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Russian Art: From Icons to the Avant-Garde
2-Session Course

Friday, February 16, 2018 - 6:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. and Saturday, February 17, 2018 - 9:30 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
Code: 1H0316

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Icon, ca. 1425, by Andrey Rublev (Tretyakov Gallery)

The evolution of Russian art is inextricably bound to the rich cultural exchanges between East and West. These resulted in a fascinating blend of diverse visual languages and styles, from the late-medieval icons and frescoes indebted to Byzantium to the great avant-garde experiments that developed side by side with the various currents of 20th-century modernism in other parts of Europe. In this two-part seminar, art historian Aneta Georgievska-Shine brings the culture of this vast country to life as she highlights some of the major art developments in Russia over the course if its history, with particular focus on the turbulent years of the early 20th century.

FEB 16 The Long View: Icon Painters of the Middle Ages and 19th-Century Realists

Begin by exploring the language of icons, which had been introduced via Byzantium, as an expression of highly codified theological and aesthetic principles. Like the religious imagery in Constantinople and the other parts of the Byzantine Empire, those created in Russia promoted prayer and contemplation, rather than offering a mirror of the material world. Then turn to another period characterized by the flourishing of the visual arts, the 19th century. Though deeply informed by the academic painting of Western Europe, Russian artists of this era were also significantly concerned with liberal movements for social reform—which led to a heightened emphasis on realism, whether in the depiction of expansive landscapes or scenes based on daily life.

FEB 17 Russian Art and Modernity: The Dream of Progress and Its Dispelling

9:30–10:45 a.m.  Modernism Arrives in Russia: The Role of Art Collectors

As the 19th century drew to a close, the exchanges between Russian painters and their peers in artistic centers such as Paris gave rise to an amazing range of avant-garde styles. Many of these were facilitated by influential collectors such as Pavel Tretyakov, Sergei Shchukin, and Ivan Morozov.

11 a.m.–2:15 p.m.  Suprematism: Malevich and His Circle

One of the most radical artists of the Russian avant-garde was Kazimir Malevich, who developed the pictorial language of non-objective art, which he termed suprematism. His paintings and those of his circle of students are characterized by a focus on simple geometric forms that seem to float against plain, often white grounds. Though suprematism was one of the key movements of modern art in Russia, after the rise of Stalin it came to be considered a less desirable, if not reactionary, style. 

12:15­–1:15 p.m.  Lunch (boxed lunch is provided)  

1:15–2:30 p.m.  Women of the Russian Avant-Garde

Unlike most other artistic centers in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century, where women artists were assigned marginal roles, artists including Ljubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Natalia Goncharova, and Alexandra Exter made some of the most significant contributions to Russian modernism

2:45–4 p.m.  Revolutionary Ideals and Disillusionment

In the years leading to and shortly after the October Revolution, countless progressive-leaning artists put their creative efforts in service of the Bolshevik ideology. Within a decade, their dreams were brutally dispelled by the advent of Socialist realism, which became the only artistic style sanctioned by the state—and relegated all other forms of expression to historical oblivion.

World Art History Certificate core course: Earn 1 credit


S. Dillon Ripley Center
1100 Jefferson Dr SW
Metro: Smithsonian (Mall exit)