Ivan Bilibin’s Russian Wonder Tales

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Halloween approaches so a picture of Wassilissa the Beautiful carrying a skull on a stick suits the season, as do the psilocybin-like mushrooms in the border. This edition of Russian Wonder Tales (1917) was a retelling of Russian folk tales by Post Wheeler for a British readership. Ivan Bilibin’s illustrations date from some twenty years earlier, however, and their colours are compromised by age and printing, but you at least get to see them with their stories in English. Among the pictures below there’s a nice portrait of the ever-bizarre Baba Yaga scooting through the forest.

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Diaghilev’s World of Art

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Cover by Evgeny Lanceray for Prospectus of the Magazine, 1901.

Previous posts here have concerned fin de siècle art magazines like The Savoy, Pan and Jugend; yesterday we had Sergei Diaghilev so it seems fitting to mention Diaghilev’s own magazine, Mir Iskusstva (World of Art), founded in 1899 with similar intentions to the European magazines which were highlighting developments in art beyond the academic sphere. Mir Iskusstva was also the name of the Russian art group who used the magazine as their forum, and a number of the artists involved in the movement, notably Léon Bakst, Ivan Bilibin and Nicholas Roerich, went on to work for Diaghilev at the Ballets Russes.

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Cover by Léon Bakst for Mir iskusstva #8 (1902).

I find this later development especially fascinating since it positions the magazine as a precursor to the groundbreaking works which followed rather than being—as so many periodicals were and still are—a publication which had its moment of glory then faded from view. Of the works shown here, Vrubel’s Symbolist Demon, one of several painted by the artist, was featured in a 1903 edition of the magazine, whilst the Bakst painting, depicting the destruction of Atlantis, shows a Symbolist side to an artist who later became far better known for his Ballets Russes costume designs.

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Demon (1902) by Mikhail Vrubel.

Unlike the other magazines mentioned above, I’ve yet to come across a cache of whole editions of Mir Iskusstva (and I’m still waiting for Ver Sacrum to turn up somewhere). This page has an overview of the Russian art movement and its journal, while this page has a selection of works by the artists involved. For more of Vrubel’s work, Wikimedia Commons has the best collection of the artist’s paintings and sculpture.

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Terror Antiquus (1908) by Léon Bakst.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes
Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet
The art of Ivan Bilibin, 1876–1942
Magic carpet ride
Le Sacre du Printemps
Images of Nijinsky

Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes

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Ida Rubinstein as Zobeide and Vaslav Nijinsky as the Golden Slave in Schéhérazade (1913) by Georges Barbier.

Another great exhibition at the V&A, London, Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes gathers a wealth of costumes, stage designs, photographs and ephemera—including some of Stravinsky’s manuscripts—to present a history of the legendary ballet company and their visionary impresario. For those who can’t get to London the museum website shows some of the items which will be on display, and there’s also a blog about the installing of the exhibition. The enormous frontcloth from 1924 based on Picasso’s Two Women Running on the Beach received a flurry of attention in the press here but my own attention was caught by the picture of Natalia Goncharova‘s even more enormous backcloth for The Firebird. The exhibition runs to January 9, 2011.

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Cover of Le Théatre showing Tamara Karsavina in costume as the Firebird, May 1911.

While we’re on the subject, a new biography of the impresario, Diaghilev: A Life by Sjeng Scheijen, was reviewed last week in the New York Times:

Diaghilev loved beautiful young men, and at a time when the fashion in ballet was to exchange patronage for sex, his company provided a bounty. Scheijen dexterously plays his sources against one another to examine the erotic and professional dynamics between Diaghilev and his stars.

For a fictional (and necessarily heterosexual) account of those erotic and professional dynamics, I recommend Michael Powell & Emeric Pressburger’s The Red Shoes (1948) which not only has a central character based on Diaghilev but includes among the cast of real dancers Léonide Massine, dancer and principal choreographer of the Ballets Russes from 1915 to 1921.

See also:
Russian Ballet History | An archive and documentary site.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Pamela Colman Smith’s Russian Ballet
The art of Ivan Bilibin, 1876–1942
Jack Cardiff, 1914–2009
Magic carpet ride
Le Sacre du Printemps
Images of Nijinsky

Repin and Ljuba

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Sadko in the Underwater Kingdom (1876).

This painting by Russian artist Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844–1930) is included in one of my Symbolist art books despite its pre-dating the Symbolist period and there being little else in the artist’s career which might suit the label. It’s a curious picture, however, illustrating a medieval folk tale and depicting the moment when the Sadko of the title is forced by the Sea Tsar to choose a wife from a line of aquatic maidens. It was art historian Philippe Jullian who had me returning to Repin, and the reminder gives me an excuse to post something by Serbian Surrealist Ljuba (aka Ljuba Popovic) whose colours, fauna and metamorphic female figures are a match for Repin’s sirens. Last time I looked for Ljuba pictures there were few available, a situation which has now been remedied by blogs such as this one.

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Lot and Lotus (1972).

Previously on { feuilleton }
The art of Ivan Bilibin, 1876–1942
Magic carpet ride
Short films by Walerian Borowczyk
The art of Ljuba Popovic

The art of Ivan Bilibin, 1876–1942

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Ivan Tsarevich catching the Firebird’s feather (1899).

The Firebird again, one of Bilibin’s many illustrations of Slavic folktales. These examples are from the collection at Wikimedia Commons. SurLaLune has more of Tsarevitch Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf (1899) along with other Bilibin books while the trusty Internet Archive has a 1917 edition of Russian Wonder Tales.

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Ex libris design (1922).

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Ruslan and Giant’s Head (1917).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Magic carpet ride