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It is thought that the publications of Pushkin’s fairy tales, verses, and poems illustrated by Viktor Vasnetsov, Elena Polenova, and Sergei Malyutin gave rise to the development of book art in Russia.
Malyutin’s biggest successes in this period, especially at the end of the 1890s, are linked with book illustrations (“The Tale of Tsar Saltan”, “Ruslan and Lyudmila”, and other works by Alexander Pushkin).
Elena Polenova — the sister of the famous painter, Vasily Polenov—was both an outstanding artist and an ascetic in the collecting and preserving folk art. On our trips to Russian villages, she gathered and painted peasant household items and wrote down stories.
Russian artists, including representatives of the so-called "large style"—Vasily Vasnetsov, Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov, Mikhail Nesterov, Nikolai Rerikh (Roerich), and later in Soviet times, Pavel Korin, Andrei Bubnov, Alexander Gerasimov, and many others—often “paid tribute” to Russian epics’ illustration.
And no wonder: because it was the literary nature of the artistic figures of Russian painting that has always differentiated the Russian school of art. Direct references to literature, use of relevant aesthetic images, and the desire to convey feelings from poetry, Biblical parables, or fairy tales through artistic language is the most widespread technique in Russian artistic culture.
Perhaps the most famous illustrator was Ivan Bilibin (shown here: illustrations of Pushkin's “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” (1906). Experts are right in saying that he forced "all subsequent generations to perceive native mythology through his eyes."
Roerikh, who diverged in his interests in the spiritual and sacred, illustrated “The Book of the Dove”, a compilation of Eastern Slavic folk spiritual poems from the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16 centuries, that tells of the origin of the world through posing and answering questions.
In the 20th century, artists often left free-form art to publishing, which did not contain the strict control and pressure of ideological dogmas. Anatoly Kaplan’s painting “Boy at the table” (1947) shown here sends the viewer to the lost world of Russian manor life from folk literature.
Alexandra Konovalova’s paintings of Russian folk tales that she produced in the 1920s present wonderful examples of the powerful expressive style employed by Petrov-Vodkin and Deyneka.
There are wonderful examples of this among Soviet illustrators, like, for instance, Alexander Bubnov, an artist whose name is synonymous with the epic patriotic painting “Morning on Kulikovo Field”. It was written on the basis of Russian ballads in the heat of war.