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28th November 2023
This leaf design on cotton velvet (1935, V&A) by Duncan Grant was commissioned for the first-class lounge of the Queen Mary ocean liner, but was not used. It is has a typically loose, free, Bloomsbury aesthetic but Grant would have followed exactly the same rules for creating a successful repeat as William Morris. A modernised version has been reissued by Charleston; it still feels fresh and vibrant almost ninety years later, and would make lovely curtains.
27th November 2023
As the leaves fall (or have already fallen), this week we have examples of permanent foliage in beautiful designs for the home. William Morris is the master of intricate and clever patterns, and it is fascinating to examine his working drawings to see how the colours and complex repeats evolved.This is 'Acanthus' (1874, V&A), a sophisticated wallpaper design in which "Morris successfully disguised the underlying geometric structure of the repeat".
24th November 2023
Finally, we have a charming painting by Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967). This is At Breakfast (1914); it includes three of the artist's four children and was painted when Russia was on the brink of war, Revolution, and immense social upheaval. The delightful scene precedes the artist's shockingly tragic later story, but one which was true of so many families after 1917.
23rd November 2023
Girl with Peaches (1887) by Valentin Serov (1865-1911) shows the young Vera Mamontova in a light-filled dacha (summer house) at the Abramtsevo artists' colony near Moscow. Serov, whose work has been compared to the French Impressionists, captures the light and freshness of summer in the countryside, and highlights the importance of the dacha in Russian life, literature, and culture. The Soviet Century (2012) devotes a chapter to the changing role of the dacha post-Revolution.
22nd November 2023
Unknown Woman (1883) by Ivan Kramskoi (1837-87) has been used on the cover of several paperback editions of Anna Karenina by Tolstoy (who was himself painted in 1873 by Kramskoi). She is elegantly dressed in beautiful fabrics and furs, and sits in her carriage on Nevsky Prospekt with the Anichkov Bridge nearby. This is one of Russia's best-known paintings and, as with Anna Karenina, is open to many possible readings.
21st November 2023
Nineteenth-century Russian art matches the literature of the period with its narratives and realism. Many paintings, such as the The Aristocrat's Breakfast (1849-50) by Pavel Fedotov (1815-52), are short stories in themselves, the visual equivalent of the works of the famous masters of the form such as Pushkin, Gogol, Turgenev, Tolstoy, and Chekhov. Unsurprisingly, publishers have never been short of images to put on the covers of Russian classics. (There is some background to Fedotov and his work here.)
20th November 2023
Continuing the Russian theme, this week we have paintings from the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Sadly, at the moment it is not possible to visit this incredible collection of Russian art which offers an unparalleled insight in pre- and post-Revolution culture. This is a portrait of the founder Pavel Tretyakov by Ilya Repin (1844-1930), one of Russia's favourite artists. Repin was a great friend and neighbour Korney Chukovsky, renowned children's poet, and father of Lydia Chukovskaya.