Exhibition of Russian and Finnish Artists.
Poster for the first exhibition of
the World of Art group. K.Somov. 1898.
The World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) represents a well-distinguished and interesting phenomenon in Russian artistic life at the beginning of the 20-th century. Not all the participants of this group were avant-garde painters: about half of them belonged to other directions in art. But on the whole, the group can be characterized as innovators in painting producing highly artistic, interesting and diverse canvases in relation to subjects and techniques. It is worthwhile to study them more attentively. Specialists in art when writing about this period are unanimous in firstly assessing the situation in Russia at the end of the 19-th, beginning of the 20-th century as a very tense and complicated one. It is true: pre-revolutionary situation in the country was followed by a number of bourgeois-democratic revolutions, then the World War I and, finally, the October Revolution of 1917. The Civil war broke out thereafter, and changes of the post-war period brought in military communism, devastation, hunger and fear. This period was truly very complicated not only in Russia, and it influenced all the kinds of artistic life - literature, music, painting, architecture, ballet, etc.
This period in art is justifiably called The Silver Age. At that time Russia was the country of contrasts: big cities, industrial growth, development of all the capitalistic forms, on the one hand, and dark, far away villages, sleepy provinces on the other. Chosen layers of society attained peaks in education, culture and sciences, whereas the destiny of other society layers was determined by illiteracy, drinking and miserable life. All civilization stages seemed to coexist at that time.
L.Bakst. Cover for journal "Mir Iskusstva"
("The World of Art"), St.Petersburg, 1902.
In 1898 a group of students organized the World of Art led by Alexander Benois and Sergei Dyagilev. They were joined by Konstantin Somov, Dmitry Philosophov, Walter Nouvelle, Leon Bakst and Evgeni Lanceray (not all of them being painters). They organized an Exhibition Association under the aegis of the magazine "The World of Art", and their first exhibition was called "The Exhibition of Russian and Finnish painters" at the Baron Schtieglitz Museum in St. Petersburg. In the magazine Sergei Dyagilev published a number of articles declaring the main principles of the Society. The program proclaimed wide artistic renovation, though its aims were rather vague. Members of the World of Art were highly educated people with exquisite taste; their aesthetic sympathies being so wide that there appeared a tendency to eclectics. "The World of Art" program concerned all culture fields including not only painting but theatre, book design, applied art, furniture and interior design.
The first association existed up to 1904, when it was divided into Moscow and Petersburg groups. Later, in 1910 The World of Art was revived by A. Benois and was functioning up to 1924, though the last exhibition was held in Paris in 1927. Beside the main members a great number of Moscow and Petersburg painters and graphical artists entered the Association, among them Golovin, Grabar, Korovin, Kustodiev, Roerikh, Serov and others; about 150 people took part in numerous exhibitions held in Russia and abroad.
E.Lansere. World of Art Exhibition of paintings.
Poster for the 1913 exhibition. 1913..
The desire of the World of Art members to close themselves in the sphere of aesthetics showed their active negation of the modern times. It showed their certain public position, where creation of spiritual values by human culture was proclaimed as the main aim in life. Adoration of beauty personified in art served as the means of their protest against bourgeois utilitarianism, mechanization of life, prose of Philistine life. They rejected academism in art as well as critical realism of the Peredvizhniks. In its ideas and stylistic preferences early World of Art was close to West European Modernism. A lot of World of Art artists also worked in the fields of symbolism, neo-romanticism and neo-classicism. They found inspiration in the charms of the past, returning to Greece and Rome, East and Gothic, Rococo and Empire-style. They often used irony in their works, sometimes in the form of self-parody and grotesque. They created a charming and pretty world - a carnival where puppet characters dwell in beautiful landscapes, palace interiors, fireworks (Benois, Lanceray, Somov). They were also fascinated by the old Russian Culture and history (Bilibin, Roerikh). Their brilliant styled variations were especially famous in their theatre decorations and costumes. Their unusual achievements have been recognized in the field of book illustration and easel graphics: it was their contribution into this field which helped graphical printing to become an independent branch of creative work.
During the Revolution of 1905-1907 some of the World of Art members worked in the field of political satire (Dobuzhinski, Lanceray, Serov, etc.). Political events of that time excited artistic intelligentsia in Russia, and they keenly reacted to it.
In the latest period of its existence, the World of Art position was somewhat vague. A. Benois proposed the idea of a "New Academy", which was not successful, and gradually the existence of the association came to a standstill. After 1917 Revolution the greatest changes took place in Russia, and though the exhibitions were held up to the year 1924, painted fairy tales about olden times were falling into oblivion, giving way to another kind of art.