01 january – 31 december

When and where did the first matryoshka doll appear? Why did Albert Benoit call Vrubel’s panel “monstrous”, and what was Savva Mamontov’s retort? Who are Volga Svyatoslavich and Mikula Selyaninovich? What familiar objects can you get if you disassemble the famous “Slow but Steady Wins the Race” armchairs designed by Vasily Shutov? A meticulously thought-out, informative and captivating exhibit answers these and many other questions, sending the viewer 200 years back to the origins of national art, passing through the age of Historicism, a neo-Russian style that permeated all areas of artistic and private life in Russia and led to Modernism.

Historicism and passion for ancient Russian art

Since 1840, artists were increasingly drawing on folk culture in search of a national style. One of the first to go to the roots of Russian culture, the Middle Ages and the Byzantine style was Fyodor Solntsev, who deserves to be nicknamed a “man-era” (as his life span covered almost the entire XIX century). He was a restoration artist, painter and archaeologist who laid the foundations of the Russo-Byzantine style in art. Predilection for gold and enamel painting that imitates precious stones are characteristic of his works.

Photo caption: A service from the famous Konstantin Palace, decorated with bright ornaments, thick gilding, enamel and gems. The Armory Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin.

Architect Viktor Hartmann was inspired by authentic objects of folk culture and used bright geometric designs, creating an illusion of folk woodcarving and peasant embroidery. The works of the architect and watercolor artist Ippolito Monighetti were widely popular among the nobility. One example was a dark green crystal drink set based on his sketch. With equal passion did Monighetti design buildings, interiors, and household items.

Photo caption: A drink set designed in the Russo-Byzantine style after a drawing by Ippolito Monighetti. Imperial Glass Factory. 1870s. The dark green crystal and rich ornamentation that go back to Byzantine and Old Russian murals with their multicolored decorations, molded pearls imitating gems, and unusual shapes of objects, evoke festive tableware of the XVII-XVIII centuries.

Fashion for items and furniture made in the Russian style

In the second half of the XIX century, it became fashionable to purchase items and furniture designed in the Russian style. “In the dining room, she papered the walls with popular prints, hung up bark shoes and sickles, put a scythe and a rake in the corner, and the result was a dining-room in the Russian style,” writes Anton Chekhov in the story The Grasshopper. The most famous piece of furniture in the Russian style is the “Slow but Steady Wins the Race” chair, made according to sketches of Vasily Shutov, a St. Petersburg-based furniture maker and woodcarving master. Its back is shaped like a shaft bow (an element of horse harness), the armrests look like axes, and there are carved mittens “lying” on the seat. Presented for the first time in 1870 at the World Manufactory Exhibition in St. Petersburg and awarded with a bronze medal, this piece of furniture became extremely popular. Shutov’s armchairs stood in the study of Emperor Alexander III, decorated the summer cottage of Anton Chekhov in Yalta, and one can still see them in many local history and art museums.

The Handicraft Museum and its trustee Sergei Morozov

In the early XX century, the collection of authentic folk art items owned by Sergei Morozov, an art patron and the founder of the Handicraft Museum, was considered the largest and most important. The museum helped preserve national traditions, and a fashion for the Russian style emerged in the international art market. The creative team of the museum’s artists was led by Nikolai Bartram, a connoisseur of folk art, who later founded the Museum of Toys. Morozov also engaged the most prominent artists to do work for the museum, including Sergei Malyutin, Natalia Davydova, the Vasnetsov brothers, Vrubel, Golovin, Polenov. According to their sketches, craftsmen created handicraft items of superb artistry. At the 1900 Paris Exposition (a world art and industry exhibition), a bronze medal was awarded to the matryoshka doll designed by the artist Sergei Malyutin and manufactured by the skilled woodworker Vasily Zvezdochkin; the doll was shown to the general public for the first time. Alexander Golovin was awarded a silver medal for his ceramic works, and Mikhail Vrubel received gold for the famous majolica fireplace décor based on Russian epic poems, The Meeting of Mikula Selyaninovich and Volga Svyatoslavich.

The Russian style was one of the most striking phenomena of Russian art of the XIX and early XX centuries.

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