Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Guide to Russian Archives by Andy Willimott

I would like to draw your attention to some freely available materials which will hopefully be of great benefit to new research students, or those who are planning to undertake a research trip to Russia or Ukraine in the near future. Last year at the University of Oxford, Jon Waterlow (Oxford), Samantha Sherry (Edinburgh) and Andy Willimott (University of East Anglia) organised a conference called 'Research Approaches to Former Soviet States: A Practical Introduction'. 

Some more description follows below, but in the first instance you can hear the majority of the papers given at the event as a free podcast, available here:

The conference took the form of a two-day collaborative workshop for current postgraduate students planning to make their first research trips to (or use sources from) former Soviet states. The event had a strong interdisciplinary focus, incorporating talks on researching History, Film, Theatre, Visual Art, Literature, Language, Music, Cultural Studies and Memory. The aim was to stimulate exchange and interaction not only between institutions, but also across academic disciplines.

The intention was to share as much practical and methodological information as possible to give all new researchers a head start so they could avoid getting bogged down in administrative or organisational difficulties.

In addition to papers given by experienced academic researchers, there were numerous presentations by current graduate students who had just completed extensive research trips, primarily in Russia and Ukraine. These students shared crucial practical information and gave extensive advice on how to approach research and the process of a projectâ  s evolution during the research process.

A huge amount of practical information on individual archives, archival and library holdings and structures, archival vocabulary, visa advice, useful weblinks and more was produced as a booklet for the conference and  is freely available online:

The right of Samantha Sherry, Jonathan Waterlow, and Andy Willimott to be identified as the authors of this work has been asserted in accordance with Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. The editors are happy for sections to be reproduced for students, provided full acknowledgment is given.

The podcast includes the following talks:
Panel I - Overview Panel
* Early Modern sources: Clare Griffin (SSEES) - Using Manuscripts to Research Russian History - The Case of 17th Century Medical Texts
* Early Revolutionary sources: Andy Willimott (UEA) - Researching Soviet Social History in the 1920s
* Early Stalinist sources: Jon Waterlow (Oxford) - 'But there was no humour in the 1930s!'   - Researching Around the System
* Post-Stalinist sources: Alessandro Iandolo (Oxford) - Using 1950s-1960s Sources:  the Case of Soviet Policy in West Africa

Panel II - Racial and Medical Histories
* Daniel Beer (Royal Holloway) - The Human Sciences in Revolutionary Russia: Using Specialist and  Thickâ  Journals
* Simon Pawley (SSEES) -  More History from the Sideâ  : Researching Social History of Medicine of the Late Imperial and Early Soviet era.

Panel III - Music, Visual Art & Film
* Claire Knight (Cambridge) - Silence in the Archives
* Joshua Walden (Oxford) - Sonic Sources and the Study of Béla Bartókâ  s â  Romanian Folk Dancesâ
* JJ Gurga (SSEES) - Whose voice is it anyway? Film Dubbing in the Soviet Republics
* Seth Graham (SSEES) - A Russianistâ  s Adventures in Central Asian Cinema

Panel IV - Memory
* Catherine Merridale (Queen Mary) Listening for Twenty Years
* Polly Jones - Myth, Memory, Fandom: Konstantin Simonov and his Readers in the 1950s and 1960s

Panel V - Reading Between the Lines: Beyond the Text of Printed Sources
* Samantha Sherry (Edinburgh) -The Elusive Censor: The Difficulties of Researching Soviet Censorship
* Simon Huxtable (Birkbeck) - Newspapers Beyond Text: Mapping 'Komsomolâ  skaya pravda', 1950-1964
* Alex Titov (Leeds) - Research in Private vs. Institutional ArchivesDifference in Approaches, Unity of Aims

The conference was made possible by the financial support of the Arts & Humanities Research Council; the British Association of Slavonic and East European Studies; the Modern European History Research Centre, part of the Faculty of History at Oxford; and the University of East Anglia.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Russian Art Week in London

Sotheby’s - November 28 – Important Russian Art 
Sotheby’s - November 29 – Russian Painting
Sotheby’s - November 30 - Russian Works of Art, Fabergé and Icons
Christie's – November 28 – Russian Art
Bonhams - November 30 - Russian Sale
MacDougall's – December 1 - Russian Art Auctions

SOTHEBY'S: The Important Russian Art Evening Auction on Monday, 28 November 2011 will comprise exceptional paintings by artists including Konstantin Makovsky, Petr Konchalovsky, Konstantin Korovin, Natalia Goncharova and Niko Pirosmani, as well as the superb Collection of Arthur Ferdinand Hamann. The Important Private Collection of Works by Alexander Benois on Tuesday, 29 November 2011 is a stand-alone sale of the artist’s most outstanding and intimate works. The Paintings and Works of Art, Fabergé & Icons auction on Tuesday and Wednesday, 29 and 30 November 2011 features some spectacular treasures, including several of Imperial provenance.

Petr Konchalovsky, Tatar Still Life. Oil on canvas, 89.5cm by 106.8cm, Estimate: £500,000-700,000. Photo: Sotheby's

Petr Konchalovsky’s exceptionally rare, pre-revolutionary painting Tatar Still Life, dated 1916 is estimated at £500,000-700,000. It first belonged to influential Polish art critic Waldemar George who presented the painting as a wedding gift to Louis Gautier-Chaumet, editor-in-chief of “La Presse" newspaper, where George served as art critic. The still life was executed at the height of Konchalovsky’s creative output, several years after he founded the Jack of Diamonds artists’ society, which pioneered the Russian avant-garde. Konchalovsky and his peers were deeply influenced by the works of Paul Cézanne, and their innovative form of Russian Cézannism finds its most vivid expression in this distinctive work of art. 

Petr Konchalovsky’s exceptionally rare, pre-revolutionary painting Tatar Still Life, dated 1916 is estimated at £500,000-700,000. It first belonged to influential Polish art critic Waldemar George who presented the painting as a wedding gift to Louis Gautier-Chaumet, editor-in-chief of “La Presse" newspaper, where George served as art critic. The still life was executed at the height of Konchalovsky’s creative output, several years after he founded the Jack of Diamonds artists’ society, which pioneered the Russian avant-garde. Konchalovsky and his peers were deeply influenced by the works of Paul Cézanne, and their innovative form of Russian Cézannism finds its most vivid expression in this distinctive work of art.

MacDougall’s offers over £16m in Russian Art on Dec 1st

On 1 December 2011, MacDougall’s will present Russian paintings, icons and works of art with a total pre‐sale estimate of over £16m. The sale is led by Boris Kustodiev’s Merchant's Wife dating from 1923. Kupchikhas, as merchants’ wives are known in Russian, are among the artist’s most recognisable images. The present example, which is estimated at £1,200,000–1,800,000, was shown at the historic Russian Art Exhibition in New York’s Grand Central Palace in 1924.

Aleksandr Volkov, Listening to the Bedana. Estimate: 300,000-500,000 GBP.

Another highlight of the sale is Listening to the Bedana, a rare work by Alexander Volkov. In his works, Volkov combined the local colour and images of his native Uzbekistan with international styles such as Cubism and Futurism. Painted in the 1920s, the work belongs to a new stage in this artist’s career in which he experimented with figurative representation. In Listening to the Bedana (the same Uzbek word signifies both the quail and the cage which holds him), the artist deals with two of his favourite subjects, those of teadrinking and music‐making. Appearing at auction for the first time, the painting is estimated at £300,000–500,000.

Dating from 1918, Mikhail Nesterov’s The Nightingale is Singing (est. £600,000–900,000) is one of the earliest versions of his celebrated composition, of which he painted at least four. The original version of 1917 is now lost, while a later version is in the collection of the National Art Museum of Belarus. In this work, the artist addresses one of the most enduring themes in his oeuvre, that of the fate of the Russian woman.

The December sale also features several exceptional 19th century paintings, including the particularly fine Sea Shore. Crimea by Lev Lagorio, estimated at £250,000–300,000, as well as an outstanding work by Russia’s most lyrical landscape painter, Aleksei Savrasov. Pastoral Scene (est. £400,000–600,000) is one of the small group of landscapes that the artist painted towards the end of his life, a period from which very few works survive. The small‐scale format so beloved by Savrasov is similar to that of his most celebrated work, Rooks Have Returned in the collection of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

MacDougall’s is delighted to offer a particularly strong selection of Nonconformist works from an Italian private collection. The owner of these works acquired them directly from the artists while working and living in the Soviet Union in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The selection includes 15 paintings by Boris Sveshnikov, some of which date back as far as the 1950s, as well as works by Dmitry Krasnopevtsev and Eduard Steinberg. MacDougall’s occupies a leading position in the market for Russian Post‐War art, having handled several important Nonconformist collections in the past few years.

MacDougall’s Important Russian Art and Russian Classic and Contemporary Art sales are followed by a specialized Russian Icons and Works of Art auction. It is led by an early 20th century silver and enamel Triptych of St George with St Nicholas the Miracle Worker and Alexei the Metropolitan of Moscow, estimated at £100,000–150,000. The triptych’s striking polychrome cloisonné enamel frame is richly coloured and the design is exceptionally refined. The choice of saints suggests that the triptych was commissioned to be presented to a particularly eminent figure. The saints depicted on the side panels are the namesakes of Emperor Nicholas II and his heir apparent, Tsarevich Alexei Nikolayevich. The depiction of St George and the Dragon on the central panel not only reproduces the emblem of Moscow, but is also laden with triumphal and “victorious” significance.

The sale exhibition will be in London 25‐30 November.
Part I: Important Russian Art
Thursday 1 December 2011, 10:30
Part II: Russian Classic and Contemporary Art
Thursday 1 December 2011, 14:00
Russian Icons and Works of Art
Thursday 1 December, 17:00

MacDougall Arts Ltd
30A Charles II Street, London SW1A 4AE
Tel.: +44-20-7389-8160 Fax: +44-20-7389-8170
Registered Company No. 5175060 in England & Wales

Friday, 25 November 2011

EXHIBITION: Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde

The Art Gallery of Ontario is bringing the magic, whimsy and wonder of Marc Chagall to Toronto with a major exhibition organized by the Centre Pompidou. Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde: Masterpieces from the Collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris, features the lush, colourful, and dreamlike art of Marc Chagall alongside the visionaries of Russian modernism, including Wassily Kandinsky, Kasimir Malevich, Natalia Goncharova, Sonia Delaunay, and Vladimir Tatlin.

The exhibition examines how Chagall’s Russian heritage influenced and informed his artistic practice, illustrating how he at turns embraced and rejected broader movements in art history as he developed his widely beloved style.

Chagall and the Russian Avant-Garde comprises 118 works from a broad array of media, including painting, sculpture, works on paper, photography, and film. The artwork is drawn entirely from the collection of the Centre Pompidou and features 32 works by Chagall and eight works by Kandinsky.
Marc Chagall The Blue Circus (1950)
Marc Chagall à Paris (French language workshop)
Durant la période d’entre-deux-guerres, Marc Chagall s’installe à Paris et travaille pour Ambroise Vollard, le grand marchant d’art. Les participants exploreront l’influence du surréalisme et du classicisme français sur l’artiste, mais aussi ses sources d’inspirations : le cirque, la Bible hébraïque et la poésie.
8 and 9 December, 10am - 1pm
Members $100 | Public $165
Additional materials fees may apply.  Please note: this workshop will be taught in French.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

American collector of Soviet dissident art Norton Dodge dies at 84

Norton Dodge, an economics professor who in the course of research trips to study arcana like tractors and workforce demographics managed quietly to amass the world’s largest collection of nonconformist Soviet art, died on Nov. 5 in Washington. He was 84.The cause was multiple organ failure, his wife, Nancy, said. The couple had lived for many years at Cremona, a 978-acre estate in Mechanicsville, Md., whose 40-odd buildings long groaned with paintings, prints and other work made covertly from the 1950s to the 1980s.

That trove now forms the core of the Norton and Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art From the Soviet Union, part of the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J.
Eric Bulatov  'Danger' (1972-73), The Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum

For “nonconformist” read “dissident,” and for “dissident” read “dangerous”: the term describes any art, including political, religious and Surrealist work, that did not hew to the narrow, state-sanctioned confines of Socialist Realism. During the Soviet era, the making of such art could result in the artist’s being ostracized, exiled, imprisoned or worse.

The Dodge Collection, which opened to the public in 1995, now comprises about 20,000 works. Artists represented there include some who are well known in the West today, among them the conceptual artists Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid.

Professor Dodge and the underground artists whose work he helped save are the subjects of a book, “The Ransom of Russian Art” (1994), by John McPhee. In his academic life, Professor Dodge was a scholar of Soviet economics who taught for many years at the University of Maryland. At his death he was emeritus professor of economics at St. Mary’s College of Maryland..

The Norton & Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union (1956-1986)
This is the largest and most comprehensive collection of its kind in the world. Comprising more than 17,000 works of art, this collection documents Soviet dissident art from the historical Cold War period (1956-1986)--from Khruschev’s cultural “thaw” to Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. Soviet artists working in opposition to the government-prescribed style of Social Realism risked personal safety, imprisonment, and exile in their quest for individual expression

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Historical photographs of Konchalovsky in China digitised by University of Bristol

In 1945, Pyotr Konchalovsky (1876-1956) painted a full-length studio portrait of Hu Zipang lying on chaise longue.  While he worked on the portrait, the Chinese ambassador to the USSR, Fu Bingchang photographed the scene.   Hu Zipang was Fu's attache at the embassy in Moscow, as well as being his lover, a war correspondent, and a Communist agent who was spying on Fu.

The negatives survived the fall of Nationalist China and ended up in a trunk in Lincoln, England.  The four photographs (and many others by Fu) were digitised by the Historical Photographs of China project, at the University of Bristol, and are now online at (search for Konchalovsky, or for the four image reference numbers: Fu-n322, Fu-n324, Fu-n326 and Fu-n327).  In the background of Fu-n322, Konchalovsky's painting 'Hercules and Omphale' (1928) can be seen on the wall.

Historical Photographs of China project, University of Bristol
Images copyright of Yee Wah Foo, a relative of the photographer Fu Bingchang.

Text by Jamie Carstairs, Digitisation Officer, Special Collections, Arts and Social Sciences Library, University of Bristol 

Historical Photographs of China
Visualising China
Treasures from Special Collections
(supported by the University of Bristol Alumni Fund)

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

The Man who died for Cézanne. Nikolay Punin (1888-1953) by Natalia Murray

Nikolay Punin is not a name widely known in the West, primarily because his file languished in the KGB archives since he died in 1953, partly because his grave in the Gulag where he died is marked only by a number, and partly because his own reputation became submerged under that of his lover, the poetess Anna Akhmatova; evidence of this is that the Anna Akhmatova Museum in the House on the Fontanka in St. Petersburg, is in fact in Punin’s old apartment.  
Photograph of Nikolay Punin (1920s),  Punin family archive, St. Petersburg

Yet, during his life, this remarkable individual was one of the most influential figures in the turbulent but exciting arena of post-revolutionary Russian art and its social and political context. Throughout his life Punin was also one of the most persistent and uncompromising propagators of Paul Cézanne and his legacy.
Nikolay Punin was a critic of the new era, promoting new art, proclaiming that: ‘Our art is the art of form, of shape, because we are proletarian artists, artists of a Communist culture. He welcomed the October revolution as an opportunity to establish new art, which would be based on the achievements of such artists as Cézanne.
Punin’s ‘Cycle of lectures’, which were given in Petrograd in 1919 and published in 1920, aimed to give an overview of Western-European art and to identify the Russian avant-garde with it. In these lectures Punin tried to distinguish which elements make an artist great, rather than ordinary. He felt that artists such as Cézanne and Picasso had the power to break free from the accepted rules and laws. In his sixth lecture the art critic announced: ‘Cézanne broke painting from the shackles of subject matter.’
Admiring this unique French artist, Punin felt that ‘nature for him was only the reason, only the dictionary for perfectly constructed work of art.’ He believed that what matters for the artist is what he feels rather than what he understands and that ‘the major aim of artistic activity is to transform the world through new forms of beauty’.
In his review of the new trends in the art of St. Petersburg, which was written by Punin for the magazine ‘Russian art’ in 1923, the art-critic described Cézanne’s painting ‘Grand Pin Près d’Aix-en-Provence’, which was purchased by Ivan Morozov in 1908. Comprised of separate blocks of paint, this painting represented the new era of post-impressionist art. Punin used this painting for his explanation of Cézanne’s work. He compared it to the academic landscape by the representative of ‘Peredvizhniki’, Ivan Shishkin. He said that if you pull a branch of Shishkin’s tree, it will come out together with roots and earth; in Cézanne’s painting, together with the branch, part of the sky will be torn. Punin’s comparison reflected the wholeness of Cézanne’s landscapes.
By 1921, many artists and writers had left Russia in anticipation of arrests and deportations. They lived in Russia through the most difficult post-revolutionary years of starvation and poverty, driven by their faith in building the new art of the new nation. Their disillusionment and their emigration signalled the beginning of the end of the Russian avant-garde.
Punin had written four books and more than forty articles in three years after the Revolution and played a leading role in all the major developments in artistic life in 1920s Russia.  But now, Nikolay Punin, like many, began to feel frustrated by the limitations of the new communist system, and increasingly by his limited success in trying to ‘defend the freedom of artistic arts’.
Punin was arrested for the first time on 3rd August 1921 – just a few months before the Department of Visual Arts of Narkompross was closed. Later he would say about these events: ‘It was the end of my love-affair with the revolution.’
 From 1923, he concentrated mainly on lecturing, writing and museum work. After being excited about all the new possibilities which came with the change from a rather hard hearted imperial regime and being the right hand of Lunacharsky in the first years after the October revolution, already in February 1920 Punin had written in his diary:  ‘One quality of the revolution – life gets to be a risk.’
But despite his first encounter with rejection and with persecution by the state, Punin continued his attempts to educate new Soviet people in modern art. ‘Nothing can happen to me which can crush me. And that’s my destiny,’ – wrote Punin to his wife in July 1923.
On 3 April 1921 the Museum of Artistic Culture was officially opened in the Myatlev House, which used to house IZO Narkompros. Researching the experimental nature of avant-garde art, the museum was the only institution of its kind in the world. It represented the new art, striving to explain it to the masses.  In 1922, at Filonov’s suggestion and through the determined efforts of Malevich and Nikolay Punin, the Institute of Artistic Culture (Inkhuk) was established with the Museum of Artistic Culture as its base. It was a truly unique establishment, where artists explored the laws of visual perception and the formation of art. For Punin this newly-established institution represented the fulfilment of all his dreams about educating workers in modern art with Cézanne’s legacy as its focal point.
Malevich suggested that the ideal museum exhibition of new art should have several parts, such as ‘Painting as such’ with Cézanne in the centre of it. But in 1926 the museum together with Inkhuk were closed over-night, and even though its priceless collection was moved to the department of the newest movements, which was headed by Punin at the Russian museum, the doors, opened for the avant-garde artists by the October revolution, were gradually closing down.
In January 1933 Punin also lost his job as the head of already non-existent department of Newest Movements and was ordered to change the exposition of the 20th century Russian art at the Russian museum in two weeks. From now on he was only allowed to remain a member of the artistic committee of the museum. However, when the flames of the revolution have died down, Punin still kept his position as a fighter for Russian avant-garde and promotion of Western-European modern art – it was his brave choice, the price of which was first his career and then his life.
Back in 1919 in one of his articles in the newspaper ‘Iskusstvo kommuni’, Punin wrote: “We were persecuted and will be persecuted, not because we are anti-bourgeois, or the other way around, but because we possess the gift of creative art. This is the reason we cannot be tolerated by mediocrity, even by Communist mediocrity.”
During the late 1930’s, Punin was working on the last serious work of his life - a text-book on the history of Western-European Art. It was 494 pages long, and it was written in three months in the spring of 1939. After putting lots of pressure on Punin and the four other authors to finish this book quickly, the publishers then sat on it for a year, reducing chapters dedicated to the art of the second half of the 19th century and the beginning of 20th century to 35 pages (less than 10% of the whole text-book).  The text-book was then reviewed by the famous Moscow-based art-historians, Lazarev and Alpatov.
  Originally, the chapter on the ‘Art of Imperialism’, which then meant ‘Impressionism’ and ‘Post-Impressionism’, was written by another art-historian, Valentin Brodsky. But in 1940 he had already been mobilized to the front, and Punin decided to re-write this controversial chapter. In the beginning of this chapter Punin explained that the ‘art of imperialism’ did not deny traditional art – instead modern artists studied and criticised it, and finally created new art in accordance with the tastes and ideas of their time. He dedicated the large part of this brief overview of Western-European art to one of his most admired artist – Paul Cézanne, about whom he wrote:
“Cézanne – is one of the most intense artists ever known in the history of Western-European art. Absorbing in his art the whole richness of the painting tradition of his predecessors, denying any romantic or idealistic associations, he saw the expression of painting in everything around him…”
Punin felt that Cézanne brought back the classic traditions of French art, which were denied by the Impressionists, and that his followers, rather than Cézanne himself, made his inventions look formal. Punin always adored Cézanne.  In 1915, he had written to his wife, Anna Arens: ‘Will I, like my contemporaries, leave the content [of the painting] behind, and for another year will be hating Gauguin and loving Cézanne?’
Punin never betrayed his love for Cézanne. In 1940 Lazarev was writing to him how all the professors of the history of art at the Moscow State University were against his chapter on the ‘Art of Imperialism’. At the time Lazarev was still on Punin’s side, saying that the ones who criticized him the most would never be able to write like him. He wrote that he really liked this chapter, but advised Punin to make some characteristics smoother and milder in order to minimize criticism. Punin ignored this suggestion, but, much to everyone’s surprise, the text-book was still published. In the bizarre circumstances of the day, this was because Vyacheslav Molotov, Chairman of the Council of People’s Commissars and Stalin’s right hand man, apparently liked it.
However, in nine years’ time, Punin’s text-book was heavily criticised in an article by one Gyakov called ‘Formalists and aesthetes in the role of critics’. He declared that Nikolay Punin ‘openly advertised decadent, corrupt western art and such representatives of it as Cézanne and Van Gogh’. He complained that Punin dared to call these ‘formalist artists’ geniuses.
Soon after this article was published, in 1946 Punin was fired from the State Leningrad University and Academy of Arts, where he taught for 20 years, for ‘not succeeding in providing ideological and political education of his students’.  In August 1949 he was sent to GULAG for ‘preaching Cézannism’.  All copies of his text-book were removed from all universities and libraries. Most of them were burned, and only a few survived to modern days.
In February 1946, Punin once again wrote in his diary: ‘Recently I was not able to write at all’. One of his students, Mikhail Flegel, had returned from Vienna, where he was posted as a soldier, and brought back with him some beautiful reproductions of French Impressionists. Punin and his student Ciciliya Nissel’shtraus went to Flegel’s house to see these photos, which Nikolay Nikolaevich would later use in his lectures. He admired all the freedom of expression and sincerity of these paintings, which were classified as a bad influence on the young builders of Communism in the Soviet Union.
In March of the same year Punin wrote again about his beloved patriarch of Modernism, Cézanne:
“Cézanne’s feat is not just in the fact that he was a true painter, as everyone thinks of him, but in the way in which he stood in front of the world with such an opened heart, cleared from all the additives not related to art - such an opened heart, that no other artist ever had before, including Rafael, Titian and Velasquez. Cezanne is the main representative of visual art, its fullest impersonation. That is the main goal and idea of Cézanne’s art. For everyone who can relate to it, his paintings are like the house, in which the soul has a beautiful life, <…> because his art – is the house, built in painting materials.”
Punin also came to the conclusion that there should always be a strong connection between ‘people in paintings’ and ‘people in real life’. He wrote in his diary that in the Hermitage people moved in ‘a more natural way’ in the rooms with Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, and looked rather ‘awkward’ in the room with Renaissance art – ‘walking like spirits surrounded by the immortal’.
In April 1946 Punin was writing to his old friend, artist Lev Bruni, that ‘art did not prove worthwhile’ and that ‘Cézanne and Van Gogh are its fruitless victims’. Bruni replied that Punin should not despair, and that no one can be greater than Cézanne, who was ‘the first artist, apart from Delacroix, to show people the way to Painting.’
However, after Punin’s lecture on Impressionism, which he gave at the Union of Artists in April 1945, criticism of his views on Cézanne and Van Gogh was getting stronger. In February 1946 he wrote in his diary: ‘Life is difficult, and I am tired.’
In his lecture Punin bravely announced: ‘Whether or not our government likes it, our art will have to take modern Western European art into account.’ After Punin’s arrest in 1949, Vladimir Serov, who at the time was the president of the Union of Artists in Leningrad and the prime cause of art-critic’s arrest,  told the prosecutor about this bold phrase from Nikolay Nichoilaevich’ speech, and added that when the stenographer gave Punin his speech for corrections, he did not want to change it. Even when he was told that it was inappropriate to leave such a phrase in the stenographic copy, he crossed out the word ‘government’ and wrote ‘governing board’. Now it looked as if he was holding the board of the Union of Artists rather than the whole Soviet government accountable for bad Soviet art.
Not surprisingly, in 1949 Punin was arrested and sentenced for 10 years in GULAG. At his questioning in connection with Punin’s case, Vladimir Serov also quoted Punin’s other phrase from his earlier speech ‘Impressionism and Paintings’:
            “Soviet art is a backward art, while contemporary Western European art, such as art of Picasso, and also the art of Western Europe of the beginning of the 20th century, such as art of Cézanne and Van Gogh, are the highest achievements of contemporary culture.” Expressing such views in the Soviet Union equalled inevitable arrest and a prison sentence.
In August 1953 64-years old Punin died in Abez settlement. He had managed to fit several lives into this relatively short time, a colourful life in Imperial Russia, Revolution, three arrests, two World wars, the siege of Leningrad and the Gulag. Back in 1940 he had written:
“It is such a happiness to be still alive; I did not expect this; I never thought that I would live for so long.  Levushka Bruni told me a long time ago: ‘What an amazing Guardian Angel you have.’ Art does not want to part with me. It still needs me for preaching it in front of the mad people, who have lost it.”
In 1953 – the year when both Stalin and Punin died – 36 Picassos were released by the Soviet museums for exhibition in Italy, and then in Paris. In December 1954 an exhibition of 19th century Dutch and Belgian Art was opened at the Hermitage. For the first time the timeless paintings by Van Gogh, so beloved by Punin, were exhibited.
But the real breakthrough happened three years later when first at the Pushkin Museum in Moscow and then at the Hermitage museum in Leningrad, the first and the largest exhibition of 19th and 20th century French masters was opened.
At the Hermitage this historic exhibition occupied 54 rooms of the Winter Palace, and included more than two thousand works of art, from David to Cézanne. By the cruel irony of his life, Punin did not live to see this ground-breaking exhibition. But one of his students, Anna Izergina (who became a curator of 19-20th century French paintings at the Hermitage museum), curated this ground-breaking exhibition.
Jealous and greedy Soviet officials may have managed to get rid of Punin, but his followers, his students, continued his mission of educating people in true art.

 This article was first delivered as a paper at the postgraduate conference 'Cultural Exchange: Russia and the West', University of Bristol in April 2011. Natalia Murray is a Russian art-historian. She comes from St. Petersburg, where she graduated from the Academy of Arts and the PhD course at the Hermitage Museum. She is currently working at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Her biography of N. Punin 'The Unsung Hero of the Russian Avant-Garde. The life and times of Nikolay Punin (1888-1953)' will be published by Brill Academic Publishers in March 2012.

Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC) wins research grant

The Cambridge Courtauld Russian Art Centre (CCRAC) – a joint initiative devised by Dr Rosalind P. Blakesley of the Department of History of Art, Cambridge, and Professor John Milner of The Courtauld Institute of Art, London – was launched in May 2011 to provide a forum for the investigation of Russian and Soviet art. Arising from significant research over many years among faculty and graduate students in both institutions, CCRAC aims to stimulate debate, support collaborative work, and generate and disseminate research on all aspects of the visual arts, architecture, design, and exhibitions in Russia and the Soviet Union.

The project was recently awarded a grant from the Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme to enable Dr Blakesley to employ a Research Associate to work with her on CCRAC related activities for the first six months of 2012.

The CCRAC website is currently under development, but forthcoming events include:
 1. Dr Blakesley’s lecture Painting St Petersburg. The Birth of a National School of Art, Wednesday 9 November 2011, 7.30pm, at Pushkin House, London.
For further information and booking details, please see:

2.The conference UTOPIA I: Russian Art and Culture in 1930-1989, which will take place at The Courtauld Institute of Art on Friday 25 November 2011 and Saturday 26 November 2011 (Kenneth Clark Lecture Theatre).
For further information and booking details, please see:

3. The Conference Design without Frontiers: Interdisciplinarity and Collaboration in Soviet Art, Architecture and Design, which will take place at the University of Cambridge on thursday 20th September 2012 and friday 21st September 2012.
For further information please see:

For further information on CCRAC, please contact either of its co-directors at:
Dr Rosalind P. Blakesley ‎[]‎
Prof John Milner []

Friday, 18 November 2011

Vereshchagin's 'Crucifixion by the Romans' highlight of Christie's Russian art sale

This autumn’s Russian Art Sale in London will feature Vasily Vereshchagin’s awe-inspiring Crucifixion by the Romans, painted in 1887 in Paris. It will be offered on 28th November with an estimate of £1,000,000-1,500,000. The picture will be sold to benefit the acquisitions fund of the Brooklyn Museum, where it was exhibited for the last time in 1932.
Vasily Vereshchagin, (Russian, 1842-1904). A Crucifixion in the Time of the Romans, 1887. Oil on canvas, 116 x 156 in. (294.6 x 396.2 cm).

“After conducting a careful review of the Museum’s late-19th and 20th-century Russian holdings, we came to the conclusion that Crucifixion by the Romans by Vasily Vereshchagin does not represent the focus of the collection, which is on modern and avant-garde Russian art. The painting deserves to be better utilized than it has been at Brooklyn, where it was last on view in 1932. We did not foresee a time when it would be exhibited here again,” commented the Brooklyn Museum.

Sarah Mansfield, Head of Christie’s Russian Art Department says: “To offer such an incredible work is an exciting moment for any specialist. We would like to thank the Brooklyn Museum for their cooperation and we are looking forward to presenting Crucifixion by the Romans to an international audience, for the first time in 80 years, on 28th November.”

On 14th October 1888, the New York Times announced the arrival of a large number of Vereshchagin’s paintings in the United States. The works in question, including Crucifixion by the Romans had been sent to New York to be exhibited by the American Art Association and to tour the United States before returning to New York to be auctioned. The exhibition travelled to Chicago, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Boston and was a tremendous success, attended by literally hundreds of thousands of people. The auction commenced sharp at 8.00pm on 17th November 1891.The New York Times reported the following day, ‘The highest price of the evening was achieved by the large painting, one of a series of three that were sold separately, called Crucifixion by the Romans.’ As the final painting in the series referred to by Vereshchagin as ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth’, which was devoted to the subject of capital punishment, Crucifixion by the Romans is epic in both scale and content. . By 1899 the work was on view at the Brooklyn Museum, lent by Mr John W. Brown and was presented officially to the museum in 1906 by Mrs Lilla Brown, in memory of her husband. 

Of monumental size, this work was painted in Paris in Vereshchagin’s studio which was particularly designed for the execution of over-sized canvasses. The composition is undoubtedly striking: in direct contrast to traditional depictions of the Crucifixion, Vereshchagin positions Christ, illuminated, on the extreme right of the painting, placing the primary emphasis of the composition on the crowd. The viewer becomes part of the crowd, peering over people and horses to view the spectacle. A large expanse of dark sky stretches across the horizontal, the city wall looms heavy over a crowd of traders, Pharisees and a mournful group of Christ’s supporters. In the foreground, Roman soldiers with their spears and lances stand guard. In any study of Vereshchagin’s work written before or after the Russian Revolution, this trilogy of paintings stands as one of the major undertakings of his career. First conceived in 1876, its completion was a dream of the artist’s for over a decade, until the final canvas, the present work, was finished in 1887.

The theme that connects the three works – extremes of capital punishment under three of the greatest territorial empires the world has ever known, the Roman, the British and Vereshchagin’s own, the Russian – is emphasized by the works’ titles: Blowing from Guns in British India and Hanging in Russia. Each work symbolically illustrates the moment of the greatest ethical test each empire had faced, lamenting the brutality of the state while poignantly depicting the unchanging humanity that connects people and populations across vast expanses of time and geographical territory.

In answer to the British and Russian criticism the artist faced for his trilogy – Vereshchagin responded, ‘A hundred years hence they will be appreciated: the pictures will live’. Over a century later, Vereshchagin’s prophesy has been realised, with the appearance of Vereshchagin’s phenomenal masterwork, Crucifixion by the Romans, at auction.

Sale:                Christie’s London, 28 November 2011 at 10 am
Viewing:         25, 26, 27 November 2011

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Tate Modern: Blue Rider Centenary Symposium

The conference programme for the Tate Modern symposium celebrating the Centenary of the Blue Rider has now been published.

The Blue Rider Centenary Symposium
Friday 25 November 2011, 10.30–17.30
Saturday 26 November 2011, 10.30–17.00

This symposium celebrates the centenary of the first exhibition of The Blue Rider at Galerie Thannhauser in Munich in December 1911. The Blue Rider was a global project including references as diverse as Japanese art, Russian folk art, children's drawings, Bavarian glass painting and artworks by contemporary European artists, musicians and writers.

Wassily Kandinsky 
Cossacks 1910–11 

Tate © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 2002

The two-day event will establish the divergent as well as related patterns of intention, outcome and influence presented under the name Der Blaue Reiter and explore its ongoing legacies and relevance today. Keynote presentations by Annegret Hoberg and Peter Vergo. Keynote performance by Stelarc. A performance of Kandinsky's Der Gelbe Klang (Yellow Sound) will take place on Saturday evening.

In collaboration with University of Bristol and Centre for Fine Art Research Cardiff (CSAD)
Supported by the British Academy and the Bristol Gallery

Tate Modern  Starr Auditorium
£30 (£20 concessions), booking required. For tickets book online or call 020 7887 8888.


Wednesday, 16 November 2011

NT Platforms: Stalin's Favourite

National Theatre Platforms
Stalin's Favourite, adapted and performed by Rupert Wickham
Fri 18 Nov, 5.30pm 
An emotionally engaging personal human insight into Stalin’s ‘favourite’ writer, Konstantin Simonov; adapted from Orlando Figes’ The Whisperers.
The Whisperers by Orlando Figes
From the award-winning author of A People's Tragedy and Natasha's Dance, a landmark account of what private life was like for Russians in the worst years of Soviet repression
There have been many accounts of the public aspects of Stalin's dictatorship: the arrests and trials, the enslavement and killing in the gulags. No previous book, however, has explored the regime's effect on people's personal lives, what one historian called "the Stalinism that entered into all of us." Now, drawing on a huge collection of newly discovered documents, The Whisperers reveals for the first time the inner world of ordinary Soviet citizens as they struggled to survive amidst the mistrust, fear, compromises, and betrayals that pervaded their existence.
Moving from the Revolution of 1917 to the death of Stalin and beyond, Orlando Figes re-creates the moral maze in which Russians found themselves, where one wrong turn could destroy a family or, perversely, end up saving it. He brings us inside cramped communal apartments, where minor squabbles could lead to fatal denunciations; he examines the Communist faithful, who often rationalized even their own arrest as a case of mistaken identity; and he casts a humanizing light on informers, demonstrating how, in a repressive system, anyone could easily become a collaborator.

A vast panoramic portrait of a society in which everyone spoke in whispers--whether to protect their families and friends, or to inform upon them--The Whisperers is a gripping account of lives lived in impossible times.

Orland Figes is a British historian of Russia, and Professor of History at Birkbeck, University of London.

Tickets: £4 (£3 concessions)
Running time: 1hr 15mins

Monday, 14 November 2011

Online resources: Russian archives & primary documents

The School of Russian and Asian Studies has published a list of some interesting resources and useful sites that offer access to primary documents about Russian history and information on accessing archives in Russia. offers decades of previously highly classified documents from the former KGB headquarters in Latvia, Estonia, and Lithuania. They are now available online - with more planned to be available soon - in Russian and English. 
New York Public Library has one of the largest collections of Slavic primary documents in the US. See their image gallery.
Russian Satirical Journals Project makes USC's unique collection of Russian Satirical Journals produced during the revolutionary upheaval of 1905-1907 available on line, accompanied by a searchable database which offers detailed information on these rare periodicals, those who produced them, and their cultural and historical context.
Metropolitain Museum of Art Libraries has several digitized, rare Russian books. and offer hundreds of old photos of Moscow and St. Petersburg. Set the sliders for the date range you want and the interactive map will show you only those pictures within that range. provides archival documents, photos, and video of the Soviet space program.
LiveJournal can be great resource for those who speak Russian an want to find out more about how today's (middle-class, well-educated) Russians live and how they feel about Soviet times. provides histories and photographs of landmarks in Russia that are no more.
Savok and offers hundreds of high quality photos of the USSR wtih free access. provides access to translated documents, many recently declassified, that pertain to the Cold War.
The Cold War International History Project is a contributor to and has many other documents available on its own site.
Stalinka is a scholarly-referenced collection of more than 500 images comprising representations of Stalin in various genres. This resource will be invaluable to anyone researching Stalin, the cult of personality that surrounded him, or Soviet propaganda. 
The Duke Library Russian Posters Collection consists of 75 Russian posters, documenting almost 60 years of Communist political advertising.
The Harvard Project presents mostly interviews with Soviet refugees to the States - information on cultural, social, and economic conditions in the USSR in the early years of the Cold War.
Electronic Library of Russian Literature and Folklore is a very good resource for those subjects. provides oral history and modern folklore from Russia.
The Ukrainian Folklore Project is an interesting site sponsored by the University of Alberta. Lots of info, pics, video footage and other multimedia presentations.
The Ukrainian Museum Archives offers lots of "online exhibits" of artifacts from Ukrainian culture and Ukrainian immigrant culture. contains not only photographs, "prorisi" and translations of all published Novgorod birchbark letters, including recently excavated ones, but also historical, archaeological, bibliographic and linguistic comments on almost every one of them. is a site for those interested in early Russian manuscripts.
Anna.Ahmatova.Com offers biographical info on the poet and recordings of her reading her own poems. offers many images, movies, and recordings - for a price.
Gulag: Many Days, Many Lives presents an in-depth look at life in the Gulag through original documentaries, documents and images, and teaching and bibliographic resources that encourage further study.
Berezka was a hard-currency store in the Soviet Union. It's 1975 catalogue is now online, showing what high-end food items would have cost at that time.
Color Code:   Red links are to sites only in Russian.  
                     Gray links have English available.    
Full list of online Russian resources here: