Art Nouveau in Russia

Vsevolod Petrov, Author, V. N. Petrov, Author
Vsevolod Petrov, Author, V. N. Petrov, Author Parkstone Press $39.95 (300p) ISBN 978-1-85995-350-1
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
The World of Art formed in St. Petersburg in the early 1890s was a forum for artists impatient with academic formulas and the dominant Itinerant school. They sought a new aesthetic, incorporating traditional Russian forms and decorative elements from Western Art Nouveau. With Sergei Diaghilev a driving force behind The World of Art journal, the group's exhibitions gained prominence. Many artists from this diverse assemblage became extremely influential within Russia, but, excepting Leon Bakst, were hardly noticed then or since in the West. That is a mistake this book attempts to correct. In his introduction, curator and art historian Petrov establishes the historical context, then fills in useful details of the movement, its philosophy and its members. There follow 18 chapters comprising a short biography and plates on selected artists such as Alexander Benois, Konstantin Somov, Valentin Serov (formerly with the Itinerants), Yevgeny Lanceray and later Igor Grabar, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Boris Kustodiev, Zinaida Serebriakova and Ivan Bilibin. These biographies are sketchy, dry affairs, anti-climactic and stylistically at odds with the introduction, which itself suffers from awkward prose. While some problems may lie in the translation, the tendency for hyperbole does not. Pity that more care in the concept, translation and editing of this volume is not evident. These fascinating painters, whose collaboration survived until their final show in 1924, deserve more. For now, the uninitiated may at least enjoy the 330 plates (260 in color) for a tempting glimpse into this important period of Russian art. (Mar.) FYI: Also due out this month is The Art of Ballets Russes: The Serge Lifar Collection of Theater Designs, Costumes and Paintings at the Wadsworth Atheneum by Alexander Schouvaloff. 260 illustrations; 215 in color. (Yale, $65 352p ISBN 0-300-07484-0)
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