Scenery for 'Gas' and Zamyatin with a doll. Five highlights of Yuri Annenkov's exhibition

February 13

The display at the Museum of Russian Impressionism will include more than 100 works by Yuri Annenkov from leading museums and private collections in Russia and France — two countries associated with the artist, who emigrated from Soviet Russia to Europe in 1924. Such a big collection of works by the first illustrator of the 'Twelve' poem by Alexander Blok, a brilliant portrait painter, who depicted images of the Silver Age of Russian culture, and a reformer of traditional theatre, will be presented for the first time.

'By the Lamp'. 1909. From private collections

Yuri Annenkov. By the Lamp. Private collections

The pastel picture 'By the Lamp', one of the few extant works by Yuri Annenkov, is exhibited for the first time. The artist skilfully captured the image of his older sister Nadezhda in a free impressionist style. This picture impresses with its vibrant colours enhanced by the lights and darks.

Impressionism had an indirect impact on Annenkov, manifested at an early stage of his art life. Like many Russian avant-garde artists, he as a youth was also fascinated with new French painting trend. In the late 1910s, he wrote in his article 'Lyrical Steppingstone': ' fact, it was more than predictable, since futurism appeared to become a logical end to impressionism.' Annenkov regarded impressionism and post-impressionism as starting points of his experiments in cubism, realism, and abstract painting.

He made his sister's portrait at the age of 18, in the last year of his studies at the private St. Petersburg Stolbtsov Gymnasium. The same year, after failing exams at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Annenkov entered the Studio of Jan Ciągliński. Two years later, Ciągliński advised his gifted student to go to Paris. Annenkov spent two years in France, taking lessons from Maurice Denis and Félix Vallotton, getting more and more absorbed with innovative ideas.

'Portrait of Maxim Gorky'. 1920. From the Gorky Institute of World Literature of the Russian Academy of Sciences

Yuri Annenkov. Portrait of Maxim Gorky. 1920. Gorky Institute of World Literature, Russian Academy of Sciences

Yuri Annenkov was best known as a portrait painter, who created a gallery of images of Russian culture celebrities. The portraits vividly show his brilliant painting skills and the ability to read people. Using a minimal set of expressive means and just a few lines or some colour spots, he created breathtakingly deep and sophisticated images both revealing the characters and illustrating the historical period.

In 1920, his book 'Portraits' was published, which included 80 portraits of writers, artists, directors and actors. The images created by Annenkov had become canonical, for many of them were later replicated many times and used in book designs. Many portraits are instantly recognisable, even by people who know nothing about Yuri Annenkov's legacy.

By the way, his models included not only artists. A little later, in 1924, Annenkov won the first prize of the All-Union Art Competition for his portrait of Vladimir Lenin.

Scenery design for 'Gas' play. 1922. From the holdings of St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music

Yuri Annenkov. Scenery design for the 'Gas' production based on the play by G. Kaiser. Directed by K. Khokhlov. St. Petersburg State Museum of Theatre and Music

For Yuri Annenkov, theatre was one of the basic areas of creative activity both before and after emigration. Over the 50 years of working as a set and costume designer, he had made designs for more than 70 productions in Russia and France. Annenkov was also an avant-garde theatre theorist. In his articles, he presented concepts close to expressionism. Annenkov's scenery sets served not only as stage decoration, but also helped to interpret the play, becoming an integral part of the director's concept.

One of his most significant theoretical works is the article 'Theatre to the End' published in 1921 in Art House. Annenkov outlined his vision of the theatre of the future — the abstract theatre. Soon he implemented his ideas in the production of 'Gas' by the German playwright and innovator Georg Kaiser at the Petrograd Bolshoi Drama Theatre, in which he introduced moving sets and changing lighting for the first time.

'Portrait of an Unknown Woman in Green Against the Eiffel Tower (Portrait of Marianne von Zarnekau)'. 1924. From the holdings of the State Museum Association Art Culture of the Russian North in Arkhangelsk

Yuri Annenkov. Portrait of an Unknown Woman in Green Against the Eiffel Tower (Portrait of Marianne von Zarnekau). 1924. From the holdings of the State Museum Association Art Culture of the Russian North in Arkhangelsk

Marianne von Zarnekau (1890–1976), nee von Pistohlkors, was an upper class lady, limelight of society columns. Before the October Revolution, her photos were regularly published in 'Capital and Manor', a St. Petersburg magazine about high life. Her mother was the famous Princess Olga Paley, the second wife of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich (son of Emperor Alexander II).

In her youth, Marianne von Pistohlkors was a jewel of court balls and fancy dress parties, with her costume designs created by the artist Lev Bakst. The famous theatre director Nikolai Yevreinov was included in the endless list of her admirers. Yuri Annenkov could not escape her charms either. He painted this portrait in 1924, when both of them were already living in exile. Despite soft watercolours, the model's face looks stern.

The belle was famous not only for her beauty and kinship with the Imperial family, but also for her tendency to slander and spread rumours about the Empress Alexandra Feodorovna. She was even suspected of complicity in the murder of Grigory Rasputin, favoured by the Romanovs and their confidants.

After the October Revolution, the socialite took the stage as Pavlova. 1919 till 1921, she was a member of the Bolshoi Drama Theatre troupe. During one of her foreign tours, she stayed in Riga to start working at the Russian Drama Theatre. Later, she went on touring Europe as Mariana Fiory. In 1936, she moved to New York to pursue a successful career on Broadway. She preferred to forget her life in Russia before and after the Revolution.

'Portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin'. 1921. From the holdings of the State Tretyakov Gallery

Yuri Annenkov. Portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin. 1921. State Tretyakov Gallery

Annenkov met the writer Yevgeny Zamyatin in 1917. Their friendship and cooperation lasted for almost 20 years, as the artist illustrated many of the writer's works. Zamyatin was one of the text writers for Annenkov's famous album 'Portraits'.

Annenkov considered Zamyatin his 'greatest friend' and mentor in literature. He has a record in his diary: 'For me, Zamyatin is first of all the famous everlasting Zamyatin-style smile. He kept smiling even in the hardest times.' It is probably this smile that Yuri Annenkov sought to capture in his painting.

The portrait of Yevgeny Zamyatin strikingly reflects literary descriptions of the writer's appearance left by his contemporaries. Kornei Chukovsky wrote about him: ‘Yevgeny Zamyatin had one minor weakness: he strove to look like an English skipper. He smoked a pipe, spat like a true Yorkshireman, said 'all right' now and again and, looking like a British phlegmatic, listened and spoke with a poker face. But his face featured a proof that he was born in Tambov, with these naïve bumpkin eyes, slyly squinting, with his dark brown, wild hair refusing to be parted English-style. As a ship-building engineer, he was sent to New Castle and Glasgow shortly before the Revolution, where he acquired his British manners and habits.’

Only one detail spoils the image of an English gentleman in this portrait. The image of The Times serving as the background to the left of the writer is all right, while the laughing doll’s face looks completely inappropriate. However, everything is in its place here. The writer's friends always smiled looking at the portrait. Lyudmila Zamyatina, the writer's wife, had two dolls — Rostik and Mishka. They had been accompanying her for so long to become kind of family members, and they had even their own characters devised. Their friends played up and even brought Rostik and Mishka gifts and sent them their best regards. This portrait is kind of a compliment, too.


Latest Events

Trolls World Tour

March 19April 9

Christine Opoleis

February 25
If you continue to use our website, you are agreeing to accept the use of cookies on your device. Cookie files ensure the website’s efficiency and help us provide you with the most interesting and relevant information. Read more about cookie files.
Accept ccokies