22 September 2023—15 January 2024
More than one hundred sheets of original illustrations and covers for children’s books presented at the exhibition form only a small part of the comprehensive collection of book graphics of the Russian Museum.
The quests for a new design of a Soviet children’s book by the leading Leningrad artistic talents of the 1920s brought about drawings most of which have long been recognized as classics. For a number of years, the city had two major publishing centres: Lev Klyachko’s private publishing house Raduga and the Children’s Department of Gosizdat under the guidance of Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev, who were true professionals in this sphere. They strove to raise the esteem of the oeuvre of writers and artists working on children’s books to the level of such high and revered forms of art as literature, painting, graphic art, and make them competitive.
Both publishing houses employed the same artists and solved similar problems. The creation of modern, intellectual illustrated books, intended for both young readers and teenagers, became a matter of national importance in educating a new generation of young people. The leading writers and poets, as well as artists of different generations and aesthetic preferences (from the followers of the World of Art to proponents of Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Pavel Filonov) created illustrations for children.
New children’s books reveal the features of figurative solution formulated by Vladimir Lebedev, who rightly asserted that “one should work for children as good as for adults, and even better”. The generalization of form, the brightness of images, the laconism of graphic language, the strict design of pages and double-page spreads, combining images and texts, the unity of rhythmic painterly masses and silhouettes on a white sheet, the expressiveness of emphasized textural surfaces – all these qualities are typical of the books created by experienced and young artists of the Children’s Department in the 1920s and 1930s.
Soviet children’s book publishing practice followed the generally accepted principle of genre division: fairy tales, adventures, nature stories, history books, and so on. One of the main ones was the “production book”, aimed at explaining to small children the meaning of phenomena, facts and objects from real life. In 1925–1926, the publishing houses Raduga and GIZ published Circus, Ice Cream and Yesterday and Today by Samuil Marshak and Vladimir Lebedev, Market by Evgeny Shvarts and Evgenia Evenbach, Porcelain Cup by Vladimir Danko and Evgenia Evenbach. These books are undoubtedly among the most successful graphic stories about factory production and surrounding objects, masterfully “packed” in a child-friendly pictorial form.
The famous illustrations by Vladimir Konashevich and David Dubinsky, Valery Alfeyevsky and Mai Miturich, Tatyana Mavrina and Viktor Pivovarov, Zaven Arshakuni and Nikolai Popov remind us of the post-war children’s books created in Moscow and Leningrad. The distinguishing features of the sheets on display are their original colouring, large size and decorativeness. These editions undoubtedly belong to the golden pool of Russian book art.
Age limit: 0+