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Russian Visual Arts Project: Sheffield University, University of Exeter and the British Library

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Project details

Image of 'Zhar-ptitsa' by Polenova, Elena Dmitrievna, (1850-1898)

Russian Visual Arts: Art Criticism in Context, 1814-1909 grew from a three-year project called Russian Visual Arts: Documents from the British Library Collection, which was funded between 2000-2003 by an Arts and Humanities Research Board (AHRB) major research award. (The AHRB was renamed the Arts and Humanities Research Council on 1st April 2005.) The project was established jointly by the Department of Russian at the University of Exeter and the Department of Russian and Slavonic Studies at the University of Sheffield.

The nineteenth and early twentieth century was a period of immense activity in all aspects of the Russian visual arts. 1863 saw the first organised challenge to the hegemony of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts through the secession of 'The Fourteen', while in 1913 the mature Russian avant-garde emerged. During these fifty years, published writings on the visual arts diversified to an unprecedented extent. Out of the neo-classicist doctrine of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts of the mid-nineteenth-century there emerged wide-ranging, vigorous discussions about art and art theory. By the turn of the century there was an abundance of theoretical writings, journalistic reports, manifestos, recorded debates or semi-fictionalised 'discussions' between prominent artists, art critics and theorists, and poets, published in lavishly-illustrated art journals, newspapers, or later, in limited edition hand-printed or mimeographed pamphlets or books.

The Russian Visual Arts archive is both a research output in its own right, and a research resource, designed to disseminate little-known primary material as fully as possible to a wide audience of specialists and non-specialists potentially comprising Russianists, cultural historians, art historians, literary specialists, theoreticians, and others more broadly concerned with the development of the European arts in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The archive is available both from VADS, where it is cross-searchable with other collections, and also from the project's own website at:

Image of 'Zala 1-ia ili Rafaelia v Imperatorskoi Akademii khudozhestv, vo vremia vystavki khudozhestvennykh proizvedenii i redkikh veshchei', by Timm, Vasilii Fedorovich [Georg-Wilhelm], 1820-1895

The texts

The project brings together texts produced by writers, literary critics, art critics, journalists, and artists.

Some art critics in the early nineteenth century, such as Vasilii Botkin, although not openly critical of the Academy, aimed to limit its influence and commended the development of a national character in art, which linked to the progress of society.

In the nineteenth century the visual arts were frequently perceived as following in the footsteps of rapid developments in Russian literature. Therefore essays by famous Russian writers and literary critics, such as Nikolai Gogol' and Fedor Dostoevskii are included in the archive.

The project also illustrates ideas on art formulated by artists themselves, such as Ivan Kramskoi and Vasilii Vereshchagin.

The images

The images from the Russian Visual Arts project provide the context for the art critical debates and illustrate the types of visual information made available to the Russian public by contemporaneous periodicals.

For example, the exhibition reviews of the Academy are complemented by a collection of caricatures published in the satirical journals The Spark and The Alarm-Clock during the 1860s. The appearance and organisation of the exhibitions is represented by the plans of the Academy's exhibition halls, and an illustration of an exhibition in 1851 reveals the manner in which the works of art were displayed and represents the public visiting the exhibition (see left).

Contact Details

Address: Dr Carol Adlam and Professor Robert Russell
Editors and Co-Directors
Russian Visual Arts Project
University of Sheffield
Arts Tower, Floor 8
Western Bank
S10 2TN


Copyright © Russian Visual Arts Project: University of Sheffield: University of Exeter

All translations are the copyright of the project members as listed at the beginning of each text. All citations from or references to these texts must fully acknowledge the source of the text and the authorship of translation in accordance with recognised scholarly convention. Redistribution or republication of texts in any medium requires the written consent of the project directors and translators.

The information within and all images that appear may be used for educational purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended for any other purpose, without prior permission of the copyright holder.

Image credits



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