Yuri Annenkov. Revolution Behind the Door - Russian impressionism museum
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Temporary exhibition

Yuri Annenkov. Revolution Behind the Door

13 February - 23 August

The Museum of Russian impressionism continues its examination of the Russian avant-garde with the opening of the exhibition ‘Yuri Annenkov. Revolution behind the Door’. This will be the first large-scale presentation of the work of this celebrated artist, the illustrator of Alexander Blok’s poem ‘The Twelve’ and a brilliant portraitist whose pictures reflect images of the Silver Age of Russian culture: more than 100 paintings, graphic portraits and sketches for numerous theatrical productions from major museums and private collections in Russia and France. 

The exhibition will show the most important areas explored by Yuri Annenkov, both in Russia and after his departure for France in 1924. Visitors will see Annenkov the painter, theatre designer and book illustrator as a tireless experimenter whose work reflected a turbulent and difficult period of Russian history in the first half of the 20th century. 

Annenkov rates among the most highly-valued Russian artists. His works feature in major state museums of Russia, France and the USA and at international exhibitions, and the books remain popular with both Russian and French-speaking audiences. However, like numerous other artists of the Russian emigration, it took the author many years before he received the recognition he deserved in his homeland. 

Today interest in Annenkov’s oeuvre is growing not only in Russia, where he always had many secret or open connoisseurs, but also in Europe, where since the late 1990s his works have regularly appeared at auctions, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s.  

This will be the first showing of works the master created in emigration that have never been displayed in Russia before, namely the ones from the collection of the Georges Pompidou National Centre for Art and Culture in Paris. Also among the exhibits are items from major Russian museums: the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts, the Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum, the St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music, the Kournikova Gallery (Nashi Khudozhniki), the V-A-C Foundation, the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and other museum institutions and private collections.

Yuri Annenkov was most famous in Russia and internationally as a portraitist, and a gallery of images of his contemporaries will be presented in the first part of the exposition. Visitors can see works from the author’s album ‘Portraits’ and the collection of drawings entitled ‘Seventeen Portraits’, in which the artist captured the most important political and cultural figures of those years: Leo Trotsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Anatoly Lunacharsky, Isadora Duncan, Anna Akhmatova, Maxim Gorky, Korney Chukovsky and others. Many of these portraits have become part of popular culture: they are reproduced on the covers of contemporary publications as iconic images of the striking personalities and symbols of this historical period as a whole.

The second part of the exposition will be devoted to theatre, one of the key areas of Yuri Annenkov’s interest both before and after his emigration. He worked as a scenery and costume designer on more than 70 productions, moreover the most important thing on the stage was not simply reproducing reality, but conveying the characters’ emotional state. The innovative and always spectacular design of these productions brought Annenkov considerable popularity, and the artist worked with the best theatre directors of his time: Nikolai Yevreinov, Fyodor Komissarzhevsky, Vsevolod Meyerhold and others. At the exhibition the museum will show sketches of the sets and costumes for productions staged at Russian and French theatres, as well as for mass spectacles in Petrograd (‘Anthem to Liberated Labour’ and ‘The Storming of the Winter Palace’).

The third part of the exhibition will introduce the visitor to Annenkov the book illustrator and cartoonist, whose primary means of expression was the line. The artist gave his images an ironic interpretation and masterfully used the techniques of their generalisation, reducing minor details to a minimum to leave just the essence. This aspect of his talent was revealed thanks to Korney Chukovsky, whom the artist had known since childhood. It was he who introduced Annenkov to Mikhail Kornfeld, editor of the popular Satyrikon journal. Witty cartoons and caricatures printed on the pages of the weekly magazine helped the artist gain popularity in artistic circles. Annenkov achieved wide recognition after the publication of illustrations for Alexander Blok’s poem ‘The Twelve’, some of which will be on display. 

The exhibition was called ‘Yuri Annenkov. Revolution behind the Door’ after the French translation of his autobiographical ‘Tale of Trivia’. This title accurately reflects the events described, when the Revolution was taking place literally ‘here and now’, behind the door of the apartment. Hence a significant number of works shown in the exhibition was created by the artist during the revolutionary years: they reflected the energy of the era, the rapid demolition of the old paradigm and active formation of its new successor. The title of the exhibition is metaphorical: leaving the young Soviet state in the summer of 1924, Annenkov left the Revolution and its consequences outside this conditional ‘door’. 

Among the famous paintings showcased at the exhibition are ‘View of the Pantheon from the Luxembourg Gardens’ (Pompidou Centre), ‘June. Forest’ (State Tretyakov Gallery), ‘Portrait of Fyodor Komissarzhevsky’ (Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts), ‘Portrait of Marianna Zarnekau (born Pistohlkors)’ (State Museum Association ‘Art Culture of the Russian North’), and many others.

Each section will be complemented by interactive elements: a three-dimensional maquette to represent the scenography of ‘Gas’, the artist’s most famous stage production; tactile stations based on the paintings; the printmaker’s workshop; audio recordings of fairy tales by Korney Chukovsky performed by the author that will assist all categories of visitors to better understand and feel the exhibition, including guests with various disabilities. The museum will also present favourite aromas of Anna Akhmatova, Isadora Duncan and other subjects of Yuri Annenkov’s paintings that were recreated according to documentary sources. The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive educational programme for children and adults, and will also feature accessible events.

In addition to the illustrated catalogue, the Museum of Russian Impressionism will publish the first in-depth study of the work of Yuri Annenkov, written by the leading researcher of his artistic heritage, Irina Obukhova-Zelinskaya.

Exhibition curator — Anastasia Vinokurova, chief specialist in the exhibition department of the Museum of Russian Impressionism.

Research consultant — Anna Dyakonitsyna, senior researcher in the department of painting of the second half of the 20th century at the State Tretyakov Gallery.