During the exhibition International Arts and Crafts held in
the V&A in London in 2005, Abramtsevo’s arts and crafts movement was
represented by just one object by Polenova: a wall cupboard. As similar
ideas and artistic practises occurred in the UK and Russia at about the same
time, the question raised if William
Morris could have inspired Abramtsevo’s revival of the arts and crafts in
Russia. Today, the London based Russian scholar, dr. Natalia Murray, made up the neglect, and
showed the complete oeuvre of this remarkable Russian artist, Elena Polenova, at the
Gifts of Mother Earth and the Soul of Nature
I come from you,
you carry me,
you nourish me,
and you will take me after
Born from the earth,
fed by the earth,
into the earth I will go!
Soul of Nature
I am the soul of nature
That gives life to the
From me all things proceed
And to me they must return
The artists that joined
the Abramtsevo artists' circle in late 19th century Russia were attracted by Abramtsevo’s rural location on Radonezh soil.
Breaking with the past
certainly was not the only country with a feudal system in 19th century Europe.
It is not a coincidence that a critical realist current in art emerged in mid
19th century in France also. Like Russian realists after the abolishment of
serfdom in 1861, French artists sympathised with the so-called 'lower' classes
after their 1848 revolution and the abolishment of slavery in French
colonies a year later. This can be demonstrated in Gustave Courbet's famous
painting of the 'Stone Breakers' (1849) and Francois Miller's 'Sower' (1950).
Various group and solo exhibitions of
early twentieth-century Russian avant-gardist art shown in the late 1980s and
1990s in Western Europe, following
Mikhail Gorbachev’s policy of ‘glasnost’, aroused my professional interest in Russian art history. The renewed
acquaintance first led to research in preparation for the design of courses
about Russian art, secondly to a PhD-research project on the late
nineteenth-century Russian art practices of Abramtsevo artists’ circle, and the
hypothesis that this circle holds a key to a more profound understanding of
‘the Russian avant-garde’, and to Russian culture as a whole.
Until 18 August 2013 the Nesterov-retrospective ‘Mikhail Nesterov. In search of his own Russia.To the 150 anniversary’ can be seen in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. An hommage to Nesterov and the Abramtsevo Artists' Circle (1870s-1890s).
Although memoirs, letters and chronicles, have been sidelined in academic art history to some extent, primary texts such as Elizaveta Mamontova’s personal memoirs, the chronicle of Abramtsevo’s circle and countless letters written by participants in the artists’ circle proved to be central to the entire literature on both Abramtsevo, Academic, and Realist art history.