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Fire and Ice The concepts of Fire and Ice at this exhibition are being used as a metaphorical description of Russia’s ideological and artistic acceleration towards the East manifest especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The expansion lay not only towards Siberia and the Far East, but also towards the scorched deserts of Turkestan (captured in the haunting evocations of Pavel Kuznetsov, Ruvim Mazel’, Aleksandr Nikolaev and Martiros Sar’ian) and the Arctic regions (pictured by Mitrofan Beringov, Aleksandr Borisov, Konstantin Korovin and Aleksei Stepanov). Moreover, as diachronic terms, Fire and Ice are also intended to subsume the more abstract associations of cool reason and passionate spontaneity, a duality which drove the creative talents of, for example, Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich. If, therefore, Ice comes to denote sobriety of intellect, Fire may also assume the qualities of pagan fervour as in Léon Bakst’s Siamese Sacred Dance, Nicholas Roerich’s Polovtsian Encampment and Vasilii Vatagin’s Procession with Fires (1913–14, oil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm; Tarusa, collection of the Vatagin family), or the fabulous transmutation symbolised by the firebirds in Sergei Sudeikin’s Oriental Carpet and the smoking hulks of the Russian and Japanese fleets in the cold waters of the Sea of Japan. Of course, not all works at this exhibition can be accommodated within this immediate framework, but the confrontation or collocation of the two conditions might help guide the visitor through the vast and difficult terrain of Russian art – from icy wasteland to torrid wilderness – along its Siberian, Caucasian, Arctic and Asian routes.


Works


1. Preface


The individual felt lost and bewildered in the vastness of the Russian Empire in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Uncivilised space began just outside the front door. The subtle anxiety of impenetrable wilderness and the presence of the “other” – the vast expanses of winter snows, a bulwark against many invaders, the trackless forests of the taiga and the mirages of the boundless steppe – threatened the cherry orchards of country homes. It was from the steppe that the nomadic peoples had arrived, the slant-eyed hordes that were long to personify the Enemy in the Russian subconscious. In the melting pot of Eurasia, a vast diversity of peoples and races, including Scythians, Huns, Mongols and Eskimos, together with traces of even more archaic cultures such as those of China, India and Tibet, were, however, melded with the primitive rituals of initiation, ecstasy and self-abandonment taught by the shamans of the Northern peoples. The wolf, a sacred animal of shamanism that looks us straight in the eye from the endless snows, and the hyena, casting a dark blue shadow in the blinding light of the steppe, encapsulate the dreams and fears of the inhabitants of the Russian Empire, which this exhibition is designed to present. A kamennaia baba, one of the mysterious primitive megaliths found throughout the Empire’s territories, is the guardian of this anxiety, a more modern extension of which can be recognised in Natal’ia Goncharova’s Emptiness, Kazimir Malevich’s Black Circle and Wassily Kandinsky’s Black Spot.


Wassily Kandinsky Black Spot 1912 oil on canvas, 101 x 131 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. ZhB-1323 (cat. no. 1.6)

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Preface


Preface

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2. Exotic Sources: From Greece to Siam


The future Tsar set off from Trieste on 26 October 1890 on a tour of the East intended to strengthen diplomatic relations with the peoples on the Empire’s Eastern frontiers. Greece was the first stage of the journey made by the Tsarevich in the company of his cousin, the son of the Greek sovereign. Sinologist Prince Esper Ukhtomsky (1861–1921), attached to the mission as official chronichler, imparted a specially ominous tone to his description of the visit to the Temple of Zeus at Olympia, while Karazin rendered its most dramatic moment with both panache and precision. The huge Doric ruins were illuminated by a flash of lightning in a sudden thunderstorm: “The air became heavy as thick cloud covered the heavens and we had to make haste. We made our way forward, sometimes stumbling over stones from the altar to Zeus, where priests once foretold the future in the smoke of sacrifices. Olympia was a mystic sanctuary”. Greece was thus seen not as the Apollonian cradle of the classical civilisation but as steeped in local colour, with dark archaic and primordial overtones. This sense still reverberates in Léon Bakst’s Terror Antiquus (1908). On arriving at Vladivostok in May 1891, the Tsarevich then spent two months on an overland journey westward through the vast expanses of Siberia. This second, homeward stage of the journey was evidently made for propaganda purposes, as shown by his symbolic inauguration of the still unbuilt last stretch of the Trans-Siberian Railway on his arrival at Vladivostok. The journey was also an initiatory experience for the 22-year-old Nikolai and served not only to acquaint him with exotic lands such as India, Ceylon, Java, Siam, Japan and China, but also to establish links between the future ruler, the still virgin territories and the supposedly primitive and minor peoples of Siberia. The exhibition follows the path of the mission not in a geographical sense but as a metaphorical trajectory proceeding in a circle from West to East and East to West.


Léon Bakst Terror Antiquus 1908 oil on canvas, 250 x 270 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. Zh-8135 (cat. no. 2.2) Nikolai Karazin Amidst the Ruins. The Temple of Zeus in a Tempest (Olympia) 1880–90 ink and whitening on board, 33.1 x 24.7 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. R-18150 (cat. no. 2.1) Sergei Konenkov Eos 1913 painted marble, 34.5 x 32 x 34 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. SkS-3049 (cat. no. 2.3)

Bakst took up Karazin’s image, associating it with the unfathomable aspect of a still barbaric form of classicism and relating it to his own experience of the ruins of Delphi during a storm one night on a trip to Greece in 1907: “Huge bolts of lightning blinded us with their great jagged blades and the bottomless precipice of the valley opening out below us seemed still more velvety and wild”. In the impenetrable night, “somewhere in the depths of the valley, beneath the blinding flashes of violet-blue lightning, lay the white marble temples, fairytale houses scattered by the monstrous hands of Cyclopes”.

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Exotic Sources: From Greece to Siam


Nikolai Karazin Temples, Spires and Watchdogs 1880–90 ink and whitening on board, 33.1 x 24.7 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. R-18250 (cat. no. 2.5)

LĂŠon Bakst Siamese Sacred Dance 1901 oil on canvas, 73.2 x 109.5 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. 6098 (cat. no. 2.4)

Exotic Sources: From Greece to Siam

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Every stage of the Tsarevich’s journey was marked by an exchange of gifts with the highest local authorities. An exhibition inaugurated at the Hermitage on 28 October 1893, at the end of the mission, displayed the gifts to the public, including the precious silver Tara shown here. While the most valuable gifts are now in the Hermitage, objects of purely ethnographic importance were later donated to the St. Petersburg Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography, as were the numerous souvenir trinkets. Other major works of Eastern art were given to the Hermitage by Ukhtomsky, a keen collector of Buddhist works who shared with contemporary artists and scholars the interest in Theosophy then fashionable in the cultured circles of St. Petersburg.

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Exotic Sources: From Greece to Siam

Buryat people, Eastern Siberia, Mongol school, North China White Tara nineteenth century silver, 36 x 38 x 26 cm St. Petersburg, Russian Museum of Ethnography, inv. no. 3030-484 From Esper Uchtomsky’s collection, donated by Tsar Nicholas II in 1902 (cat. no. 2.6)


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Exotic Sources: From Greece to Siam


In contrast to Benois with his colonialist interpretation of Asia, Kandinsky regarded the East as an alternative territory of mystery and spiritual flight and hence as a vital source of abstraction.

Alexandre Benois Asia 1916 tempera, graphite pencil, gouache on paper on canvas, 108.5 x 100 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. Zh-5647 (cat. no. 2.7) Wassily Kandinsky Exotic Birds 1915 watercolour on paper, 33.4 x 25.2 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. 9887 (cat. no. 2.8)

Exotic Sources: From Greece to Siam

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Nikolai Kalmakov Woman with Snakes 1909 oil on canvas, 215 x 106 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. Zh-10380 (cat. no. 3.2)

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Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy


Nicola Benois Before the Buddha. Initiation into the Priesthood. Miracle of the Indian High Priest. Levitation on 22 April 1915 1915 [?] tempera, graphite pencil, gouache on board, 46 x 24.7 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. ZhB-213 (cat. no. 3.1)

Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy

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Anonymous engraver, Kolkata, India Krishna and Gopi 1880–90 coloured lithograph on paper, 237 x 194 mm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. 87278 Formerly in the collection of Natal’ia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov (cat. no. 3.4) Boris Anisfel’d Stage Design for Milii Balakirev’s Ballet “Islamey” 1911 watercolour, gouache, tempera, bronze, varnish on paper on canvas, 69.5 x 79 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. R-14976 (cat. no. 3.3)

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Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy


Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy

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Aleksei Kravchenko Evening India 1913–14 tempera on board, 35.1 x 50.1 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. R-539 (cat. no. 3.5)

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Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy


Andrei Bely Historiosophical Scheme. Tsikhis-Dziri, Georgia, 1927 watercolour, ink, pencil on paper, 34.5 x 43.5 cm Moscow, State A. S. Pushkin Museum, Andrei Bely Museum Apartment, inv. no. OF 17502 OrB-134 (cat. no. 3.8)

Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy

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Vasilii Vatagin Boa 1911 coloured and painted Tarusa stone, 18.5 x 39 x 41.5 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. Sk-300 (cat. no. 3.6) Vasilii Vatagin Calf 1920s painted wood, 60 x 74 x 10 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. Sk-1613 (cat. no. 3.7)

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Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy


Master Arufbek, Iran Kalamkar. Shah Izmail Out Hunting nineteenth century print and hand decoration on cotton fabric, 331 x 154 cm Moscow, State Museum of Oriental Art, inv. no. II 1760 (cat. no. 3.9)

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Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy

Il’ia Mashkov Still Life 1912–13 oil on canvas, 100 x 127 cm Saratov, State Radishchev Museum of Art, inv. no. Zh-1030 (cat. no. 3.11)


Il’ia Mashkov Portrait of a Lady in an Armchair 1913 oil on canvas, 177 x 115 cm Ekaterinburg, Museum of Fine Arts, inv. no. KP-4263 (cat. no. 3.10)

Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy

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Sergei Sudeikin Oriental Carpet: DĂŠcor for Oriental Dances 1915 gouache , 44.2 x 79.7 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. R 14975 (cat. no. 3.12)

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Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy


Enchanted by the Orient: Buddhism, Persia, India, Theosophy

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4.1 Japan, Beloved Enemy Like their European colleagues, Ivan Bilibin, Alexandre Benois and the other “Impressionist” artists of the Mir iskusstva (World of Art) group were prompted by Japanese prints to alter their conceptions of space, chromatic range and viewpoint, thus paving the way for the modern style and hence the formal revolution of the avant-garde. But how are we to explain the increased interest in the Japanese world and culture at the very moment when the storm clouds of the tragic Russian-Japanese War of 1905 were gathering? Perhaps it was a question of the fascination always felt for the culture of the enemy, the love/hate relationship between adversaries.

Ko¯kyo Harada Our Destroyers Hayatori and Asagiri Sunk a Russian Warship at Port Arthur in spite of the Wind and a Snowstorm 1904–05 coloured xylograph, 350 x 695 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Elb. 14652 (cat. no. 4.1.2) Kako¯ Morita Russian Sailors in Combat on Lifeboats after Their Two Battleships Had Been Sunk by the Japanese Fleet at Port Incheon 1904–05 coloured xylograph, 347 x 692 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Elb. 14653 (cat. no. 4.1.3)

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The Far East. Japan, Beloved Enemy


Kiyochika Kobayashi The Battle of Motien Pass 1904–05 coloured xylograph, 361 x 720 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Elb. 14651 (cat. no. 4.1.4) Kako¯ Morita The Sinking of a Russian Warship during the Great Naval Battle of Port Arthur 1904 coloured xylograph, 345 x 700 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Elb. 14655 (cat. no. 4.1.5) Kyo¯san The Ferocious Battle of Port Arthur between the Japanese Fleet and the Russian Enemy 1904–05 coloured xylograph, 361 x 705 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Elb. 14654 (cat. no. 4.1.6)

The Far East. Japan, Beloved Enemy

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Anonymous Russian engraver The Variag and the Koreits in the Battle of Chemulpo Bay 1904 chromolithograph, 360 x 520 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Eb 152778 (cat. no. 4.1.8) Anonymous Russian engraver The Russo-Japanese War. The Retvizan repels a Japanese attack 1904 chromolithograph, 364 x 520 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Eb 152745 (cat. no. 4.1.9)

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The Far East. Japan, Beloved Enemy


Anonymous Russian engraver The Russo-Japanese War 1904 chromolithograph, 530 x 384 mm St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia, inv. no. Eb 027766 (cat. no. 4.1.7)

The Far East. Japan, Beloved Enemy

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David Burliuk In the Rice Fields 1921 oil on canvas, 45 x 60.5 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. Zh-11891 (cat. no. 4.1.10)

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The Far East. Japan, Beloved Enemy


Vasilii Vereshchagin Boat Ride 1903 oil on canvas, 70 x 103.5 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. Zh-1470 (cat. no. 4.1.1)

The Far East. Japan, Beloved Enemy

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4.2 Chinoiserie While Russia shared the passion for chinoiserie with the European countries during the reign of Catherine the Great, the decorative and architectural expressions of this eclecticism were essentially a pleasing adaptation to Western aristocratic tastes. Sergei Diaghilev then brought this legacy back to life as a new kind of visual entertainment for Parisian audiences through the exotic performances of the Ballets Russes, for which Alexandre Benois created the Chinese-style costumes for Stravinsky’s opera

Le Rossignol (1914).

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The Far East. Chinoiserie

Alexandre Benois Costume Design for the Chinese March in Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Rossignol” 1914 watercolour, ink, pencil, whitening on paper, 47.4 x 30.2 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. R-38480 (cat. no. 4.2.3)

Anonymous, China, Sichuan Province Men-shen (Spirit Defender of the Doors) late nineteenth – early twentieth century coloured xylograph, ink, whitening on coloured and tinted paper, 495 x 280 mm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. 86910 Formerly in the collection of Natal’ia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov (cat. no. 4.2.4)


Alexandre Benois Costume Design for the Chinese March in Igor Stravinsky’s “Le Rossignol” 1914 watercolour, ink, pencil on paper, 51.5 x 33 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. R-38477 (cat. no. 4.2.1)

The Far East. Chinoiserie

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Lev Bruni Tiger 1920 charcoal and watercolour on paper, 36.6 x 24.5 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. RS 282 (cat. no. 4.3.8)

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The Far East. China: Empire of Signs


Lev Bruni Negatives. Composition with Cross 1921 ink on paper, 26.8 x 16.6 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. RS-304 (cat. no. 4.3.4)

The Far East. China: Empire of Signs

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Petr Miturich Graphic Motif 1918–20 ink on paper, 11.2 x 18.8 cm Moscow, Vera Miturich-Khlebnikova Collection (cat. no. 4.3.6)

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The Far East. China: Empire of Signs

Petr Miturich Graphic Motif 1918–20 ink on paper, 12.5 x 26.6 cm Moscow, Vera Miturich-Khlebnikova Collection (cat. no. 4.3.5)

Petr Miturich Graphic Motif 1918–20 ink on paper, 12.5 x 26.6 cm Moscow, Vera Miturich-Khlebnikova Collection (cat. no. 4.3.7)


The Far East. China: Empire of Signs

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The Far East. China: Empire of Signs


Vladimir Burliuk Spring 1910 oil on canvas, 128 x 207 cm St. Petersburg, State Russian Museum, inv. no. Zh-8887 (cat. no. 4.3.9)

The Far East. China: Empire of Signs

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9.2 Images of Healing

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Gestures and Rituals. Images of Healing


Nanai people, Eastern Siberia Shamanic Drawing fabric, dyes, 80 x 78 cm St. Petersburg, Russian Museum of Ethnography, inv. no. 8762-18191 Petr Shimkevich expedition, 1896–97 (cat. no. 9.2.3) Mikhail Larionov From the Cycle “The Seasons”: Spring (New Primitive) 1912 oil on canvas, 142 x 119 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. Zh-22006 (cat. no. 9.2.1) Mikhail Larionov From the Cycle “The Seasons”: Winter (New Primitive) 1912 oil on canvas, 100 x 122.3 cm Moscow, State Tretiakov Gallery, inv. no. Zh-11950 (cat. no. 9.2.2)

Gestures and Rituals. Images of Healing

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Gestures and Rituals. The Magic Circle of the Ritual

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The Russian Avant-garde  

Siberia and the East

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