Working with the Material

Irina Shumanova, Yevgeniya Ilyukhina

Magazine issue: 
#3 2012 (36)

The exhibition "The Basic Materials of Graphic Art: Paper and Wood, Silk and Glass..." features items from the Tretyakov Gallery's collection of drawings of the 18th-early 20th centuries. It is the final show in a series devoted to drawing materials, media and techniques used in Russia, and is intended to introduce to the public the history and diversity of the materials used in graphic art. The word traditionally applied to them in Russia — "the foundation" — most aptly characterises their role in the creation of an artwork, that of a "tuner" directing the artist towards a certain drawing style. The choice of material to a large extent determines how strokes or dabs of colour are applied — their tempo, rhythm, energy, and density. The exhibition is thematically arranged, exploring different kinds of materials and their characteristics such as structure, texture of the surface, colour, and tone.

Traditionally the phrase "a work of graphic art" refers to images on paper: thus, a large number of the works on view are paper pieces. The exhibition, which includes specimens of paper moulds, as well as paper with watermarks from the collections of the Tretyakov Gallery and GOZNAK (the Moscow Mint of Goznak), familiarises the public with the process of papermaking. In the 18th-early 19th centuries all types of paper had see-through watermark patterns — from the simplest kinds such as verge ("striped" in French), produced with a gridded paper mould, to more sophisticated varieties,  such as quilling (paper filigree), with images or inscriptions indicating the manufacturer's name, and the year of production.

Paper with watermarks has always interested artists, who have seen it as an artwork, an artist's creation and an invitation to a dialogue, a challenge to a contest. In Andrei Voronikhin's elegant drawing "View of the Future Church of St. Isaac the Dalmatian" (1810) a patterned watermark occupying much of the sheet's space appears to be plugged into the decorative interplay of architectural forms.

The interest in old-style varieties of paper was in keeping with the retrospective leanings of artists from the "Mir Iskusstva" (World of Art) group. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky in his composition "Twilight" (1911) — an episode of city life early in the 19th century — used the same type of blue paper produced in a factory in Yaroslavl and carrying a sign "1826" that was utilised by Alexei Venetsianov in his works "During Illuminations in St. Petersburg" and "A Promenade in St. Petersburg" (1823-1826).

Sketches by Alexandre Benois of the sets of a production of Carlo Goldoni's "The Mistress of the Inn" (1913) were made in the style of Francesco Guardi. Benois not only emulated the composition and drawing style of the 18th-century Venetian master but also created an old-style image, employing Guardi's technique of drawing on coloured paper: applying to a pink laid (verge) paper a light grey tone, Benois slightly subdued the sheet's vibrancy, achieving an overall exquisite pearly colouration. The elegant taupe paper is a perfect match for the individuality of such a model as Zinaida Gippius, dressed in 18th-century male apparel which shocked her contemporaries. A large and eye-catching watermark can be seen in the bottom of the sheet, which the artist did not ignore but integrated into the composition of the portrait as a seal of quality and a sign of the sitter's devotion to the grand style.

Viktor Borisov-Musatov in his pastels turned the physical properties of laid paper into an aesthetic technique. He used the sort of laid paper the uneven thickness of which showed up on the surface, capturing the particles of pigments. The grid of the laid paper is like a cross-stitch canvas on which Borisov-Musatov embroiders his pattern weaving into the frame of paper itself long threads of pastel strokes and transforming a portrait against the backdrop of a tapestry into a tapestry ("A Lady by a Tapestry. Portrait of Nadezhda Stanyukovich", 1903).

Responding to the provocation of antique-looking paper with a grapevine-shaped watermark ("Apples, a Pear and a Cluster of Grapes", late 1920s-early 1930s), Mikhail Larionov accomplished a whole series of still-lifes centred on a grapevine in different stages of preservation. Natalya Goncharova's drawings on sheets of paper "manufactured at Afanasy Goncharov's factory" and carrying a watermark in the form of the Goncharov family's old coat-of-arms ("Sketches of Costumes", 1910s) appear as a sort of tribute to the "family business".

The dazzling white colour of paper, to which we are accustomed today, is only a recent feature. Up until the end of the 18th century nearly all sorts of paper were coloured to a varying degree, the colouration depending on the sort of fibres used in the manufacturing. Producing white paper was a very complex and costly process. The centuries-old method of natural bleaching of the fibres — treating them with special chemicals and keeping them outdoors under the sun for considerable time — was time-consuming, difficult and expensive. Unable to bleach paper sufficiently well, papermakers strove to give it an attractive hue, adding different natural colourants. Artists who had to work with coloured paper became aware of colour as an important aesthetic component of their images. Even after white paper became a common commodity1, coloured varieties not only did not fall out of use, but rather acquired the status of "artistic supplies".

There were historical periods when artists were especially receptive to coloured paper. At the start of the 19th century they often used coloured varieties of paper. The works of Vasily Tropinin, Alexei Venetsianov, Afinogen Shustov featured at the show are images drawn on a blue paper produced in Russia — the sort of paper the artists became used to when they had studied at the Academy of Fine Arts. All drawings were made with an Italian pencil, but each artist used the tone of the paper to produce different effects. The blue colour in Venetsianov's pieces achieves the effect of a mysterious, crepuscular lighting. In Afinogen Shustov's seascape ("A Heroic Landscape", early 1810s) the shade of the paper evokes the beauty of Italy and the city famed for blue paper, Venice. Bluish handmade paper with uneven edges gives to Alexei Yegorov's "The Last Supper" (first half of the 1820s) a composition drawn with a pen, the look of a page from an old folio. And Fyodor Tolstoy, who was interested in all aspects of drawing — the media, recipes of paints, techniques and know-how — can be called a master of experiment. The use of paper of different colours and hues was a part of his "research programme". Creating his famous "trompe l'oeil" ("Primrose", 1817; "Red and White Currants", 1818; "Butterfly", 1821), Tolstoy chose paper of distinctly dark shades, usually brown or grey. The compositions of the trompe l'oeil are like a herbarium: the image in the centre, occupying a small portion of the sheet, and the wide margins that appear to separate the object from the outside world. An "impartial" tone of the paper does not obstruct the artistic experiment of "emulating nature", but only heightens the illusion.

The colour of paper in Alexander Ivanov's watercolour pieces serves as a sort of "tuner" setting the mood of the scene. In the composition "The Archangel Gabriel Renders Zechariah Dumb" (late 1840s-early 1850s) Ivanov employed a paper with a very unusual luciferous yellow tone and used this tone as the foundation of the entire colour scheme, turning light into the main means of expression of the piece. Un-painted sections of the sheet appear to radiate an unworldly mystical light which transforms the outlines and colours of the objects and figures. In the composition "Walking on the Water" (late 1840s-1850s), on the contrary, the paper has a saturated brown colour, evoking the colour of darkness. This is the image of a tempest providing the backdrop for the white contours of human figures which pierce the dark like a shaft of lightning, creating a palpably authentic sensation of a miracle.

In the mid-19th century artists appeared to "forget" coloured paper. Only in some pieces, such as Isaac Levitan's or Ivan Shishkin's landscapes, the colouring of the paper suddenly "bursts through". Shishkin transformed a vaguely grey tone of the paper into a metaphor of the northern grey sky with weightless pearly clouds ("Clouds", 1880s).

At the turn of the 20th century there was a renewed interest in coloured varieties of paper. In Maximillian Voloshin's "Monasteries on the Edge of a Desert..." (1915) the deep brown shade of the sheet in combination with its rough texture convey the stern forbearance of sun-scorched scenery in southern Spain, and in his composition "Spain. By the Sea" (1915) the richly blue colour of the sheet with a pattern of meandering lines applied to it is transformed into a deep blue of the sea water. Alexandre Benois's white-chalk drawing on pink paper titled "Mountains" (1916) features snow-white contours of ghostlike mountains emerging like a mirage. But it was the avant-garde artists of the early 20th century who were especially fond of experimenting with coloured paper. Mikhail Larionov's gouache pieces are a veritable paean to paper, not without a little tinge of irony, however. It seems as if the artist was ready to use anything he could lay his hands on: sheets of old laid paper, rough unbleached grey and yellow sheets with granules of wood pulp and straw, glossy wrapping paper of the most incredible hues. Larinov created several series of pictures where each series was pivoted around a single theme but due to the use of paper sheets of different colour and texture featured most diverse visual effects in different pieces.

A special section of the show is devoted to "primed" paper, coated and tinted. In many cases the difference between these two varieties is slim. The phrase "coated paper" referred to a paper which, before an artist drew an image on it, was coated with a more or less thick coat of priming generously diluted with chalk. The coating could be white or coloured. The tradition of coating and tinting paper was established by the old masters. In the 15th century artists began to use paper for drawing more frequently than parchment. The old-style handmade paper had an uneven grainy surface and disagreeable yellowish or brownish hues, and would become fit for drawing only after the application of glue and a coating. In Russia, where until the first third of the 18th century paper production was poorly developed, white imported varieties of paper were very expensive.

At the Academy of Fine Arts, for instance, students used a cheap unbleached paper (most often blue and grey) produced in Russia. The tinting and coating of such types of paper was an indispensable component of the creative process. The exhibition features pieces created on coated paper, such as S. Mukovnin's portraits and academic compositions by Louis-Jean-Frangois Lagrenee the Younger, Ivan Telegin, and Alexander Ivanov. In Andrei Martynov's landscapes ("Gateway in the Park in Tsarskoe Selo", no earlier than 1821; "A View of the City of Tavastehus from a Lake Shore in Finland", 1810) a white smoothed-out coating makes an ideal background for the rich gouache colours.

When used by Ivanov, techniques of paper coating and tinting served to achieve fantastic artistic effects. His piece "Protection of the Holy Mother of God" (1845) features the airy outlines of white ghostlike little figures emerging from the iridescent brown backdrop of a coated paper, like a phantasm materialising right before our eyes. Unevenly spread and applied with fluent palpable brushstrokes, the light tone like weightless waves "washes" the wide streaming drapes pictured in the sketches for the "Appearance of Christ before the People". In these pieces Ivanov, as if anticipating the trend to come a century later, appears to engage in a dialogue with the 20th-century Russian avant-garde artist Mikhail Larionov. Larionov turned the process of tinting into a work of art. The artist created a whole series of images titled "Sea", where the image of the sea is generated through the tinting of a thin brown paper sheet. The unevenly white-toned paper sheet, deformed and "wavy" from the moisture that touched it, "literally" morphs into a frothy rippled tide ("Non-Objective Composition", "A Girl and a Dog by the Sea", late 1920s-early 1930s). Sometimes the artist added several lines or staffage figures to re-enforce the visual imagery.

The old masters personally primed the paper or paperboard they would use; many had their own recipes for the preparation of coating, and yet, as the paper-making industry was coming into its own and, concurrently, drawing was becoming a popular hobby, coated paper and paperboard began to be produced on an industrial scale. These developments brought a new and unusual drawing technique called papier-pelle, an industrially produced coated paper. The process of its manufacturing involved the paper being coated with several thin layers of gypsum, over which a pigment — grey or blue or grey-green — was spread. This type of paper was used mostly by landscape painters. The varieties of paper on sale included dark, for night scenes, and light, for daytime scenes. Sometimes the paper was green at the bottom and gradually changed to pale-blue at the top. This tonal arrangement was designed to match the arrangement of a future landcape: from grass in the lower section to the sky in the upper one. Certain features of the paper allowed artists to use diverse techniques: hatching, shading, or using a lancet, small knife or needle to scratch through to the white clay coating. Drawings produced on papier-pelle could not stand later correction, so the artist had to calibrate and craft the image impeccably.

Papier-pelle was in essence industrially produced coated paper aimed at amateur artists in an era of popular interest in the visual arts. The ready-made colouring of the paper was intended to facilitate the job of amateur artists, advancing the backbone of the colour scheme. Yet, as often happens in similar circumstances, the novel medium attracted the attention of professional artists as well. Professionals most often used single-coloured papier-pelle: Ivan Aivazovsky, Alexei Bogolyubov and, especially, Alexei Savrasov were brilliant masters of the medium.

There can be many different varieties of the "relief" of the surface of a paper sheet. We can clearly see how greatly varied the texture of paper sheets can be if we compare two radically different specimens of this variety — smooth Bristol board and spongy coarse-grained torchon paper. The difference of these materials is explained by their different modes of production. Initially torchon paper (from the French torchon, a straw plait) was produced with the use of a wide-meshed straw screen, resulting in the slurry, solidifying, formed sheets of uneven thickness, with a clearly visible "meshed" texture. Later, when torchon paper began to be manufactured industrially, the grainy effect was achieved through embossing. The production of paper with smooth surfaces started later than the production of textured varieties. In the mid-18th century a British papermaker James Whatman the Elder (1702-1759) invented a new mould for paper drying — a grid made of a very fine cloth, fit for producing paper with absolutely smooth surfaces. The manufacturing process of especially smooth varieties — the oldest among them was Bristol board, so called after the city where its production began — was to press and glue sheets together, then coated with wheat-paste and calendered; simply put they were passed between two synchronously rotating rollers.

The smooth and thick Bristol board and the spongy torchon paper absorb paints differently and generate two radically different approaches to watercolour painting. Either variety of paper uniquely highlights the expressive means of this medium.

The arrival of Bristol board early in the 19th century in Russia was conducive to the flourishing of watercolour painting. Before that, watercolour artists used ivory. Comparing the miniatures on bone and the watercolour portraits created early in the 19th century, we can see a continuity between these two art forms — for instance, the stippling technique, present in both, which consists in applying paints in finest dots or short hatches which cover the surface so that the progress of the brush, its strokes "stay in sight".

Creators of miniatures used very fine brushes to apply gouache or watercolour paints, and in the finished pieces the natural tone of ivory showed through the semi-transparent paints. Often the artists emphasised the unpainted sections of the ivory ground. Sometimes the ivory was placed on silvery or golden tinfoil, enhancing the luminosity of the paints and showing the natural properties of ivory — its transparency, its capacity to transmit light and warm tones that were an ideal foundation for "limning visages". Examples of such aesthetically conceptualized use of the material include Peter Rockstuhl's silhouette portraits ("Portrait of an Unknown Woman with a Comb in Her Hair", "Portrait of Children", early 1800s), where the natural flesh colour of the ivory base is delicately reinforced with hatches modelling the volume.

The properties of Bristol board, similar to those of ivory — accumulating and reflecting light, enhancing the luminosity and airiness of a thin layer of watercolour — proved very effective when coupled with the qualities of a thin layer of transparent paints. The flat surface of Bristol board, like the surface of ivory, did not absorb paints — rather, paints congealed fixing the movements of the artist's hand, and the touch of his brush.

The size of the ivory base was limited by nature itself. The arrival of a material of a larger size extended the boundaries of watercolour portraiture both literally and artistically. The painter Pyotr Sokolov's gradual progress in domesticating the surface of the paper sheet can be traced through his artwork. In many of his portraits ("Portrait of Yelizaveta Sukhovo-Kobylina", "Portrait of Princess Sofia Meshcherskaya", both 1848) the sitter's image is situated in a centre of the sheet, leaving its wide margins untouched. The image appears to lack the courage to step outside the limits set by miniature art, to leave its theoretical oval mould. At the edges of the form the images fade away and melt, contributing to the effect of the sitter's ephemerality, to the model's refined and sublime representation.

On the one hand, this effect was very important in grasping the aesthetic qualities of a white sheet and including its properties into the artist's creative apparatus. On the other hand, images in watercolour portraits were claiming more and more of the physical territory of the sheet, spreading from the centre to the margins. As the image was expanding its space up from the centre, from the sitter's face, the watercolour artist's brushstroke was growing larger, gaining in width, dynamics, freedom, and becoming more varied in form. Karl Briullov's celebrated twin portraits ("Portrait of Grigory and Varvara Olenin", 1827; "Horse Riders. Portrait of the Mussards — Husband and Wife", 1849; "Portrait of Maria Buteneva with Her Daughter", 1835) feature a most sophisticated interplay of watercolour hues orchestrated to produce an impressive, "festive" melody. Bristol board imparted to the watercolour technique showmanship, improvisational quality, and a touch of panache.

Torchon paper began to be used widely in Russia in the second half of the 19th century and, especially, in the early 20th century. Torchon paper challenges artists to engage in a fascinating act of taming the perverse, capricious surface of the paper.

In monochrome sepia landscape pieces by Isaac Levitan ("The Overgrown Pond", second half of the 1880s) and Konstantin Bogaevsky ("Park in Baran-Eli", 1912), the qualities of torchon paper appear in its purest form. The spongy surface of the sheet is the source of infinite unpredictable variations in hues and colours. The paint either pools "in the depressions" condensing the sepia hue, but remains nearly translucent on raised sections of the sheet or, just the opposite, the semi-dry brush slides over the swells leaving depressions in the surface unpainted.

Creating "Portrait of Tatyana Lubatovich Playing Carmen" (1890s), Mikhail Vrubel seemingly relied entirely on spontaneous motion of the paints and only watched the unpredictable interaction of colour spots that, pooling fancifully, generated bizarre colour combinations. The outlines of the sitter's figure and face transpire through the tremulous mirage of chromatic mosaic and melt away.

Konstantin Somov's "Women Bathers" (1904) features a most sophisticated arrangement of different shades of green reflecting the play of light in the leafage of the trees. The colour spots break up into small pieces in keeping with the "relief" of the surface, acquiring an infinite multitude of shades. Applying his characteristic inventiveness and even irony, Somov played up the unevenness of the paper and unpainted spots, reinforcing the rhythm of their intricate openwork with the pattern of white dots on the black dress of one of the women.

Viktor Borisov-Musatov in "Portrait of a Lady" (1902) used the texture of a sheet in a similar fashion. The effect of volatility of light and air created by an iridescent watercolour is reinforced with pastel applied on a wet watercolour, to the partly dry layer. This upper layer of the pastel shows off the coarse-grained texture of the paper.

There was nothing accidental in the fact that Wassily Kandinsky became interested in torchon paper. In the second half of the 1910s he made several remakes of some of his compositions, trying different colour schemes and different textures. For instance, before creating the watercolour "Abstract Composition" (1915-1917), on display at the show, he produced several similar images on glass with an even surface. Keen on testing his theories, Kandinsky conducted empirical research into the qualities of paints when applied to different foundations.

Often a particular technique determines the use of a particular material. Thus, friable and flaky pastel called for a rough fleecy surface capable of retaining a powdered pigment. Initially artists using pastel employed parchment (from the Greek Pergamon — the city where it was developed), manufactured from specially treated animal skins.2 The surface of parchment pieces went through additional processing reinforcing its coarseness. In the pastel pieces by Karl Wilhelm Bardou, J. Kassel and Alexei Venetsianov these characteristic "little grooves" are most noticeable in the background and in areas where the layer of pastel is very thin. The surface of parchment coupled with airy brittle pastel strokes impart to the images a velvety feel and a special richness of tone. It is worthwhile to compare Vigilius Eriksen's pastel "A Centenarian Lady Living in Tsarskoe Selo with Her Family" (1768) and its miniature copy made by Olga Kablukova on a smooth ivory plate (1815).

Because making parchment was a labour-consuming process and parchment was suitable only for images of small size, artists using pastel began looking for new materials. Papermakers started to produce a special type of paper that had a finely powdered pumice, sand or ground glass spread over its glue-coated surface. This variety of paper was called, accordingly, glass-paper (or, alternatively, sandpaper); in Russia it was called nazhdachnaya bumaga. Combinations of its distinctive texture with pastel colours produced surprising effects: in the beams of light reflected off the glass particles the surface shone and scintillated. Glasspaper was used as the foundation for such pieces as Foma Toropov's "Portrait of My Son" (1850s), Isaac Levitan's landscape "A Garden in Bloom" (1890-1893), and Mikhail Larionov's compositions.

Artists often used coarse-grained paper and, especially, sheets of rough and only slightly processed pasteboard. Their "shaggy" surface with inclusions of particles of wood flakes "absorbed" pastel. In Fyodor Malyavin's portrait of Alexandra Botkina titled "A Little Vixen" (1902) the upper layer of the spongy pasteboard was "stripped away" in some areas to ensure a better cohesion of the pastel and its support. The dark-grey colour of the pasteboard creates the effect of a scantily-lit velvety space from which emerges the delicate little frame of a girl in a bright dress. A pasteboard with coarse-grained texture serves to convey the sternness of the stonework in Nicholas Roerich's "San Gimignano" (1906).

The section devoted to "rare" materials such as silk, wood and glass is of special interest to viewers. The kaleidoscope of different materials which artists chose as the support for their artwork reflects the continuous search for new means of expression.

The refined shimmering of silk shows off the beauty of an etching technique used by Ivan Shishkin in his works — this shimmer lends a cool "metallic" lustre, as an echo of the printing mould that created them. Silk gives a special elegance to the play of watercolour tones in Mikhail Vrubel's "Italian Landscape with Human Figures" (1890s), an image suffused with light and air that was intended for a fan. Vasily Milioti's pictures on wooden plaques "Fairy Tale" and "Telem" (1904-1905) are distinguished by a unique technique of miniature openwork.

The exhibition includes a considerable number of images on glass, including Kandinsky's figurative compositions (19171918) and noteworthy twin portraits by an unknown 19th-century artist who used a rare technique of painting on either side of the glass to produce a fully-fledged image on each side. Kandinsky's pieces are a typical example of reverse glass painting where the image is created in reverse order, from the last layer up. The artist moves on from the foreground to the background, crafting all details first and then painting the background. Imagery on the reverse side of the glass is technical — it is the underlying layer that normally remains invisible, the "naked guts" of the artwork. What appears as figurative forms on the face side is dematerialised on the reverse side, these forms can only be inferred from the expressive, nearly abstract play of colour spots. Perhaps this explains why these naively simple compositions on glass were to play a key role in the shaping of Kandinsky's principles of non-figurative painting. According to the artist's detailed account, one of these images, called "Flood" (1911, lost), led to the creation of one of Kandsinsky's landmark works, the famed "Composition No. 6" (1913, in the Hermitage).

Creating "An Amazon" (1917), the artist lined the reverse side of the glass with multi-coloured tinfoil, reminding the public about such techniques as verre eglomise, which evoked past eras and seemed to fit so well in his pretentious "Bagatelle" series, costumed scenes "from the past".

The eglomise technique was adopted from the applied arts. The term itself originated from the name of Jean-Baptiste Glomy (1711-1786), a Parisian painter and framemaker. Eglomise images are created by attaching tinfoil (gold leaf) to glass with a transparent adhesive and then "engraving" an image on it with a fine needle. Then the tinfoil is stripped from the areas intended for the image and paint (most often black) is applied straight to the tinfoil. The result is a black image against a golden background on the face side of the glass. Eglomise medallions with sideways portraits were one of the sub-genres of miniature portraits, and also a part of silhouette portraiture, another form of visual art popular among the nobility in the late 18th-early 19th centuries.

The word "silhouette" originated from the name of Etienne de Silhouette (1709-1767), a French finance minister under Louis XV famous for his narrow-mindednes and policy of fiscal austerity, which made him a popular target for high-society wits. His surname became to be applied to all things cheap and trashy, including portraits made in black colour or of black paper — portraits a la Silhouette. A certain F.G. Sideau introduced silhouette portraiture in Russia. He came from France after he had gained there quite a reputation as "an artist of scissors". During his short stay at the court of Catherine II, from 1782 to 1784, he created a whole "gallery of shadows", preserving for posterity silhouetted images of prominent figures of the age. Hardly had Sideau left hospitable St. Petersburg, when a new silhouette artist arrived there: Johann Friedrich Anthing (1753-1805) introduced new themes in silhouette art, addressing historical topics and scenes from everyday life. Taking the silhouette art out of the habitual confining mould of shoulder-length portraits, he crafted very fine and complex multi-figure silhouetted compositions. Early in the 19th century silhouette art became very popular among the nobility, and many people took it up as a hobby. Perhaps one such amateur artist accomplished the glass piece on view — an image based on one of the versions of Anthing's popular silhouetted composition "Grand Duke Pavel Petrovich and Grand Duchess Maria Fyodorovna with Their Children" (early 1780s).

Count Fyodor Tolstoy was one of the best masters of cut-out silhouettes in the first half of the 19th century; he created magnificent compositions, horizontal in format like shadow play, themed on the 1812 war, on the everyday life of the peasants and provincial towns, and hunting scenes. It seems unbelievable how Tolstoy, using the techniques of "pure silhouette", crafted the most complex, dynamic and spread-out multi-figure battle scenes. Tolstoy's masterful silhouettes enjoyed great success and inspired many to emulate him. The exhibition features some of these pieces.

The art of the cut-out silhouette experienced a rebirth thanks to the "World of Art" artists, for whom revival of earlier techniques was a part of their creative agenda. Yelizaveta Kruglikova, called by her contemporaries "a charming fairy of scissors", was an acclaimed silhouette artist. She took up silhouette art in 1914 — in her own words, "accidentally" — when she already enjoyed renown as a graphic artist. The exhibition introduces her silhouettes printed in a book titled " Paris on the Eve of the War"3. Kurglikova wanted to use proceeds from this publication for assisting Russian artists who, stuck in Paris after World War I broke out, were reduced to poverty. Writers such as Konstantin Balmont, Maximillian Voloshin, Vyacheslav Ivanov, Fyodor Sologub, Alexei Remizov, and Alexei Tolstoy, whose silhouettes were printed in the book, supplied its literary section with new, not-yet-published texts. Kruglikova's "Paris on the Eve of War" was highly appreciated by her contemporaries. Nevertheless, among her silhouette images the greatest popularity was earned by her portraits of her contemporaries. Kruglikova's amazing industry and commitment to silhouette art left a legacy of hundreds of silhouetted images of poets, artists, actors, musicians — the ghosts of the glitterati of Russian culture's glittery "Silver Age", an era when the ghost was a favourite metaphor.

In the collage technique paper acquires a new status — it is not only the foundation for an image but also its material. Paper takes a truly central role in the technique of collage, which was widely used by avant-garde artists because it allowed them to apply the principle of interaction of colour planes in its purest form, to literally materialise this principle. The show features Aristarkh Lentulov's dynamic compositions (1914-1915), as well as Natalya Goncharova's sketches of costumes for an unrealised production of the ballet "Liturgy" (1915-1916) — images composed of tiny tinfoil pieces arranged to resemble smalt, and Alexandra Exter's pithy "Sketch of a Fashionable Costume" (1917-1918).

If the main body of the exhibition focused on the period from the late-18th century to the early-20th century, the display of collage pieces introduces the 20th century as an age rich in experiments with different materials and, in particular, with materials employed as a foundation, or support, for drawings. One cannot imagine the evolution of the visual arts without such an ongoing search for new forms.

  1. The revolution of the white sheet of paper took place after the Swedish chemist Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered chlorine in 1774 and the French chemist Claude Louis Berthollet invented the method of bleaching textiles with chlorine gas.
  2. The process of parchment-making began with the washing of animal skins, after which they were shorn of their roughest and stiffest hair. The skins were then soaked for a long time in a lime solution. They were kept in lime for three to ten days, depending on the temperature of the surrounding air, and then washed in water, a procedure that facilitated the dehairing of the skins. The dehaired hides were stretched on wooden frames and fleshed, their inside layers scraped away. The fleshing was done with half-moon-shaped knives. Then the hides were polished and smoothed out with pumice. The final stage saw a grease-absorbing chalk powder rubbed into the parchment. Besides absorbing grease, the chalk powder gave to parchment a lighter and more uniform tone and prevented the bleeding of paints. Flour, egg yokes or milk were rubbed into the parchment to make it whiter.
  3. Kruglikova Yelizaveta. Paris on the Eve of the War. Petrograd. 1916.





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