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Children's Illustration

© Yelena Yasen. Good Fortune of Russian Children or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde. Introduction. 1995

© Yelena Yasen.  Good Fortune of Russian Children or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde. Introduction.  IMRC (Institute of Modern Russian Culture at Blue Lagoon). 1995 (updated in 2013). Editing by Natalya Shneyder, Television Writer and Producer.

 

 

Good Fortune of Russian Children or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde. V. Lebedev, The Circus, 1925

Good Fortune of Russian Children or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde.  Vladimir Vaciljevich Lebedev, The Circus, 1925

IN MEMORY OF MY PARENTS

To remember himself in his childhood is one of the most important tasks for an artist.

Vladimir Lebedev

In the middle of the 1920s, soon after the Russian revolution, a group of young talented Russian artists and writers began to create new literature and art for Russian children.

This kind of literature and art did not exist before.  The group of young collaborators was inspired by the idea of educating children in a new way.  They wanted to provide the children of the new society with the opportunity to learn about new developments of the world, science, nature, human character and so on.  The writer V. Shklovsky wrote of that period:

“It is well known that a child learns how to handle life through the game.  New art was like a game for adults; it came to adults through children.” (Note 1: E. Рахтанов, «Рассказы по пямяти», Москва, 1971, стр. 7).

All members of the group were professionals in the literature and art fields; many were connected with the Avant-garde movements and, at the same time, possessed comprehensive knowledge of the world’s artistic heritage.  Their collective dream was to incorporate that heritage as well as the latest art achievements into innovative book projects addressed to new generations of Russian children.

Fifty years later Moscow monthly magazine, Children’s Literature («Детская литература»), commented on the aspirations of those artists and writers:  “Active spirit and ‘strong and bold schematic style’ were typical [during the 1920s—yy] not only for children’s books.  These features were, probably, the most valuable ones for the entire ‘adult’ culture.  They had shaped creative methods of the most distinctive artists and art movements in those years.  Children’s books were not an isolated distinctive area; Lebedev’s children’s graphics as well as Mayakovsky’s children’s poems were obviously developed from The Russian Telegraph Agency Posters (Oкна РОСТА)—from the same idea of indivisible interconnection between semantic and visual elements of depictions and texts.  Quests for expressive textures were based not only on the tangibility of children’s perception…  but on the most typical painting styles.  To summarize, the children’s graphic art was an important and active participant of the art development spectrum during the 1920s” (Note 2: Ю. Герчук, «Kaк рисовать для детей», Детская литература, 1971, #11, стp. 78).

Another 20 years passed by, and the leading American specialist on Russian and Soviet art, John E. Bowlt, wrote:  “…it is important to remember that Soviet and Russian culture is, or has been until very recently, a culture of the word.  It was and is a society of strong literary expression and whether we speak of traditional or experimental art, the public appreciation tends to be a narrative and didactic one.  This literary commitment of Soviet art is evident on many levels… In turn, this attitude also explains other striking phenomena of Soviet cultural life, e.g., the remarkably high level of Soviet book illustration” (Note 3: John E. Bowlt, 10 + 10, Contemporary Soviet and American Painters, Harry N. Abrams, New York, and Aurora Publishers, Leningrad – in association with the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, 1989, p. 14-15).

A significant component of Soviet book design—illustration for children—was born in 1925 in Leningrad, at The Children’s Department, a division of The State Publishing House established about five years earlier, in 1919.  The State Publishing House (ГОСИЗДАТ) was established by resolution of the Central Executive Committee of the Soviet State (ВЦИК).  Its purpose was to create new literature for a new Soviet class of workers and peasants.  Samuel Marshak became an Editor in Chief of the Children’s Division.

Soon after its foundation The Children’s Department received the name of “Marshak Academy.”  Under Marshak’s supervision such famous writers as E. Shvarts, D. Kharms, B. Zhitkov, M. Iljen, V. Bianki, A. Vvedensky, E. Rakhtanov and many others began their careers by creating books which had become classical heritage of Soviet art for children.  Marshak “… did not edit manuscripts in an outdated fashion.  He literally penetrated into the very essence of the plot and showed to young authors how to develop it in the best possible way.  After the very first meeting with Marshak every young writer felt that he had entered a new level of his profession” (Note 4: E. Рахтанов, «Рассказы по пямяти», Москва, 1971, стр. 9; about Marshak’s role also see:  Lidia Chukovskaya, «В лаборатрории редактора», Москва, 1960; I. Lupanova, «Советская детская литература. Пол века», Moсква, 1969).

Samuel Marshak.  From the author collection

Marshak belonged to the innovative circles of Russian poets of the first half of the 20th century along with O. Mandelshtam, A. Akhmatova, N. Gumilev (Akhmatova’s first husband), M. Tsvetaeva, V. Mayakovsky, B. Pasternak, V. Khodasevich, and other representatives of the Silver Age movement, a precursor of Russian Avant-garde (Note 5: see:  «Сонет Серебряного века», Moсква, 1990; biographical facts about Marshak are taken from «Жизнь и творчество Маршака», составили B. Galanov, I. Marshak, M. Petrovsky, Moсква, 1975).

When Marshak was fourteen years old, he was introduced to V. Stasov, the most distinctive art and literature critic of the second half of the 19th century.  Marshak was privileged to hear the first drafts of Stasov’s art and literary reviews; in turn, the young boy was given a rare chance to read his own first poems to the most distinctive representatives of Russian culture at the turn of the century:  Maksim Gorky, Iliya Repin, Fedor Shaliapin and others.  In one of his letters to Marshak, Stasov wrote that he had shown Marshak’s photograph to Leo Tolstoy and told the great writer about an extraordinarily talented young boy who became very dear to Stasov.  From that time onward, he signed all his letters to Marshak as “Your old grandfather” (Note 6: «Жизнь и творчество Маршака», стp. 366; about Stasov’s personal role in Russian art see:  E. Valkenier, Russian Realist Art, Columbia University, New York, 1989; The Wanderers Masters of 19th Century, Russian Painting, Edited by E. Valkenier, The Dallas Museum of Art, 1991).

Marshak also had a close relationship with Gorky, the most distinctive Russian writer at the turn of the century along with Tolstoy and Anton Chekhov (Note 7: S. Fauchereau, Moscow 1900 – 1930, Mallard Press, New York, 1988, p. 114).  At his own expense, Gorky sent Marshak to the Russian South resort to help the boy improve his health.  From 1907 Marshak began to publish his first poems in St. Petersburg.  During that period he got acquainted with Alexander Blok, the most significant poet of Russian symbolism.

In 1912, to continue his education, Marshak went to England.  For about two years he was a student of the London University.  He actively traveled around England to learn British culture, including classical British literature for children, and so lately had become one of the best translators of English poetry into Russian.  He gave Russian readers the poems of Robert Burns, Shakespeare’s sonnets, as well as the classical English children’s poems, English Nursery Rhythms.  For a year the poet lived in the children’s school in the South Wales.  His thoughts about the school show the seriousness of his perception of children’s activities:  “The author of these lines used to watch the children’s games which do not have any limits of imagination.  In fact, these games are a real art of dramatic theater.” (Note 8: «Жизнь и творчество Маршака», стp. 430).

The position of a Chief Editor gave Marshak an opportunity of pursuing the dream of his youth—creating new literature for children.  Two more distinctive men had a similar aim:  Gorky and Korney Chukovsky (Note 9: in contemporary Russian critique literature Gorky’s character is considered as a contradictory one:  some critics see Gorky as an influential proponent of the Stalinist regime [see in B. Paramonov, «Старый анархист или певец ГУЛАГа?» Новое русское слово, 11 августа, 1989]; in the meantime, others identify him as one of the positive influences in Soviet culture [see in M. Parkhomovsky, Jews in the Culture of Russia Abroad, “Z. Grjebin and M. Gorky,” Volume 1, Jerusalem, 1992, pp. 142-169; Volume 2, 1993, pp. 307-310; also see in Moscow 1900s – 1930s, p. 114]).

As far back as 1919 Gorky wrote in the magazine «Северное сияние» (Northern Light) which he founded and edited:  “In this magazine we will try to help children develop their active spirit and their interest and respect towards human intellect and scientific explorations.” (Note 10: M. Gorky, «Слово к взрослым», «Северное сияние», 1919, #1 – 2, стp. 6).  Gorky cherished the idea of creating a totally new children’s literary tradition which, in fact, was part of a bigger plan.  Despite the unfavorable economic situation of those years, he was planning to establish a publishing center, «Мировая литература», the purpose of which was to compose a gigantic series of the best literary accomplishments created throughout the history of mankind (Note 11: K. Chukovsky, «Современники, Максим Горький», Mинск, 1985, стp. 127. In the 1970s a new multi-volume literature series, «Всемирная литература»[200 books], was initiated and published by the Moscow publishing house, «Художественная литература» It was, indeed, realization of Gorky’s idea).

Maksim Gorky. From the author collection

Maksim Gorky. From the author collection

As the first step, he suggested to organize a Literature Commission in Petrograd which was founded in the beginning of the 1920s.  He invited many exceptional Russian scholars of academic level as well as the best writers and poets to work in the commission’s departments.  One of those poets was A. Blok.  Another was Gumilev, the chair of the French Department.  The English Department was directed by Chukovsky–a writer, literary critic, translator and scholar on the history of Russian literature.  Throughout his life he edited many books on Russian cultural heritage, the most important of which were the ones on I. Repin, A. Chekhov, N. Nekrasov, etc. (Note 12: see in Игорь Грабарь, «Письма, 1917 – 1941», Moсква, 1977, стp. 383). Later Chukovsky wrote about Gorky’s blueprint, particularly regarding children’s literature:

“During those days Gorky’s plan did not seem to be realistic.  He knew well that at that point real children’s literature did not exist in Russia; it was a rather deserted area.  In the meantime, his expertise on the world children’s books was amazing.  He knew everything about French, Dutch, American, English, Czech books for young readers…  What eventually happened in Soviet history is that Gorky’s plan became the ancestor of the blueprint for contemporary State Children’s Publishing House…  Today this publishing house is implementing this very plan into reality.  It even uses the same headings” (Note 13: «Современники», стp. 151).

In one of his letters Gorky discussed with Chukovsky quality of children’s books of those days:  “If you really want to finish with this nonsense which is considered today as literature for children, do not fight with it by your feasts.  Create something talented instead.  The best way to maintain the polemics is to create something new, rather than by criticizing what exists on the market today” (Note 14: «Советская детская литература. Пол века», стp. 12).  While working at the Commission, both writers often discussed the idea of creating a new kind of children’s literature and art.  On several occasions Gorky suggested Chukovsky to start translating the best foreign children’s books into Russian:

We need not just one, but at least 300 – 400 books, the best children’s books which exist today in the entire world.  It has to be fairy tales, poems, scientific books, and historical ones.  We need Mark Twain, Jules Verne, and many others. And the pictures should be of the highest quality” (Note 15: «Современники», стp. 150).  As history has shown, Chukovsky followed Gorky’s suggestions in a remarkable way.  Along with Marshak, he became one of the best Soviet children’s writers and translators of foreign children’s books into Russian.

Chukovsky was a person of a humble origin.  He had a difficult childhood without a father which he described in his novel, The Silver Crest (Note 16: K. Chukovsky, The Silver Crest, Rinehart and Winston, New York, 1976):   “… as soon as I sat down at my desk and picked up my pen and a piece of blank paper, my childhood returned to me.  I was transformed from an old man into a boy; and I was jumping around again like a wild Indian on the clanging iron plate that covered our garbage pit...” (Note 17: The Silver Crest, p. 182).

Chukovsky managed to start his career as a futurist critic in the middle of the 1910s.  At that point he was acquainted with many young Avant-garde artists and writers such as O. Mandelshtam, U. Annenkov, B. Livshits and others (Note 18: Moscow 1990 – 1930, p. 122, 124).  In his early twentieth he spent several years in England (like Marshak), and later became one of the best Soviet experts on English literary tradition.  He practically created a well‑known Soviet school of literary translation.  Like Marshak, he was a teacher of many younger writers.

During the 1920s (and later) many of those writers, as well as his famous contemporaries, including Akhmatova, Gorky, Mandelshtam, Iliya Erenburg and others, used to meet for discussions on art and literature in his country house located in the vicinity of St. Petersburg.  On occasions like this Chukovsky asked his friends and colleagues to compose brief notes for his humorous journal «Чукокала» which became a valuable literature memorial to Russian culture of the first half of the 20th century (Note 19: About «Чукокала» see:  И. Грабарь, «Письма, 1917 – 1941», Moсква, 1977, стp. 392; also see К. Чуковский, Дневник, 1930-1969, Москва, 1994).  One of those writers, I. Andronnikov, wrote about Chukovsky:

Korney Chukovsky. From the author collection

Korney Chukovsky.  From the author collection

Chukovsky extended the boundaries of literature, extended the very notion of “literature.”  That is what he had done!  We know remarkable novelists, poets, critics who work in the existing genres and expand the limits of those genres.  Chukovsky created new genres.  What he wrote does not look like anything created before.  And the reason for that is not only his personal talent, but very special attributes of this talent…  Chukovsky could write about very complicated issues and still was clearly understood by anyone.  He was always just natural and simple.  He possessed a unique power of intimate contact with the reader…  an unusual, powerful talent—innovative, cheerful, the only one of its kind in the whole world(Note 20: I. Andronnikov, «Чукокала», Предисловие, Mocква, 1979, стp. 6).

In the beginning of the 1920s Chukovsky was the Director of the Publishing House «Эпоха» which had branches in Petrograd and Berlin, Germany.  There were quite a few Russian publishing houses in Germany in the beginning of the 1920s.

(Note 21: Internationally famous Lisitisky’s children’s book «История про два квадрата» was published in Berlin in 1922.  See in N. Khardzhiev, «Эль Лиситский – конструктор книги», « Искусство книги, № 3, 1958 – 1960, Moсква, 1962,ст p. 154; also see «Кот в сапогах», « Красная шапочка», «Мальчик с пальчик», Grzhebin’s Publishing House, Berlin, 1922—these children’s books were created in the World of Art stylistic tradition.  The World of Art [«Мир искусства»] was the most important alliance of Russian artists at the end of the 19th-beginning 20th century.  The World of Art artists created the very first samples of genuine children’s illustrations in the history of Russian art, to which they applied the principles of art-nouveau style, and which was very different from those that the Russian Avant-garde artists had developed in the 1910s.  About the World of Art see:  Camilla Gray, The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922, Thames & Hudson Ltd., London-New York, 1986, pp. 37-62; David Elliot, New Worlds,Russian Art and Society, 1900-1937, Thames & Hudson Ltd., 1986; 100 Years of Russian Art, 1889-1989, From Private Collections in the USSR, Lund Humphries, London, 1989; S. Fauchereau, Moscow 1900-1930, pp. 48-54.  About children’s books published by the World of Art see:  L. Univerg, “I. N. Knebel:  Pioneer of Children’s Book Art in Russia,” A Bookman’s Weekly, November 11-17, Clifton, 1991).

Soviet censorship initiated suppressive activities towards Russian publishing houses in Germany during the first years after the revolution.  By the end of the 1920s Stalin’s repressions increased considerably, and, as a result, all the activities of those publishing houses were terminated (Note 22: A. Blum, «Печать русского Зарубежья глазами ГЛАВЛИТа и ГПУ» New Review, New York, # 183, 1991, pp. 264-282.  About Soviet censorship in the beginning of the 1920s also see: E. Chirikov, «Девьи горы», Publication by E. Soboleva, New Review, #180, 1990, pp. 121 – 146; M. Shneyerson, «Лучший слой в нашей стране. Заметки о Булгакове», New Review, # 192 – 193, September-December 1993, p. 283).

During Stalin’s dictatorship Chukovsky’s family was considered as a family of great integrity in Soviet intelligentsia circles (his daughter and son became writers too).  The Chukovskies tried to support B. Pasternak when he was rejected by the Union of Soviet Writers (after publishing his famous novel, Doctor Zhivago, in the West).  They kept the friendship with Akhmatova (especially, L. Chukovskaya) when she was ostracized by the regime.  For a long time the two women shared a similar tragedy:  Chukovskaya’s husband and Akhmatova’s son (with Gumilev) were persecuted by Soviet authorities.  Both women spent many days at the doors of Soviet prisons in desperate attempts to hand their loved ones some food and clothing.  Out of their friendship, one of the best books in Soviet memoir literature, «Лидия Чуковская об Анне Ахматовой» was written and became a valuable document of the epoch.  For several years L. Chukovskaya worked under Marshak’s supervision at The Children’s Department.  In her other book, «В лаборатории редактора» she wrote about Marshak:  “In educating young writers the Marshak’s role was tremendous.  Essentially, he taught each young author the entire course of Russian literature… He used to say:  ‘Try to write a children’s book.  It will be a real test for you as well as a great honor’ (Note 23: «В лаборатории редактора», стp. 235, 267).

x x x

Marshak’s counterpart at The Art Division of The Department became Vladimir Lebedev, one of the most significant representatives of Russian Avant-garde (Note 24: about Art Division see:  V. Petrov, «Из истории детской иллюстрированной книги 1920-х годов», «Искусство книги № 3», Mocква, 1962, стp. 349-364; E. Gankina, «Русские художники детской книги», Mocква, 1963; V. Petrov, «Владимир Васильевич Лебедев, 1891-1967», Ленинград, 1972. стp. 74-109, N. Punin, «Владимир Лебедев», Ленинград, 1928, стp. 18, 19; also see:  V. Denisov, «Выставка Лебедева в Русском музее», «Жизнь искусства», 1928, №21, стp. 4-5; V. Voinov, «Выставка рисунков Лебедева» Ленинград, 1928; A. Bakushinsky, «Русский рисунок за десять лет Октябрьской революции», Mocква, 1928).

Lebedev began his career in the middle of the 1910s.  He presented his first works at the World of Art exhibitions.  A little later he began his collaboration with the most famous satirical magazine of the 1910s, Satiricon, along with N. Altman, C. Sudeikin, S. Chekhonin, and others («A. A. Сидоров, Русская графика начала века» Mocква, 1969, p. 172; preface to Okna ROSTA, Bolshevik Placards 1919-1921, Handmade Political Posters from the Russian Telegraph Agency, Oct. 1994-Jan. 1995, Sander Gallery, New York).  From the very beginning of his career Lebedev was remarkably independent in his artistic views («В. В. Лебедев», стp. 17). The most famous Avant-garde critic of the day, Nikolai Punin, wrote about Lebedev:  “Contrary to the tendency to be influenced by someone’s artistic preferences, Lebedev was always able to be on his own.  He would not have been affected by anyone’s emotions or ideology.  For him the tremendous experience of French art was only the experience of school, not the experience of life.  He was constantly working on improving his own individual style” (Note 25: Н. Пунин, «В. В. Лебедев», Ленинград, 1928, стp. 18, 19).

В. Лебедев. В. Петров, "Владимир Васильевич Лебедев. 1897 - 1967" Moсква, 1972

В. Лебедев. В. Петров, “Владимир Васильевич Лебедев”. 1897 – 1967 Moсква, 1972

Before the revolution Lebedev had never been an actual member of any innovative art group such as the Golden Fleece, Wreath, or Jack of Diamonds («Золтое руно», «Венок», «Бубновый Валет»), the most famous art alliances during the 1910s.  But he was actively interested in the Avant-garde movements, and especially valued Larionov’s innovative spirit based on the latter’s interest in Russian folk art (Note 26: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 27-28).  By the end of the 1910s he was moving in the direction of so-called “constructive realism” together with N. Altman, A. Karev, E. Puni (Note 27: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 29).  He aspired to find a new artistic idiom which would be a combination of the latest cubism discoveries and the most essential elements of natural figurative forms (Note 28: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 29; аbout cubism in Lebedev’s works see:  N. Punin, «Значение кубизма в творчестве Лебедева», Ленинград, 1928).  By that time respectable Russian critics, e.g., N. Punin, A. Bakushinsky, N. Sidorov, V. Voinov, B. Denisov considered Lebedev to be one of the leading artists of the first decades of the 20th century.

After the revolution Lebedev became a member of OBMOKHU (Society of Young Artists) and from 1921 associated himself with the Union of New Artistic Movements together with V. Tatlin, K. Malevich, M. Matushin, N. Lapshin and N. Punin—all the collaborators at GINKhUK, and VKhUTEMAS in Petrograd (Note 29: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 32; for abbreviated names of Soviet art institutions see John E. Bowlt, Russian Art of the Avant-garde, Theory and Criticism, Thames and Hudson, 1988; Art and Revolution, Russian And Soviet Art of 1910 – 1932, Vienna, 1988, pp. 297-300).

Between 1918 and 1920 he started working for the Petrograd branch of the Russian Telegraph Agency (Okna ROSTA) along with V. Mayakovsky (in Moscow), V. Kozlinsky, and A. Brodatu (Note 30: About Okna ROSTA see:  Stephen White, The Bolshevik Poster, Yale University, New Haven and London, 1988; Sheila Fitzpatrick, The Russian Revolution 1917 – 1932, Oxford, 1982).

Lebedev’s contribution to this area of post-revolutionary Russian culture cannot be overestimated.  Out of 1,000 posters, produced in Petrograd, he had created about 600 items.  About 100 have been preserved until today (Note 31: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 47; About Lebedev’s Okna ROSTA see: N. Punin, «Русский плакат 1917 – 1922, Петроград, 1922; N. Punin, «Владимир Лебедев»).

During the years of his activities at the Telegraph Agency, Lebedev went through a significant evolution of his artistic style.  His first posters looked very much like his drawings for the Satiricon magazine.  They can be compared with Malevich’s and Mayakovsky’s posters (of the middle of the 1910s) dedicated to the First World War (Note 32: M. Anikst, E. Chernevich, Russian Graphic Design 1880 – 1917, Abbeville Press Publishers, 1990, New York, pp. 139-151).

The posters he created later were closely related to “lubok” style, the style of Russian folk art.  Such posters as Soldier and Sailor (1920), Worker at the Anvil (1921-1921), and Work and Watch Out (1921) present his mature energetic individual manner which combines the “lubok” features with elements of suprematism.  In the middle of 1920s Lebedev applied this approach to his children’s books (Note 33: see examples of Lebedev’s Okna ROSTA in:  «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 50 – 60; Art and Revolution, Russian and Soviet Art 1910s-1932s, p. 208 – 209; Soviet Art 1920s-1930s, Russian Museum, Leningrad, H. A. Abrams, Inc., 1988, p. 53).

In addition to Okna ROSTA, Lebedev created two important graphic series in the beginning of the 1920s –The Laundry Women and The Streets of Revolution (Note 34: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 62-70; Art and Revolution, p. 91)The Laundry Women represented his creative experiments with elements of cubism and suprematism.  The second series demonstrated a totally different facet of his talent—his ability to depict reality in a distinctive, satirical fashion.  Prostitutes and tramps, unemployed sailors and “petty-bourgeois vulgaris” are the subject matter of the series which N. Punin defined as the “immortal graphic expression” of the 1920s (Note 35: «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 61-71; Soviet Art 1920s-1930s, p. 47).

Russian writer Evgeny Petrov, a coauthor (with Iliya Ilf) of the famous satirical novel Twelve Chairs («Двенадцать стульев»), commented on the typical tendency of the 1920s to perceive any event or/and subject matter through ironic prism:  “How was a new everyday style of life created?  Through irony which was now employed everywhere—instead of old moral standards.  It helped to overcome this post-revolutionary emptiness when no one knew any more what was good and what was bad.” (Note 36:  Y. Molok, «Владимир Конашевич», Ленинград, 1969, стp. 54:  E. Petrov, «Мой друг Ильф», «Журналист», 1967, №6, стp. 62).

To summarize, by the time Lebedev became an Art Director of the Children’s Department, he was a reputable master of distinctive artistic style.  He continued to chair The Children’s Department until 1933.  By the end of the 1930s Lebedev’s career was developing in several different directions.  On one hand, he continued to create children’s illustrations.  On the other hand, he dedicated much more time to his painting.  During the Second World War Lebedev actively participated in creating the war posters “Okna TASS,” the purpose of which was to help the Soviet people fight German fascism.  Semantically (not stylistically) “Okna TASS” were similar to “Okna ROSTA.” (Note 37: Lebedev’s “Okna TASS” see in «В. В. Лебедев», стp. 215-222).  Shortly before his death (1967) Lebedev received the title of The People’s Artist of RSFSR and was elected in the Academy of Arts of USSR.

From the very beginning many young Leningrad artists started their collaboration at The Children’s Department: A. Samokhvalov, K. Rudakov, V. Kurdov, E. Evenbakh and others (Note 38: see the collection of Soviet children’s books at the Slavic and Baltic Division, New York Public Library). But there were three artists most closely associated with Lebedev:  Vera Ermolaeva, Nikolai Lapshin, and Nikolai Tyrsa.

Together with Lebedev these masters became the core of the division.  All four had known one another since pre-revolutionary times.  All of them, along with V. Tatlin, were students of the private studio of Prof. Bernshtein in Petersburg, the best private art school in the city before the revolution (Note 39: Christina Lodder, Russian Constructivism, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1987, p. 111; after the revolution Professor M. Bernshtein (1875-1960) had worked at the Academy of Fine Arts (1932 – 1948).  Following the wishes and requests of his students and colleagues he had written a book (Note 40: «Проблемы учебного рисунка», Ленинград, 1940), in which he summarized his teaching experience.  After the revolution all four artists became professors of VKhUTEMAS in Petrograd, where N. Tyrsa was also Chairman for a while (A. Pakhomov, «Про свою работу», Ленинград, 1971, стр. 11).   By the time Ermolaeva, Lapshin and Tyrsa started their collaboration at The Children’s Department, each of them had quite a few artistic accomplishments (Note 41: About Professor Bernshtein studio see: Н. Радлов, «Рисование с натуры», Ленинград, 1978, стp. 6; about Bernshtein’s role see in: Игорь Грабарь «Письма 1917 – 1941», Mocква, 1977, стp. 396).   The students of Prof. Bernshtein seriously studied the problems of visual forms as well as anatomy problems).

Vera Ermolaeva became a founder of the art workshop “Segodnya” (Today) in Petrograd, in 1918 (Note 42: Е. Ковтун, «Артель художников “Сегодня”», «Детская литература», 1968, №4, стp. 44).  The workshop produced handmade books in the futurist style; stylistically “Today” books were very close to the books produced by the group of the Burliuk brothers from 1912 to 1916 in Petrograd and Moscow (the most active poets in the group were V. Khlebnikov, A. Kruchenykh, V. Mayakovsky; the most active artists–N. Goncharova, and M. Larionov)  (Note 43: Susan P. Compton, The World Backwards, Russian Futurist Books 1912-1916, London, 1978; Moscow 1900 – 1930, p. 68-84).  Members of Ermolaeva’s group were Lapshin, U. Annenkov, N. Altman, N. Lubavina, and E. Turova (Note 44: About “Today” as well as about Ermolaeva biography see:  «Авангард остановленный на бегу» Аврора, 1989; E. Kovtun, «Художница книги В. М. Ермолаева»,» «Искусство книги №8», 1975 стр. 68-81; Art and Revolution, Russian and Soviet Art 1910 – 1032, p. 295).  One of the best of Ermolaeva’s works, produced by “Today,” was her cover to Walt Whitman’s Pioneers (Note 45: «Искусство книги № 8», стp. 70).

In 1919 she was sent to Vitebsk to be in charge of the Art Division of the Vitebsk College of Decorative Arts.  Thanks to her initiative K. Malevich was invited to Vitebsk to teach at the College Art Division (Note 46: «Искусство книги №8», стp. 70).  In Vitebsk, Ermolaeva joined UNOVIS together with L. Lissitzky, N. Kogan, E. Chashnik, N. Suetin, L. Khidekel (Note 47: See:  Ilya Grigorevich Chashnik, November 2, 1979 through March 15, 1980, Leonard Hutton Galleries, New York.  UNOVIS stands for the “Affirmers of the New Art”).  There she created the theatrical design to the famous futurist opera by Kruchenykh and Matushin «Победа над солнцем» (Note 48: Victory over the Sun; E. Kovtun, “K. Malevich: His Creative Path,” Kazimir Malevich, 1878 – 1935, Exhibitions, Leningrad, Moscow, Amsterdam, 1989, p. 161).  Later she worked under Malevich’s supervision at GhINHUK in Petrograd where she directed the laboratory of form and color and studied Russian folk art (Note 49: E. Kovtun, “K. Malevich:  His Creative Path,” p. 164). From 1925 Ermolaeva began working with Lebedev at The Children’s Department.  “Without Ermolaeva the history of the children’s book, as well as the Leningrad art scene of the 1920s-1930s, would not be complete” (Note 50: «Искусство книги №8», стp. 72).

Vera Ermolaeva. From "Искусство книги" #8, 1975

Е. Ковтун, Vera Ermolaeva, “Художница книги Вера Михайловна Ермолаева”, “Искусство книги”, Bыпуск 8-й, Москва, 1975, р. 68

Many of Ermolaeva’s children’s books were created with the members of OBEREY group (D. Kharms, A. Vvedensky, N. Zabolotsky and N. Oleynikov). The group continued the traditions of Russian futurism initiated by Khlebnikov and Kruchenykh (Note 51: «Искусство книги №8», стp. 73; OBEREY (Объединение реального искусства—The Alliance of Real Art); also see:  «Ванна Архимеда», предисловие – A. Alexandrov, Ленинград, 1991, стp. 3-34; «Полет в небеса», Ленинград, 1988, стp. 7 – 48).  Kharms defined the OBEREY agenda as follows: “Authentic art is the number one reality.  Art creates the world and, at the same time, art reflects it.” («Ванна Архимеда», стp. 12).

OBEREY poets were invited to collaborate at the Children’s Department by Marshak.  By the beginning of the 1940s, with the amplifications of Stalin repressions, all members of the group (together with Ermolaeva) were arrested.  Shortly before her personal arrest Eromolaeva created several significant pictorial series in which one can find authentic monumental qualities.  During that period she had also produced several illustration series to European philosophical novels (Note 52: «Искусство книги №8», стp. 80). After Stalin’s death, only one member of OBEREY group, Zabolotsky, had returned from the labor camps.

Nickolai Lapshin is considered by contemporary Russian art critics to be the founder of illustration to children’s science fiction (Note 53: biographical data about Lapshin are taken from his biographical records «Автобиографические записки», 1941, GRM, Fond 144, Ed. khr.452; Art and Revolution, p. 275; One Hundred Years of Russian Art, p. 56, 122).  “During the 1920s Lapshin illustrated about 25 books—from O. Mandelshtam’s poems and B. Zhitkov’s stories to books on geography, physics, astronomy, and the history of industry.” (Note 54: «Искусство книги №3», стp. 363).

As mentioned above, before the revolution he was a student of Professor Bernshtein who said that Lapshin was the best in drawing among all of his students.  During the First World War the young artist was at the front lines where he became ill with typhus.  Later he started working at the magazine «Жизнь искуссва» (Art Life).  In 1923 Laphsin created a woodcut of the performance of Tatlin’s «Зангези», a play, which was based on the three projects of Khlebnikov and which was produced by Tatlin after Khlebnikov’s death (Note 55: C. Lodder, Russian Constructivism, p. 209; J. Miller, Vladimir Tatlin and Russian Avant-garde, Yale University Press, New Haven & London, 1984, p. 201; Zangezi was one of the most preferred literature patterns of OBEREY group; see in:  D. Kharms, «Полет в небеса», стp. 18-20).

Nikolay Lapshin. From "Старая Детская книжка.” Из собрания Проф. Марка Раца, Москва, 1997, р. 39

Nikolai Lapshin. Self-portrait.  From “Старая Детская книжка.” Из собрания Проф. Марка Раца, Москва, 1997, р. 39

By then Lapshin had a profound knowledge of diversified graphic techniques and specifics of the printing industry, which he skillfully used in his work for the children’s magazine «Новый Робинзон» (New Robinson).  He participated in many art exhibitions in Russia (some were organized by Tatlin) as well as in Europe (in Germany and France).  During the 1920s he also worked at the Lomonosov Porcelain Plant creating suprematist ceramics in the Malevich style (Note 56: 100 Years of Russian Art, p. 123).  From 1929 he taught at the Technical Polygraph School (Note 57: Art and Revolution, p. 275).  In the middle of the 1930s Lapshin was crowned with outstanding success.  He had won the art contest among several hundred artists from different countries which was sponsored by the Limited Edition Club in New York.  As a result, The Travels of Marco Polo, illustrated by Lapshin’s refined watercolors, was published in New York in 1934 (Note 58: The Travels of Marco Polo, New York, printed for the members of the Limited Edition Club, 1934.  The book can be found in the New York Public Library, Rare Books and Manuscript Division). Lapshin died in Leningrad during the German blockade, one year after Filonov (in 1942).

Nickolai Tyrsa’s name can be found in the art reviews of such respected Russian art critics as N. Radlov, A. Bakushinksy, A. Fedorov-Davydov, Y. Molok, V. Petrov, B. Suris, and others (Note 59: See:  Федоров-Давыдов, «Русское и Советское искусство», Mocква, 1975. стp. 31,174; Б. Сурис, «Каталог выставки произведений Тырсы», Ленинград , 1966; J. Miller, V. Tatlyn and the Russian Avant-garde, pp. 117, 196, 208, 247;  «Николай Тырса, 1887 – 1942», Сакт Петербург, 1992).  In 1916 Punin mentioned him along with N. Altman, P. Miturich, L. Bruni and some others, pointing out that this particular group of artists had presented new Avant-garde tendencies in Russian art (Note 60: N. Punin, «Рисунки нескольких молодых», Apollo, 1916, №4-5 – see in «Русская графика начала века», стp. 24).

Before the revolution Tyrsa studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, attending architectural class as well as the classes of L. Bakst and V. Mate (L. Bakst is well known as the participant of Diaghilev “Russian Ballets” and one of the most distinctive artists of The World of Art; V. Mate was one of the most distinctive professors at the Academy of Fine Art, Graphic Division before the revolution). During that period he independently studied Early Russian art and architecture in Novgorod and Yaroslavl—ancient Russian cities, and participated in the World of Art exhibitions (like Lebedev).  For a while he was a student of Y. Zvantseva’s private school (Note 61: Art and Revolution, p. 292).

Like Lebedev and Lapshin, Tyrsa received a very good professional training at Professor Bernshtein studio.  After the revolution he became a member of the “Four Arts Society” together with Lebedev, L. Lissitzky, K. Petrov-Vodkin, M. Miturich, V. Favorsky and other distinctive masters of the 1920s (Note 62: Soviet Art 1920s – 1930s, p. 129).  Together with Lebedev and Lapshin, he participated in several art exhibitions in Russia as well as in the West (regarding Tyrsa’s participation in art exhibitions see:  See:  Федоров-Давыдов, «Русское и Советское искусство», Mocква, 1975. стp. 31,174; Б. Сурис, «Каталог выставки произведений Тырсы», Ленинград, 1966; J. Miller, V. Tatlyn and the Russian Avant-garde, pp. 117, 196, 208, 247, N. «Николай Тырса, 1887 – 1942»).

From 1908 he taught at SVOMAS and the Art Institute of A. Shtiglitz, and later became professor and Chairman of VKhUTEMAS in Petrograd (Art and Revolution, p. 292, 299:  SVOMAS was founded in 1918 and marked the transformation of the Academy of Fine Arts in Petrograd and of the Stroganov School of Applied Art in Moscow) which was renamed VKhUTEMAS in 1920 (Note 63: Pakhomov, «Про свою работу» стp. 11).  In 1928 Tyrsa created one of the best portraits of Anna Akhmatova (two other well-known Akhmatova’s depictions belong to N. Altman (1914) and K. Petrov-Vodkin (1922); reproductions of the portraits see in:  Soviet Art 1920s-1930s, pp. 127, 136; D. Elliot, New Worlds, Russian Art and Society, 1900 – 1937, p. 90).

During the 1930s Tyrsa illustrated children’s books for different age groups as well as Russian classical novels.  Vladimir Konashevich, another reputable Soviet artist, wrote in 1938 about Tyrsa’s illustrations to L. Tolstoy’s «Анна Каренина»:  «In Tyrsa’s interpretation… rich, soft juxtapositions of black shades are skillfully blended with the white surface of the book page.  Combined together, the two graphic elements create a splendid unity.  We have no need to overstate the expressiveness of this unity—we all know Tyrsa» (Note 64: Vladimir Konashevich, «О себе и о своем деле», Mocква, 1968, стp. 216).

Tyrsa’s illustrations of the beginning of the 1930s reflected a new tendency in Soviet art which was characterized by the light-pictorial approach.  By the end of the 1920s this approach had replaced the geometrical one, typical for the beginning of the 1920s.  This tendency was commented on by the art critics of the day and Tyrsa’s works were mentioned as the best examples.  Like Lapshin, Tyrsa died in 1942 in Leningrad during German blockade.

Nikolai Tjersa, 1887 – 1942”, Каталог выставки, ГРМ, Санкт-Петербург, 1992

“Nikolai Tjersa, 1887 – 1942”, Каталог выставки, ГРМ, Санкт-Петербург, 1992

Three founders of The Children’s Department (Lebedev, Ermolaeva and Lapshin) were represented at the historical art exhibition “The Great Utopia – the Russian and Soviet Avant-garde 1915 – 1932,” organized by Guggenheim Museum in 1992 (Note 65: Tyrsa’s absence at the exhibition seems to be an unfortunate omission).  As never before, this exhibition manifested the “concentration of absolute inner freedom” and showed the influence of Russian Avant-garde on the art of the twentieth century (Note 66: Б. Торчилин, «Авангард попавший в засаду», «Новое русское слово», 20 августа, 1993).  “It demonstrated…  that a blueprint for change may be more likely found at the margins of our consciousness rather than at its center, and that it may require the invention of a new starting point (the zero form of Malevich’s Black Square) and the involvement of every stratum of society (Note 67: T. Krens and M. Govan, Guggenheim Magazine, Fall 1992, p. 7).

Lebedev, Eromolaeva, Laphsin and Tyrsa belonged to that movement.  Their artistic inventions contributed to the area which is crucial for the integrity of any society–the art for children (for Soviet Russia—a new starting point, indeed).  What children read and see in the beginning of their lives is to influence their entire futures.

Thanks to the innovative approaches of Lebedev, Ermolaeva, Lapshin and Tyrsa, the methods of children’s book illustrations of the 1920s were enriched by artistic discoveries of contemporary art movements.  On the other hand, their books possessed specific qualities of children’s pictures, and, at the same time, matched well with the style of the best children’s writers, such as Marshak, Chukovsky, Kharms and others.

(Note 68: All members of The Children’s Department studied specifics of children’s perception. On the other hand, throughout the enrire Soviet history the books created by Lebedev and his colleagues have been the subject for research on children’s perception.  See examples:  A. Altukhova, R. Dlugach, «Иллюстрации Конашевича и отношение к ним детей», «Книга-детям», 1929, стp. 21-31; E. Flerina, «Картинка в детской книжке», «Книга-детям», 1928, стp. 7-16; A. Zavarova, «Каким должен быть цвет в детской книге», «Детская литература», 1966, №7, стp. 13-15, etc. All pictures analyzed in this book possess the qualities of professional chicommented ldren’s illustration).

Chukovsky on the subject as follows:  “Inspiration and creative spirit should be the very essence of children’s literature.  It does not need poor imitators, but the best artists.  Children’s literature should not be a secondary addition to the adult’s one.  It is a great, sovereign domain with its own rights and laws” (Note 69: «Жизнь и творчество Маршака», стp. 59).  The artists and writers of The Children’s Department opened new horizons for Soviet children by familiarizing their readers with diversified natural and scientific phenomena.  They opened a new contemporary world for Soviet children thanks to the spirit of urbanism, the most essential factor in the artistic approach of the 1920s.

According to Valentin Kurdov, one of the younger artists of The Children’s Department, the very first books by Lebedev and Marshak,  Chukovsky’s and Konashevich’s, Lapshins’s and Iljen’s, Tyrsa’s and Bianki’s, Ermolaeva’s and Kharms’s attracted many younger artists to The Children’s Department (Note 70: from a private conversation with V. Kurdov).

As it was pointed out above, large collection of Soviet children’s books of the 1920s is preserved by Slavic and Baltic Division of the New York Public Library. Another fine collection of Russian children’s books was acquired by Moscow Professor Mark Rats (Note 71: see:  «Старая детская книжка 1900 – 1930-e годы.  Описание собрания», Mocква, 1997; see Laphsin self-portrait on p. 39). E. Charushin, one of these younger artists, later called The Department the “Olympus” or “Holy of Holies” of Leningrad’s graphic arts of those days (Note 72: И. Бродский, Н. Чарушин, “Мир Чарушина”, Ленинград, 1980, стp. 162). E. Shwartz, a young promising writer of the 1920s, later defined that period as “the Golden Age of the Soviet children’s book(Note 73: «Владимир Конашевич», стp. 85).   Since the middle of the 1920s The Children’s Department had published hundreds of books, including V. Tatlin’s illustrations to the irrational Kharms’s stories Firstly and Secondly (Note 74: Vladimir Tatlin and the Russian Avant-garde, p. 211).  Many of those books have become part of the classical heritage of Russian graphic art of the Soviet period.  The first results of The Children’s Department’s activities were acknowledged by the end of the 1920s:

It has been proven long ago that sooner or later major art styles penetrate the area of children’s art and stay there much longer than in their main arena; so one should not be surprised that in this country, nowadays, the art of book illustration has been mostly concentrated in children’s books.  Contemporary children’s book illustration became a laboratory for quite risky art experiments.  We can see that in the adjacent art zones the evolution is moving towards realism, but realism enriched by all modern art achievements.  Let us not be too demanding—examples in contemporary painting, theater, and literature show how painful the process of revitalization has been.  We have no reason not to welcome this process—never before have Russian children’s books had so many diverse, young, and promising talents” (Note 75: Е. Мексин, «Иллюстрация в Советской детской книге», «Книга-детям», 1928, №5-6, стp. 44).

In 1931 A. Lunacharsky remarked in his preface to the Selected Children’s Literature («Избранная детская литература»):  “Finally, we have the most interesting and diversified children’s illustrations to which Europe has no analogies… In the area of children’s illustration one can find the exploration of new and inventive directions, different art movements, and it is being done in a strong, bright, assured fashion” (Note 76: A. Lunacharsky, Preface, «Избранная детская литература», Mocква-Ленинград, 1931, стp. 6).

The success of Russian children’s art was also acknowledged in the West (Note 77: A. Gankina, «Подводя итоги», «Детская Литература», Mocква, 1967, №11, стp. 25-37).  M. Tsvetaeva, an internationally recognized Russian poet, wrote in 1931 while living in Prague:  “For the first time in history the country took a serious attitude toward children… My conclusion is that the Russian preschool book is the best in the world.” (Note 78: M. Tsvetaeva, «О новой русской детской книге», «Избранная проза», New York, 1979, стр. 310-313). Tsvetaeva’s article was dedicated to the literature aspects of the children’s books of the 1920s for the most part; she specifically emphasized the quality of Marshak’s poems.  Years later a Soviet art critic, V. Petrov, wrote about the artistic aspects of those books:  “The works of Lebedev, Tyrsa, Ermolaeva and Lapshin were accepted by little readers with enthusiasm”.  But art critics in Russia and in the West estimated their works very highly too.  In the articles published in Gebrauchasgraphik (1928, III), Studio (1929, 432), Arts et Metiers Graphiques (1930, #15, 1931, #26), The Nation (1934, July) the critics unanimously confirmed that Soviet illustrations for children have reached an unprecedented level and they do not have competitors in Western Europe or in the U. S. (Note 79: «Искусство книги №3», стp. 364).

There is more evidence of the achievements of those years:  each new generation of Soviet children became the new dedicated audience of the children’s books of the 1920s.  L. Tokmakov, a children’s artist of the 1970s, pointed out in 1967 that the childhoods of many Russian children’s artists of the 1960s and 1970s “were enriched and embellished by the children’s books of the 1920s.” (Note 80: L. Tokmakov, «Об иллюстрациях и иллюстраторах» «Дошкольное воспитание» (Preschool Education), 1967, №3, стp. 123; one of the most prominent artists of the end of the 20th century, Sergei Blumin, stated the fact of having been deeply influenced by Russian children’s books in his childhood; the author of these lines remembers her own childhood impressions of pictures of Lebedev, Konashevich, Charushin, and others Soviet-Russian artists).

Soviet art for children became an inalienable part of Russian culture.  Throughout the entire Soviet history books written by K. Chukovsky, S. Marshak, E. Charushin, D. Kharms, E. Shvartz and illustrated by V. Lebedev, V. Konashevich, N. Lapshin, N. Tyrsa, V. Ermolaeva, Y. Vasnetsov, A. Pakhomov and others have had a strong encouraging influence on many Russian children of Soviet generations.  Many books produced by the writers and artists of the 1920s have been republished throughout the Soviet history including two major series of the 1970s:  From the Best Soviet Children’s Books (Leningrad) and Selected Children’s Books of Soviet Artists (Moscow).

However, one cannot forget that from the middle of the 1930s to the end of the 1950s Russian culture was to go through the tragic time of Stalin’s dictatorship.  As it is well known, during that time so-called Socialist Realism became the domineering movement in Soviet art. It had nothing to do with authentic interpretation of any motif and/or human character nor was it in favor of any kind of artistic experiments.  During those years Russian art for children was not an exception from the rule.  Its successful development was severity damaged by rigid demands of Stalin’s regime. Many wonderful children’s books were then severely stigmatized.

The process of rediscovery and new appreciation of the 1920s started in the 1960s.  Since then dozens of articles and research papers were written and published on the topic under discussion, where contemporary Russian critics and historians widely acknowledged the art achievements of the 1920s  (Note 81: E. Gankina, «Русские художники детской книги», Mocква 1963; E. Gankina, «Художник в современной детской книге», Mocква, 1977; «Детская книга вчера и сегодня», M. 1988; Y. Charnetsky & E. Kuznetsov, «E. E. Чарушин», Ленинград, 1960; V. Petrov, «Юрий Васнецов», Mocква-Ленинград, 1961; E. Barsheva and K. Sazonova, «A. П. Самохвалов», Ленинград, 1963; A. Pakhomov, «Про свою работу», Ленинград, 1971; U. Molok, «Владимир Конашевич», Ленинград, 1969; also see articles in annually published series «Искусство книги», and in the leading Russian art magazines – «Творчество» and «Искусство»; in 1990 Y. Gerchuk published a critical review regarding the criticism style of the 1930s  –  «Критика 1936:  Вокруг одной статьи (о художниках-пачкунах), «Творчество» №4, стp. 11-13). During the 1990s two publications dedicated to the topic under discussion were produced in Japan (Note 82: an album entirely dedicated to the Russian children’s books of 1920s – 1930s), and a co-publication of Rutgers University Press together with the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum (Note 83: Musee Imaginaire 1, 1920-1930, James Fraser and Tayo Shima, Tokyo, 1991; Defining Russian Graphic Arts 1898 – 1934, From Diaghilev to Stalin, Edited by Alla Rosenfeld, 1999).

Nevertheless, many Russian children’s artists and authors are still inadequately presented in the West today. Their role and the creation of the Leningrad school of graphic design associated with The Children’s Department and Lebedev’s personal role is introduced in the present manuscript with extensive artistic and comparative literary analysis used to define major directions of Soviet children’s graphic design from the first decade after the revolution to the end of the 1980s.  Special emphasis is going to be given to the harsh realities of Stalin’s dictatorship which was a domineering factor in the Soviet culture during the 1930s – 1950s.  (Note 84: Vast documentary literature exists on the Stalinist period and its reflections on the Soviet life style and creative process in Soviet Russia which influenced many artists and writers.  The most famous examples are Solzhenitsin’s, N. Mandelshtam’s, O. Ivinskya’s, L. Chukovskaya’s, K. Chukovsky’s, N. Punin’s, E. Bulgakova’s, E. Shwart’s Memoirs, etc.  Every year one can find new books and articles on the topic under discussion in the New York magazine New Review (in Russian) and in the American quarterly The Russian Review (in English).  Seven volumes of Jews in the Culture of Russia Abroad published by M. Parkhomovsky in Israel in 1992-2000 provide new facts.  The following publications were being planned at the beginning of the 1990s:  a 7-volume edition of Histoire de la Literature Russe, Ouvrage dirige par E. Etkind (and others), France; Encyclopedia of Soviet Life, a 9-volume edition, USA [see «Новое русское слово», June 22, 1988 and July 30, 1993]).

Throughout the suggested discussion the excruciating struggle between the masters formed in the 1910s and 1920s and the demands of the dictatorship state will be emphasized.  In the given context an important notion of the Soviet life style—creating and reading “between the lines”—will be examined (Note 85: “between the lines” approach became especially popular among unofficial artists of the post Stalin era, e. g., G. Bruskin, V. Komar, A. Melamid, I. Kabakov, O. Rabin and others.  See about them:  Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change, 1890 – 1990).  The final purpose of this text is to show that during the orthodox communist years the Soviet artists and writers were able to preserve authentic artistic elements which all together formed a sort of underground movement.  In retrospect one can clearly see the main phases of this movement.

During the 1930s, when the inertia of the 1920s was still vital, quite a few Soviet artists (Filonov, Ermolaeva, Tyshler, Lebedev, Lapshin, Tyrsa, Altman, Shterenberg, Gurvich, Falk, Shevchenko, and others) and writers (Mandelshtam, Akhmatova, Kharms, Bulgakov, Pasternak, Platonov, Babel, Chukovsky, Zoshenko, Grossman, Ilf and Petrov, and others) were creating art and literary projects in which they were able to preserve historical and cultural values, sometimes at the expense of their lives (Note 86: See Moscow 1900 – 1930, pp. 135-149; Robin Milner-Gulland with Nikolai Dejevsky, Cultural Atlas of Russia and the Soviet Union, Facts on File, New York & Oxford, 1989, p. 176; V. Golitsin, «Страх на все времена», «Новое русское слово», October 21, 1994; biography of Isaak Babel: V. Shentalinsky, «Воскресшее слово», Paris, 1993; аbout Babel also see:  Moscow 1900 – 1930, p. 144).

One can find a wide panorama of Soviet art of 1920s – 1930s in Soviet Art 1920s – 1930s where many of the best art works are presented.  Since many of those works were created in the artists’ studios, not for the official exhibits, they reflect authentic art trends of that period.  The exhibition “Russia” at the Guggenheim Museum in 2005 – 2006 featured dozens of significant art works by Russian artists forbidden during the dictatorship period of Soviet history.

As John E. Bowlt wrote “although the resolution of 1932 deprived the unorthodox artists of material and spiritual support (Filonov, for example was represented at no official art exhibitions between 1933 and 1941), individual artists managed still to uphold the principles of their own convictions:  Tatlin returned to painting with original and valuable results; Filonov and some of his students continued to concentrate on every formal detail of the canvas; Altman, Klyun, Shevchenko, Shterenberg, and others never abandoned completely their essential artistic ideas(Note 87: John E. Bowlt, Russian Art of the Avant-garde, Theory and Criticism, Thames and Hudson, 1988, p. XL).

The 1940s, in a way, should be excluded from the ordinary historical course of social events—these were the years of the Second World War and painful post war recovery.  Beginning with the 1950s, this “underground” movement was regenerated with new energy (Note 88: about gradual progression of non-official art movements in the 1950s see:  M. C. Bown, Contemporary Russian Art, Phaidon Press Limited, New York, 1989; E. Kornetchuk, “Soviet Art and the State” in Quest for Self-Expression, Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio, 1990; Russian Jewish Artists in a Century of Change, 1890 – 1990, The Jewish Museum, New York, 21 September 1995 – 28 January 1996, Prestel, Munich – New York).

One of the most obvious manifestations of the movement’s victories was the publication of Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago in the West.  Since the 1950s, this movement based on the best traditions of the 1920s has never stopped its attempts to confront the official requirements of the Soviet state, often—”between the lines.”  Soviet children’s book was a significant part of this movement.  During the end of the 1920s – beginning of the 1960s its mission was much more important than simply entertaining children, and its real audience was much wider than the youngest age groups of the Soviet society.

Chapter 1 to follow…

 


 

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About Yelena Yasen

Yelena Yasen (Елена Ясногородская): M.A. in Art History and Criticism from The Academy of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg, Russia. Work history includes: The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia; Brooklyn Museum, New York; New School for Social Research, New York. Presently: College Professor, Writer, Art Designer; an author of "Russian Children's Book Illustration or Another Chapter in the History of Russian Avant-Garde" (Institute of Modern Russian Culture, University of Southern California, Archive) and more than 30 published articles in Russian and English.

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