'Infantine smudges of paint, ... infantine rudeness of soul': British Reception of Russian Art at the Exhibitions of the Allied Artists’ Association, 1908-11
When Frank Rutter set up the Allied Artists’ Association (AAA) in 1908, his aim was to create a British platform for the display of modern trends in art akin to that of the Salon d’Automne in Paris.
To demonstrate his modernist credentials and adventurous approach, he decided to include a section dedicated to foreign art in the inaugural exhibition, hoping to open British eyes to the latest overseas trends. For maximum impact, he chose the little-known art of Russia. Yet, in appointing Princess Mariia Tenisheva as curator of the Russian section, Rutter was unwittingly participating in the prevailing, broader debate in Russia about the future of Russian art and its relationship to Western art.
Princess Mariia Tenisheva
For Tenisheva’s projects, such as the artistic colony at Talashkino and her previous exhibitions in Paris, had established her as a key player in the neo-nationalist revival movement in Russian art, and it was these trends which she showcased in London. In fact, the art shown revealed little of the avant-garde movement which was already well underway in Russia. Nevertheless, the inclusion of Russian art in 1908 set a trend for its inclusion in subsequent years, and the following year Rutter’s exhibition was the venue for the first British showing of the art of Vasilii Kandinskii.
Kandinskii’s paintings can be seen as bridging both the neo-nationalist movement and the emergent avant-garde, and their inclusion signalled a shift in the style and content of Russian art on display. This shift was further confirmed by the participation of the modernists Il’ia Mashkov (1881-1944) and Petr Konchalovskii (1876-1956) in the exhibition of 1911.
My paper will consider how these early exhibitions of the AAA offered differing interpretations of modern trends in Russian art for British audiences, and will analyse how the works on show were received by the artistic and critical communities. In this regard, I shall consider how British responses were shaped by existing perceptions of Russia and its art.
Paper given at the Fifth Fitzwilliam Colloquium in Russian Studies "British Perception and Reception of Russian Culture, 18th-20th Centuries", Cambridge, 2012. Full text published in A People Passing Rude: British Responses to Russian Culture, ed. By Anthony Cross. Open Book Publisher, 2012.