Recorded sessions – 90 minutes each
From the 1890s to 1917, as Russia hurtled towards the Revolution, it experienced an incredible flowering of culture that came to be known as the Silver Age. With a nod to the scientific and artistic innovations of the West, Russian artists from all artforms created new and dazzling interdisciplinary works. With their emphasis on the inner world and a belief in the spiritual or occult dimension of art, the Russian Symbolists looked backwards and forwards to other eras. Art Nouveau known as ‘Style Moderne’ was visible not just in public buildings and private dwellings, but in objects and in graphic design. The writers of the period became legendary. Explore those who began as Symbolists and their opponents: the Acmeists. The Silver Age did not end with the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution but its emphasis on the quest for the spiritual would find itself in opposition to the ideology of Soviet Russia. Nevertheless, it persisted through the Russian diaspora.
“Marie-Anne was exceptionally well-informed and knowledgeable as well as friendly and approachable”
Explore the art of Kandinsky, Chagall, Art Nouveau neo-nationalist painter Mikhail Vrubel, the World of Art group and Ballet Russes with designs by Leon Bakst, Benois, Natalya Goncharova and Nicholas Roerich, the Blue Rose; the poetry and fiction of Anna Ahkmatova, Alexander Blok, Osip Mandelshtam, Boris Pasternak, and others; the music and influence of composers Rimsky-Korsakov to Stravinsky; the birth of Russian cinema; and travel from Moscow and St Petersburg to Paris with the protagonists of the era from flamboyant Diaghilev, to Nijinksky and his manipulative countess, to faux peasant poets.
Russian theatre witnessed the emergence of realism and naturalism during the Silver Age, revolutionised by the likes of theatrical producer Vsevolod Meyerhold and his colleague Stanislavsky, writers Gorky and Chekhov, and the actresses of the Moscow Art Theatre. However, reality was soon transformed by the Symbolists in the art world with their emphasis on spirituality, nature imagery, myths, legends, demons…examine the likes of Vrubel, Nesterov, and the Blue Rose group.
Discover the fates of Moscow railway founder, Savva Mamontov and singer Princess Mariia Tenisheva who created Slavic-Revivalist craft colonies at Abramtsevo (outside Moscow) and Talashkino (near Smolensk); wealthy banker, patron, and artist Nikolay Ryabushinsky who publicised the Blue Rose in his ‘Golden Fleece’ magazine and bought works from Kuznetsov, Sapunov and Sudeykin; and The Morozov brothers and Sergei Shchukin – subjects of recent exhibitions at l’espace Louis Vuitton in Paris – who dreamt of uniting their rival collections of European and Russian art.
Soon avant-garde artists were no longer satisfied by existing art societies and instigated their own. New groups sprung up almost weekly. Among the best was: the exhibiting society Union of Youth (1910-1914) which counted painters, musicians, and art critics among its members; the Jack of Diamonds (1910-1917); and splinter group Donkey’s Tail (1911–15). Meet the protagonists and learn what they borrowed from their European counterparts and how they innovated.
Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova, two stars of the Jack of Diamonds (1910-1917) and Donkey’s Tail (1911–15) groups, went on to create Rayonism, an abstract painting style elaborated in manifestoes. They also contributed to the development of Cubo-Futurism (1912-1915), a term first used to describe a group of Russian avant-garde poets like Vladimir Mayakovsky whose boisterous clowning and recitals recalled their Italian peers. Explore also Universal Flowering, coined by Pavel Filonov to describe his analytical art which also derived from his Cubo-Futurist experiments.
Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929) organized the ‘Two Centuries of Painting and Sculpture’ exhibition in 1906, and brought the music of Rimsky-Korsakov, Mussorgsky, and Borodin to Paris in 1907. His journal, Mir iskusstva (World of Art), was supposed to educate the Russian public and raise the standard of art. Discover how he, Benois, Bakst, and Fokine created the aesthetic of the itinerant Ballets Russes, which revolutionised the ballet world with legendary works like the 1913 ‘The Rite of Spring’ with music by Stravinsky and Nijinsky’s ‘new’ choreography.
Following the so-called Golden Age of Pushkin, the literature of the Silver Age is arguably as rich. Explore the Symbolists – including a close reading of Alexander Blok’s famous poem ‘The Twelve’ which responded to the events of the 1917 October Revolution – to the Acmeists Anna Akhmatova and her husband Nikolai Gumilev, Osip Mandelstam and Sergei Gorodetsky, New Peasant Poetry, the Imagists, and the Stray Dog cabaret.
Vladimir Tatlin’s Tower and Kasimir Malevich’s Black Square are two of the most iconic images of the Silver Age. Discover the battle between their two ‘isms’: Constructivism (1913 on) and Suprematism (1915 on) respectively and the other great artists associated with them such as Alexander Rodchenko, Lyubov Popova, and El Lissitzky.
Post-Revolution, administrative roles were found for perhaps the unlikeliest candidates: the Jewish painter Chagall whose folk-inspired art referenced the latest Parisian trends, and the returning Kandinsky who had been away so long he dreamed in German. Ultimately both men would leave Russia again and benefit from success in Europe, but their part in the new Soviet state at the Art Institute in Vitebsk and at the People’s Commissariat for Public Instruction respectively helped redefine the infrastructure of the arts in Russia
The Lumière brothers brought films to Moscow and St. Petersburg in May 1896 prompting their camera operator Camille Cerf to make the first film in Russia, recording Nicholas II’s coronation at the Kremlin. Soon there were Russian narrative films like Vladimir Gardin’s 1914 Anna Karenina, experiments by Dziga Vertov, and animations. With the advent of the Revolution, agitprop cinema was deployed, as recognised by Lenin’s statement. Meanwhile the architecture of the age created modern buildings.
There cannot be a clean line to mark the end of the Silver Age (some argue it is the October revolution, others 1925). In 1920, new artist groups were still forming which were a legacy of the Silver Age. However, soon the ideology of the era saw abstract, avant-garde art fall out of favour and much culture from that age was violently suppressed in the Soviet Union until the ‘thaw’ under Khrushchev. Assess the legacy of the Silver Age across all the artforms.
Lecturer: Dr. Marie-Anne Mancio