Friday, March 5, 2010

The Russian Ark of Yuri Vasnetsov

Keeping with the theme of Russian folklore, I am very glad to share another great illustrator of the Soviet era.
 Yuri Vasnetsov was born in Vyatka in 1900. In 1921 he moved to Petrograd, where he studied at the Higher 
Art Technical Studios (Vhuteina) and later perfected his skills at the State Institute of Artisic Culture (Ginhuke)
under Kasimir Malevich. His paintings of the 1920's–early 30's combine elements of Suprematism and Primitivism.

Still life with chessboard, 1926-28

While still a student, he began to cooperate with the state publishing house Gosizdat
 headed by Vladimir Lebedev. With Charushin, Pachomov and Kurdov, he was part of the group 
of young artists who Lebedev most favored and had high expectations on. 
For this reason, he was often harshly critical of their works, and they in turn were quite afraid 
of showing him their sketches. Vasnetsov started to develop his own peculiar style, 
less stylized than his colleagues and deeply influenced by traditional Russian popular art. 
The resulting artworks are both sweet and bold, popular and refined, traditional and eccentric.

Wax-crayon illustration for Boloto (The bog) by Vitaly Bianki, 1930
The drawings in this book were the result of Vasnetsov's long research into the life of bog inhabitants.

Page from Putanica (Disorder) by Korney Chukovsky, 1934

Cover of Tri medvedja (The three Bears) by Lev Tolstoj, 1935

Illustration from The little humpbacked horse by Piotr Yershov, 1935

Page from Pjat'desjat porosjat (Fifty pigs) by Korney Chukovsky, 1936

Page from Kradenoe solnce (The stolen sun) by Korney Chukovskij, 1936

These early books brought him a reputation as one of Russia's leading artists of children's books. 
In this period he also created lithographies using the same fairy tale themes as the illustrations. 
Due to the war, in 1941 Vasnetsov was evacuated to Perm, where he worked in the puppet theater, 
then in 1943-45 he moved to Zagorsk where he became chief designer at the Institute of toys.

Cover of Russian fairy tales

In the postwar years Vasnetsov continued to be very active as a book illustrator, 
working on children's stories, fairy tales and folklore collections. Among his most famous late works 
are the illustrations for the books Ladushki and Rainbow arc. Vasnetsov was also a painter all his life, 
although he did not show publicly his works for fear of being accused of "formalism". He died in 1973, 
and in 1979 the State Russian Museum held a retrospective exhibition of his art.

Cover of Animal friendships, 1989 edition

Cover of Russian tales, 1974 edition

Two iIllustrations from LadushkiRussian rhymes and tales for little ones, 1964,
thanks to Flamenconut's amazing flickr collection,
where you can see more artworks from this lovely book.

Cover and illustration from Rainbow arc. Russian folk songs, tales, nursery rhymes, 1969

You can check out Animalarium's other posts on Soviet children's books illustrators


  1. Thanks for the intro Laura, completely new to me :)
    Some nice details - love the fish with umberella's in Putanica

  2. David from AustraliaMay 6, 2010 at 1:31 PM

    Thankyou for these beautiful pictures by Vasnetsov. Two films by the Russian animator Yuri Norstein have a 'Vasnetsov' feel. They are 'Fox and Hare' and 'Hedgehog in the Fog'. They were made in the 70's & are on Youtube. Please look them up if you like charming tales of animals that are superbly crafted gems both in terms of design and storytelling.

  3. We have many. And, yes, I was thinking there were animations with his illustrations! I even blogged those films way back! I think there is also one about a baby bear and baby rabbit who become friends when the rabbit rescues the bear.

  4. Hi guys! Nice to hear that you like those fish with umbrellas. As a child born in the USSA I didn't like them in the book :)



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