische Künstler Vladimir Nemuchin (1925-2016), dass jene Ausstellung die in Russland bezüglich fremder Kunst herrschenden Vorurteile zum Erlöschen gebracht hatte. 

Nach und nach reifte der Plan, dem deutschen Publikum den vergessenen und doch so wichtigen Beitrag der Russen zur Moderne aufzuzeigen. Im Klima des Kaltes Krieges der 1950-er Jahre war das eine originelle und aufbauende Initiative. Heinz Vogel, der das Vorhaben unterstützte, empfing Steneberg und zwei seiner Freunde in seinem Büro und half dem Künstler bei der Umsetzung. 
Im November 1958 besuchte Steneberg zum ersten Mal in Paris lebende russische Avantgardisten. Ziel und Auftrag dieser Reise war die Organisation einer Ausstellung mit russischer Kunst in Frankfurt. Der Kontakt mit den in Paris ansässigen russischen Künstlern Natalya Goncharova, Michail Larionov, El Lissitzky, Ossip Zadkine, Antoine Pevsner, Pavel Mansouroff und Sonia Delaunay-Terk führte rasch zu einer herzlichen und dauerhaften Freundschaft zwischen den deutsch-russischen Künstlern der Moderne. 

Die im Sommer 1959 im Karmeliter Kloster in Frankfurt am Main gezeigte Ausstellung “Beitrag der Russen zur Modernen Kunst”, mit umfangreichen Leihgaben der russischen Künstler, wurde ein voller Erfolg. Bei den Vorbereitungen war Steneberg insbesondere von der russisch-französischen Malerin und Designerin Sonia Delaunay-Terk unterstützt worden. Die Firma H&C Fermont aus der Schillerstrasse in Frankfurt hatte den Transport der Werke von Paris nach Frankfurt übernommen. 

Es war die erste Gruppenausstellung russischer Avantgardisten seit 1922/23. Nachdem folgten viele Ausstellungen und Bücher über die russische Avantgarde. Der Katalog, den Steneberg 1959 produzierte, ist in seiner Art aber unübertroffen. Ein Werk und ein Satz sind für alle Aussteller enthalten. In der Einfachheit zeigt sich der Meister!


Der zweite Auftrag
Im Januar 1958 suchte der damalige Kulturstadtrat Dr. Karl vom Rath Marc Chagall in St. Paul de Vence in Südfrankreich auf, um mit ihm ein Auftragswerk für das Theaterfoyer in Frankfurt am Main zu besprechen. Chagall sagte zu und im Dezember 1958 beschloss die Stadtverordneten-
versammlung von Frankfurt, mit Hilfe der Adolf-und-Luisa-Haeuser-Stiftung Chagalls Gemälde “Commedia del’Arte” (Mischtechnik auf Leinwand) und 14 dazugehörige Vorzeichnungen anzukaufen. Seit der Eröffnung der sogenannten "Theaterdoppelanlage" im Jahre 1963 schmücken das 2,55 x 4,00 m große Gemälde und die Skizzen den Chagallsaal des „Schauspiel Frankfurt“. Chagalls Gemälde gilt als ein Sinnbild für das Frankfurt der Nachkriegszeit. 

Commedia dell’Arte ist die stimmungsvolle Wiedergabe eines abendlichen Theatererlebnisses von Chagall. In seiner Darstellung fasste der Maler die verschiedenen Aspekte des Theaters zusammen, die er darüber hinaus in stiller, anschaulicher Form kommentierte. Er zeigt die Bühne und das Publikum, den Dirigenten und das Orchester sowie Zirkuskünstler, Musikanten und eine Ballerina. Daneben finden sich typische Bildelemente von Chagall wie die Kulisse einer kleinen Stadt, ein Liebespaar, Fabeltiere, etwa in Form einer fliegenden Ziege, sowie der Kopf eines Hahnes.

Eine Begrenzung des Bildraumes gibt es nicht, jedoch sind die Figuren mit Konturen versehen und die Bühne mit zwei parallel verlaufenen Halbkreisen deutlich erkennbar markiert. Chagalls Assoziationen, seine Erfahrungen und Erinnerungen schweben frei im Raum. Der jüdische Künstler hat vergeben, was geschehen ist, jedoch konnte er nie seinen Geburtsort Vitebsk (die Stadt), seine geliebte Bella, das schreckliche Schicksal des jüdisches Volkes (die Ziege) und seine Familie vergessen. Auch wenn er eine Theateraufführung besuchte, war ihm dies stets gegenwärtig. 

FMXX  
In beide Aufträge war die Gründerin des Vereins zur Förderung der Malerei des 20. Jahrhunderts (FMXX), Frau Hanna Lambrette, involviert. In ihrer Frankfurter Werkstatt rahmte sie einige Werke der Russischen Avantgardisten für die Ausstellung “Beitrag der Russen zur Modernen Kunst”. Auch für die Skizzen Chagalls fertigte sie von Hand die Rahmen. Heute werden sie in einer Liste neben der Gemälde in Chagallsaal präsentiert. Ursprünglich betonten die verschiedenen Rahmen der Einzigartigkeit dieser Werke. Begeistert berichtete Frau Lambrette: “Wir hatten ein Abkommen, Herr Vogel und ich. Er rief mich an einem Montagmittag an: 'Wir haben am Freitag die Eröffnung des Chagallsaals. Dafür müssen noch 14 Bilder gerahmt werden.' Ich habe ohne zu schlafen von Montagmittag bis Freitag früh durchgearbeitet.“ 

Fast 40 Jahre schmückten die Arbeiten Chagalls das Schauspiel Frankfurt, ohne je restauriert worden zu sein. 2004 zeigte das Frankfurter Ikonenmuseum die Arbeiten in ihrer Ausstellung “Als Chagall das fliegen lernte. Von der Ikone zur Avantgarde” und 2017 nahmen sich die Mitarbeiter des Museums erneut der Themen Chagalls an in der Ausstellung „Chagalls Propheten. Die Chagall-Bibel und Ikonen“ (bis 26 November 2017). Doch wer kennt heute noch die anderen Russen die wie Chagall in Frankfurt am Main Geschichte schrieben in den 1950-er Jahren? Archipenko, Delaunay-Terk, Gabo, Gontcharova, Jawlensky, Kandinsky, Lissitzky, Malevich, Mansouroff, Pevsner en Zadkine waren alle 1959 im Karmeliter Kloster in Frankfurt am Main vertreten. Kandinsky, Malevich en Jawlensky Malewitsch und Jawlensky waren bereits gestorben, die anderen lebten meist in Armut, unbekannt in Paris. 


Beitrag der Russen zur Modernen Kunst, 1959, Frankfurt am Main
Wie eine Nachricht in der Frankfurter Neue Presse zeigt war Alexander Archipenko mit der Skulptur Stehende (1920) vertretet; Sonia Terk-Delaunay mit sechs Ölbilder und 17 Gouachen, Aquarelle und Zeichnungen. Steneberg reiste für Leihgaben von Malewitsch nach Amsterdam. In dem Katalog hatte er Suprematistische Komposition, 1915 aus der Sammlung des Stedelijk Museums veröffentlicht unter dem Titel „Gelb/orange/grün, nach 1914“. 

Ossip Zadkine schickte über seine eigene Carrier sechs Skulpture nach Frankfurt. Viele von ihnen sind immer noch am selben Ort, wo Steneberg sie zum ersten Mal gesehen hat, im Zadkine-Haus, heute Zadkine-Museum. Natalya Goncharova war sowohl mit vorrevolutionären Werken als auch mit weniger bekannten abstrakten Werken aus den 1950er Jahren vertreten. Von den 19 Ausstellern fasste sie vielleicht das Beste zusammen, was die Russen zur modernen Kunst beigetragen haben. In gebrochenem Deutsch ließ sie Steneberg wissen: „Wir haben als Russen nicht Tahiti. Wir suchten Freiheit – Paris, Berlin, Liberté! Jeder gab, Franzosen, Russen, Deutsche, - aber wir gaben Russland!’

(FMXX, Dez. 2017)

Abbildungen:
1. Photo von Eberhard Steneberg in Paris
2. Marc Chagall: Commedia dell'arte, 1958-63, 2.55 x 4 m, Schauspiel, Frankfurt am Main (Sammlung der Haeuser-Stiftung für Kunst und Kulturpflege)
3. Katalog "Beitrag der Russen zur Modernen Kunst, 1959, Karmeliter Kloster, Frankfurt am Main. Komposition: Eberhard Steneberg.



Centenary and Impact of Kandinsky’s "Über das Geistige in der Kunst”, Symposium, University of Leiden, 2012

Posted on March 4, 2016 at 2:00 PM Comments comments (1262)
Introduction

The groundbreaking book ‘Über das Geistige in der Kunst. Insbesondere in der Malerei’ was written by the Russian artist Vasily Kandinsky. It was published in 1912, by R. Piper Verlag & Co in Munich, the city where its author was living at the time of publication.(1) It received acclaim overnight. A second enlarged and third edition followed a couple of months later, still in 1912. Kandinsky’s book inspired artists as well as art historians and museum professionals to explore the theme of the spiritual in art for themselves, and to create their own art, interpretations and exhibitions on the very same theme. 













The first part of the book’s title has been used in exhibitions such as: The Spritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985, 1986, LA Country Museum of Art en HGM, 1986 and Das Geistige in der Kunst. Blauen Reiter zum Abstrakten Expressionismus, 2011, Museum Wiesbaden, whilst the theme of the book is also explored in a number of other exhibitions. Its impact on the international art world, the history of art and the museum world ever since its publication a century ago was the reason to organize the symposium ‘Centenary and Impact of Kandinsky’s book ‘Über das Geistige in der Kunst’ at the University Leiden. The organisors, Laetitia Smit and Inge Wierda, were convinced that this landmark in the history of art could not be passed unnoticed.

The first, slightly abbreviated Russian version and Sandler’s English translation were printed in 1914, the first Italian edition in 1940, a French translation in 1949 and a Dutch translation 1962. The titles of these translations of the German original vary according to the interpretation of the translators. The Dutch art historian Charles Wentinck entitled his translation e.g. Het abstracte in de kunst in 1962, omitting and avoiding the translation of ‘Geistige’ and thereby missing Kandinsky point completely.

The artist explained in his Reminiscences written in 1913 that it had not been his aim to create a philosophy or theory, but to develop and a ‘for as yet nonexisting’ but ‘undoubtedly needed and endlessly enriching capacity to experience the spiritual in material and abstract things’.(2) In other words, he aimed for nothing less than to transform humans into beings who would perceive the world in a spiritual way. Kandinsky desired to change the attitude of artists, curators, spectators and art critics and most probably art and cultural historians into this direction. As a highly responsible artist, he felt, and I paraphrase chapter 8 in Über das Geistige in der Kunst, that it is the duty of an artist, like all people to watch their ‘deeds, feeling and thoughts’ as it would go into the art works he is producing. Painting he said is a ‘power which must be directed to the improvement and refinement of the human soul’.(3)

The artist began assembling notes for his book around 1900 and finished his writing in 1910. In 1904 he wrote two texts about colour and revealed his wish to become a ‘composer of colour’, as he called it. Kandinsky had a deep respect for the power of both music and colour as Fontaine-Hahl and Smit will elucidate in their papers. He played the cello and the piano and wished that art would have the same impact as music can have, that is to give a ‘pure soul experience’, ‘create a spiritual atmosphere’, ‘set up a vibration in the heart’.(4) Kandinsky counted among his friends the spiritually inclined Russian composer and conductor Thomas von Hartmann, whilst he respected Schönberg, for his independence and music of the future,as can be read in his book. In 1904, the same year that he wrote the first drafts for Über das Geistige in der Kunst, he wrote to his friend, Gabriele Münter, that he would pave a new path in art. In order to become a ‘composer of colour’, he researched the physical and psychological effects of colour, the language of form, and the mutual effects of colour and form within a composition. (see part 2, chapters 5 and 6)

As most of you know, Kandinsky’s evolutionary growth personally and as an artist lead him to revolutionise art, in the form of abstract art, and this came together in his book. This is probably the reason why for some translators ‘the spiritual in art’ became synonymous for ‘abstract art’. In an interview held in 1937 by Karl Niedorf, Kandinsky explained briefly which formal factors had been important for this revolution in art: they ranged from a passion for colour, non-representative art in the Vologda region, an exhibition of Impressionists in Moscow, Russian icon painting, Matisse and the Expressionists rather than the Cubists.(5) The driving force behind this revolution was not mentioned, but explained in his groundbreaking book.

In order to come to an understanding of Kandinsky’s book and his art up to 1912, one cannot only point to formal factors as Kandinsky did, and as was the custom among art historians at that time. We need to study the context of time and place in which it originated: personal, socio-historical, political, cultural, intellectual, artistic and spiritual factors that shaped his art and mindset. It is indeed interesting to examine Kandinsky’s view on the human condition. Let us examine some of these factors briefly.
 
Kandinsky rebelled against his parents’ generation, their positivist materialist worldview and underestimation of spiritual values. Although not condemning their art, he criticized Russian realists for their subordination to materialism and utilitarianism, and their dependence on patrons. According to Kandinsky their art is ‘without a soul’. Thus, he writes in Über das Geistige in der Kunst’, that ‘degraded artists just copy nature, portray material objects. For centuries their only concern has been how to do this.’

Art mirrors its times, he asserts in his book, and therefore can not be imitated. Neo-classicist art may resemble Greek art, but without its soul. For centuries, the artistic language of classical antiquity attracted the attention of the art world. Winckelmann (1717-1768) claimed it to be the most perfect language that had ever existed and newly established art academies and art museums conformed to his view. They communicated the classical ideal in their educational system and the presentation of their collections respectively. The Imperial Academy of the Arts in St. Petersburg was no exception. In the 1890s for the first time Russian realism was added to the curriculum. Kandinsky perceived neo-classicism and realism as dead art and moved to Germany to receive an alternative training among symbolists.

The fact that artists of his age were reviving Primitive art was not a matter of aping according to Kandinsky, but points towards another resemblance between the art forms of today and those of the past. It is based on ‘similar ideals’, a similar (spiritual) attitude towards life, and is full of potential.(6)This type of art contains an uplifting and evolutionary power, and ‘a deep and powerful prophetic strength’ according to Kandinsky.(7)

Kandinsky asserts in the introduction of his book, that curators and spectators do not recognise the difference between these two forms of resemblances of or borrowings from ancient art. He describes exhibition spaces full of skillfully painted and technically perfect art, but remarks that ‘hungry souls go away hungry’.(8) Art has not appealed to their heart. It lacks ‘vision'. Spectators appreciate solely what they know and turn their back on artists with ideals. This is the reason why the evolution of men is such a slow process, according to Kandinsky. In chapter two, he describes a triangle where the masses below stand still, whilst some prophets and martyrs on top will try to drag them forward and provide those below with spiritual sustenance. To the masses belong all who are imprisoned by their materialism, artists as well as religious believers, politicians, economists and scientists.

Kandinsky noticed that in the late 19 century there was however an increasing number of people interested in questions of a non-material or spiritual nature. They turned to the past, not to copy, but to learn from those with ‘the same ideals’, ‘their half-forgotten methods’.(9) 

Kandinsky himself consciously looked back to medieval Russian religious art, in order to study their representation of the non-material, other or spiritual world. He attempted to grasp its essence and concluded that icons were painted in an abstract, or in any case, a non-naturalist style. He sharply criticizes the Eurocentric and colonial views of the West, regarding Indians as ‘savages’, and he embraces Helena Blavatsky as the first person willing to learn from these so-called savages and what he called ‘their half-forgotten methods’. According to Kandinsky, Blavatsky initiated a ‘tremendous spiritual movement’ in the late-nineteenth century, the theosophical movement (1875), providing a hand in the spiritual quest. At the same time, Kandinsky, is wary of the theosofists’ inclination to answer all questions, instead of humbly posing a question about matters that are beyond the mind’s grasp.

He quotes Blavatsky at the end of her book: ‘The earth will be a heaven in the 21 century in comparison with what it is now’ and he concludes his own book with similar words: ‘We see already before us an age of purposeful creation, and this spirit in painting stands in a direct, organic relationship to the creation of a new spiritual realm that is already beginning, for this spirit is the soul of the epoch of the great spiritual.’(10) 

Kandinsky was influenced by Helena Blavatsky and Rudolf Steiner at the time of writing his book, and this influence should not be overestimated nor underestimated. He read their theosophical texts in areas of interest to him, attended public lectures by Steiner in 1908, knew theosophists in Russia (Aleksandra Unkovskaia and Alexander Strakosch) where its impact was profound, discussed their ideas in e.g. his friend, Von Werefkin’s salons, and borrowed concepts from them. However, there were other Russian religious philosophers among his acquaintances and in his sphere of influence.

One of them was Dmitri Merezhkovsky, prophesising as early as 1892 an epoch of ‘divine idealism’ and evolutionary mysticism. Merezhkovsky revived the medieval idea of The Third Testament, the New Age of the Holy Spirit, emphasising the Necessity of a Revolution of the Spirit. He distinguished three ages: 1. an Age of the Father, 2. the Age of the Son and 3. the Age of the Spirit.(11) In Reminiscences, written in 1913, Kandinsky refers to these revived medieval ideas. He speaks of ‘a mighty kingdom, that we can now only dimly conceive’ and a little further ‘Here begins the great period of the spiritual, the revelation of the Spirit. Father-Son-Holy Spirit’.

In other words, Kandinsky subscribes to the theosophical idea of a nearing spiritual epoch in all realms of life, and names it after Merezhkovsky’’s borrowed and ancient Christian Idea, ‘the Third Age of the Spirit’.(12) Merezhkovsky proclaimed a revolutionary form of Christianity based on the Apocalypse, indeed the Revelation of St. John. It can be no coincidence that we find apocalyptic themes in Kandinsky’s art works around 1912 as well.

Being an avid reader and well informed, Kandinsky must have heard about the other major Russian religious philosopher of his time, Vladimir Soloviev. Like Soloviev (and Merezhkovsky), Kandinsky criticised the state of Christians in Über das Geistige in der Kunst and pleads for introspection and change. Moreover, Soloviev predicted the end of the world in his ‘A Short Story of the Antichrist’ published in 1900, whilst Kandinsky tackled themes like the Flood and the Last Judgment. Vladimir Soloviev famously wrote that "the end" will be like the final act of a play by Ibsen: the actual end isn't ever "in doubt"; it's just a matter of his audience having to wait as the inevitable ending gradually / eventually / inevitably 'unfolds' before them.














In 1911, the year which saw the publication of Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Kandinsky painted Composition V, which he based on the theme of the Last Judgment. It is difficult to recognize his allusion due to its abstract character. Kandinsky made however more representative variants and studies on the subject and these studies are much easier to comprehend. He made a so-called Hinterglasbild (painting on glass) in Murnau in August 1911. It is entitled Resurrection, with an angel awakening the death on Judgement Day, blowing a huge trumpet at the top left side. In Composition V, one sees the sounds the angels make depicted in bold black lines. The angels themselves are much abstracted. Only a few lines are left at the top right side. We also identify a walled city with crumbling tower on top of a mountain, which reoccurs in Composition V. 

The motif of crumbling architecture appears in Russian folk art (luboks) and reoccurs in the watercolour ‘Sound of Trumpets’ (1911) by Kandinsky and in the woodcut ‘last Judgment’ (1911), now in the collection of the Städtische Galerie Lenbachhaus Munich. And finally, and most importantly we find a detail of the Last Judgment on the cover of Über das Geistige in der Kunst.

We may hope that Blavatsky and Kandinsky’s prediction that a new spiritual era will dawn after a period of darkness is correct. The awakened interest in (eastern) spirituality in the late 19th century which Kandinsky signalled in his book, Kandinsky’s book and its impact on the art world, museum world and art history allows us to imagine its possibility. 



NOTES
1. The book appeared slightly earlier on the market than the publication date mentioned in the book suggests. Kandinsky’s inner circle was able to obtain a copy in December 1911. 
2. Kandinsky, Reminicences, 1913, cited in Kandinsky. Complete Writings on Art (ed. by Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (Da Capo Press, 1994), p. 380-81. 
3. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, trans. and intr. by Michael Sandler, (New York, Dover Publications, 1977), p. 54. 
4. Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1977, pp. 15-16. 
5. Interview with Karl Niedorf in 1937, in: Kandinsky. Complete Writings on Art, 1994, pp. 806-807. 
6. Wassily Kandinsky, Concerning the Spiritual in Art, 1977, p. 1 
7. Ibid, p. 4. Kandinsky regards the art of the Primitives (e.g. Indian and Persian art) as a more developed art than neo-classicism or realism, saying that ‘the still harsh tyranny of the materialistic philosophy, divide our soul sharply from that of the Primitives.’[7] ‘Our minds, which are even now only just awakening after years of materialism, are infected with the despair of unbelief, of lack of purpose and ideal’.[7] The idealist artist of his day will ‘endeavour to awaken subtler emotions, as yet unnamed’.[7] ‘The possibilities of the influence of art are not exerted to their utmost’. 8. Ibid, p. 3 
9. Ibid, chapter 3, p. 13. 
10. Ibid, p. 13 and p. 57. 
11. For more information, see: B. G. Rosenthal, D.S. Merezhkovsky and the Silver Age: The Development of a Revolutionary Mentality (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1975). 
12. Kandinsky, Reminicences, 1913, cited in Kandinsky. Complete Writings on Art,  1994, pp. 377-379.

William Morris and Elena Polenova in the UK

Posted on November 29, 2015 at 6:28 AM Comments comments (541)
During the exhibition International Arts and Crafts held in the V&A in London in 2005, Abramtsevo’s arts and crafts movement was represented by just one object by Polenova: a wall cupboard. As similar ideas and artistic practises occurred in the UK and Russia at about the same time, the question raised if William Morris could have inspired Abramtsevo’s revival of the arts and crafts in Russia. Today, the London based Russian scholar, dr. Natalia Murray, made up the neglect, and showed the complete oeuvre of this remarkable Russian artist, Elena Polenova, at the Watts Gallery in Surrey (2014) and in the Polenov Museum in Polenovo (2015-16).
 
 
William Morris in the UK
By the 1870s the decorative arts in the UK were considered as ‘the lesser arts’ while architecture, sculpture and painting were classified as ‘the greater arts’. The British designer William Morris (1834-96) challenged this idea regretting the separation of the fine and the decorative arts. He read it as a telling sign of the contemporary condition of all the arts. According to Morris the arts had sank low in modern society and people were not able to enjoy labour anymore; ‘handicraftsmen’ had forsaken their task ‘to beautify the familiar matters of everyday life’.

During a lecture given to the Trades Guild of Learning in London in 1877 Morris called the craftsmen to awaken from their dulled state of mind, to aim to become excellent workmen, artists and to create a new art, an art that would be made ‘in accord with Nature’ and could be characterised by beauty. For that reason Morris propagated an all encompassing art education: the study and reflection of the history of ‘all great art’, drawing classes, continuous observation of nature, dedicated art practice and the general cultivation of the powers of the mind, the eye and the hand. Morris dreamed about an era of new ‘great art’, which could be achieved, he believed, in a society where freedom, equality, simplicity, hygiene, decency and wisdom were highly valued principles. Since he realised that society did not pursue his ‘utopia’ he involved himself in politics and fought for it as an ardent socialist.
    
In Morris’ time, in the whole of Europe, artists’ colonies emerged in the countryside as a reaction to the new modern city life. They often shared Morris' interest in saving the traditional handicrafts from extinction in an increasingly industrialising Europe. The most important artists’ circle in Russia was established in Abramtsevo (near Moscow) on the estate of Savva and Elizaveta Mamontov. It researched, preserved and furthered the traditional peasant crafts in depth as part of Russian culture, contributing to a national identity in the arts in the late 19 century. In this article I want to argue that the Mamontovs and the artists of Abramtsevo realised the ideals championed by William Morris, blurring the boundaries between the fine arts and the decorative arts (and its historic association with gender) and raising the aesthetic level of the handicrafts by providing education to all.
 
 
World Exhibition in Paris, 1867 
In Moscow the theories of William Morris and John Ruskin were widely discussed and published in several journals in Russia by the 1900s. However, no evidence have been found yet as to whether they could have provided a direct stimulus for the establishments of the crafts workshops in Abramtsevo as early as the 1870s and 1880s. Interestingly the highly respected scholar of Russian Art, Elisabeth Valkenier recently revealed that Dmitri Grigorovich - the ‘commissar’ of the Russian Department the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1867- discussed William Morris’ ideas as early as 1868. Furthermore, the Russian art historian Elena Paston has recently stated that Vasily Polenov - an artist of Abramtsevo’s circle - referred to these ideas in his dissertation of 1871.
 
Although Morris’ name is not mentioned once in Grigorovich’s report of 1868,  (ill. 5) his booklet could have provided its readers and the Mamontovs with an impetus to stimulate art education and set up new workshops in the crafts in Russia after the English model. As Grigorovich informs us in his report, half of Paris’ oval exhibition space at the Palais du Champ de Mars in 1867 had been dedicated to art education systems in the decorative arts of different countries.

 
 





 








In his extensive account on the English section Grigorovich praises the South Kensington Museum for its ‘educational environment for students’ and its accessibility for all classes of society. (ill. 6) He quotes its opening speech in 1851 in which the British concern with the improvement of the artistic quality of the crafts (a la Morris) was vividly expressed. This could be achieved through ‘cultivating the artistic perception in society as a whole’, by educating and enlightening the people. Everyone could profit form the artefacts and models exhibited at the Museum, which in their turn were often donated by enthusiastic British citizens.

Demonstrating it with factual numbers Grigorovich underlines the British achievement: ‘action is taken in order to achieve the objective set by Mr Koll in his opening speech – to develop artistic taste and an understanding of art in all classes of the English society.’ Grigorovich concludes his booklet by expressing his hope that Russia will move in the same direction and set up more art schools and museums: ‘The Moscow Arts and Industry Museum is already in place, as well as two Art Schools (…) But this is only the beginning, only the first steps… We should not stop here, we should go forward.’
 
Since members of the Abramtsevo circle travelled a lot and were familiar with artistic tendencies and ideas from abroad, there can be no doubt that Grigorovich’ report was discussed amongst them. They seem to have answered Grigorovich’ call: the Mamontovs set up various educational workshops and established the first Museum of Folk Art in Russia. The museum functioned as an ‘educational environment for students’ and as a cultivator of the public taste, just as their English equivalent was aimed for. Enthusiastic Russian citizens in their turn donated objects to Abramtsevo’s Museum just like the British to the South Kensington Museum.
 
 
Mamontova and Polenova in Abramtsevo
In 1873 the Mamontovs commissioned the architect Viktor Hartman to build a Studio with carved wooden decorations typical of the crafts revival on their summer estate. Three years later Elizaveta Mamontova set up an art-carpentry workshop for peasant children in that building. She provided them with crafts education free of charge, a set of tools and job opportunities, simultaneously hoping to deter them from migrating to the city.

In 1885 Mamontova appointed the artist Elena Polenova, a rather well-educated woman and all-round artist for her time, as the artistic director of the woodworking workshop. Under Polenova, the joinery became a huge success. Many items were sold in Russia as well as abroad. Polenova set up a four-years training program, familiarised herself with the ins and outs of furniture making and designed furniture herself, while actively collecting authentic peasant art from the different regions (Vladimir, Tula, Kostroma, Vologodsky regions and other provinces of Russia) as examples for her pupils. In order to house this collection of furniture and utensils an Etnographic Museum was established in Abramtsevo.

Eager to preserve the beauty of traditional Russian peasant art, restore and uplift its aesthetic quality and cherish its national spirit, Polenova came to have an impetus on the crafts as Morris had in England. As a specialist in ceramics, Polenova furthermore became the driving force behind the establishment of a ceramic workshop at Abramtsevo and a short lived embroidery workshop also.
 
Elena Polenova to Elizaveta Mamontova, 27 September 1886, writes that they should ‘with all power try to save the precious remains of folk art.’
 
It is interesting to note that Polenova, being trained outside the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St. Petersburg in ceramics and watercolours, blurred the boundaries between the fine and decorative arts and its historic association with gender by starting to experiment with painting in oil, while her male collegues did the same in the opposite direction. Although graduated (male) artists usually did not desire to work in the crafts, in Abramtsevo professionally trained painters such as Vasily Polenov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Valentin Serov, Michael Vrubel, Konstantin Korovin, Alexander Golovin became more or less occasionally involved with woodworking, ceramics, theatre design or illustration work. Their spontaneous experiments not only raised the artistic level of the crafts, but paved the way for future generations of artists to come and work in these disciplines. One needs only to think of the dynamic theatre sets of avant-gardists such as Natalya Goncharova and Lyubov Popova or the ceramics of Ilya Chashnik and Kazimir Malevich.
 
 
World Exhibition in the Kensington Museum, 1862
Remarkably, neither Grigorovich’s article from 1868 nor Polenov’s dissertation from 1871 were the earliest foreign stimuli for the Mamontovs to set up craft workshop at their estate. If they did not visit the highly successful International Exhibition at the South Kensington Museum in 1862 in London themselves, the influential Russian arts critic Vladimir Stasov certainly did. The exhibits of Morris’ firm Morris, Marshall, Faulkner & Co caught their attention receiving two golden medals, while the Russian section at this exhibition received a stinging critique from the English critic Francis Taylor: Russian art was of an inferior level lacking an identity of its own. This criticism fuelled the search for a Russian identity in the arts for certain. Both the Mamontovs and Stasov began propagating ‘Russianness’ in the arts and succeeded in establishing the beginnings of ‘great Russian art’. Inspired by the adventure of exploring Russia’s cultural heritage painting, watercolour, sculpture, carvings, medieval church architecture, theatre designs, book illumination, furniture, ceramics and embroidery with a Russian flavour started to flourish at Abramtsevo. The circumstances of production seemed to have been ideal at this peaceful place near the big city of Moscow, where artists shared similar ideas as Morris, whether they knew about them or not.                     








       





            


Polenova’s wall cupboard
One of the items shown in the South Kensington Museum in 1862 was a wall cabinet designed by Morris’ friend Philip Webb and decorated with pictures of the legend of St. George on its doors by Morris. Webb’s wall cabinet was exhibited in London at the same venue as a wall cupboard designed by Elena Polenova, 142 years later, the venue presently called the Victoria and Albert Museum. The earlier mentioned critic Stasov would have been proud of Polenova’s contribution to the recently held exhibition in the V&A, but highly disappointed that by now the Russian arts and crafts are still not merited in a so-called ‘international’ contextual presentation of the Arts and Crafts. Its obscure presentation and underrepresentation highlights the low priority given by the curators of the V&A to present the Russian Arts and Crafts in that bigger context.
However, Abramtsevo’s sole representative, an item from the Victoria and Albert’s own collection, shines like an eye catcher in the small Russian section. It is a wall cupboard designed by Elena Polenova, (ill. 7) As the most popular item of Abramtsevo’s furniture workshop, it is a good and frequently copied example. Several members of the Russian artistic intelligentsia such as Pavel Tretyakov, Vladimir Stasov and the artistic ‘couple’ Marianne von Werefkin and Alexey von Jawlensky as well as two French families purchased a Polenova wall cupboard similar to the Victoria and Albert exemplar. Yet another example can be found in the State Museum in Abramtsevo itself.

Polenova designed this wall cupboard on the basis of sketches that she had made during her collecting trips throughout Russia. One sheet in her album clearly demonstrates that in the final design she combined sketches of several parts of the wall cupboard made in different villages. (ill. 9) She even noted the names of the villages and provinces where they could be found: the column- in Bogoslov in the Yaroslavl province, the lower box- in Komyagin near Abramtsevo and the handle- in Valishchevo in the Podolsky district. She did not incorporate the tile with a rose in a vase in her final product. Instead, she replaced it with a carved stylized strawberry plant with two strawberries and flowers. The flowers look like tulips (often depicted on tiles) and the other two flowers seem to have been taken from ornaments on an 18 century carved casket found in the north of Russia of Abramtsevo’s Folk Museum. (ill. 10) Above it twinkle gilded stars against a blue background, just like the golden stars in a blue heaven in the Byzantine churches of Ravenna. The central white circular motive, a rosette with clockwise curved grooves seems to whirl. It might refer to the wheel of life, or did Polenova celebrate Russia’s nature as she did in her numerous studies from details of nature in the surroundings of Abramtsevo? (ill. 11) If this wall cupboard is the ‘meadow wall cupboard’ Polenova was referring to in a letter to Mamontova, the circular motive should in fact be read as the moon: ‘The door of the column cupboard with stars, moon, wild strawberries, and flowers represents uncultured nature.’
 
     














Familiar with Morris’ ideas about crafts education via her brother’s dissertation, Polenova provided her students with authentic peasant artefacts of the newly established Folk Museum in Abramtsevo and artistic designs of her own hand.
By so doing Polenova succeeded in Morris’ call ‘to beautify the familiar matters of everyday life’, to raise the crafts to the status of (fine) art, to provide education and job opportunities for the lower classes and to enjoy work while striving for equality in the Russia of her time. Her watercolours and furniture were made in accord with Nature and beautified the domestic interiors of many Russian and European consumers. The floral decoration of Polenova’s popular wall cupboard reflects that Morris and Polenova shared their respect for Nature.

NOTE Until 14 April 2016, the Elena Polenova retrospective can be seen in Polenovo. For more information, click here.

 
Illustrations:
1. William Morris, 1877, Photo: Ellis & Fry
2. Dmitri Grigorovich’ report, 1867
3. The South Kensington Museum, 1862/ V&A, 2005 London
4. Studio for the crafts in Abramtsevo, 1873, Architect: V.A. Hartman, Photo: Inge  Wierda
5. Elena Polenova, Wall cupboard, c. 1885-93,Painted birch, V&A Museum, London                          
6. A page from Polenova’s album compiled by N.V. Polenova, 1921
7. Detail wall cupboard (5)         
8. Casket, End 18 century, Abramtsevo Museum  
9. Polenova, At the edge of the forest, 1885, Abramtsevo Museum

* This article was written in 2005 and is firstly published here. It has not been my intention to offend anyone involved in the exhibition. It arose from a genuine disappointment that the flowering Russian arts & crafts under Polenova and Mamontovo were still neglected in an exhibition dedicated to the International Arts and Crafts in the V&A in London. 

Notes:
This information and subsequent quotations are taken from a lecture by Morris which is reprinted in: News from nowhere and Other Writings, (London: Penguin Books, 2004; first edition in 1993), pp. 231-254. It was followed by an artists’ circle on Princess Tenisheva’s Talashkino (near Smolensk) in the 1890s. At these places the crafts were both preserved and researched in depth as part of Russian culture. William Craft Brumfield, A History of Russian Architecture (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004), p. 425 and in Wendy Salmond, Arts and Crafts in Late Imperial Russia: reviving the Kustar Art Industry, 1870-1917, (NY: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), p. 213: note 2. In various Russian and English texts on Abramtsevo the possible influence of William Morris’ ideas has always been mentioned in passing: in one line and without reference or comment. Elisabeth Kridl Valkenier, Valentin Serov: Portraits of Russia’s Silver Age, (Evanstone Illinois: Northwestern University Press, 2001), p. 37, note 7. Eleonora Paston, Der Künstlerkreis von Abramcevo inmitten der europäischen Künstlerkolonien’, in  Künstlerkolonien in Europa: Im Zeichen der Ebene und des Himmels, (Nürnberg: Germanisches Nationalmuseum, 2001), p. 182. This information and the following quotations can be found in: Dmitri Grigorovich, Obzor, Parighskoy vsemirnoy vistavke: Kudoghestvennoe obrazovanie v priloghenii k promishlennosti, (St. Petersburg: Obchestvennaya Polza, 1867). With many thanks to Elena Nesterova who provided me with the full title of this booklet and Katerina Zvyagintseva for her support in translating this text accurately. Allison Hilton, Russian Folk Art, (Bloomington and Indianopolis: Indiana University Press, 1995), p. 232. Polenova was among the first Russian women to study history and archaeology at the University. She further attended a course in pedagogics and studied watercolour and ceramic at the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts and Paris. She also experimented with painting in oil as one of the first female artists at the time. Andrei Mamontov, the second son of the Mamontovs attended Polenova’s ‘ceramic salons’ in Moscow and begged his parents to establish a ceramic workshop in Abramtsevo. I.V. Plotnikova, ‘Abramtsevo’s joinery and collection of folk art’, Abramtsevo: chudostvennyi kruzhok zhivopis, krafika, skulptura teatr masterskye, (Leningrad: Khudozhnik RSFSR, 1988), p. 149. Roszika Parker and Griselda Pollock, Old mistresses: Women, Art and Ideology, (London: Pandora Press, 1981), p. 50. Being excluded from academic training as a woman, Polenova attended watercolours and ceramics classes -subjects considered appropriate for women- at the Society of the Encouragement of the Arts in St. Petersburg and in Paris. She started to experiment with oil painting in Abramtsevo. Her male collegues enjoyed official education in the fine arts at the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St. Petersburg and started to experiment with the decorative arts at Abramtsevo, something not done for male graduates. Vrubel’s and Polenova’s work respectively in the ceramic and the woodworking workshop became a serious artistic endeavour for a longer period of time. For domestic stimuli to revive the crafts see Boris Lossky, ‘The Popular Arts in Russia and their revival, Apollo, December 1973, vol. 98, no. 142, pp. 454-459. Elisabeth Kridl Valkenier, Russian Realist Art: The State and Society: The Peredvizhniki and Their Tradition, (Michigan, Ann Arbor: Ardis, 1977), p. 57. Ibid. Philip Henderson, William Morris: His life work and friends, (London: Thames and Hudson, 1967), p. 70. Stasov was exited about Abramtsevo’s furniture indeed. He purchased Polenova’s wall cupboard with two columns for his own office. See in: Nina Belaglazova, 1980, p. 50. The wall cupboard with column was copied widely in Abramtsevo’s woodworking workshop. Therefore Elizaveta Mamontova called the workshop jokingly ‘The workshop of the wallcupboard with column’. See in N. V. Polenova, 1922, p. 57. Bernd Fäthke, ‘Abramcevo-Möbel: Kostbarkeiten aus Jawlenskys Atelier’ Welkuns: aktuelle illustrierte Zeitschrift für Kunst und Antiquitäten, vol 72, September 2002, pp. 1258-1260. The artists Viktor Vasnetsov, Ilya Repin, and the singer Fjodor Shalyapin also purchased furniture from Polenova’s woodworking workshop. N. V. Polenova, Abramtsevo: Vospominania (Moscow: Izd. M.i C. Sabashnikovich, 1922), p.58. I presume Polenova’s familiarity with Vasily’s dissertation as they were closely connected, living together in Moscow for years. Unfortunately I did not read this dissertation yet. Before Polenova arrived in Abramtsevo, she collaborated with her elder sister Vera Polenova and Nadezhda Stasova, leader of the feminist movement in Russia and sister of the art critic Vladimir Stasov, in educating all classes and both men and women.

Scriabin in the Himalayas on solstice 2015 IDY

Posted on May 12, 2015 at 6:30 AM Comments comments (556)

In order to raise money for the restoration of the cultural heritage of Nepal, a unique event is organized in the Himalayas in response to the recent Gorkha earthquake.   
A concert with music of the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915) will be held at the outdoor terrace of the Thikse Monastery in central Ladakh, India on solstice, 21 June 2015, celebrating the Light.

Apart from musical compositions by Scriabin, the program will also contain Himalayan Cham dance, an interactive light show and an olfactory score of timed scent diffusions. A limited number of hundred tickets are available for 2000 pounds per person.

Various pieces by Scriabin will be performed by the following musicians: Matthew Bengtson (piano), Coady Green (piano) and Christopher Smith (piano), Neil Latchman (tenor). The date of this outdoor concert marks the anniversary date of the death of the composer, fulfilling his last wish to perform in the mighty mountainscape of the Himalayas.
 
For more information about the program, please click here.

Note: The United Nations recently declared June 21 as the International Day of Yoga. It will be celebrated at embassies of India and other places along the globe for the first time this year. Both the Russian composer Alexander Scriabin and Russian artist Nikolai Roerich (1874-1947; see paintings above) were in favor of yoga. 

Scriabin envisaged yoga or union would happen during the performance of his Gesammtkunstwerk Mysterium in the Himalayas, whilst Roerich established a school of Agni Yoga in London in 1920. Roerich's amazing art works can be seen in various museums in Europe, USA, India and his beloved Russia.

Vasnetsov's homage to Mother Earth (on 45th Earth Day)

Posted on April 22, 2015 at 9:22 AM Comments comments (400)
The Gifts of Mother Earth and the Soul of Nature
 
Mother,
I come from you,
you carry me,
you nourish me,
and you will take me after my death
 
Russian variant
Born from the earth,
fed by the earth,
into the earth I will go!
 
Soul of Nature
I am the soul of nature
That gives life to the universe
From me all things proceed
And to me they must return
 
The artists that joined the Abramtsevo artists' circle in late 19th century Russia were attracted by Abramtsevo’s rural location on Radonezh soil. The proximity to the Trinity Lavra not only inspired Repin to sketch pilgrims for Religious Procession in the Province of Kursk (1880-83, fig. 62) and Nesterov to paint Radonezh landscapes as background for his paintings, but since the artists were urbanites, they also enjoyed escaping the city by modern transport for the refreshing experience of nature. As their landscapes were painted on Radonezh soil, their appreciation of nature is likely to have been embedded within an almost religious respect. In order to consider this possibility, we will first take a closer look into another spiritual aspect of its soil in order to come to an understanding of this respect, particularly its connotations of sacred femininity.

These connotations are related to the age old cult of the earth as a sacred feminine force, a living entity in human history in general and in Russian history in particular. In ancient civilizations the earth was revered as a holy mother, as it was believed that she both nourished people with her crops grown in her soil, and bore them living and walking on ‘her skin’. This meant that her feelings should be respected and her goodwill earned. These ancient beliefs persisted in agricultural communities into recent times. The agricultural communities that made up much of Russia in the late nineteenth-century still felt, like Slavic communities before them, that they were largely dependant on her gifts. The ancient Slavs worshipped the earth goddess Mokosh, praying for good weather and protection. One prayer read: ‘Moist Mother Earth, calm the north winds and the clouds, subdue the snowstorms and the cold’.

Another, perhaps more telling phrase, which was overheard by collectors of folk wisdom such as Pyotr Kireevsky (1808-56), who visited Abramtsevo in the mid nineteenth-century, is as follows: ‘Moist Mother Earth feeds all, gives all to drink, dresses all, and warms all with her warmth!’, ‘Bow to mother-earth, she awards you hundredfold!’
 
In the heyday of Abramtsevo artists’ circle, the pre-Christian, feminine Russian designation for the earth, ‘мать сыра’ or ‘mother moist earth’, had gradually come to designate the beauty of the Russian land and had been associated with a national feminine identity to be respected and adored: termed as ‘Mother Russia’ or ‘My native mother’. By then, Russian landscapes had become an independent genre and a highly popular object of study, in which several artists strove to overcome the seeming separation between man and nature, or man and creation. They, as Russians in general, not only traditionally believed in the interdependence of the earth and man, their images of nature also often, as Yaroslavtseva writes, ‘originated from the traditional national perception of the world, in which nature is deified’.

As interested Russian intellectuals passionately absorbed foreign philosophy after Russia had opened its doors wide to the ideas of the Western Enlightenment in the eighteenth century, this belief in a sacred nature or divine creation was, more than elsewhere in Europe, reinforced in Russia by the profound influence of Hegelian but especially Shellingian philosophy. Within Abramtsevo’s circle these ideas were widely known. Not only was Mstislav Prakhov, a romantic soul himself, profoundly influenced by the German idealists, as an unpublished article in which he quotes Schelling demonstrates, but so too was the widely read historian in Abramtsevo’s circle, Fyodor Ivanovich Buslayev.

Schelling states: ‘All German science [...] has striven to see the vitality of nature and its inner oneness with an intelligent and divine being’, and Buslayev writes: ‘By using the words ‘soul’ and ‘spirit’ man relates to nature around him, as if trying to sense his own presence everywhere in nature’. (My italics) Buslayev probably refers to Hegel’s Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences here, where Hegel states that the ‘Spirit’ can be understood as the ancient designation for the abstract ‘Soul of Nature’ and nature as its external manifestation. In other words, nature was seen as an expression of the divine.
 
Viktor Vasnetsov, Three Tsarevnas of the Under World Kingdom, 1879

Looking at the production of images of nature painted by the artists of Abramtsevo in this light, Vasnetsov’s Three Tsarevnas (1879)becomes particularly significant. In this painting, the artist, a sincere Russian Orthodox Christian, personifies the mineral treasures of the earth by three female figures. It is evident that the heritage of the Slavic earth goddess and her ‘eternal and feminine beauty’ remained vitally present in nineteenth-century Russian culture. Such beliefs would have been familiar to Vasnetsov, who had been interested in Russian myths since his youth. The Mamontovs [the owners of the Abramtsevo estate], by contrast, appear not to have been familiar with these ancient beliefs, as the following anecdote demonstrates.

When Viktor Vasnetsov was first introduced to the Mamontovs in Moscow in December 1879, Mamontov had commissioned the young, unknown and needy artist to decorate the central station of the Donets railway upon its completion. Vasnetsov recalls: ‘Discovering through conversations and inquiries what my plans were, Savva Ivanovich suggested that I myself choose the subjects for pictures supposedly intended for the central offices of the Donets Railway then under construction.’ Vasnetsov decided to make three paintings on epic and legendary subjects: The Three Tsarevnas of the Under World Kingdom (1879-81, TGM), The Magic Carpet (1880, The Art Museum of Nizhniy Novgorod,) and The Battle of the Russians and the Scythians (1881, RM). His paintings were refused by the railway commission, even though they made up an allegorical representation of the renewal of the region. The commission could not approve of their ‘unconventionality’ and ‘considered the ‘stony’ figures a strange and unnecessary departure from the rules of academic painting’. According to the board Repin and Makovsky had ‘never painted a single “stony” or static figure which would be similar to the figures of the dreamlike Tsarevnas on Vasnetsov’s fantastic painting.’

His paintings related to folk tales and byliny were not approved in academic circles either, the different style they required was not appreciated. When he exhibited these works with the Peredvizhniki, the organizers also disapproved of his unrealistic style. Yet, style and content seem to be in harmony in this painting, in which the three tsarevnas of the three underworld kingdoms of gold, silver and copper, came to signify the ‘stony’ raw materials contained in the earth. They are presented as the female fairytale figures from Alexander Afanasyev’s tale with the same name, at the moment that they had just been freed from their stony underworld abode, still feeling out of their element.

Vasnetsov, who considered this painting one of the ‘most valuable for me in my oeuvre’ reported disappointedly: ‘Even to the Mamontovs I explained my conception several times; still I cannot say positively that they understood it.’ He thus added the figure of Ivan, who rescued the three imprisoned tsarevnas, in order to make Afanasyev’s tale more visible in his second version of the painting, now preserved in Kiev’s Museum of Art.

Even though scholarly consensus still tends not to consider this painting amongst Vasnetsov’s best, and does not regard it in its own right, a contemporary, more objective appraisal is necessary to prevent falling into the error of disparaging our ancestors as superstitious people worshipping Mother Earth and her imagined representatives. Instead it might be read as engendering respect for her gifts and beauty. We can read it as a justified homage to the Russian part of Mother Earth, and especially the Donets region with its mineral wealth, which this particular painting came to symbolize and the artist wanted to promote. 


Notes
A prayer to Mother Earth that is still practiced today in European villages according to Marije Gimbutas, Goddess (London: Thames and Hudson, 1981), p. 159.  Аполлон Коринфский, «Mать Сыра Земля», Народная Русью. Сказания, поверья, обычаи и пословицы Русского народа (Москва: Белый город, 2006), c. 7. Doreen Valiente, Charge of the Goddess (Brighton: Hexagon Hoopix, 2000). Elizabeth Warner, Russian Myth,, 2002, pp. 28-30. See <www.winterscapes.com/slavic.htm>, [consulted on 22/7/2006]. Orlando Figes, Natasha’s Dance: A cultural History of Russia (London: Penguin Books, 2003), p. 133; Аполлон Коринфский, НароднаяРусь, 2006, с. 7. Ellen Rutten, Unattainable Bride Russia. Engendering Nation, State and Intelligentsia in Twentieth-Century Russian Literature (PhD, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, 2005), p. 20. Н. Ярославчева, ‘Душа художника «эманация души природа»’, Виктора Васнецова: История душихудожника (Москва: Новости, 1998), c. 93. In Russia the influence of Schelling (in the 1820s-40s) was felt earlier than the influence of Hegel. For more information see F.C. Copleston, Philosophy in Russia. From Herzen to Lenin and Berdyaev (Notre Dame, Indiana: Search Press, 1986). See Mstislav Prakhov’s unpublished essay in Abramtsevo’s archive, Рук. 514, л. 1-2. Excerpts of this essay are published in Э.В. Пастон, Aбрамцево, 2003, cc. 39-40. Lesley Сhamberlain, Motherland: A Philosophical History of Russia (London: Atlantic, 2004), pp. 153;Н. Ярославчева, «Душа художника «эманация души природа», ВиктораВаснецова, 1998, c. 94. Hegel, Encyclopaedia of the Philosophical Sciences, part III: The Philosophy of Spirit, Part A: The Soul, § 311. N. Shanina, Viktor Vasnetsov (Leningrad: Aurora Art Publishers, 1979) p. 73, n. 26. Н. Ярославцева,Moсква Виктора Васнецова (История души художника), 1998, c. 98. Ibid, с. 98. It was only in 1909 that Igor Grabar 1909 recognized that Vasnetsov had actually ‘started a new era in  Russian art, from which a huge number of passionate attempts to represent the ideal of  national beauty originates. See А.К. Лазуко, В. В. Васнечов (Ленинград: худолник рсфср, 1990), c. 44. E. Kirichenko, The Russian Style, 1991, p. 148.   А.К. Лазуко, В. В. Васнечов, c. 46; В.M. Лoбaнов, Виктор Васнецов в Москве (Москва, 1961) p. 104; Е. Р. Арензон, «Moсква, Дом в Садова-Спасской», Савва Мамонтов, 1995, p. 65.

Source: My PhD thesis Abramtsevo: Multiple Cultural Expressions of a Russian Folk and Religious Identity, University of Leeds, 2008.

For more information on Earth Day, click here

Malevich' feestje in het Drents Museum Assen!

Posted on March 9, 2015 at 11:02 AM Comments comments (682)
Het boerenleven in de kunst van Malevich
Veel mensen bezochten vorig jaar de grote expositie Kazimir Malevich en de Russische avant-garde in het Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, waar Malevich' werk tot en met 1927 te zien was. In het Drents Museum in Assen is nog t/m 15 maart een glasheldere presentatie van zijn laatste meer figuratieve fase (1928-1935) te zien, waarin hij het motief van de boer weer oppakte. 
Malevich, die in zijn jonge jaren een opleiding aan een landbouwschool in de Oekraïne had gevolgd voordat hij kunstenaar werd, gaf de boeren een eigentijds gezicht in deze voor hen zo zware periode van gedwongen landbouwcollectivisatie (1927-32). Daarbij verloochende hij zijn suprematistische vormentaal niet.
 
Tot aan zijn dood in 1935 bleef hij heilig geloven in zijn 'suprematistische' revolutie van 1915. Net als de meeste avantgardistische tijdgenoten had hij gehoopt dat een beter tijdperk zou aanbreken met meer sociale gelijkheid. Na de oktoberrevolutie van 1917 had hij zich vol vuur ingezet om het kunstonderwijs en museumbeleid te hervormen, geschoeid op suprematistische leest. Ook paste hij zijn geometrisch abstracte taal toe op architectuurontwerpen, en zelfs op porceleinen theepotten. Een constructivist zou hij echter nooit worden; hij geloofde niet zonder meer in technologische vooruitgang. Hij was kritisch en zag met eigen ogen dat techniek op oneigenlijke wijze gebruikt desastreuze gevolgen kon hebben.
 
Nadat hij in 1926 ontslagen was als directeur van het Insituut voor Artistieke Cultuur in Leningrad, had hij zijn suprematistische boeltje bij elkaar gepakt, schilderijen en onderwijsmaterialen mee naar Berlijn genomen in de hoop een nieuwe baan aan het Bauhaus te krijgen in deze stad. Het verhaal is bekend. Na zes maanden keerde hij met lege handen naar Rusland terug. Daar was het eerste vijfjarenplan in werking getreden en moest hij met lede ogen toezien dat de boeren opnieuw werden uitgebuit. Kleine zelfstandige boeren werden gedwongen toe te treden tot collectieve landbouwbedrijven, kolchozen, die met landbouwmachines gemoderniseerd dienden te worden. Boeren moesten een derde deel van de graanopbrengst afstaan aan de staat ten bate van de zware industrie. In 1861 nog bevrijd uit de lijfeigenchap van de landadel, werden boeren er nu onder gehouden door de staat.

Gedesillusioneerd verweet Malevich zijn tijdgenoten collega's dat ze dit actuele drama op het platteland in beeld brachten in een stijl uit het verleden in plaats van in het door hen uitgevonden revolutionaire moderne idioom. “Kunstenaars die de weg van de monumentale schilderkunst zijn ingeslagen, begeven zich in de wereld van de antieke catacomben (…) Ze negeren de wegen van de moderne 20e eeuwse schilderkunst en bewegen zich in de richting van de 15e eeuw”, schreef hij in 1930. Hij wou een statement maken voor zowel de moderne kunst als de Russische boer.

Niet meer verbonden aan onderzoek en onderwijs, keerde Malevich in 1928 naar de schilderkunst terug. Hij beweerde dat zijn boerenstukken juist toen uitermate relevant waren. Als de Nederlandse boerenschilder Van Gogh borduurde hij voort op eerder gebruikte motieven in deze laatste, moeilijke fase van zijn leven. Hij stak zijn boeren in een kubofuturistisch jasje en gebruikte felle en frisse moderne kleuren als in zijn suprematistische werken.
 
Zijn boeren waren krachtige types, zonder gezicht, die als Légeriaanse machines op het land werkten. Enerzijds gaan ze op in het landschap, zijn ze één met de natuur als in zijn vroegere kubofuturistische boerenstukken. Anderzijds portretteert Malevich boeren als de nieuwe martelaren tegen de achtergrond van een kruis en met overvliegende vliegtuigen in de lucht (zie linksboven en hiernaast). Hun arbeid en individueel welzijn werden geofferd voor een totalitair regime dat blind in de economische benefits van technologische voortuitgang geloofde. Alles moest daarvoor wijken.  
         
In een van zijn laatste werken is te zien hoe een boerenfiguur volledig op zichzelf teruggeworpen het suprematisme alleen nog in zichzelf draagt. Het suprematisme was dood verklaard, handen, hoofd en voeten zwart gekleurd (op tekeningen is er een kruis ingezet), maar de boerin was een wit corpus gegeven. Het oneindige wit waarin geometrische vormen in zijn suprematistische werken zweefden, was nog altijd te vinden. Zo heeft Malevich -toen collega avantgardisten waren overgegaan tot een sociaal-realistische stijl of reeds lang naar het buitenland waren uitgeweken- binnen de marges van het mogelijke een statement gemaakt voor artistieke, politieke en spirituele vrijheid.
  
Toen echter in 1932 bij wet bepaald werd, dat de sociaal-realistische stijl de enig toegestane was onder Stalins terroristische bewind, paste hij zich noodgedwongen aan. Zijn laatste portretten zijn figuratief op een manier die hij eerder nooit voor mogelijk had gehouden: anti-modern en ouderwets. Toch gaf hij in die naturalistische portretten nog te kennen waar hij voor stond door te signeren met een zwart vierkantje. 'Kunst is een weg naar kosmisch bewustzijn', had de hem bekende tijdgenoot Pjotr Ouspensky geschreven. Getuige zijn geschriften, ging Malevich' verlangen daarnaar uit. Een late tekening van een boer, een man, (Malevich?) uit de Khardzhiev collectie is Mysticus (1930) getiteld. Mogelijk had de Russische freelance kunsthistorica Alexandra Shatskikh gelijk, toen zij op het in januari 2014 gehouden Malevich-symposium in het Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam beweerde, dat Malevich nog altijd onbegrepen is in binnen- en buitenland. Zij noemde hem een mysticus.

 
Illustraties:
1. Kazimir Malevich, Kop van een boer, 1928-29, olie/doek, 69 x 55 cm, RM (Russisch Staatsmuseum, St.-Petersburg)
2. Nikolai Evgrafov, Nieuw leven, 1929-30, olie/doek, 87 x 125, RM
3. Kazimir Malevich, Vrouwen op het veld, 1928-29, olie/doek, 106 x 125 cm, RM
4. Kazimir Malevich, Kop van een boer, 1928-29, olie/doek, 71.7 x 53.8 cm, RM
5. Kazimir Malevich, Boerin, vroeg 1930s, olie/doek, 98.5 x 80 cm, RM
6. Kazimir Malevich, Mysticus, 1930, potlood/papier, 34 x 21.5 cm, SMA (Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam)    


Excerpt uit de lezing "Het boerenleven in Malevich' kunst" door dr. Inge Wierda, Russische kunst specialist, gehouden op maandag 23 februari (Malevich' verjaardag) 2015 in het Drents Museum Assen.                 

Voor meer informatie over de expositie, zie www.drentsmuseum.nl. Klik hier voor een impressie.

Za 22 juni 2013, 15-17 uur: Alle werken Elena Preis uitgestald!

Posted on July 29, 2014 at 3:24 PM Comments comments (65)















Karin de Bont, curator Ignatius Gallery, Amsterdam         

Voor info over de kunstenares, zie artikel door dr. Inge Wierda in: 
Prospekt. Tijdschrift over Rusland (UvA):

Voor info over het Nederland-Ruslandjaar 2013, zie: 

Manifesta 10: Casus Pacis

Posted on July 26, 2014 at 5:17 AM Comments comments (126)
"The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg was selected by the Manifesta Foundation to host Manifesta 10 in 2014 because of its critical intellectual and historical relationship with Eastern and Western Europe: a uniting principal that is also central to Manifesta, as the single roving European biennial of contemporary art. Manifesta 10 considers the historical perspective of St. Petersburg's view to the West, and its extensive relationship with Europe at large. Over 50 artists were invited by curator Kasper König to illustrate their own sections in the catalogue." (Buchhandlung Walter König)

Motive for peace
"The original plan was to ask street artists to respond to the centenary of the start of World War I — in itself quite a novel challenge for the genre; but then events took over. Now, Motive for Peace, the inaugural exhibition of the St Petersburg Street Art Museum, is dedicated to events in Ukraine. The museum has (predictably enough) taken over an industrial space, a plastics factory, and invited scores of street artists from all over Russia and Ukraine to make the space their own, including The Calvert Journal favourite Timofei Radya. They’ve also taken over a spin-off space on the island of Kronstadt out in the Gulf of Finland. Organisers see the exhibition as the first step in creating a whole new cultural centre for St Petersburg. Parallel Programme, Street Art Museum, 84 Shosse Revolyutsii"



http://calvertjournal.com/articles/show/2768/manifesta-preview-biggest-hits-2014-biennial-st-petersburg

For more information on the complete program of Manifesta 10, see: http://manifesta10.org/en/manifesta-10/events/Like

Romantiek uit Rusland in het Teylermuseum in Haarlem

Posted on February 22, 2014 at 10:15 AM Comments comments (35)
Tijdens de eerste helft van de negentiende eeuw is in Noord-Europa een nieuw ‘Romantisch’ sentiment te bespeuren in muziek, literatuur en beeldende kunst. In fraaie ‘pittoreske’ en ‘sublieme’ voorstellingen brachten kunstenaars de wereld in beeld. Het verre en het exotische vormde daarbij een belangrijke inspiratiebron, terwijl een nieuwe nadruk op het persoonlijke tot uiting komt in het intieme karakter van de voorstellingen. Tijdens de Romantiek werd in Rusland de basis gelegd voor een geheel nieuwe verbeelding van eigen land en identiteit. In Nederland bouwden kunstenaars in dezelfde tijd voort op het rijke culturele erfgoed van de Gouden Eeuw. 










In een powerpoint-lezing nemen we vroeg-19de eeuwse Russische kunst onder de loep, waarbij fameuze mythologische en religieuze werken ook aandacht krijgen. Daarna gaan we een aantal van deze werken zien in het Teylersmuseum in Haarlem, tijdens de expositie "De Romantische Ziel. Schilderijen uit Rusland en Nederland", georganiseerd door collectioneur Jef Rademakers.

Powerpoint-lezing: Vrijdag 21, 10.30-12.30 uur, Plein van Siena, A'dam
Excursie: Vrijdag 8 maart, 11.00-12.30 uur, Teylermuseum Haarlem 
Docent: Dr. Inge Wierda (kunsthistorica; specialist Russische kunst)

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