Art A-Z: F – Filonov Pavel

Pavel Nikolaevich Filonov (1883, Saint-Petersburg – 1941, Leningrad) – painter, illustrator, theoretic of art.

In 1897, Filonov moved to Saint-Petersburg where he studied painting in several places. He travelled to Jerusalem and Constantinople, in 1912 he studied classical art in France and Italy. Shortly he became one of leaders of Russian avant-garde.

The Feast of Kings (1913)

In 1916-1918, Filonov passed military service on Romanian front.

Filonov’s early works were influenced by symbolism and scientific discoveries, including in biology. One of his main approaches was the “mastering principle” – he thoroughly worked every millimeter of the painting. His aim was to share with spectator not only his vision of the world, but also his knowledge about the world.

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Filonov’s paintings reflect expressionist acuity and neo-primitivist archaic images. He created a series of formulas – Formula of Cosmos (1918-1919), The First Formula of Spring (1927-1928), etc, and the most famous – Formula of Spring (see up).

Filonov died of hunger during blockade of Leningrad in 1941.





Art A-Z: D – Dobuzhinsky Mstislav

Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky (1875, Novgorod – 1957, New-York) – painter, illustrator, decorator.

Graduated from the Faculty of Law of the Saint-Petersburg University (1895-1899). Attended Painting School of Peredvizhniki, continued studies at Azbe’s and Holloshi’s workshops in Munich.

Klaipeda, 1934

Collaborated with satirical reviews. In 1902, Dobuzhinsky became a member of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) fellowship, where he became one of leaders.

Dobuzhinsky early works are marked by influence of Munich’s modern and symbolism. Unlike his fellows in Mir Iskusstva, Dobuzhinsky’s image of a modern city is not romantic, it is full of inner drama (The man in spectacles. Portrait of Sunenberg, 1905-1906, see up)


As many other famous Russian painters of the beginning of the XX century, he actively work in theatre. At the same time,  he gained fame as fine book illustrator, capable to portray psycological depth of a book. He also made post cards and stamps.

In 1924, Dobuzhinsky left the Soviet Union and lived in France, England and the USA. He continued his career of theatre decorator. He made decorations for performances in Paris, Brussels, London, New-York.

Art A-Z: A – Avant-garde

Avant-garde or Russian avant-garde –  movement of the first quarter of the XX century that implemented new artistic ideas.  The name “avant-garde” was given to the movement because it was the time when Russian art succeeded on the international arena.

N.Goncharova, Cyclist, 1913

Avant-garde was influenced by…:

  • French cubism – a lot of Russian painters studied in Paris, including L.Popova, N.Udaltsova, V.Pestel. Besides, painters could visit the collection of S.Shchukin in Moscow, which was open for the public. Since the beginning of the 1910 Shchukin had in his collection works of P.Picasso and J.Braque. K.Malevich was among famous visitors of the collection.
  • Italian futurism – especially the way how movement is depicted. However futurism did not take strong roots in Russia, but rather a synthesis of cubism and futurism emerged (“cubofuturism”).
  • Russian traditions. Although this seems controversial, because many avantgardists were hostile toward the past, but they mostly criticised academic style and bourgeois culture, rather than traditions as a whole. Russian ancient art was one of sources of inspiration for avant-garde painters. We can find traits of icons in their works – flat images, contrast colours, tension, etc. Symbolic meaning of icons as objects of cult is also reflected in avant-garde painting, for example, Malevich refered to his Black Square as “my icon” and suggested to place it in a corner at exhibitions, like icon. Lubok also influenced avant-garde (see Art A-Z: L – Lubok).
V.Tatlin, design of monument of the III International, 1919-1920

Famous Russian painter Mikhail Vrubel  is considered as one of predecessors of avant- garde, because he was one of few artists who understood value of line and colour per se.

Avant-garde developed in the framework of artistic fellowships and groups, emerged at late 1900s. Since 1910s young avantgardists started to participate in exhibitions in Europe – Burlyuk brothers, Kandinsky, Goncharova, Larionov took part in Blue Knight exhibitions in Munich, Arkhipenko, Baranov-Rossine, Mashkov, Shagal – in Salon d’Automne in Paris.

M.Shagal, Blue House, 1917

The beginning of the World War I could not stop development of avant-garde and by 1915 the movement gained momentum. In short time Russian avant-garde produced multiple styles, but the biggest of them were postcubism and objectlessness. After October Revolution of 1917 new authorities appreciated avant-garde, and for a short period of time supported the movement. A number of new organisations, museums, as well as new system of artistic education appeared.

In terms of ideas avant-garde already told everything by the end of 1910s, and at the beginning of 1920 it started to adapt them to the reality. Avant-garde influenced architecture, including constructivism.

Since mid 1920s Soviet government insisted on creation of mass culture, and avant-garde was not associated with the Soviet future anymore, many avantgagdists lost their posts. In 1932, an ordinance On reshuffle of literature and artistic organisations was issued, all artistic organisations merged onto unions, controlled by the Communist Party. It was the official end of avant-garde in Russia.

Art A-Z: T – Talashkino

Talashkino – village and estate in Smolensk region, one of art and enlightenment centers of Russia.

Talashkino was bought in 1893 by philanthropist, collector and artist Maria Tenisheva.

Tenisheva made a lot of efforts to attract famous painters, sculptors and architect to the estate. Unlike Abramtsevo, Talashkino didn’t become center of unanimous artistic fellowship, but such artists as M.Vrubel, K.Korovin, I,Repin, N. Rerikh, S.Malyutin worked there. Though like Abramtsevo circle, Talashkino praised romantic Russian style.

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Church in Flenovo, paintings were made by Rerikh in 1910s, architect – S.Malyutin

One of Talashkino’s goals was to restore traditional Russian crafts, a large collection of embroidery, carved wooden items, fabrics, clothes, utensils were gathered there. Since 1900, Tenisheva organised in Talashkino workshops of carving, embroidery and ceramics, where craftsmen from neighbouring villages worked. But professional artists like Vrubel and Rerikh also worked there. Workshops’ products were many time exhibited in Russia and abroad.

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Interior of Teremok (see exterior up)




Art A-Z: S – Serov Valentin

Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865, Saint-Petersburg – 1911, Moscow) – painter.

Studied at the Academy of Arts (1880-1885) in P.Chistyakov’s classes. In 1887-1909 – teacher of painting at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

In 1894 – 1899 – member of Peredvizhniki. Since 1899 – member of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) fellowship. In 1903 Serov became member of the Academy of Arts, but quitted it in 1905 after fusillade of peaceful demonstration on the 9th January of 1905.

Born to a family of a composer. His father knew I.Repin, who became the first Serov’s teacher of painting, when he was ten.

The Girl with Peaches


One the brightest members of Abramtsevo circle, where his early artistic style established. In Abramtsevo he made several famous works, including The Girl with Peaches (1887) and The Girl on the Sun (1888).

As other members of Mir Iskusstva Serov was particularly interested in Russian history. His works dedicated to Peter the Great (Peter I on Hunt (1902, Peter I (1907) showed Serov’s skill to create composition and portray characters.

Serov’s fame enabled him to execute orders of rich people of the epoch – members of royal family, nobility, entrepreneurs, artists.

Peter I

In 1907, he travelled to Greece with L.Bakst, and made several paintings dedicated to myths and history of Ancient Greece.

The Rape of Europa (1910)

Since 1909, Serov cooperated with Dyagilev’s Ballets Russes, he made decorations for opera Judith (1909, together with L.Bakst), designed curtain for ballet Scheherazade (1911), etc. He also made famous portrait of Ida Rubinstein in 1910 (Dyagilev’s ballerina) (see up).

Interesting Fact

In 2015, The Tretyakov Gallery organized the exhibition of Serov’s works, which became so popular and so many people wanted to visit it, that one day visitors broke the doors of the entrance.

Read more:

Art A-Z: R – Repin Ilya

Art A-Z: B – Bakst Lev

Art A-Z: A – Abramtsevo Circle

Art A-Z: R – Repin Ilya

Ilya Efimovich Repin (1844, Chuguev – 1930, Kuokkala, today – Repino) – painter.

One of the most prominent Russian painters of the second half of the XIX century.

Repin studied at the Society of Painters’ Support, where I.Kramskoy was his teacher. Later he passed studies at the Academy of Arts. In 1873-1876, he received scholarship of the Academy of Arts to go to Italy and France. Member of Peredvizhniki since 1878.

Since 1882, Repin lived in Saint-Petersburg, since 1900 – in his estate in Kuokkala, on the shore of the Finnish gulf.

Barge Haulers on the Volga

Under Kramskoy’s influence he became supporter of democratic movement in art, which criticised academic style.

During travel on Volga, he made several sketches and made painting Barge Haulers on the Volga (1870-1873), which brought him fame. The painting was a landmark in Russian art, as people’s life became a popular topic after it.

During his stay in France, Repin painted en plein air, and made a series of works a la G. Courbet and young C.Pissarro.

Portrait of Leo Tolstoi

Repin was a master of portrait, which helped him to create multifigure paintings. He made a series of portraits of his contemporaries – collector P.Tretyakov (1883), writer L.Tolstoi (1887), composer M.Musorgsky (1881).

Repin’s late works however are not equal in force with earlier master-pieces.

Author of the memoir Far Close.

Art A-Z: P – Petrov-Vodkin Kusma

Kusma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin (1878, Khvalynsk – 1939, Saint-Petersburg) – painter.

In 1893-1895 studied at Burov’s classes in Samara, in 1897-1904 – at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, in 1901 – at Azbe’s studio in Munich. From 1906 to 1908 Petrov-Vodkin passed  apprentice in several workshops in Paris.

In the first decade of the XX century he travelled a lot in France, Italy, Greece, Northern Africa.

Anxiety, 1934


In 1908 he moved to Saint-Petersburg and became teacher of painting.  In 1918 – 1933 tought at the Academy of Arts.

Member of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) fellowship.

Petrov-Vodkin’s particular style developed under influence of ancien Russian art, Italian primitivists, and French art. his spectrum is based on three open local colours – red, blue and yellow.

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Morning Still-Life, 1918

In 1920s, painter’s system of “spherical perspective” established, which marked his later works.

Author of memoir “Euclid’s’ space”.


Art A-Z: N – Nesterov Mikhail

Mikhail Vasilievich Nesterov (Ufa, 1862 – Moscow, 1942) – painter.

Studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and at the Academy of Arts in Saint-Petersburg.

Since 1896 – member of  the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions (Peredvizhniki). 

Girls on the river bank

In 1890 – 1895, Nesterov together with V.Vasnetsov painted Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev. In 1894 – 1895, he worked on sketches of mosaics for the Church of the Savior on Blood in Saint-Petersburg.

The first half of Nesterov’s career was marked by interest for religion. He painted The Hermit (1886) after death of his wife, The Vision to the Youth Bartholomew (1889-1890) (see up), made painting for Marfo-Mariinskiy convent (1908-1911). He was inspired by ancient Russian religions painting, as well as contemporary religious writers and philosophers, including N.Leskov and L.Tolstoi.

Silence, 1903

Since mid-1920s, Nestetov paints portraits of his contemporaries – painters, scientists, etc.

Portrait of sculptor Vera Mukhina, 1940



Visit the Tretyakov Gallery to see Nesterov’s famous works.


Art A-Z: K – Kandinsky Vasily

Vasily Vasilievich Kandinsky (1866, Moscow – 1944, Neuilly-sur-Seine) – painter, theorist of art, one of founders of abstract art.

Born to a family of a merchant, he had Russian, German and Buryat (one of Russia’s people) origins. He equally spoke Russian and German since childhood.

Kandinsky graduated from the Faculty of Law of the Moscow State University and planned to become a professor, but suddenly he dropped academic career and went to Munich to learn painting.

Composition VI

In 1900s, Kandinsky’s style was influenced by impressionism and modern. He painted landscapes and views of Munich and other places that he visited, as well as historical heroes and fairy tales.

In 1906-1908, Kandinsky travelled around Europe, he spent a year in Paris, six months – in Berlin. He participated in multiple exhibitions.

In 1908-1910, he started to experiment with composition and colour in landscapes of Murnau, near Munich.

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Composition VIII

In 1911, the first abstract Painting with a circle was created, and in 1913 – two works that marked Munich period – Composition VI and Composition VII (see up). However, a lot of experts suppose that Kandinsky’s aquarelle of 1910 was the first abstract picture ever created.

In 1915-1921 – due to the First World War he returned to Moscow, where he worked as professor.

Since 1921 – professor of Bauhaus (Germany).

1933-1944 – Paris period. In Paris Kandinsky became friend of P. Mondrian, H. Miro and other young painters, who considered him one the brightest visionary of the XX century.

Author of several books about art, including About the Spiritual in Art and Point and Line to Plane, which embodied Kandinsky ideas about art and became indispensable for many painters and connoisseurs of art.

Interesting Fact

In one of his books Kandinsky states that he was inspired by Monet’s Hayrick, painting that he saw at the impressionism exhibition in Moscow in 1895.


If you want to see Composition VII – visit the Tretyakov Gallery, for Composition VI – go the State Hermitage in Saint-Petersburg. However, Kandinsky’s paintings are a part of many museums’ and private collections around the globe.

Art A-Z: G – Grabar Igor

Igor Emmanuilovich Grabar (1871,  Budapest, – 1960, Moscow) – painter, historian of art.

In 1893, Grabar graduated from the Faculty of Law of the University of Saint-Petersburg. In 1894 – 1896 – studied at the Academy of Art, he attended Repin’s classes, then in 1896-1989 he continued his studies in Munich.

In 1901, he became a member of Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) fellowship.

Made multiple trips to Europe, in 1914 he visited Egypt, in 1924 – the USA.

February azure, 1904

His early works were widely influenced by impressionism, in his landscapes he used the method of decompositions of colour, especially in winter scenes.  Later, however, his style transformed into more academic.

Grabar made huge work to preserve Russian art. He wrote books about painters I.Repin, V.Serov, I.levitan. In 1909-1916, under his reduction the first History of Russian Art was published.

Chrisantemums, 1905

In 1913-1925 – head of the Tretyakov Gallery.

In 1918, he became head of Central Restauration Workshops, which later were named after him (In June 2018, this organisation celebrated 100 anniversary).

Author of History of Russian Art in several volumes (1953-1869).