Lubok as a consolation. Exhibition ‘Life is a Struggle’

December 5, 2021

The Life is a Struggle exhibition was opened in the Museum of Russian Lubok and Naive Art. It presents luboks from the museum's funds, united by the theme of miseries and troubles in the life of an ordinary person. Daria Kosynkina, the curator of the exhibition chose five funny pictures, in other words luboks, with the help of which the artists of the XIX and XX centuries talked to their contemporaries about sad things, and she told with what they are interesting.

What is lubok

Primitive pictures depicting ordinary everyday scenes and supplemented with uncomplicated text (humorous rhymes or words of a song) got their name from the name of a thin layer of wood, under bark — phloem, or ‘lub’ in Russian. An image was manually cut out on it, black paint was applied and pressed to paper.

Luboks appeared in the XVII century and instantly became very popular. If the house burst into flame, luboks were taken out along with the most valuable things. In order to buy one such scroll, a simple peasant had to save up. Hucksters — sellers of lubok pictures who collaborated with printing houses and workshops were particularly well regarded.

At the beginning of the XVIII century, luboks turned into a means of propaganda, they began to desperately ridicule ills of the day. A special decree was issued, according to which each picture had to be censored before being sold and receive an appropriate inscription on each copy.

Pictures of the XVII and XVIII centuries are almost impossible to see today — they have practically not been preserved, but later works are still found.

“Sliver, birch sliver!” (1875)

The lubok illustrating the Russian folk song ‘Sliver, birch slivery!’ is an excellent example of how a seemingly merry and cheerful picture contradicted the text. At first glance, an unknown artist depicted an idyllic picture: girls are spinning in a warm cozy hut, a sliver is burning, a cat is quietly going about his business. What kind of plot is actually meant, you can understand only by getting acquainted with the text below: it turns out that one of the heroines conceived to have an adultery. It only remained to outwit her husband's sisters so that they would go to bed, and wait for a secret lover.

The media, when something bad was depicted in a cheerful way, had a therapeutic effect and was very popular. It gave the ordinary person, the viewer, a hope that all difficulties would eventually be overcome. This thought helped both people being in secret relationships and spouses who suspected that they were being deceived.

The lubok was printed at Streltsov's printing house — one of the most famous in Moscow. But it is probably painted by hand — it is noticeable by the untidy contours. Such work could easily be entrusted to the visually impaired elderly or even children.

"They don't permit Masha to go beyond the river" (1894)

In the second half of the XIX century, chromolithography, a method of printing color images, began to become widespread in Russia. The drawing for each color was made on a specially prepared separate stone. Then they made prints of a paper sheet — as many times as a particular color image required. Some shades (orange, green) were obtained by mixing two other colors. Thus, in total, the masters needed about 10 stones.

Sad stories have received an even brighter and more accurate embodiment. Lubok "They do not permit Masha to go beyond the river" is one of these. A naive village girl Masha was beaten for having committed a terrible offense — she went on a date without permission. The image is divided into two parts: the first shows the punishment scene, and the other, which occupies the main part of the composition, is the very date for which the girl disobeyed her parents.

In general, artists really liked to devote most of the drawing to something pleasant, rather than contrary. This approach inspired and helped to look at life easier. Lubok "The Poor Man's Fate" based on the poem by Ivan Surikov is made according to the same principle. The peasant's dream, where he dines with his family at a rich table, occupies the central part of the drawing, pushing aside the image of the real state of affairs — in fact, the family has to ask for a piece of bread.

"Preservation of health" (1987)

Over time, little has changed in the lubok culture. The luboks made in the USSR continued the old tradition of production: the masters made a drawing, and then painted it by hand — as it was before the chromolithography. Many Soviet artists who worked in this genre, like their predecessors, talked on sensitive issues of the day. The optimistic approach to the problem has also been preserved largely due to the bright shades of new colors.

Nevertheless, at some point, the Soviet lubok became very similar to an agitation poster: it talked about the dangers of drunkenness, promoted a healthy lifestyle. For example, a lubok made in 1987 by the artist Larisa Lekhova has been preserved. She was inspired by the humorous poems of the famous poet Nikolai Zabolotsky — they can be read in the figure:

If the person is invisible,

Thin and pale — very simple!

Don't sit on the chair, sitter,

Go out for a walk in the air…

From that, fellow, you wither,

That the air in the apartment is heavy…

"People live on food stamp..." (1989)

At the dawn of perestroika, there were pictures that were completely different from luboks in their usual form — but they were them. For example, in 1989, the artist Gennady Alexandrov decided to refer to one of the most relevant topics at that time, choosing an unexpected embodiment for it. Instead of a cheerful drawing made with bright colors, we see a simple black and white. And the story about the queue, consisting mainly of elderly people, brings only sadness. The author does not give any solution to the problem or a bright dream.

"Black raven" (1992)

Honored Artist of Russia Lyudmila Ulybina created a Black Raven lubok according to all the canons: a bright drawing, visually — no sadness. At the same time, it is based on one of the saddest songs.

The first thing that catches your eye when you look at the picture is a raven twirling over a young man hiding in the grass, much larger in size. This is a conscious game with scale. This technique has been used by artists since ancient times when they wanted to show the great importance of a particular animal or bird, for example, they depicted a giant wet-nurse chicken and a tiny man next to it. The raven was considered a messenger of imminent death, it personified that important force that cannot be overcome — this can explain its size in this job.

Ulybina created a whole lubok series in which she turned to eternal problems. And of course, despite the brightness and gaiety of the pictures, the stories are not funny stories at all. For example, about a simple peasant who for many years of work was able to make only a goat, a cow and a goose, or about a shepherdess who met a ferocious bear in the forest.


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