Children’s Books in Russia and England at the Turn of the 20th Century
The Russian enthusiasm for things English at the turn of the 20th century was often mirrored by the English interest in things Russian. English art attracted Russian artists primarily by those of its qualities that were close to the national Russian school. To claim the reverse would be just as fair: the English were attracted to those characteristics of Russian art that they found akin to their own.
Children’s books offer graphic proof of this relationship between Russian and English artists at the turn of the 20th century. We can speak of cross-fertilisation and parallel development of the two cultures on the example of Russian and English children’s books.
1. The period of childhood as a picture of the Golden Age in English and Russian art of the turn of the 20th century. Children’s book illustrations as the ‘lost paradise’ scenery in the works of the Aesthetic movement artists in England and of the ‘World of Art’ (‘Mir iskusstva’) association artists in Russia.
2. Aleksandr Benois’s opinion of children’s book illustrations in England. Comparison of children’s book illustrations by Walter Crane, Kate Greenaway and Randolph Caldecott, on the one side, and Benois and Mstislav Dobuzhinskii, on the other. Benois’s ABC Book in Pictures (1904) as a Russian version of Aesthetic children’s book illustrations. Pastoral tradition in children’s books as the other side of the apologia of the artificial in the decadent aesthetics in England and in Russia.
Princess Belle-Etoile - illustration by Walter Crane - Project Gutenberg eText 18344
Dobrynya Nikitich rescues Zabava from the Dragon Gorynych – illustration by Ivan Bilibin
3. Children’s book illustrations and primitivist art. The ‘philosophy of history’ in Aestheticism drew parallels between the period of childhood and primitivism in the history of European culture or a certain type of culture in which primitivist and decorative thinking preponderated, never changing in the course of centuries and determining the national specifics of art, primarily Far Eastern art. Children’s book illustrations in England and Russia followed the same logic of the evolution of form-building: different and at times opposite principles of the decorative organization of form – popular prints, Japanese prints, German woodcuts of the 15th and 16th centuries and so on – are juxtaposed visually, as if in a game.
4. Walter Crane and Ivan Bilibin – parallels and influences. Bilibin’s so-called Russian Style as the most international artistic phenomenon within the ‘World of Art’ (Mir iskusstva). The role of Crane’s ‘toy-book’ genre and the type of children’s books designed by Bilibin in the history of Russian and English Art Nouveau. Russian press reviews of Crane (Mir iskusstva magazine and The New Journal of Art, Literature and Science). Ivan Bilibin’s books published in England and reactions to them).
5. Walter Crane, Yelena Polenova and Maria Yakunchikova. English press reviews of illustrations by Elena Polenova and Maria Iakunchikova.
6. Children’s books in Russia and England as the headwaters of national Art Nouveau.
Paper given at the Fifth Fitzwilliam Colloquium in Russian Studies "British Perception and Reception of Russian Culture, 18th-20th Centuries", Cambridge, 2012.