The Poetry of Metamorphosis. THE FLOWERS AND ORNAMENTS BY MIKHAIL VRUBEL

Olga Davydova

Article: 
Foundation GRANY Publishing Project
Magazine issue: 
#3 2021 (72) Special edition "The Poetry of Metamorphosis. THE FLOWERS AND ORNAMENTS BY MIKHAIL VRUBEL"

As if in slate-grey smoke enclosed,
From realm of grains by fairy will,
Mysteriously were we transposed
Unto the realm of crystal hills.
Afanasy Fet, “Just yesterday...”, 1864

The lines are fallen unto me in pleasant places; yea, I have a goodly heritage.
Psalm 15: 6

One could begin a conversation on Mikhail Vrubel’s decorative and ornamental philosophy with the phrase “Flowers live in honeycombs, their petals picked out by sunset rays.” It is a verbal transposition summarising the images created by the artist, and also a distant echo that introduces a metaphor belonging to Charles Baudelaire into our train of thought, a metaphor that reveals, by chance, the universal nature of art: “Des fleurs se pament dans un coin.”[1] [“Flowers swoon in a corner.”][2]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Lily. Decorative motif. 1895-1896
Mikhail VRUBEL. Lily. Decorative motif. 1895-1896
Watercolour, gouache, charcoal on paper. 43.8 × 45.2 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Vrubel’s flowers and ornamentation make up the genetic code of his artistic language in terms both of their intrinsic, eternal meaning and their figurative form. Rarely can you find a piece by Vrubel that is missing the sacramental transubstantiation of objective reality into ornamental patterns, similar to stylised flowers. Any researcher who sets themselves the aim of analysing the iconographic construction of Vrubel’s art in its “floral and ornamental” aspect soon finds themselves drowning in a deepening floral abyss. Natural and airy, lyrical and expressive, stylised like crystal or flattened into a rhythmic, patterned form, flowers or ornamental references to them are present in the majority of Vrubel’s work, appearing either as the heroes of the piece or as accompaniments to the main narrative composition. In the context of Vrubel’s overall visual poetics, it is entirely appropriate to speak of them as a principally important element that create a figurative reality and, in the artist’s own words, reflect “the formula of my vital relationship with nature, which lives deep within me.”[3]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904.
Watercolour, lead pencil, whitewash on paper. 43 × 35.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Vrubel certainly did have a deep individual relationship with nature, a relationship founded on mutual harmony. We can see this not only in the poetic wholeness of his actual artworks, but also in the unexpected echoes of this very real dialogue that we can find in modern life. Such an echo, for example, was discovered by the author in the course of research into archive material related to the artist’s work carried out during the winter of 2021: the herbarium entitled, as it would appear from the envelope, “From the Grave of M.A. Vrubel”, and which lay forgotten for nearly a century[4]. The laurel leaf and iris petal, retrieved on 3 April (16)[5], 1910 from Vrubel’s funeral wreath (on the day of the artist’s burial) by Eduard Spandikov, an “exquisitely ‘decadent’”[6] artist of the “Union of Youth” group, unwillingly draw a philosophical and emotional link to the flowers of Vrubel’s own paintings and drawings. The way in which they resonate with the crimson-blue blooms of some of the painter’s decorative miniatures is full of meaning (see, for example, “Sketches of Tiles with Cornflowers”, early 1890s, Museum of Applied Art of the Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts, KP-2923/23 [sheet] and KP-2923/30 [sheet]), while these dried-out petals that have long outlived the era of Art Nouveau give us a glimpse of the link between the pulse of artistic rhythm and the elements of real life reflected metaphorically within it.

A photograph from the newspaper “Nashe Vremya”, No. 15, April 8, 1910
A photograph from the newspaper “Nashe Vremya”,
No. 15, April 8, 1910. Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 34.
Inventory 1. Item 67. Sheet 11

An ornamental wreath of newspaper columns almost instantly engulfed the entire Russian world, all recounting the tormented demise and tragic end of Vrubel, all splattered with a mixture of fact and fiction, all filled with sympathetic, understanding or malevolent interpretations of his work. In the week after his death, many St. Petersburg and Moscow papers published articles in his memory (“Birzheviye Vedomosti”, “Vedomosti Sankt-Pe- terburga”, “Peterburgskaya Gazeta”, “Petersburgsky Listok”, “Utro Rossii”, “Ranneye Utro”, “Ves Mir”, “Russkoye Slovo”, “Russkaya Zemlya”, “Rech”, “Novoe Vremya”, “Teatr i Iskusstvo”, “Vecherny Kurier”, “Golos Moskvy”), as did gazettes all across the Russian Empire, including “Kievskiye Novosti”, “Odessky Listok”, “Odesskiye Novosti”, “Omsky Telegraf”, “Kurskaya Byl”, “Stary Vladimirets”, “Volyn”, “Kamsko-Volzhkaya Rech”, “Bessarabskaya Zhizn”, “Kazanskaya Vechernaya Pochta”, “Severokavkazskaya Gazeta”, “Golos Yuga”, and “Yaltinsky Vestnik”. After the two requiems sung on April 2 at the church of the Academy of Arts[7], where Vrubel was taken on the day of his death (April 1) by Valentin Serov and other artists[8], other requiems were sung on April 3 at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, on April 4 at Moscow’s Strastnoy Convent (on the initiative of the Union of Russian Artists[9], and on April 5 at St. Cyrill’s Church in Kyiv[10], the walls and iconostasis of which were decorated with images painted by the artist in his youth. On April 8, the prayer “Memory Eternal” was said at Ss. Peter and Paul Church in Kazan[11]. The editor of the “Na Rassvete” Digest of Arts, Aleksander Mantel, who organised the latter ceremony, commented, “that cry belongs to the departed artist more than to any one of us. / That is all we can console ourselves with, for the reality is a timeless tombstone in a graveyard of a northern city, adorned with already withering flowers, just as the dreams of Vrubel have already withered.”[12] It was an understandable grief in the face of a tragic experience that led Mantel to overlook a different reality, the reality of art, along the frontiers of which Vrubel spent his whole life walking, despite the hardships he endured. Indeed, he walks them still, thanks to the unfading power of his works, which persuade us that flowers are capable not only of recording a single moment of departure, but also of swallowing time, of recasting it on a different scale.

Mikhail Vrubel (left), Vladimir von Derviz and Valentin Serov in their youth. St. Petersburg. 1883
Mikhail Vrubel (left), Vladimir von Derviz and Valentin Serov in their youth. St. Petersburg. 1883
Photograph. © Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 160. Inventory 1. Item 363. Sheet 6

A metaphorical comparison of Vrubel’s art with some rare flower could be seen in much of what was written around the time of his death, as well as in earlier criticism. Where Nicholas Roerich’s comparison of Vrubel’s work to a “mysterious blue flower”[13] was laconic and full of Symbolistic meaning, a reviewer of the “Mir Iskusstva” [World of Art] exhibitions was more expansive: “Vrubel [...] has blossomed entirely from within himself. This is no rose, no lily-of-the-valley, no chrysanthemum, nor any new variant of them, but some entirely new flower, as yet unnamed and uncategorised in academic herbariums, the very aspect, the very unusualness of which will long yet produce on the public the unnerving impression of a ghost or vision.”[14]

Of course, neither Vrubel himself, nor the dynamic fantasy of his flowers and ornamentation were ghostly, just as the flowers of the funeral wreath failed to disappear without a trace. Every other newspaper obituary noted that “the deceased’s coffin was surrounded by a mass of fresh flowers and wreaths from various artistic organisations, admirers, and relations. Among the wreaths, those that especially stood out were ones from the Imperial Academy of Arts, the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, students of the Academy of Arts, the spring exhibition, the Kuindzhi Society, the Union of Russian Artists, various groups of students from the Academy of Arts, relatives, friends and many others.”15 Other more informal statements regarding how Vrubel’s funeral flowers decorated his last day on Earth have also survived. On April 6, Aleksandra Botkina (the daughter of Pavel Tretyakov) wrote to Ilya Ostroukhov, likely in relation to the much praised wreath from the Tretyakov Gallery: “And you know, it did look very beautiful and appropriate. Serov had breakfast here that day and was also very cheered by my idea about the wreath. They say that it was one of the most beautiful. Let’s suppose so, for I can do no wrong!!! [...] Students predominated, from the Academy of Arts, from the Zvantseva School (Baksta), as well as members of the Union of R[ussian] A[rtists]. There were multitudes of them and they took it in turns to act as pallbearers. Benois, the Lanceray brothers, and Dobuzhinsky carried the coffin along Voznesensky Prospekt. It was very well done. At the graveyard, at the edge, there was a mountain of wreaths, next to which Blok gave the address, skylarks pouring out their hearts overhead. Vrubel himself was so slight, dried out and, no doubt, light that they carried the coffin as though it were that of a young girl.”[16] Serov laconically expressed a very similar impression in a letter to his wife, saying that the artist’s face in the coffin, “now resembles very much that of the former, young Vrubel”17: “We buried Vrubel yesterday. The funeral went well - not luxurious, but imbued with a good, warm emotion.

A fair amount of people came, and those who came, came sincerely.”[18] Many of Vrubel’s contemporaries in the Silver Age who attended the artist’s funeral without having known him personally were brought there by an overwhelming sense of inner interconnection with the creative personality of the artist. Vrubel had overcome the constraints of man’s earthly preserve in his art and these mourners were keenly aware of the way in which the spiritual vibrations of the era pulsed in the patterns of his visual-poetic reality. Alexander Blok gave a subjectively profound and tragically significant speech on the “navy-lilac” worlds created by Vrubel[19], despite not being personally acquainted with the artist. Another poet of the Art Nouveau period, Sergei Gorodetsky, published a short but psychologically encompassing article in “Zolotoye Runo” (“The Golden Fleece”), a Symbolist journal that had recognised Vrubel as leader of the new art for the entire span of its existence. Gorodetsky wrote: “I heard that Vrubel had died at the close of the day, as the sun sank towards the horizon, and I went to visit him, although I had never seen him in life and had never been personally acquainted with him. It was the final requiem before the funeral cortege. People were already milling around the steps and making small talk. The church was empty and he lay in the small coffin, surrounded by a handful of close relatives. The first thing that struck one was that it was a child lying there. The second was that the child-like figure of Vrubel had been tormented, in the way that beatific humility was tormented in the Middle Ages and earlier, both stupidly and cruelly. The third was the shining face of a genius, an eternal joy [...] I placed a lily, proud and pure like those held by the angels at the Annunciation in the sacred coffin and gratefully kissed the small, marble hands, bereft of warmth and clasped eternally together, for myself and for all those who had mocked him.”[20]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Graveside Lamentation. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Graveside Lamentation. 1885
Oil on canvas. 218 × 152 cm. Arcosolium niche. Narthex. St. Cyrill’s Church, Kyiv, Ukraine

Why have we begun a discussion of flowers and ornamentation in Vrubel’s art with the academic experience (metaphysical in nature) of the clash of contemporaneity with echoes of the past in the form of petals taken from graveside wreaths? Why have we gone from summing up the eternal artistic works of the master to trying to fit them into the ornamental line of funereal column inches and final reminiscences that surrounded Vrubel in the first days of April 1910?

The envelope with its delicate herbarium, which was discovered in the Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum is a sort of harbinger of time, a visual-poetic reflection of emotions which, one way or another, were always present in the patterned spaces of Vrubel’s works. For all the diversity of composition, researchers and viewers alike have noted more than once that Vrubel’s flowers possess some sort of timeless vital energy that bewitches with its artistic content.[21] The lyrical concentration of meanings present in his roses, lilacs, azaleas, bell flowers, dog roses, cornflowers, and other representatives of the plant kingdom exerts its effect via their figurative forms to send those who look upon them to a space of meditative metaphors. It is exactly as a sort of visual metaphor that we may look upon the idea of a “flower”, symbolising in the graphic beauty of its form the flow of time between the beginning and the end.

In the context of Vrubel’s poetics, beauty is spiritually saturated even in its most usual and, it would seem, familiar incarnations. Words like fantasy, fairy-tale or cosmogony in relation to the decorative and ornamental characteristics of the artist’s works are far from random, run-of-the-mill “epithets”, but rather verbal orientation markers of the utmost importance. On the semantic level, they permit us to penetrate the artist’s world of visual-poetic transformations: the metamorphosis to which Vrubel was inspired by contemplation of a real flower[22] or leaves[23], the flaming drops of sunset[24], pouring flaming wax upon pond lilies[25] or the crystal flowering of mountain ridges, by the radiant, pearly inner valves of a shell26, hidden in the sorrel, mother-of-peal waves of the outer “bark”, all of which inspired Vrubel to a contemplation of the eternal laws of nature, to a reflection of the spiritual gauging of life via the language given to him by art.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Red Azalea. Azalea Flower. Sketch. 1886-1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. Red Azalea. Azalea Flower. Sketch. 1886-1888
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 24 × 15.8 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Red Azalea. Two Flowers. 1886–1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. Red Azalea. Two Flowers. 1886-1888
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 24 × 15.9 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv

The decorative compositional elements in Vrubel’s art were originally given an aesthetically multi-dimensional scale, which the artist saw as being comparable with the same understanding of beauty, idealistic in spirit, with which the art of Byzantium and the Renaissance is imbued. The fact that Vrubel understood and transformed, in his own stylistic context, the expressive techniques of the mosaics, frescoes and icons of Kyiv, Venice and Ravenna in synthesis with the artistic inheritance of the Italian Renaissance masters (Giovanni Bellini, Raphael, Tintoretto, Titian, Paolo Veronese) is clearest of all in the works of his Kyiv period (April surrounding Christ Pantocrator (the central cupola of Kyiv’s 10th-century St. Sophia Cathedral; 1884); in the ornaments (1888-1889) and sketches for an unrealised composition that was to have adorned St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (1887, Kyiv Art Gallery).

Christ Pantocrator (Christ Almighty) surrounded by angels
Christ Pantocrator (Christ Almighty) surrounded by angels.
The central dome of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv Mosaics. 11th century. Of the four Archangels, only one is mosaic (the figure in a blue chiton). The others were finished by Mikhail Vrubel in the course of restoration using oil paints (1884)..

Mikhail VRUBEL. Archangel in a Green Chiton. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Archangel in a Green Chiton. 1884
Oil on plaster. The vault of the central dome. St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Archangel in a Red Chiton. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Archangel in a Red Chiton. 1884
Oil on plaster. The vault of the central dome. St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Archangel in a Yellow Chiton. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Archangel in a Yellow Chiton. 1884
Oil on plaster. The vault of the central dome. St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, Ukraine

There are nearly no creations of Christian art from which flowers and ornaments are absent and, in spite of their tremulously brittle existence (“As for man, his days are as grass: as a flower of the field, so he flour- isheth”)[27], it is precisely in the liturgically lit space that every blade of grass and every pattern is invested with memory of the Godhead. In turn, it was precisely that dimension of beauty, which is a reflection of the reality of God, that was absorbed by Vrubel at the very beginning of the process in which his creative language was formed. Although history does not love conjecture, we do wonder all the same whether Vrubel would have become the artist he did were it not for the transformative experience of the spiritual awakening that took him by storm via Byzantine and Old Russian art and filled his intuitive expectation of the illusional and “of the pure and stylistic beauty in art”[28] with an understanding of the spiritual scale of the metaphor present in any allegory, including that of a flower imbued with life.

Vrubel’s “strangely brave flowers”[29], varying in the degree of their stylisation and their genre - still-life, decorative panel, ornaments, sketches for compositions on majolicaware, background motifs for complex compositions - are united by one common characteristic: they are potentially “substantive”, capable of weaving their own psychological links with the external world by constructing around themselves (on page or on canvas) an original idealistic space. The metamorphosis of Vrubel’s ontological insights, their translation into a visual language, takes place in no more and no less than a “Byzantine” range, as is evident in the equivalence of metaphors based on a flower, a landscape or the contours of a face when the subject is the mystery of how spiritual life is expressed externally - intermittent, as it is earthly, but, at the same time, eternal. It is precisely the shining infinity of eternal life that “resurrects” the airy mass of roses, lit as if from within, in one of Vrubel’s sketches for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (“Resurrection: Triptych with Two Angelic Figures Above Sleeping Warriors”, 1887, Kyiv Art Gallery). The artist achieves a symphonic effect with the composition’s elements via the absolute coherence of every inner motif in their striving to express the image’s spiritual keynote: resurrection from the dead. Every twist of the floral pattern, every spatial geometry transfixed by the Holy Spirit, the very colouristic vibrations of the watercolour’s texture, are all constructed in unison with the pathetic dynamic of spiritual reality. It is exactly for this reason that Vrubel’s flowers are, for all their abstract basis, lacking in any merely speculative conventionality: the rays and waves of the energy in his artistic thought always had a semantic centre.

Mikhail VRUBEL. The composition “Pentecost”, crowning the image of “Emperor Cosmos.” 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. The composition “Pentecost”, crowning the image of “Emperor Cosmos.” 1885.
Oil on plaster. The vaults of the choirs of St. Cyrill’s Church, Kyiv, Ukraine. Vrubel strives to produce a mosaic effect using oils, as he did at St. Sophia Cathedral.

Of course, “colouristic” detail never dominated over the semantic wholeness of the artist’s figurative compositions, the synthesis of which expressed the ultimate symbolic points and main narrative lines. However, even the powerful emotional fervour of religious scenes is depicted by Vrubel with a decorative allegoricality. Such, for example, is the case with the movement within the composition “Pentecost” (1885) on the basket-handle arch of St. Cyrill’s Church, from the figures making up the main scene to the culminatory image of the “Emperor Cosmos” (a symbol in Byzantine iconography for the part of humanity that will receive the light of Christ’s teaching from the enlightened Apostles). The basis of this movement is an ornamental pattern30 comprised of blue, gold, pink, emerald and white geometric planes: patterned carpets beneath the Apostles’ feet, the energy-charged arcs of descending divine grace, “zig-zag” decorative ribbons, the rhythms of which echo with those of the drawings of waves stylised as triangles, the latter being one of the abstract motifs we can find in the ancient mosaics of St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv or the Basilica di Saint’ Apollinare in Classe (second quarter of the 6th century, Ravenna). Vrubel not only thoroughly studied Byzantine art, embarking on a trip to Venice to that end (November 1884-April 1885)31, but also understood it in a professional sense: “The main defect in the work of modern artists who attempt to resurrect the Byzantine style is that the folds of clothing, to which the Byzantines dedicated such ingenuity, are replaced by mere sheets. The concept of relief is an alien one to Byzantine art - the whole aim is, in fact, to emphasise the flatness of a wall with the help of ornamental forms.”[32] In his art, Vrubel also surmounted the need for material relief, transforming it into an ideal artistic image of monumental resonance. He mastered the synthesis of the individual and the universal that lay at the basis of Byzantine art and that, in turn, allowed him to remain focused on the central aim of expressing the life of the Spirit, even as he wove his decorative patterns. At the same time, the aesthetics of the outer world were not rejected, but rather used to enrich this stylistic endeavour with real-life observations. It is no coincidence that Vrubel introduces into his religious images certain motifs that preoccupied his own soul and “eye”, motifs such as the roses that twine around the throne of the Mother of God in the altar icon of St. Cyrill’s Church.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring ears of wheat and blue bell-flowers on the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv. First half of 1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring ears of wheat and blue bell-flowers on the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv. First half of 1889.
Work on the sketches carried out 1888-1889. Stepan Yaremich and Leon Kowalski both helped the artist in the practical realisation of his concept.
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring peacocks and sheared water-lily flowers in the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv). First half of 1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring ears of wheat and pink poppies on the northern nave of St Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv). First half of 1889.
Work on the sketches carried out 1888-1889. Stepan Yaremich and Leon Kowalski both helped the artist in the practical realisation of his concept.

This original discovery of the “Byzantine” laws of decorative monumentalism (that is, the universal bases for the organisation of the life rhythms of even small forms) also found a concrete embodiment in the artist’s ornamental developments. The organic plasticity of the decorative motifs Vrubel developed for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral - the thick golden waves of wheat, the tresses of which are framed now by blue bell-flowers, now by the dangling “wings” of pink poppy petals, the inner blue eyes of which harmonise with the spotted azure of peacock tails and with the faces of angels, alternating with round patterns, together forming an ornamental ribbon leading upwards - all this, on an individual level, is a continuation of the exultant visual chants of Byzantium. As Nikolai Prakhov bears witness, one of the impulses acting on Vrubel’s fantasy as he worked on these compositions was that of the mosaics of Ravenna33, the spiritual content of which Vrubel was able to enter into so deeply that even that arch-critic of the artist’s decadent style Vladimir Stasov, who had devoted many years to the study of ancient ornaments, noted the penetrating historical intuition of the artists and, on that basis, mistakenly attributed them to Viktor Vasnetsov. We will not dwell here on these “art-criticism” red herrings that Stasov’s views sometimes lead him to, especially given that we have just had a chance34 to examine a similar misapprehension and Vrubel’s protest against it.35 In this instance, what is of most interest for us is the demonstration of the natural balance between Vrubel’s personal fantasy and his artistic and historical intuition: Vrubel derived new artistic harmonies from real-life impressions of life and nature. It is worth noting that Vrubel himself, notwithstanding the spiritual expressiveness of his decorative ornaments for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral, the perfection of which was noted by many contemporaries (among them Alexandre Benois and Vasily Polenov), remained unhappy with his work. “I cannot recall without disappointment my decorative exertions”36, he wrote. For Vrubel, who was in constant “search of the ideal”37 in art, apprehensions such as these characterise the values of the artist, who had “become inebriated to the point of self-torment”38 (as he wrote to his sister).

Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring peacocks on the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv). First half of 1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring peacocks on the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv). First half of 1889
Work on the sketches carried out 1888-1889. Stepan Yaremich and Leon Kowalski both helped the artist in the practical realisation of his concept.
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring peacocks and sheared water-lily flowers in the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv). First half of 1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornamental design featuring peacocks and sheared water-lily flowers in the northern nave of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv). First half of 1889
Work on the sketches carried out 1888-1889. Stepan Yaremich and Leon Kowalski both helped the artist in the practical realisation of his concept.

It is also worth noting that, in the Kyiv period, Vrubel’s decorative-monumental fantasy found expression not only in religious art, but also in secular art. Fragments of murals by Vrubel were discovered and restored in the “Dutch Kitchen” during renovations at the house of the Kyiv collector Bogdan Khanenko[39] in the 1990s. The interiors of Khanenko’s house, which took shape in 1889-1890, reflect the popular contemporary fascination with a range of historical periods, which explains the inclusion in the overall design of elements stylised in the spirit of an Italian palazzo on the one hand, and of Gothic features on the other. Vrubel’s spiritually expressive flowers initially covered the whole space of the dining-room ceiling in their energetic whirlwind. However, the contrast with the more conventional decorations of other rooms was not to the taste of the client and they were largely painted over with golden lions and griffons, leaving only the central part of the pattern unobscured, along with the Khanenko family crest (three towers with a star above them and a crowned knight’s helmet, beneath a star and ostrich feather). At the time of writing, another small fragment of the floral pattern has been cleaned by restorers (likely depicting the downy head of a pink tulip), which had previously been obscured by the ancient power symbol. Furthermore, according to the latest research by academics in Kyiv[40], Vrubel carried out a sketch for another ornamental frieze in Kyiv in the spring of 1889, this time for the space above the main stairway, which was carried out by a group of young artists under his direction (it is reliably known that among them was Stepan Yaremich). The ornamental frieze consisted of stylised lake-side flowers (there is something “reed-like” in the mood of the stretched-out, sheared leaves, bringing to mind transformed leaves of water lilies) and was adorned with a not-entirely-faithful quote from the third part of Dante’s “Divine Comedy” (“La divina commedia”) entitled Paradise (Canto IV, 1-3): INTRO DUO CIBI DISTANTI E MOVENTI DUMMODO PRIMA S MORRIA DI FAME CHE LIBERUOM L’UN RECA- TO AI DENTI. CD.[41]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Composition with elements of the Khanenko family crest. The rhombic central part of the plafond in the “Dutch Kitchen” of Khanenko’s house. 1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Composition with elements of the Khanenko family crest. The rhombic central part of the plafond in the “Dutch Kitchen” of Khanenko’s house. 1889
Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko
© National Museum of Arts in Kyiv, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Detail of the plafond murals in the “Dutch Kitchen” of Khanenko’s House. 1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Detail of the plafond murals in the “Dutch Kitchen” of Khanenko’s House. 1889.
Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko. © National Museum of Arts in Kyiv, Ukraine

Vrubel’s capacity for monologues of genius was possibly the reason for the twists of fate suffered by many of his works, which were criticised at the time for an eccentric, decadent distortion of nature. However, the artist had no quarrel with nature, nor did he ever seek to remake it, as even contemporaries who knew the artist well sometimes claimed (admittedly, in approving tones)[42]. Vrubel knew how to perceive physical forms via his own inner world - via a “spiritual prism”[43], as the artist himself put it - thus discovering the hidden, irrational potential of materials. One objective piece of evidence showing that the natural impulse was an important source of Vrubel’s iconographic poetics are the albums, whole or scattered, in which he made life sketches of faces, figures, flowers and architectural motifs (for example, of Byzantine columns), as well as chamber pieces depicting his “inner” world, the tonal ornaments of which demonstrate a link with the artist’s late graphic work (see “Album 1884-1885”[44] and “Venice Album”, late 1884-188545, both in the Kyiv Art Gallery).

Mikhail VRUBEL. Two Gondolas at a Berth. View from Vrubel’s Studio in Venice. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Two Gondolas at a Berth. View from Vrubel’s Studio in Venice. 1885
Lead pencil on paper mounted on paper. Image: 14 × 8.3 cm; sheet: 17 × 11.8 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Architectural motif (Byzantine columns). 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Architectural motif (Byzantine columns). 1885
Lead pencil on paper. 18.7 × 11.7 cm. Filigree paper. A page from the “Venice Album”
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine

Vrubel’s creative fantasy rested on genuine couplings of spiritual insights with concretely biographical elements. These latter include not only events from his own personal life but also the literature he read, the landscapes that surrounded him and the photographs he used when creating his artworks: “no hand, no eye, no patience could ever objectify a scene like a camera does - investigate all this lively and truthful material with your spiritual prism: the camera will only fray itself out on the subject’s opaque reliefs, it has dimmed, too jealously guarded.”[46]

Even judging by the evidence that has survived for academic analysis, it is clear that Vrubel had a large collection of photographs that served as a real support to his imagination as it broke through into the transcendental field of ornamental allegory. Vrubel’s collection included landscapes and shots of various works of art, the most significant part of which were sheets from Ivan Barshchevsky’s album of “Old Russian Architecture and Applied Art,” which was published over the course of 15 years (1881-1896). A comparative analysis of a number of Vrubel’s works and some of Barshchevsky’s photographs belonging to him, such as the kokoshnik headdress “The Swan Princess” (1900, Tretyakov Gallery) or Sheet No. 515 featuring illustrations of ancient pectoral icons and necklaces (Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 85, sheet 6[47]), permits us to conclude that the artist’s interest in Russian fairy-tale themes found serious support of its iconographic basis in photographs which objectively showed the architectural and applied-art patterns of the past. Vrubel’s collection included, for example, shots of the interiors of the Kremlin’s Terem Palace, Palace of Facets and Patriarch’s Palace; the western door of the Candlemas Church of the Borisoglebsky Monastery near Rostov; the entrance to the Trinity Cathedral of the Ipatievsky Monastery in Kostroma; Vologda woven lacework, ancient church ornaments, helmets and other items.[48] It is more likely than not that Vrubel knew Barshchevsky personally - they could have met during Vrubel’s summer visit to the Talashkino estate belonging to Princess Maria Tenisheva in 1899, where Barshchevksy had been contributing to the foundation of artistic workshops and a museum since 1897.

Venetian façade. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Venetian façade. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 86. Sheet 13

Of course, this instance of the special attention that Vrubel paid to the poetics of patterns in old Russian art is just one of many possible examples that demonstrate the peculiarities of his work on the plastic language of images, in which the verisimilitude of his fantastical instrumentation was enhanced by the introduction of real-life details into its patterns. A special place in this context is occupied by Vrubel’s study of the decorative and ornamental essence of Venice, the monumental
and architectural structure of which so resembles a stone lacework of fagades (Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 86, sheet 13). Vrubel’s irrealistic improvisations were also given an authentic graphic impulse by pieces of art photographed from unusual angles, as if casting metaphysical shadows (Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 88, sheet 3), as well as fabrics decorated in original patterns (Chinese and Indian), shawls, Persian carpets, antique objects and everyday objects encircled in silence (a faceted drinking glass, an empty bed, a cloistered plaid) and, finally, creatures of the natural world. Among the latter, we cannot fail to mention the mother-of-pearl shell (a Haliotis, or ear shell) in Vrubel’s collection, which served as the iconographic source of his “Pearls”. We can see the justification, therefore, of the repeated relaying in contemporary memoirs of the artist’s conception of real life as a tuning fork within illusory images: “When you are planning on painting something fantastical - a painting, or a portrait, for portraits can also be painted on the fantastical rather than the realistic plane - always begin with a little piece that you paint entirely realistically. [...] This plays a role akin to that of a tuning fork in choral singing - without it, your fantasia will be bland and stilted, and most certainly not fantastical.”[49]

Elbrus and the ridge between Azau and Donguzorun from a height of 7,500 ft (2,286 m)
Elbrus and the ridge between Azau and Donguzorun from a height of 7,500 ft (2,286 m). Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 18

Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon’s Head. 1890–1891
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon’s Head. 1890-1891
Illustration for Mikhail Lermontov’s poem “Demon”. Black watercolour, whitewash on cardboard. 23 × 36 cm (delineated image)
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine

Among the sources in which Vrubel found stable touchstones upon which to base his formal metamorphoses were “pieces” of real landscape, places he himself had visited in person or appreciated via photographs. In this context, a series of photographs with mountain views of the Caucuses and Crimea that were used by the artist while searching for a spatial pattern for his Demons are of special interest. Furthermore, he had recourse to these images in both his early (as we know from the reminiscences of Valentin Serov, recorded by Stepan Yaremich, from 1885[50]) and late[51] periods (paint stains can still be seen on certain photographs with views of Kazbek and Elbrus seen from the ridge between Azau and Donguzorun (Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 84, sheet 19 and sheet 18 obverse). More unexpected clues to an understanding of even the boldest of Vrubel’s transformations of reality into a quickening, mythopoeic actuality can be garnered from certain photographs of birch groves that belonged to the artist (Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 86, sheets 2 and 4; by way of comparison, we can think of “Pan”, 1899, Tretyakov Gallery). The photographic landscapes that make up Vrubel’s collection include both amateur and professional shots. For example, elegiac photographs of snowy birch alleys and ‘staged’ shots of village workdays include the works of Aleksei Mazurin. The path by which a real natural motif that had managed to touch the artist was transformed into a multidimensional pattern of image and metaphor is further revealed by a series of photographs of the garden of a cottage owned by the Ge family (Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 84, sheets 1, 13, 15) that were taken for Vrubel (who had bought a camera specially for the purpose) by the artist Viktor Zamerailo in May 1901 while the artist himself was working on the second version of “Lilac” (unfinished, 1901, Tretyakov Gallery).

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel “imbibing” lilac. 1900
Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel “imbibing” lilac. 1900
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Photograph by Viktor Zamerailo. © Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 15

In the context of these rather cerebral patterns, it is worth noting that, on a metaphorical level, the lilacs in Vrubel’s art are related most of all with lyricism (it is entirely understandable why the female figure in the paintings may have been identified in the artist’s imagination with Pushkin’s Tatiana[52]). As a hidden source of lyrical harmony, the lilac is always there in Vrubel’s works, even as a formally implicit or transparent presence. Many of the emotional and notional connotations of this unseen motif are woven together in the semantic totality of the unfinished painting “After the Concert. Fireside Portrait of Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel” (1905, Tretyakov Gallery), if one knows the intentions of the artist. “My husband is working very hard and very fruitfully, and has begun a new shell... [...] Furthermore, he is painting my portrait on a very large canvas. In it, I am wearing an elegant concert dress, there is a basket of flowers behind me and on the floor in front of me are scattered various scores, including that of Rachmaninov’s ‘Lilac,’ with which I am enchanting St. Petersburg,”[53] as Zabela-Vrubel wrote (she was the first performer of this, one of Rachmaninov’s “quietest”[54] romances). It is precisely the barely perceptible harmony between the “fragrant shadow” of lilac, the flames dancing like lilies in the fireplace and the smoky-floral flower of Zabela’s concert dress, which was based on Vrubel’s sketches, that creates the original, secretive pattern in whose polyphony begins to pulse the psychologically accurate life of the artistic image.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Lilac. Sketch for eponymous painting (1900, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Lilac. Sketch for eponymous painting (1900, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).
Oil on board. 18.7 × 23 cm. © Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Vrubel’s interest in photography as the basis of further visual-decorative explorations aimed at the stylisation of multidimensional reality into textured ornamental patterns can be seen even before his work on the “Lilacs” and “Demon”. Vrubel’s ability to uncover original links - leading associatively to the reality of different images - between certain shots of particular themes is, in fact, apparent from the mid 1880s on. While he was considering the composition of “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane” (1887, Tretyakov Gallery), the lower part of which is smothered in a primaeval mist of lilies whose slow movement resembles the waves of the sea, Vrubel wrote to his sister: “I have definitely decided to paint Christ: fate has presented me with wonderful material in the shape of three photographs of a wonderfully lit hillock with a bunch of aloe growing among blindingly white stones and near-black clumps of burnt grass... [...] You should also know that, in the photograph, the bright sun gives the remarkable illusion of being a midnight moon.”[55] The transformation of funeral greenery into flowers that sparkle with a quiet liveliness, along with the moon-like halo around the head of Christ in the context of the surviving lines of Vrubel’s letter, permit us to discover factually as well as certainly the traces of the poetic metaphoricity that lay at the heart of his artistic method and combined in a single whole both feeling and thought, along with its visual (illusory-physical) embodiment.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. 1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane. 1887
Charcoal on paper mounted on cardboard. 140.5 × 52.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The synthetic poetic-metaphoric approach that lay behind the unpredictable logic of the artist’s thinking and was responsible for the organically developed Symbolist approach to an understanding of the role of the image in art, was also largely the source of the perturbation which agitated contemporaries and accompanied Vrubel’s art in nearly every period. “Is he not a decadent?”[56] was the thought of the composer Yanovsky after his first meeting with the artist whose art he soon became a great fan of. In his memoirs, Yanovsky also left a detailed description of the garden of the Ge family farm, the mysterious pond, lilacs, roses[57], and other flowers of which kept Vrubel inspired over the course of more than one artwork, in particular the cycle of decorative panels for Savva Morozov’s mansion “Times of the Day” (1897-1898) and “Morning” (1897, Russian Museum), which originally formed a part of the series), “Lilacs” (1900 and 1901, both Tretyakov Gallery), and “At Nightfall” (1900, Tretyakov Gallery). In 1897, Yanovsky compared his impressions of the estate at two different times: “I walked around the garden and visited the tomb of Nikolai Ge. [...] The pond was, as ever, full of croaking frogs and whispering reeds. [...] The hot sun painted the alley and paths in a pink colour as it penetrated the greenery. By the open verandah, thick masses of flox were scattered around, red hollyhocks blazed like fiery disks against dark foliage and, a little further on, one could catch the fine scent of innumerable roses. Directly opposite the verandah and on the very edge of the pond stood a giant old lime tree and, under it, a bench”[58]. It was on exactly that bench that Vrubel most often chose to sit[59] or lie, gazing at the sky[60] and thinking about his next paintings, wrote Yaremich, who was, at that time, also living at the farm.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Lilac. 1900
Mikhail VRUBEL. Lilac. 1900
Oil on canvas. 160 × 177 cm. © Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

In the period covered by Yanovsky’s memoirs (July- August 1897), Vrubel was pondering the figurative rhythm of the relationship between times of the day and working on the cycle of decorative panels “Times of the Day” for Savva Morozov’s mansion (the architect of which was Fyodor Schechtel). In the symphonically overgrown patterns of his composition, Vrubel was seeking to unite in a natural way a mesh of the life- imbued organic world with the movement of time as it aesthetically transforms images of nature and discovers in the world of physically real objects something irreal, half-fantastical and talking in the language of illusions. This visual metaphoricity of the panels, built on the basis of musical principles and expressed in a synthesis of decorative and ornamental methods and landscape impressions, was not immediately understood, even by musicians, due to its emotional and semantic multidimensionality. Thus, for example, Yanovsky wrote: “gazing at ‘Evening,’ at first, I understood nothing. I had been raised on the Old Masters and was still under the influence of the works of Ge, which had once so enchanted me, so I was lost at the sight of such an unusual - for me - manner of painting. The trees struck me as being strange, depicted somehow superficially, without details, and strange too was the way they lay on the background of the sky somehow ornamentally, and strange also the rays of light, the very colouring, and the female figure with her finger to her lips and enormous eyes. The flowers too, with their wide petals, the grass, and the inexplicable creature lurking in the corner. I was at a loss and turned to Vrubel. With regard to the female figure, he explained that it was a fairy, saying to the flowers ‘quiet down, go to sleep,’ and of the inexplicable creature he said, ‘that is a fairy tale.’ It was only afterwards that I entered into the full delight of Vrubel’s art, his wonderful fairy tale of Russian nature, learnt to see all the incomprehensible charm of his unique and astonishing mastery, and felt, if I may so express myself, the tender music of his creations. [...] ‘What composer does this piece remind you of?’ asked Vrubel. I could think of nothing better to say than Rebikov (who was also then considered a ‘decadent’). ‘Well, now, that’s a fine comparison to make,’ countered Vrubel. Then I thought of Schumann’s ‘Traumerei’ [‘Dreaming’ - O.D.]. ‘Now that’s more like it’[61].”[62]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Princess of Dreams. 1896
Mikhail VRUBEL. Princess of Dreams. 1896
Oil on canvas. 750 × 1400 cm. © Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The music of Vrubel’s painterly language was difficult to place in the usual norms of visual harmony: it was a genuine lack of understanding on the one hand and, on the other, intentional (collective) malignity largely (one suspects) born of an apprehension of the dangerous unpredictability with which the artist’s poetics developed, and of the artist’s gift for metaphor. See, for example, the words of Sergei Vinogradov written to Yegor Khruslov on Vrubel’s patterned monumental panels “Princess of Dreams” (1896, Tretyakov Gallery) and “Mikula Selyaninovich” (1896, location unknown; sketch in the Tretyakov Gallery) not being permitted entry to the official exhibition of the Arts Section of the All Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod (1896): “Is it true that Vrubel’s panel has been refused entry? I am glad to hear it, and to tell the truth, I think the dethronement of the ‘genius’ entirely justified. I cannot tear myself away from ‘News of the Day’.”[63]

Yet all the same, Vrubel’s ornamental poetry, which reached a sometimes chaotic expressiveness in, for example, “Demon Downcast” (1902, Tretyakov Gallery), in which the lacework of mountain landscape, wings and broken body give rise to a new visual accord of spiritual suffering, was accepted by society (or at least tolerated) earlier than, for example, Baudelaire’s “Les Fleurs du Mal” (1857), which was officially rehabilitated by France’s Court of Cassation only in May 1949, after its Symbolist literary depth had been neglected for 92 years.

When considering Vrubel’s interrelation with nature one cannot, of course, fail to touch upon the following question of principal importance in that context: the nature-philosophy of Symbolism, the associative poetic logic of which was expressed in the uniqueness of the artist’s figurative thinking. By synthesising the real and the spiritual, Vrubel managed to insert an inner premonition of unexpressed meanings into the structure of his canvases and graphic works, which, via Symbolism, influenced the modification of forms into abstraction. “As ‘technique’ is but the ability to see, so ‘creativity’ is but the ability to feel deeply,”[64] to quote Vrubel’s own thoughts. This intuitive perception of material reality as a motif pregnant with the potential for artistic development, the creative metamorphosis of which creates the illusion of new life, was what lay at the foundations of Vrubel’s decorative “sprawling imagination”[65], about which Vasily Milioti, a member the “Blue Rose” group of Moscow Symbolists, wrote as of “a revolution in the methods of addressing decorative planes. It is enough to say that it already contained the seeds of Cubism, but without reaching the absurd, thanks to the effective influence of his overwhelming sense of beauty.”[66]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Page with demonstrative stylisations. Late 19th - early 20th century
Mikhail VRUBEL. Page with demonstrative stylisations. Late 19th - early 20th century
Pencil on paper. 56.3 × 45.1 cm. © Ivanovo Regional Art Museum

Milioti’s opinion can also be applied to Vrubel’s flowers. Gazing at the elaboration of ornamental textures in the artist’s painting and graphic works, one comes to understand that his flowers are at once flower structures and flower poems, multi-dimensional in their graphic content. This can be confirmed with a rare level of academic certainty with reference to the small-format drawings that once formed part of Savva Mamontov’s collection and are currently stored in the Museum of Applied Art of the Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts (KP-2923). There is a symbolism here that is hard not to notice, for it was in precisely the Stroganov Academy that Vrubel spent three years (1898-1901) teaching a special course, The Stylisation of Flowers, which was introduced in autumn 1898 on the initiative of the academy’s director Nikolai Globa (with whom Vrubel became acquainted in Kyiv in the 1880s while they were contributing to the restoration works being carried out there). This pedagogical experience reveals in a most unexpected manner the conceptual (theoretical) aspect of Vrubel’s relation to flowers and ornaments, which, in turn, is inextricably linked to his overall artistic method, a synthesis of reality and the abstract. Himself a master of drawing from nature, he sought to first awaken in the consciousness of his students an awareness of the necessity of understanding the philosophical and poetic potentiality of an image during its creation, which was reflected in the annual introductory speech with which he began the series of lectures: ’’[Sheet 1] R[espected] S[irs], before addressing the prospect of our service to art and its forms, I would like to draw your attention to the ultimate aim which has been set for our activities. / - /. Any seeking implies the existence of an end point - an aim. The aim is the laurels that reward any seeking, when [Sheet 1 obverse] the quest is necessary and carried out single-mindedly. A unified plan is a crucial condition for reaching this end... [...] [Sheet 2] The world of reflections represents the spiritual necessity of this one end point, the unchanging selfhood of life which is, of course, not one [Sheets 2 and 2 obverse] among many, but the only one, which is prepared by every aspect of spiritual efforts with essential, insofar as is possible in our sea of possibilities, exclusivity. /[Sheet 3] In the global order of necessities, everything rushes towards the zenith of the one unchanging necessity of human[ity]. / [Sheet 4] How much more difficult would it be to contemplate this great aim of “necessity”, which is the essence of life, were it not for this unity of plan... [...] [Sheet 5] This “necessity” is eternal and infinite. It is an attribute of the ‘object’. The ‘subject’ is consciousness, splashing into this shoreless ocean and imagining that it can swallow it all up. Each gulp is a ‘possibility’. Consider how many such gulps there are.”[67]

To break through via a “gulp of possibility” to the sensation of the reality of temporal beauty as a phenomenon of spiritual necessity was, for Vrubel, the essence of an encounter with any creative process. It is unsurprising then that, in his paintings, even the small form of a flower can occasionally “swallow” an ocean, in a way that inadvertently calls to mind the “decadence” of “The Case of Wagner”, encapsulated by Friedrich Nietzsche - “we would be quite right to acclaim him [...] our greatest musical miniaturist, constantly cramming endless quantities of sweetness and meaning into the smallest space possible.”[68] That creative dynamic which involves non-observance of the usual hierarchies of scale, bringing together the grandiose and the innermost, the universal and the flower, is perceptible in Vrubel’s sketches from the collection that once belonged to Mamontov, presumably carried out in the 1890s.[69]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile with a stylised image of a cornflower. Early 1890s. Sheet 13
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile with a stylised image of a cornflower. Early 1890s. Sheet 13
Ink, watercolour on paper. 8.5 × 8.5 cm. Moscow State
© Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 50, cat. 9)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile with a cornflower on a blue background. Early 1890s. Sheet 17
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile with a cornflower on a blue background. Early 1890s. Sheet 17
Ink, watercolour on paper. 9.5 × 9.1 cm. Moscow State
© Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 51, cat. 10)

These small, sometimes tiny miniatures reveal easily, yet in a structurally accurate manner, the architectonics of the universe via the micro-world of the flower. There is something of the harmony of the cosmos within the Vrubelesque geometry of meanings, whereby constructive elements or “archetypes” such as circles, ellipses, ovals and triangles unexpectedly transform into organic flower metaphors. From the point of view of poetics, the flower drawings from the Stroganov Academy’s collection could arbitrarily be divided into two groups based on their main emotional tint: nocturnal and diurnal.

Within the former group predominate blue flower structures, of a crimson-violet palette, whose evening modulations reveal themselves as if on the subdued twilit vermilion background of the sunset - for example, the “Gothic” blue cornflower from the cosmic bowl, which bursts a white spot of light amid the star-petals (KP-2923/13 [sheet]). In another cornflower (KP-2923/17 [sheet]), its architectonic composition renders the flower’s structure akin to some sort of monumental macrocosm (complete with its own moons in the form of grey cherries and clover-flattened earth, which - in the flower, as in the universe - exists with its own apparent logic of internal relations).

Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with a cornflower on a brown background. Early 1890s. Sheet 4
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with a cornflower on a brown background. Early 1890s. Sheet 4
Ink, watercolour on paper. 8.7 × 8.5 cm. © Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 48, cat. 8)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with a cornflower on a light blue background. Early 1890s. Sheet 18
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with a cornflower on a light blue background. Early 1890s. Sheet 18
Ink, watercolour on paper. 8 × 8.6 cm. © Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 46, cat. 7)

The latter group is more joyful and bright. Orange- yellow and crimson-red along with coral-brown colours predominate, resonating with the playful rhythm of floral images from Aleksei Remizov’s fairy-tale “Colours”. For example, the sunny and unpredictably contoured brushstrokes of the yellow dandelions (KP-2923/34 [sheet]) or the radiant figures of “flying flowers” dancing above the green-blue garden, like the choirs of angels of the Old Masters, which figure on Sheet 9. Within this arbitrary daytime group, there are also flower universes in which the musical organisation, based on the rhythm of the synthesis of clearly defined elements, gives birth to new diminutive cosmoses (KP-2923/4 [sheet], KP-2923/28 [sheet]). Moreover, it is also worth noting that the subdued vermilion of the sunset is also a perceptible presence in the colouring of these miniatures. Among Vrubel’s 36 drawings,[70] there are also images in other registers. Remarkable for their lyrical potential, they sometimes shine silver, like frozen winter patterns, on the oval baluster of a vase (KP-2923/5 [sheet]), sometimes bloom as pink dog roses[71], like the tender and lovelorn daydreams of springtime in the ornamental stylised pattern of green branches (KP-2923/14 [sheet]).

Vrubel’s visual poetry of flowers is at once extremely metaphorical and functionally concrete, as in the case of the drawings we have just been discussing. Most of the miniatures from the former Mamontov collection mentioned above were sketches for majolica tiles that were actually made.[72] A whole range of drawings reveal Vrubel’s innate understanding of the logic of forms: the ornamental pattern is not arranged superficially, but rhythmically breathes life into the figurative structure, as if it were a natural part of the architectonics of the object itself. This characteristic is especially obvious in the sketches in which the artist is working with three-dimensional architectonic microforms (see, for example, the “little walking boot” for a stove cornice (KP-2923/10 [sheet]) or the drawings of an ornamental column, in which the blue pattern of fanning petal tails, all raised up in devotion, is reminiscent of ecstatic images of plants on Byzantine mosaics, KP-2923/33 [sheet]).

Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a figurative corner stove tile (“Boot”). Early 1890s. Sheet 10
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a figurative corner stove tile (“Boot”). Early 1890s. Sheet 10.
Ink, watercolour on paper. 4.3 × 3.7 cm (the image is cut out along the outline and glued to a thick paper sheet 8.3 × 7.6 cm).
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 66, cat. 24)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a stove tile (detail of the cornice). Early 1890s. Sheet 33
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a stove tile (detail of the cornice). Early 1890s. Sheet 33.
Ink, watercolour on paper. 5.5 × 4.5 cm (the image is cut out along the outline and glued to a thick paper sheet 8.5 × 9 cm).
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 68, cat. 26)

Speaking of the functional qualities of Vrubel’s floral poems, it is impossible to ignore one more unique example of his fantasy in the field of applied arts: the cloth flower from Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel’s theatrical dress, the appearance of which reminds one of a stylised (“from life”) water lily-camomile (undated, Russian Museum). The artist wrote of this surviving accessory from the wardrobe of the singer as the idol that had “illumined” his days (“idol mio, farfalla, allodola”[73]), which confirms once again that, even while using flowers for a practical “calling”, his lyrical and figurative impulses are in no way blocked.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Design for a comb. Illustration taken from “Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel
Mikhail VRUBEL. Design for a comb. Illustration taken from “Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel. Life and Work” by Stepan Yaremich (Moscow: Izdaniye I. Knebel, 1911, p. 125)

One can speak again of the interrelation between concrete material tasks (although of a different nature) and a graphic philosophy born unconsciously in the process of addressing them when discussing the series of studies (mostly watercolour) of flowers that Vrubel created while still in Kyiv. These little spur-of-the-moment visual poems composed of azaleas, orchids, peonies, painted daisies, periwinkles and other flora, which now form part of the collection of the National Art Gallery in Kyiv, were products of Vrubel’s “system”74 of teaching: “I sit and paint or draw, while the student watches; I find that this is the best way of showing what they need to see and how to convey it.”[75] It is precisely these private lessons, which he gave to Natalia Mantseva (nee Tarnovskaya) and E. von Bunge, the wife of a professor of Kyiv University, that were the motivation for the creation of a whole series of still-life masterpieces in the period from 1886 to 1888.*

* Captions in this publication indicate the initial location of these sketches.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Periwinkle. 1886-1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. Periwinkle. 1886-1888
Watercolour on paper mounted on cardboard. 16.6 × 12.2 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in N. Matsneva collection, Kyiv

Of course, there is much more we could have said on an objective level about the “Kyiv” flowers or the surviving parts of the Mamontov selection of sketches and their stylisations of floral motifs, as well as on the specific role of ornamental patterns in Vrubel’s majolica sculptures, and the theatrical costumes or the concert and everyday flower dresses belonging to Zabela- Vrubel. However, in this article, we would like to highlight those most important features that help us to understand, in an overall context, the artist’s general creative technique: Vrubel’s flower structures, flowing along the stem with poetic life, metaphorical not in their circularity, but, thanks to their astonishingly clear structuredness (see, for example, “Etude of a Flower on a Blue Background”, early 1890s, Museum of Applied Art of the Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts, KP-2923/12 [sheet]). That is a characteristic we can identify not only in the drawings we have just discussed, but in Vrubel’s work in general, in which the floral and ornamental elements declare themselves to be one of the leading bases in the formation of the artistic image as a whole.

In poetry, metaphor is the basic premise of metamorphosis. It provokes a movement in which one form comes to resemble another, expanding the meaning of the visible. This is also what we see in Vrubel’s work, the basis of whose artistic thinking is the perception of forms as patterns, patterns that are psychologically rooted. At times, it seems as if Vrubel notices only contours and lines, but, in the end, an incredibly capacious image is the result, able to transform a flower into a face, a shell, the cosmos or a bed rumpled by insomnia into a tragic fracture in spiritual regularity, the life rhythm of which has begun a decline.

Vivid evidence of the ambiguous, at times straightforwardly indignant, reception that contemporaries greeted such artistic thinking has been preserved in an unpublished manuscript written by Vladimir Stanyukovich about Vrubel. In this interestingly subjective monograph, which is remarkable both for its accurate generalisations and the traces of contradictory interpretations that had not yet established themselves in mainstream understanding, Stanyukovich writes about the bewilderment people felt on first becoming acquainted with Vrubel’s art. From his description, it is clear that it was precisely the elusive patterns, refined to the point of chaos, that raised peoples’ hackles: “I remember, as a youth, my first, almost offended, impressions of his illustrations to ‘The Demon’, appearing in a luxurious (by the standards of the time) edition of Lermontov’s works (1891). Next to the calm and accessible illustrations of the other artists, their difficult and arbitrary images and techniques stood out like a sore thumb. ‘Whose drawings are these? What sort of nonsense are they?’ My contemporaries and I were filled with indignation, and the name Vrubel became synonymous for us with the impudence of the decadents. / This figure of a strange being in a woman’s dress decorated with lace, with its tortuously malicious face framed by waves of black curls; this formless architecture of wings spread wide to form sullen storm clouds; these dancing and lacerating brushstrokes, now forming the patterns of a carpet, now unexpected figures - all this was unusual and vexingly confusing. It was even difficult to make out the artist’s dark, galloping figures on the motley canvas, and it seemed pointless to study them carefully... [...] The tortuous dance of daubs vexed and mocked the created dream and so we rejected these ‘ridiculous and arbitrary illustrations’. / From that time on, I have never again come across the book, although I have never been able to forget ‘The Demon’ wearing a decollete dress, his tortured smile, piercing eyes, the fissures of his hands, the gloomy storm clouds of wings, and the near-audible patterns of the carpets. For some unknown reason, the ‘ridiculous arbitrary’ image struck me and became an unforgettable part of my life.”[76]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Tamara and the Demon. “Don’t weep child, don’t weep in vain.” Illustration for the poem “Demon.” 1890-1891
Mikhail VRUBEL. Tamara and the Demon. “Don’t weep child, don’t weep in vain.” Illustration for the poem “Demon.” 1890-1891
Black watercolour, whitewash, scratching on paper mounted on cardboard. 96 × 65 cm. © Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

In Stanyukovich’s admission, we can clearly see a struggle between attraction to, and disavowal of, the distinctive construction of Vrubel’s images, both feelings constantly intertwined. The source of the perturbation is not, of course, in their decorative surface, which without its spiritual, idealistic saturation would most likely be perceived positively. Confirmation of this conjecture can be found in the virtuoso “spotted” colouring of the much acclaimed Mariano Fortuny, to whom Vrubel was compared by Pavel Chistyakov himself. “Not without reason does Chistyakov persist in nicknaming me Fortuna,”[77] wrote Vrubel to his sister about the nature of his “exercises” in watercolour. Stanyukovich, by the way, also noted the influence of the Spanish master on the young Vrubel, who had grown fascinated by Fortuny’s technique largely thanks to lessons in Chistyakov’s workshop. Chistyakov rated Fortuny highly and was personally acquainted with him in Rome. However, Vrubel went much further than Fortuny. The patterns - slippery to the point of appearing chaotic - of his visual world do not limit themselves to a colourful texture of impressions for the viewer’s eye. They reflect the process by which visible nature was formed, by using mosaical pulsations to call artistic images forth from nothingness.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Oriental Fairy Tale. 1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Oriental Fairy Tale. 1886
Watercolour, whitewash, lead pencil, pencil, varnish, collage on paper mounted on cardboard. Sheet: 16.4 × 24.5 cm; cardboard: 27.8 × 27 cm (the image spreads onto the cardboard)
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine

Pattern as a visual and constructive basis for the projection of graphic reality, seen through a spiritual prism, was to form the pillar of Vrubel’s artistic method not only in the early and mature periods of his creative life (in the illustrations to the poem “The Demon”, 1890-91, Tretyakov Gallery, and “Eastern Fairy Tale”, 1886, Kyiv Art Gallery, to name but two), but also in his late period. It is appropriate that Vrubel’s innate understanding of ornament as a structural basis for visual metaphor found expression in the existential coda of his floral universe in the series of “Campanulas etudes” (1904, Russian Museum) of bellflowers, the name of which symbolically reflects the form of the flower (from the Italian campana): a bell calling the soul to a meeting with another world:

If the heart, as it is dying,
Wishes to forget what ails,
The little bell is sure to sing
Melodies of heaven unceasing,
Is sure to tell sweet fairy tales.[78]

Vrubel dreamt about Heaven all his life - its metaphor is embedded in various manifestations of the artist’s creative energy (“Who lives happily? He is happy who has found his path,”[79] as he wrote to his sister). It was not only bellflowers, which in unpredictable graphic “transformations” (from slight to monumental forms) were a sustained motif in his work, represented echoes of Heaven for Vrubel. He saw it also in airy blasts of white iris petals, blue orchids and white, red and pink azaleas (1886-1888, Kyiv Art Gallery). He searched for it in peonies of dizzying sumptuousness (“White Peonies and Other Flowers”, 1893, Kyiv National Gallery) and in chastely tender roses, which, with the natural perfection of a miracle, overshadow the smoky-grey aura of everyday life (“Rose”, 1904, Tretyakov Gallery), a fairy-tale of a Persian carpet (“Girl and Persian Carpet”, 1886, Kyiv Art Gallery), a birch grove in Petrovsky Park (“Portrait of Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel against a Background of Birches”, 1904, Russian Museum), reverently surrounding the throne of the Mother of God with Child, or alight, like an awakening soul, with the immortal energy of “Resurrection”. It was precisely Heaven that, as we examined at the beginning of the article, was present as the artist stood at the threshold of his creative journey, which, via Byzantium, Old Russian art and the Renaissance, demonstrated the reality of the Godhead that gave his aesthetic understanding of beauty such scale. It was for paradise lost that the soul of Vrubel’s “Demon” (1890) so yearned, like a lily burning in the evening light, filled with elusive reflections of Eternity. It was for an earthly heaven that Vrubel’s Faust and Marguerite searched, crowned in the artist’s fantasy by giant rose-like bellflowers, lilies, camomiles, crimson irises (“Faust and Marguerite in the Garden”, 1896, location unknown; ” Marguerite”, 1896, Tretyakov Gallery) and even thistles (“The Flight of Faust and Mephistopheles”, 1896, Tretyakov Gallery). For him, the violet twilight of the bushy “Lilacs” breathed Heaven, beginning with the lifelike sketches of his Kyiv period (“Lilac Bush”, 1885, Tretyakov Gallery) and ending with the metaphysical reticence of his mature works. Vrubel’s cloud-like nymphs dreamed of it, like the morning and evening flowers that enliven his “Times of the Day”. The very poetic mythology of his flowers, the fantasy of their fairy-tale harmony, dangling in “Old Slavic” gold-tinted pools (“Prince Guidon and the Swan Princess[80], 1890s, Abramtsevo Museum and Reserve), the poppies flaming jimson weed in the steppe of the “red painting”[81] “At Nightfall”, the idyllic hoof-clop of “Pan” on the thick, squally grass - all were born of a yearning to discover within real nature the hidden voices of something otherworldly, possibly the ancient pantheistic Heaven, in which the landscape resembled a deity. Vrubel’s seraphim and prophets (“Seraph”, 1904-05, Tretyakov Gallery; “Six-Winged Seraph”, 1904, Russian Museum; “The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel”, 1906, Russian Museum) appeared from the spiritual depth of Christian Heaven, in whose luminous glow the curling patterns lift aloft angelic wings. Vrubel was considering the graces of Heaven when he portrayed a small, stricken figure in the right hand of God, a barely noticeable defenceless soul, its silhouette a self-portrait (undated, Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 71, inventory 1, item 13). He was was also considering them when, in the sorrowful days of his illness, he sometimes maintained that he was already inhabiting that Promised Land[82].

Mikhail VRUBEL. Six-Winged Seraph. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Six-Winged Seraph. 1904
Oil on canvas. 131 × 155 cm. © Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

The secret logic of the interrelations that act on creativity at the individual level, partly based on love of the aesthetic singularity of the world, can also be seen in the fact that Vrubel’s last work is addressed in terms of its poetics to “The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel”. If we carefully read the ornament of the lines of the Book of Ezekiel, following the specificity of the way in which the thoughts are expressed, then it is impossible not to be astounded by the glowing naturalness with which the spiritual revelation is woven with decorative elements that, in the nature of things, form part of artistic (sensory) thinking. In the spiritual pattern of Ezekiel’s vision of the Glory of God, we can identify all the essential graphic elements that attracted Vrubel with their metaphoricity into taking his first steps in art (on both the level of meaning and of visual language). In terms of artistic form, the Book of Ezekial possesses a decorative structure that cannot fail to act upon the readers imagination. In the scene of the sacred animals moved by the Spirit, between which moved fire, are descriptions of a sky “the colour of the terrible crystal” (Ezekiel 1:22) and “a throne, as the appearance of a sapphire stone” (Ezekial 1:26), “burnished brass” (Ezekiel 1:7), and “beryl” (Ezekiel 1:16). The light wings of angels (Ezekiel 1:7), “burning coals of fire” (Ezekiel 1:13) had “the appearance of fire”, glowing “as the appearance of the bow that is in the cloud in the day of rain” (Ezekiel 1:27-28). All this flashing space of crystal and lightning surrounding the throne of God, which ever “speaks” of Heaven, found reflection in the spherical multi-dimensional (to the point of chaos) harmony of the dynamic pattern of Vrubel’s unfinished watercolour “The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel”.

Mikhail VRUBEL. The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel. Early 1906
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Vision of the Prophet Ezekiel. Early 1906
Charcoal, watercolour, gouache, coloured pencil on cardboard. 102.3 × 55.1 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

In the existential context, which the study of art history permits us to see, Vrubel’s late “Campanulas” are not only universally metaphorical, but also subjectively significant, in so far as they allow us to approach the inner structure of the artist’s personality. They are, in some strange way, linked with those “echoes of quiet bells” that “sometimes, with a downcast heart / You can catch with an eager ear”, although “They sail on, sadly fading away.”[83]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904.
From the “Campanulas” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 12.7 × 18.1 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

There is one page in Vrubel’s creative life which remains understudied to the present day: his poetic jottings. Despite their being so few, they are nonetheless an important source that permits us to understand the creative basis of the artist’s personality and his individual traits as a person. The inner structure of their emotional content may be expressed in a simpler language than the visual idiom in which the artist’s unique poetic freedom is expressed, but they bear witness all the same to the side of Vrubel’s personality that strove to understand life in a harmonic way, stripped of any flamboyant mysticism. Attempts to demonise the artist by linking his illness and his art, which began while he was still living and burst out in an unstoppable avalanche on his death, fail to stand up to scrutiny on both medical and artistic grounds.

Vrubel’s “Demon” is a poetically inspired, dynamic and spiritual force of nature. It is the visual reflection of Vrubel’s musical emotional experience of his time via a romantic theme, the lionised beauty of which could not fail to enrapture a creatively receptive mind. It is telling that, among Vrubel’s poetic manuscripts from the eve of the last, hardship-filled period of the artist’s life (19021904), we find not only lines on Heaven dwellers (“You are born to Heaven / Leave the earthly to the earthly,”84 writes Vrubel in one of his poems), but also quotations from memory of lines from Mikhail Lermontov’s “Demon”.

For a greater understanding of the spiritual gradations within Vrubel’s emotional pattern, from whose germs sprang forth new figurative images, it is important to bear in mind the fact that his innovative visual language was not so much the fruit of protest as an expression on the free professional level of his individual emotional experience of lyrical and elegiac motifs (hence the artist’s love for Russian classics - Turgenev, Pushkin, Lermontov):

In gossamer line
With wings of lace
Brushing young trees
The young flew by,
Singing quiet hosannas:
Does the quiet chime
Of the distant church beyond the woods,
Not shake the air in just that way?[85]

The “peal of bells” heard by Vrubel, but already on a different crest of the new wave in the field of artistic form creation, entered into his final “flowers” - flower atoms - in “Campanulas” on the level of the natural metaphoricity of the artistic image (which, judged from without, might seem unfinished) created from them by the artist, speaking of the beauty of subjective reality even when it is located at the extreme, but maximally whole, indivisible point of disintegration. “You’re a grain of sand / You’re an atom / And no more in this / Abyss of worlds / This universe,”[86] wrote Vrubel, fully aware of the objective character of the time now approaching him. That philosophy of atomicity is also perceptible in the mother-of-pearl abysses of his series of “Shells” etudes (late 1904-early 1905, Russian Museum), unique ornamental worlds containing all the elemental forces of life within their enclosed spaces. Considering spaces that attract us by their sequestered existentialism, the French philosopher Gaston Bachelard wrote of an element in every person that would prefer to live always in the innermost corner of their own shell. That comparison of the soul with a pearl, secreted away in the depths of mother-of pearl folds, received a deep metaphorical development in Vrubel’s poetics: “All that has form has passed through the ontogeny of a shell.”[87]

<strong>Mikhail VRUBEL. Six-Winged Seraph. 1904</strong>
Mikhail VRUBEL. Pearl. 1904.
Pastel, gouache, charcoal on cardboard. 35 × 43.7 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

The psychologically rich decorative beauty of a pattern, its individual, ornamental rhythm, born in “strivings after the sacred”, received in Vrubel’s “Pearl” not only the power of musical agency, but also a form-creating basis (“Shell”, late 1904-early 1905, the Russian Museum). The artist himself was aware of this, acknowledging that the poetic chaos of the pattern was suggested to him by the contours of the female figure: “For I had no intention of painting ‘sea princesses’ in my ‘Pearl’ [...] I wanted to convey with all reality a drawing from which the play of a mother-of-pearl shell is composed, and it was only after I had made a few drawings in charcoal and pencil and saw those queens, that I started to actually paint.”[88] Vrubel’s visual about-turn revealed itself in the etudes of the shell with no less power than in the flowers of his late period (and in those of his early period, although unconsciously): what was small, previously considered somehow superficial and “decorative” was shown to be something essential and semantic, organically revealing an inner life usually hidden in reality. Vrubel’s contemporaries, who had not seen the artist’s lines about the personality as a grain of sand in the universe, written in words blotted, it would seem, with tears, could not fail to sense this, although they understood the visualised metamorphosis of “big - small” in a different way: some with rejections of “afflicted decadentism”, others with understanding.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Charcoal pencil on paper. 36.4 × 41.7 cm © Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Lead pencil and black watercolour on paper. 17.4 × 25.3 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Lead pencil and black pastel on paper 17.4 × 24.8 cm (without frame).
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Charcoal, black pastel on paper. 38 × 43 cm © Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
From the “Shells” sketch series. Black pastel, lead pencil, chalk on paper. 17.5 × 25.3 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

The poet and art critic Osip Dymov, for example, wrote: “Vrubel’s ‘Pearl’ appeared at the exhibition of the Union of Russian Artists last of all. That’s the way it always is: you put on the jewellery when you are already dressed. / Allow me to remind the reader of what a mollusc is. A strange creature, curled up in its shell, which gifts us the pearl. If a grain of sand, a particle of some hard body touches its soft body, invades the intimacy of its life, then a pearl is born. [..] Is not the process by which art is made the same? / [...] At the bottom of art, in its grain, is a phenomenon of real life around which the priceless layers of the artist’s petrified blood form its current eternal sepulchre.”[89]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Lead pencil, charcoal, black pastel, whitewash on paper. 17.5 × 25.4 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Italian and lead pencils, watercolour, whitewash on paper. 22.9 × 34.8 cm (without frame).
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

 Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
From the “Shells” sketch series. Black pastel, lead pencil, chalk on paper. 17.6 × 25.5 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

 Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 - early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
From the “Shells” sketch series. Pastel, watercolour, charcoal on paper. 19.7 × 28.3 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

Vrubel’s art always maintained that the poetry of an image is not decoration, but the metamorphosis of the soul. It did so from his very first works, in which the bases of visual language were linked with the principles of assimilation - the transformation, transposition, “prismisation” of obvious and hidden experience in decorative patterns. Vrubel really was, as Alexandre Benois put it, an “orgiast”[90], which is to say that he was an artist who was capable of synthesising poetic thoughts into figurative images. As can be assumed, it was precisely that polysemantic context that Vrubel had in mind when expressing the idea that: “All is decorative, and only decorative.”[91]

The arabesque patterns that came to life in space and were so characteristic of Vrubel were demonstrations of the master’s synthetical approach to an understanding of the inner consistency of the existence of a planar visual world.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Self-Portrait with a Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Self-Portrait with a Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
Watercolour, charcoal, gouache, sanguine on paper. 58.2 × 53 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg

The artist’s perception of the visible forms of nature as mobile cells of pattern, lacking harshly drawn contours, leads him along the path of transforming a stylised petal into the fragile crease of a bed or into the thickening depths of a pupil, darkening in the untrustworthy light of a changing face (“Self-Portrait”, 1885, Kyiv Art Gallery; “Self-Portrait”, late 1904 - early 1905, Russian Museum). The visual philosophy of both his most dramatic compositions and his most intimate motifs - for example, the sketches depicting a bed after a sleepless night, a subject rarely encountered in world culture (the series of “Insomnia” etudes, 1904, Russian Museum) - is at once ornamental and psychologically dynamic, which is to say directly linked with the emotional experience of the movement of time through the soul, through that “prism of the soul” that is so often referenced in relation to Vrubel, and which was for the artist a genuine source of creatively important observations, observations that were musical in their synthesis of the emotion they contained: “A prism in ornament and architecture is our music.”[92]

Mikhail VRUBEL. Red flowers and Begonia Leaves in a Basket. 1886-1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Red flowers and Begonia Leaves in a Basket. 1886-1887.
Watercolour, varnish on paper. 38.5 × 32.2 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine

Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile. [1890s]
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile. [1890s].
Pencil on paper. 16.8 × 10.1 cm.
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve

Flowers were also linked with the idea of patterns as an essential principle of form creation in Vrubel’s art. Their poetic visual transformations allow us to reach the conclusion that the artist’s ornamental thinking is one of the most important themes for discussion in terms of the uniqueness of his individual language, inextricably linked with his fate in both its creative and personal aspects.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Photograph from the studio of Karl Fischer. 1900s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Photograph from the studio of Karl Fischer. 1900s
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 85. Inventory 1. Item 194. Sheet 3

Et voici que je suis devenu un dessin d'ornement
Volutes sentimentales
Enroulement des spirales
Surface organisee en noir et blanc
El pourtant je viens de m'entendre respirer
Est-ce bien un dessin
Est-ce bien moi.
Pierre Albert-Birot Poemes a I'autre mol. 1927

And so it is that I've become an ornamental pattern
Sentimental whorls Intertwining curls
A surface organised in black and white
And yet nonetheless I just heard myself breathe Is this really a pattern Is this really me.
Pierre Albert-Birot Poemes a I'autre mol. 1927

The author would like to thank the museums and private collectors who were kind enough to make available images of artworks from their collections. Special thanks are due to the Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum (N.G. Shabalina, M.A. Kozlova), the Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery (E.A. Terkel, M.A. Davydova), and the Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum (A.V. Troshchinskaya).

Mikhail VRUBEL. White Azalea without Stalk. 1886–1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Azalea without Stalk. 1886-1888
Charcoal and lead pencil, watercolour, varnish on paper. 33.9 × 25.2 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv

 

 

  1. Baudelaire Ch. XCIX. Bien loin d’ici// Baudelaire Ch. Fleur du mal. Paris: Michel Levy freres, 1868. Р. 234.
  2. C. Baudelaire, Very Far from Here, translated by William Aggeler. Quoted from: https://www.poetryverse.com/charles-baude-laire-poems/very-far-from-here.
  3. M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Vrubel [St. Petersburg] Autumn, 1883, in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister; Memories of the Artist A. Vrubel. Excerpts from Letters from the Artist’s Father [Pis’ma k sestre. Vospomonaniya o khudozhnike A.A. Vrubel. Otryvki iz pisem ottsa khudozhnika] Introductory article by A. Ivanova (Leningrad: Komitet populyarizatsii khudozhestven- nykh izdanii pri gosudarstvennoy akademii istorii materialnoy kultury, 1929), p. 95. Below - M. Vrubel, Letters to his Sister [Pis’ma k sestre].
  4. Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 121, inventory 1, item 119, 1 sheet. It is worth noting that the month on the envelope is written confusingly. The roman numeral four looks like a three. Nonetheless, April is the month in question. Vrubel died on April 1 (14), 1910. The funeral took place on April 3 (16) in Novodevichy Graveyard in St. Petersburg.
  5. Dates are given according to the Old Style calendar hereafter.
  6. A. Rostislavov, “Left-wing Art. II” [“Levoye khudozhestvo. II”]. Exhibition of the “Union of Youth”. (Speech. No. 85, 28 March 1910) in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 131.
  7. “At Two and Eight O'clock” [“V dva i vosem’ chasov”]. See: Speech. No. 91. 3 April 1910 in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 35.
  8. V. Serov, Letter to O. Serova. April 2, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 49, inventory 1, item 72, sheet 1.
  9. Russkoye Slovo. April 4, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 20.
  10. Kiyevskiye Vesti. No. 95. April 6, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 59.
  11. Kazanskaya Vechernaya [pochta]. No. 264. April 9, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 6, sheet 58.
  12. Ibid.
  13. N. Roerich, “Vrubel” (Birzhevye vedomosti. No. 11646. April 3 (16), 1910) in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 86. In Roerich’s comparison, there is a reference to the image of the “blue flower” of the German romantic Novalis, which, in his book Heinrich von Ofterdingen (late 1799-early 1800) symbolises an elevated dream, the perfect beauty of which irresistibly attracts the soul, dooming it to incessant striving after the Ideal. The novel’s aesthetic exerted a powerful influence on the philosophical-poetic aspects of the work of Russian Symbolist artists.
  14. Shmel, World of Art [Mir iskusstva] exhibition. II. [1906] in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 139.
  15. Rannyeye Utro. No. 77. April 4, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34. inventory 1, item 67, sheet 31.
  16. A. Botkina. Letter to I. Ostroukhov. St. Petersburg. April 6, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 10, item 1769, sheets 1 obverse-2 obverse.
  17. V. Serov. Letter to O. Serova. St. Petersburg. April 2, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 49, inventory 1, item 72, sheet 1.
  18. V. Serov. Letter to O. Serova. St. Petersburg. April 4, 1910, in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 49, inventory 1, item 73, sheet 1 obverse.
  19. A. Blok, “In Memory of Vrubel” in Collected Works (in 8 volumes), vol. 5: Prose, 1903-1917, Moscow; Leningrad, 1962, pp. 421-424. The article represents a reworking of a speech given at the burial of Mikhail Vrubel, April 3, 1910.
  20. S. Gorodetsky, “Mob of Executioners” in Zolotoye Runo (The Golden Fleece), nos. 11-12 (1909), p. 86. Gorodetsky’s article, published in this double issue, shows that this edition of Zolotoye Runo was published later than the date indicated on the front page, namely in the spring of 1910, after Vrubel's death. It is symbolic that both the journal’s beginning and end were linked with Vrubel. Its first issue in 1906 opened with a dedication to the artist and its final issue (1909, nos. 11-12) reported on his funeral. From 1908 on, the journal’s cover featured a drawing by Vrubel on backgrounds of various colours.
  21. See for example: N. Ge, “Vrubel” in World of Art [Mir iskusstva], nos. 10-11 (1903), pp. 183-187; N. Punin, “On the Drawings of M. Vrubel” [“K risunkam M.A. Vrubelya”] in Apollon, no. 5 (1913), pp. 5-14; M. Allenov, “Vrubel's Flower Etudes” [“Etyudy tsvetov Vrubelya”] in Sovetskoye Iskusstvoznaniye, 77 (Moscow: Sovyetskiy Khudozhnik, 1978), pp. 191-209; V. Lenyashin, “Vrubel—The Sorrow of the Deepest Happiness” in Mikhail Vrubel from the collection of the Russian Museum. Almanach, issue 151. The Russian Museum; author-compiler V. Kruglov and others; author of the introductory article V. Lenyashin (St. Petersburg: Palace Editions, 2006), pp. 5-10; and others.
  22. See, for example: the watercolours “Orchid” and “White Iris”, both 1886-1888, Kyiv Art Gallery; “Flowers” [“Tsvety”], late 1904 - early 1905, the Russian Museum; the “Bellflower” series of etudes, 1904, the Russian Museum.
  23. “Leaves” (Inventory Rg-3284/ 3) from Album. 1884-1885, Kyiv Art Gallery.
  24. What comes to mind above all is, of course, the gleaming crystal flower of “Demon” (1890, Tretyakov Gallery). The memoirs of the composer Boris Yanovsky bear witness to the artist’s long-time fascination with the phenomenon of the sunset. They describe the atmosphere of Vrubel’s “countryside” retreat to nature at Ge's cottage in 1897: “Every evening before sunset, he [Vrubel - O.D.] took up his rifle and set off to walk around the cottage, along the edge of the reed-wreathed pond. The aim of these evening walks was, as he put it, to observe the flood of colours in the light of sunset” (B. Yanovsky, “Memories of Vrubel” [“Vospominaniya o Vrubele”] in M. Vrubel: Correspondence; Memories of the Artist [M. Vrubel. Perepiska. Vospominaniya o khudozhnike]. Compiled by E. Gomberg-Verzhbinskaya, Yu. Podkopayeva, Yu. Novikov, (Leningrad, 1976), p. 256. Hereafter: M. Vrubel: Correspondence. Memories of the Artist [M. Vrubel. Perepiska. Vospominaniya o khudozhnike]).
  25. “The Demon Seated” (1890). Sketch for the painting of the same name (1890, Tretyakov Gallery), Tretyakov Gallery.
  26. Mother-of-Pearl Shell, Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 370; “Pearl” (1904), Tretyakov Gallery.
  27. Psalm 102
  28. M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Vrubel. Moscow [Abramtsevo]. July 1892 in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis’ma k sestre], p. 127.
  29. N. Ge, “Vrubel” in World of Art [Mir iskusstva], nos. 10-11 (1903), p. 187.
  30. According to the testimony of contemporaries, during his work on the composition “Descent of the Holy Spirit on the Apostles,” Vrubel studied photographs from the collection of Adrian Prakhov depicting Byzantine miniatures and churchware from Georgia.
  31. Vrubel set off to Venice in November 1884 with the aim of entering into the spirit of Byzantium and the Renaissance. He was particularly enthralled not only by the mosaics of St. Mark’s Basilica (10th-12th century), but also by those of the Church of Santa Maria Assunta (foundation stone laid in the 7th century; mosaics dating from 11th-12th century) on the island of Torcello, a copy of whose composition the artist planned on making. “I was at Torcello: there was a joyful movement in my heart—it felt akin to me, as Byzantium is, in fact. Have a laugh at a person in the land of Titian.” (M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Prakhov. [Venice]. December, 31 1884, in M. Vrubel: Correspondence; Memories of the Artist [M. Vrubel. Perepiska. Vospominaniya o khudozhnike], p. 72). The main task before the artist, who was staying at the ancient Palazzo Campo San Mauricio, was to paint (in a workshop with a window the length of an entire wall) four icons ordered by Adrian Prakhov for the iconostasis of St. Cyrill’s Church.
  32. M. Vrubel. Quoted from: S. Yaremich, Mikhail Vrubel. Life and Work [Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel. Zhizn’ i tvorchestvo], (Moscow: Izdaniye I. Knebel, 1911), pp. 51-52. Hereafter: S. Yaremich, Mikhail Vrubel.
  33. N. Prakhov, Pages from the Past: Sketches and Memoirs [Stranitsy proshlogo: Ocherki-vospominaniya], (Kyiv: Izomuzgiz, 1958), p. 112. Hereafter: N. Prakhov, Pages from the Past [Stranitsy proshlogo].
  34. O. Davydova, Iconography of the Modern. Images of Gardens and Parks in the Works of Russian Symbolist Artists [Ikonografiya moderna. Obrazy sadov i parkov v tvorchestve khudozhnikov russkogo simvolizma], (Moscow: BuksMArt, 2014), p. 174.
  35. M. Vrubel, “To the Editors of the Journal ‘World of Art’” [“V redaktsiyu zhurnala ‘Mir iskusstva’”] in World of Art [Mir iskusstva], no. 1 (1899), pp. 40-41.
  36. N. Prakhov, Pages from the Past [Stranitsy proshlogo], p. 113.
  37. M. Vrubel. Letter to A. Vrubel. Moscow [Abramtsevo]. July 1892 in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis’ma ksestre], p. 128.
  38. M. Vrubel. Letter to A. Vrubel. Moscow. 1st of May 1890 in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis’ma k sestre], p. 121
  39. Currently: The Bogdan and Varvara Khanenko National Museum of Arts (Kyiv), in the text, the Khanenko Museum
  40. See: Kyiv Addresses of Mikhail Vrubel. Author-Compilers Natalia Ageyeva, Olga Drug. Kyiv: VD Antikvar, 2020, p. 120: il.
  41. “Intra due cibi, distanti e moventi / d’un modo, prima si morria di fame, / che liber’ omo l’un recasse ai denti”/“Between two kinds of food, both equally remote and tempting, first a man might die Of hunger, ere he one could freely choose.” (Trans. by the Rev. H. F. Carey) Quoted from Kyiv Addresses of Mikhail Vrubel, p. 108.
  42. See, in particular: S. Mamontov, “Vrubel as an Artist” [“Vrubel kak khudozhnik”] in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 140.
  43. M. Vrubel. Letter to A. Vrubel [Moscow. Summer 1893] in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis’ma k sestre], p. 132.
  44. In recent years, researchers in Kyiv have undertaken a careful comparative analysis, which has permitted them to conclude that there were, in fact, a number of “‘Kyiv’ Albums. Vrubel usually made drawings in a number of albums at once, each with pages of various sizes, colour and texture. Each album could be filled in the course of one or two years.” (Vrubel i Kyiv/Vrubel and Kyiv, Kyiv: Kyiv nat. muzey ros. mistetstva; Feniks, 2013), p. 124.
  45. The so called “Venetian” album was acquired by the artist in Venice, but he drew in it not only in Venice, but also in Kyiv and Odessa. In the album itself, there are 11 sheets and 17 more have survived independently.
  46. M. Vrubel. Letter to A. Vrubel [Moscow. Summer 1893] in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis'ma k sestre], pp. 131-132.
  47. The attribution of the photograph from Vrubel’s collection to Ivan Barschevsky has been made by the article’s author on the basis of work done with the originals from pre-revolutionary editions: A catalogue of photographs of antique objects, architecture, items, taken by the photographer of the Imperial Academy of Arts and the Imperial Moscow Archaeological Society I. Barschevsky in 1882, 83 & 84 (Rostov: Tipolitorg. I. Kramoreva, 1884; et al.)
  48. Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 84, sheets 21-23; item 85, 24 sheets.
  49. N. Prakhov, Pages from the Past [Stranitsy proshlogo], p. 170.
  50. “Valentin Serov [...] recounts that Vrubel used a photograph for the landscape. He does not remember exactly what was depicted in the photograph, but when inverted, it showed a remarkably complex pattern, resembling the crater of an extinct volcano or a lunar landscape” (S. Yaremich, Mikhail Vrubel, p. 69).
  51. This is demonstrated, in particular, by a friendly letter from the head of the Russian Mining Society, Alexander Karlovich von Meсk, whom Vrubel consulted on the mountain landscape of the Caucasus and from whom he received photographs (Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum. Fund 34, Inventory 1, Item 33, Sheet 1). The letter is not dated, but the fact that it is written on headed notepaper from the Russian Mining Society, of which Meсk was elected head on April 23/May 7, 1901, means that it cannot have been written before the spring of 1901.
  52. In a letter of September 4, 1901, Vrubel wrote to Nikolai Rim- sky-Korsakov about his new topic, placing a secret sign, half-jesting, half-serious, by the name Tatiana, whose meaning becomes clear  in the context of the passion for Pushkin shared by both composer and artist: “I was busy all summer at the cottage with a bush of lilac and a girl (Tatiana!) on its background.” (M. Vrubel, Correspondence. Memories of the Artist [Perepiska. Vospominaniya o khudozhnike], p. 91).
  53. N. Zabela-Vrubel, Letter to B. Yanovsky. St. Petersburg. February 1905 in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 92, inventory 1, item 12, sheets 2-2 obverse.
  54. L. Barsova, “Introduction” [“Preduvedomleniye”] in L. Barsova: Vrubel; No comments (St. Petersburg: Baltiyskiye Sezony, 2012), sp. 11.
  55. M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Vrubel. Kyiv. November 1887 in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis'ma k sestre], p. 110.
  56. B. Yanovsky, Memories  of N. Ge and M. Vrubel (excerpt) [Vospominaniya o N.N. Ge i M.A. Vrubele (otryvok)] in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 92, inventory 1, item 16, sheet 14.
  57. A decoratively vivid incident has been preserved in Yanovsky’s memoirs, which shows how Vrubel’s “floral” fantasy sometimes burst out into the “ornamentation” of life itself: “Another time at Ge’s khutor, where we were all living, he thought up an ‘orgy of roses’. We plucked an infinite quantity of roses from the garden and used them to cover all the tables, windows, and chandeliers, Vrubel doing so with the greatest pleasure. He loved merriment, and he loved to make merry...” B. Yanovsky, “Memories of Vrubel” [“Vospominaniya o Vrubele”] in Iskusstvo i Pechatnoye Delo, no. 5 (May, 1910), p. 177.
  58. B. Yanovsky, Memories of N. Ge and M. Vrubel (excerpt), ibid., sheet 13.
  59. S. Yaremich, Mikhail Vrubel [Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel], p. 150.
  60. E. Ge, “The Last Years of Vrubel’s Life” [“Posledniye gody zhizni Vrubelya”] in M. Vrubel: Correspondence; Memories of the Artist [M. Vrubel. Perepiska. Vospominaniya o khudozhnike], p. 267.
  61. It should be noted that Vrubel was deeply interested in music for the whole of his life, a circumstance that is confirmed not only by his well-known associative and biographical entwinements of his themes with the music of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, Anton Rubinstein and Georges Bizet, but also by his fine understanding of the music of “tragedy” of Ludwig van Beethoven, Richard Wagner, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Giacomo Puccini, Christoph Gluck and others. It is also worth noting that the artist's personal collection included portraits of composers reproduced from prints, for example, two versions of a portrait of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 37, inventory 1, item 87) that Vrubel, more likely than not, used when working on illustrations for Alexander Pushkin’s tragedy “Mozart and Salieri” (late 1883-early 1884, Russian Museum), which were shown using a magic lantern (“dissolving views”) at an event on January 6, 1884, in the Imperial Academy of Arts. Moreover, Vrubel also created spontaneous miniature portrait-sketches of composers such as Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, which were executed in a manner reflecting his characteristic cutting up of forms - the depiction of an image as a pattern, synthesising contoured planes (Undated [1890s?], Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, fund 275, inventory 1, item 4).
  62. B. Yanovsky, Memories of N. Ge and M. Vrubel (excerpt) [Vospominaniya o N.N. Ge i M.A. Vrubele (otryvok)] in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 92, inventory 1, item 16, sheets 20-22.
  63. S. Vinogradov, Letter to E. Khrus- lov. July 3, 1896, in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 9, inventory 1, item 145, sheet 3 obverse.
  64. M. Vrubel, Letter to V. Savinsky. [Venice. March - April 1885], ibid., p. 74-75.
  65. S. Yaremich, Mikhail Vrubel [Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel], p. 136.
  66. V. Milioti, Memories of M. Vrubel [Vospominaniya o M.A. Vrubele] in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 80, item 2, sheet 1 obverse.
  67. M. Vrubel, “Draft Manuscript Notes for Lectures at the Stroganov Academy” [“Chernovyye rukopisi-zametki k lektsiyam v Stroganovskom uchilishche”] in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 8, 6 sheets. Vrubel wrote the draft of the introduction to his lecture course “The Stylisation of Flowers” [“Stilizatsiya tsvetov”] fitfully, which was reflected in certain faults (of script, unfinished words, the confused rhythm of the way in which the sheets were organised, for example, sheet 2 and sheet 2 obverse), which, in turn, has affected the way in which researchers have disentangled it. The first lengthy excerpts from it were published in Suzdalev’s monograph Vrubel: Personality; Worldview. Method [Vrubel. Lichnost’. Mirovozzreniye. Metod] (Moscow: Izobrazitelnoye Iskusstvo, 1984, p. 130). However, the sequence of Vrubel’s notes was disrupted by the author in his quotations from them, which influenced the wholeness of the perception of his main thoughts as well as the smoothing out (as a result of their chaotic state) of the internal links in their development. That is why we have placed the sheet numbers within the quotations. Given the conceptual emphasis of this article, the document has been reproduced in a shortened form. Punctuation marks have largely been preserved in this authentic version as they were in Vrubel’s original, and only in a few cases of clear omission have they been corrected according to the rules of orthography.
  68. F. Nietzsche, Contra Wagner. URL: https://bookscafe.net/read/nicshe_fridrih-kazus_vag-ner-10757.html#p1 Accessed on: 19.06.2021.
  69. This attribution was first suggested by A. Troshchinskaya, the head researcher and custodian of the collection, a position with which the author is in full agreement (A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel from the Collection of the Museum of Applied and Industrial Art of the Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts [Proizvedeniya M.A. Vrubelya iz sobraniya Muzeya dekorativno-prikladnogo i promyshlennogo iskusstva MGKhPA imeni S.G. Stroganova], album (Moscow: Rusich, 2013), p. 27. Hereafter: A. Troshchinskaya, “The Works of M. Vrubel...” [“Proizvedeniya M.A. Vrubelya”].
  70. On the quantity of drawings see: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... [Proizvedeniya M.A. Vrubelya], p. 19.
  71. It is worth noting that an unequivocal identification of the image of the flower on sheet 14 is impossible, given that Vrubel transformed it on the basis of purely artistic aims. Vrubel’s drawings do bear similarity to both a dog rose and a windflower—we are inclined to consider that the archetype for the main character is a dog rose, a subject addressed by Vrubel before (“Dog Rose,” 1885-1886, Kyiv National Gallery). At the same time, it is impossible not to think of the downy pink poppies with blue eyes (especially in connection with painted tile close to the drawing in the Stroganov Academy collection), which were an inspiration for Vrubel during the mural painting of his Kyiv period. Nonetheless, in our view, it is not worth searching for a full agreement between the artistic image and a real flower (dog rose) in this case, given that Vrubel purposely stylised the foliage as a pattern, slightly changing its rhythmic organisation and giving a free reign to its ornamental exultation.
  72. For more see: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... [Proizvedeniya M.A. Vrubelya.].
  73. M. Vrubel, Letter to N. Zabela-Vrubel [1902] in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 71, inventory 1, item. 9, sheet 2 obverse.
  74. M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Vrubel. Kyiv. February 1888 in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis’ma k sestre], p. 116.
  75. Ibid.
  76. V. Stanyukovich, Monograph on M. Vrubel [Monografiya o M.A. Vrubele] in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 27, inventory 1, item 89, sheets 3-4.
  77. M. Vrubel, Letter to his Parents [Peterhof]. June 11 [1883] in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis'ma k sestre], pp. 92-93. See also: M. Allenov, “Vrubel and Fortuny” in Questions in Art Criticism, nos. 2-3 (Moscow, 1993), pp. 41-57.
  78. Ellis (L. Kobylinsky), “Bellflower” [“Kolokolchik”] in Ellis: Argo; Argo. - Forgotten Vows. - Maria: Two Books of Verse and a Poem [Ellis: Argo; Argo. - Zabytyye obety. - Mariya: Dve knigi stikhov ipoema], (Moscow: Musaget, 1914), p. 8.
  79. M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Vrubel. Moscow. March 20, 1891, in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis’ma ksestre], p. 125
  80. In the current publication, the piece is named in accordance with the academic tradition of its discussion in the literature of art criticism. In the State Catalogue of the Museum Fund of the Russian Federation its official name is “Guidon” (ZH-38).
  81. A. Botkina, Letter to I. Ostroukhov. St. Petersburg. January 13, 1901, in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 10, inventory 1, item 1499, sheet 1 obverse.
  82. In the Desk Book of Doctor A.E. Bari’s hospital, which records the course of Vrubel’s illness, there is mention of an incident during which the artist, while staying at the clinic of V.P. Serbsky in 1904, “imagined that he was on an earthly paradise” (sheet 212). In 1907, the now blind master, whose “fantasy was extremely lively” and, being “able to recall past and present”, saw sometimes a “beautiful gazebo of unusual flowers”, sometimes an extremely tranquil sea on which the stars were reflected (sheet 212 obverse). Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 376, sheets 211-213 obverse.
  83. M. Vrubel, “Church Bell” [“Blagovest”] in Literary Fragments ofM.A. Vrubel. [19021904], Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 71, inventory 1, item 28, sheet 1 obverse.
  84. M. Vrubel, Meeting [Vstrecha], ibid., sheet 1.
  85. M. Vrubel, To the Painting [Kkartine], ibid, sheet 1 obverse.
  86. M. Vrubel, You Are a Grain of Sand... [Ty peschinka] in Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery, fund 71, inventory 1, item 11, sheet 1 obverse.
  87. G. Bashlyar, The Poetics of Space [Poetika prostranstva], (Moscow: Ad Marginem Press, 2014), p. 178.
  88. N. Prakhov, Pages from the Past [Stranitsy proshlogo], p. 170.
  89. O. Dymov, “Unnamed” [“Bez nazvaniya”]. (Birzheviye Vedomosti, no. 8638, January 28 (February 10), 1905) in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 4.
  90. A. Benois, “Vrubel” (Speech no. 91. 3rd of April 1910) in Manuscript Department of the Russian Museum, fund 34, inventory 1, item 67, sheet 151.
  91. M. Vrubel. Quoted from: Artist's Comments on Art, Noted Down by Korovin in Konstantin Korovin Remembers... [Konstantin Korovin vspominayet...] (Moscow: Isobrazitelnoye Iskusstvo, 1990), p. 89.
  92. M. Vrubel, Letter to A. Vrubel. Moscow. July 1892 in M. Vrubel: Letters to his Sister [M. Vrubel. Pis'ma k sestre], p. 128.
Illustrations
Mikhail VRUBEL. Seraph. 1904–1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Seraph. 1904–1905.
Watercolour, charcoal and lead pencil on paper. 45 × 35.8 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). 1890. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Seated. 1890
Oil on canvas. 116.5 × 213.8 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Primavera. 1897. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Primavera. 1897.
Watercolour, charcoal and lead pencil on paper. 96.4 × 50.9 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Detail
The laurel leaf and iris flower, taken by the artist Eduard Spandikov “from the grave” of Mikhail Vrubel on the day of his burial
The laurel leaf and iris flower, taken by the artist Eduard Spandikov “from the grave” of Mikhail Vrubel on the day of his burial. The month on the envelope is written carelessly. The correct date is: 3.IV.1910 (according to the old style). Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 121. Inventory 1. Item 119. Sheet 1
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile decorated with a cornflower. Early 1890s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile decorated with a cornflower. Early 1890s. Sheet 23. Ink, watercolour on paper. 4.8 × 5 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum*. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel from the Collection of the Museum of Applied and Industrial Art of the Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts, album. Moscow, 2013. P. 55, cat. 14. Hereafter: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel...)

* In this publication, for ease of theoretical reflection, sheet numbers of Mikhail Vrubel’s sketches from the collection of the Museum of Applied Art of the Stroganov Academy correspond to the fractional value of the numbers following their common index KP-2923.

Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile decorated with a cornflower. Early 1890s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile decorated with a cornflower. Early 1890s. Sheet 30.
Pencil and watercolour on paper. 4.9 × 5.1 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 56, cat. 15)
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Archangel Gabriel in a scene from the “Annunciation”
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Archangel Gabriel in a scene from the “Annunciation”. The northern pillar in front of the altar of St Cyrill’s Church, Kyiv. Late 19th century. Photograph
View of St. Cyrill’s Church and its bell tower before its destruction Kyiv. Early 20th century
View of St. Cyrill’s Church and its bell tower before its destruction Kyiv. Early 20th century. Photograph
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Archangel Gabriel in a scene from the “Annunciation”. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Archangel Gabriel in a scene from the “Annunciation”. 1884.
Oil on plaster. 385 × 110 cm. The northern pillar in front of the altar. St. Cyrill’s Church, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Graveside Lamentation. Sketch of unrealised murals for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv (4th version). 1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Graveside Lamentation. Sketch of unrealised murals for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv (4th version). 1887
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 18 × 29.8 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Reproduction taken from Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel: Life and Work by Stepan Yaremich (Moscow: Izdaniye I. Knebel, 1911. Between pp. 48-49)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Orchid. 1886–1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. Orchid. 1886–1888
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 24 × 15.7 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Self-Portrait. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Self-Portrait. Late 1904 – early 1905
Charcoal, pencil on paper. 25.3 × 17.4 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Azalea. 1886–1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Azalea. 1886–1888
Watercolour, charcoal and lead pencil on paper. 29 × 22 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Iris. 1886–1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Iris. 1886–1888
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 24.1 × 16 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers. 1884.
Pencil on paper. 11.7 × 18.8 cm
© Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers. Late 1904 – early 1905.
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 25.3 × 17.4 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Leaves. Sheet 3 from the “Album. 1884-1885”
Mikhail VRUBEL. Leaves. Sheet 3 from the “Album. 1884-1885”
Lead pencil on paper. 9 × 13.2 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Male and Female Figures. Sketches. Sheet 37 from the “Album. 1884-1885”
Mikhail VRUBEL. Male and Female Figures. Sketches. Sheet 37 from the “Album. 1884-1885”.
Lead pencil on blue paper. 13.2 × 9 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). Sketch for the eponymous painting (1890, Tretyakov Gallery)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). Sketch for the eponymous painting (1890, Tretyakov Gallery).
Watercolour, whitewash, lead pencil on paper. 17 × 27 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). 1890. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). 1890
Oil on canvas. 116.5 × 213.8 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Fantastic Landscape. 1890s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Fantastic Landscape. 1890s
Sheet from a notepad. Watercolour, whitewash, lead pencil on paper. 11.3 × 16.7 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). 1890
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon (Seated). 1890
Oil on canvas. 116.5 × 213.8 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mother-of-pearl shell (haliotis or ear shell) that belonged to Mikhail Vrubel. Inside part
Mother-of-pearl shell (haliotis or ear shell) that belonged to Mikhail Vrubel.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 370. Inside part
Mother-of-pearl shell (haliotis or ear shell) that belonged to Mikhail Vrubel. Outside part
Mother-of-pearl shell (haliotis or ear shell) that belonged to Mikhail Vrubel.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 370. Outside part
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. 1905. From the “Shells” sketch series. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. 1905. From the “Shells” sketch series. Late 1904 – early 1905.
Coloured chalks, lead and Italian pencils, charcoal, black pastel, sanguine on paper. 42.4 × 34.2 cm (reverse)
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Yellow Roses. Plafond for the home of E.D. Dunker in Moscow. The right plafond from the triptych “Flowers”. 1894
Mikhail VRUBEL. Yellow Roses. Plafond for the home of E.D. Dunker in Moscow. The right plafond from the triptych “Flowers”. 1894
Oil on canvas. 134.5 × 135.5 cm. Diameter – 140 cm
© Omsk Regional Vrubel Museum of Fine Arts
Mikhail VRUBEL. Roses and Lilies. Plafond for the home of E.D. Dunker in Moscow. The left plafond from the triptych “Flowers”. 1894
Mikhail VRUBEL. Roses and Lilies. Plafond for the home of E.D. Dunker in Moscow. The left plafond from the triptych “Flowers”. 1894.
Oil on canvas. 134 × 134.5 cm. Diameter – 135 cm
© Omsk Regional Vrubel Museum of Fine Arts. The second, museum, variant of its name is “Roses and Orchids”
Mikhail VRUBEL. Chrysanthemums. Plafond for the home of E.D. Dunker in Moscow. The central plafond of the triptych “Flowers”. 1894
Mikhail VRUBEL. Chrysanthemums. Plafond for the home of E.D. Dunker in Moscow. The central plafond of the triptych “Flowers”. 1894.
Oil on canvas. 300 × 163 cm
© Omsk Regional Vrubel Museum of Fine Arts
Mikhail VRUBEL. Resurrection. Triptych with two angelic figures above sleeping warriors. Sketch of an unrealised mural for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv. 1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Resurrection. Triptych with two angelic figures above sleeping warriors. Sketch of an unrealised mural for St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv. 1887
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 31.6 × 43 cm (without frame).
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Mother of God with Infant. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Mother of God with Infant. 1885
Zinc plate, oil on canvas, gilding. 192.9 × 79.8 cm. St. Cyrill’s Church, Kyiv, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Mother of God with Infant. 1885. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Mother of God with Infant. 1885. Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Head of the Mother of God. Ornamental plant motif. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Head of the Mother of God. Ornamental plant motif. 1884.
Sketch for the icon “Mother of God with Child” for the iconostasis of St. Cyrill’s Church, Kyiv. Watercolour, gouache, lead pencil and varnish on white, grey, and yellow paper on canvas with a stretcher. 57 × 48 cm. Sheet comprised of nine parts.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Petunias in a Glass. 1886–1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Petunias in a Glass. 1886-1887
Watercolour, varnish on paper. 24.8 × 16.9 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
View of the altar screen of St. Cyrill’s Church (Kyiv) with four examples of Vrubel’s work: “St. Athanasius,” “The Mother of God with Infant,” “Christ” and “St. Cyrill.” 1885
View of the altar screen of St. Cyrill’s Church (Kyiv) with four examples of Vrubel’s work: “St. Athanasius,” “The Mother of God with Infant,” “Christ” and “St. Cyrill.” 1885
The iconostasis of St. Cyrill’s Church which was executed in Venice for the iconostasis of St. Cyrill’s Church in Kyiv, Ukraine. Contemporary photograph
Mikhail VRUBEL. Heliotropes and Forget-Me-Nots. 1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Heliotropes and Forget-Me-Nots. 1887
Motif for a fan. Watercolour, whitewash and varnish on white satin mounted on cardboard. 45.8 × 65 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in N. Matsneva collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for the ornamental design of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv. 1888–1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for the ornamental design of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv. 1888-1889
Watercolour on paper and cardboard. Image: 24.4 × 8.2 cm; sheet: 24.8 × 8.4 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Detail of an ornamental motif for the murals of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv), which was published in the journal “Iskusstvo i Khudozhestvennaya Promyishlennost” (1898, No. 3)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Detail of an ornamental motif for the murals of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv), which was published in the journal “Iskusstvo i Khudozhestvennaya Promyishlennost” (1898, No. 3). Vladimir Stasov mistakenly attributed this ornamentation to Viktor Vasnetsov and offered high praise of the stylistic intuition it represented; at the same time, the critic wrote in exclusively disparaging terms of Mikhail Vrubel. Both artists demanded a correction.
Mikhail VRUBEL. Detail of an ornamental motif for the murals of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv), which was published in the journal “Iskusstvo i Khudozhestvennaya Promyishlennost” (1898, No. 3)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Detail of an ornamental motif for the murals of St. Volodymir’s Cathedral (Kyiv) which was published in the journal “Iskusstvo i Khudozhestvennaya Promyishlennost” (1898, No. 3). Detail
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Flowers in a Narrow Vase. Palette. On the reverse side of the page with a sketch for “Female Head (E.L. Prakhova)”. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Flowers in a Narrow Vase. Palette. On the reverse side of the page with a sketch for “Female Head (E.L. Prakhova)”. 1884.
Lead pencil, watercolour on paper. 45 × 39 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Peonies and Other Flowers. 1893
Mikhail VRUBEL. White Peonies and Other Flowers. 1893
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 15.6 × 21.8 cm (The image is delineated on the left and right edges)
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers in a Blue Vase. 1886–1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers in a Blue Vase. 1886–1887
Watercolour, varnish on paper. 16.3 × 24.5 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Flowers. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Flowers. 1904.
Front and reverse side of the page. Watercolour, charcoal and lead pencil on paper. 32.8 × 41.3 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Palette. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Palette. 1885.
Watercolour on paper. 18.7 × 11.7 cm. A page from the “Venice Album”. © Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Seventeen pages from the album have survived independently, 11 remain bound together, eight of which are blank. Previously, the wholealbum was kept in A. Prakhov family collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Rose. Sketches. Trying out a brush. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Rose. Sketches. Trying out a brush. 1885
Watercolour, whitewash on paper. 25.6 × 22 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail Vrubel’s Album. 1884–1885. Kyiv – Odessa
Mikhail Vrubel’s Album. 1884–1885. Kyiv – Odessa
There are 44 pages in the album, seven of which are blank. Previously, the album contained 46 sheets. It included “Portrait of V.A. Serov” and “Self-Portrait”, on the reverse of which the wrist of Vrubel’s left hand is depicted. These works are now on separate pages. The binder’s size (vertically): 13.5 ×10.5 cm. Sheet size: 13.2 × 9 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in A. Prakhov family collection, Kyiv
Mikhail VRUBEL. Outline of the Seashore at Big Fountain in Odessa. Sheet 25 from “Album. 1884-1885”
Mikhail VRUBEL. Outline of the Seashore at Big Fountain in Odessa. Sheet 25 from “Album. 1884-1885”.
Lead pencil on blue paper. 13.2 × 9 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Outlines. Sketch. Sheet 36 from “Album. 1884-1885”
Mikhail VRUBEL. Outlines. Sketch. Sheet 36 from “Album. 1884-1885”
Lead pencil on paper. 9 × 13.2 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornament. 1895–1896
Mikhail VRUBEL. Ornament. 1895-1896.
Black watercolour, lead, pencil on paper. 12.3 × 12.3 cm (in the circle traced by the frame)
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. General View of Vrubel’s Studio in Venice. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. General View of Vrubel’s Studio in Venice. 1885.
Lead pencil on paper. 8 × 14.4 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. At Vrubel’s Studio in Venice. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. At Vrubel’s Studio in Venice. 1885
Lead pencil on paper. 11.7 × 18.6 cm. A page from the “Venice Album”
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Overcoat on a Chair. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Overcoat on a Chair. 1904
Lead pencil on paper. 23.2 × 33 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Table-Glass. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Table-Glass. 1904
Lead pencil on paper. 25.1 × 17.4 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bed. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bed. 1904
Lead pencil on paper. 23 × 33 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of E.L. Prakhova (During Her Illness). 1885–1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of E.L. Prakhova (During Her Illness). 1885-1886.
Lead pencil on paper. 27.7 × 20.3 cm. Sheet from an album.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Savva Mamontov. 1891–1892
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Savva Mamontov. 1891-1892
Lead pencil on paper. 18.6 × 11.5 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Photographie Manfredi & Quintal. Paris. 28 Faub[ourg] St. Honoré.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 88. Sheet 3
Mikhail VRUBEL. A Person Sleeping on a Bed. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. A Person Sleeping on a Bed. 1904
Lead pencil on paper. 11.2 × 17.7 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Macramé lace from Vologda Governate
Macramé lace from Vologda Governate
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 23
Ancient pectoral icon and necklace
Ancient pectoral icon and necklace
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Photo #515.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 85. Sheet 6
Mikhail VRUBEL. Swan. 1901
Mikhail VRUBEL. Swan. 1901 Oil on canvas. 155 × 132.2 cm. © Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Swan Princess. 1900
Mikhail VRUBEL. Swan Princess. 1900
Oil on canvas. 142.5 × 93.5 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
A view of part of the reception room at the Kremlin’s Terem Palace
A view of part of the reception room at the Kremlin’s Terem Palace
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s collection. Photo # 2073
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 85. Sheet 18
View of a ceremonial corridor in the Kremlin’s Terem Palace
View of a ceremonial corridor in the Kremlin’s Terem Palace
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s collection. Photo # 2085.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 85. Sheet 23
Reception room (of the Boyar’s Council) in the Terem Palace (1635-1637)
Reception room (of the Boyar’s Council) in the Terem Palace (1635-1637)
Modern view. Photograph
View of a chamber of the Kremlin’s Terem Palace
View of a chamber of the Kremlin’s Terem Palace.
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Photo # 2075.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 85. Sheet 19
The Chamber of the Tsar or “Throne Room” in the Terem Palace (1635-1637)
The Chamber of the Tsar or “Throne Room” in the Terem Palace (1635-1637)
Modern view. Photograph. The light-purple stove tiles of the 17th century were replaced in the 19th century by red ones.
Mikhail VRUBEL. Antique Persian Carpet. 1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Antique Persian Carpet. 1886
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 12.6 × 9 cm. Sheet from an album.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Model in Renaissance Surroundings. 1883
Mikhail VRUBEL. Model in Renaissance Surroundings. 1883
Watercolour, whitewash, varnish on paper mounted on cardboard. 36 × 24.8 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of a Man in Antique Costume. 1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of a Man in Antique Costume. 1886
Watercolour, whitewash, lead pencil, varnish on paper mounted on cardboard. 27.7 × 27 cm.
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Girl and Persian Rug. 1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Girl and Persian Rug. 1886
Oil on canvas. 104.5 × 68.4 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. At Nightfall. 1900
Mikhail VRUBEL. At Nightfall. 1900
Oil on canvas. 129 × 180 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Indian ornamental decoration (to embroider on canvas). 1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Indian ornamental decoration (to embroider on canvas). 1886.
Watercolour, whitewash, lead pencil, varnish on plotting paper mounted on cardboard. 21.8 × 31.3 cm (the sheet is of irregular configuration).
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 86. Sheet 10
Kazbek Mountain. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Kazbek Mountain. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s collection
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 19
Georgian Military Road. Kazbek Mountain
Georgian Military Road. Kazbek Mountain. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s collection.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 20
Simeiz. 1899. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Simeiz. 1899. Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 86. Sheet 16
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Downcast. 1902
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Downcast. 1902
Oil on canvas. 139 × 387 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Downcast. Sketch of eponymous painting (1902, Tretyakov Gallery). 1901
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Downcast. Sketch of eponymous painting (1902, Tretyakov Gallery). 1901.
Gouache, bronze powder, watercolour on paper mounted on cardboard. 21 × 30 cm
© Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Downcast. 1901
Mikhail VRUBEL. Demon Downcast. 1901.
Sketch of the initial variant of the painting. Watercolour, whitewash, lead pencil, iron gall ink, pen on cardboard. 27.6 × 63.9 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Parting of the Sea King and Princess Volkhova. 1898
Mikhail VRUBEL. Parting of the Sea King and Princess Volkhova. 1898.
Gouache, bronze paint, pastel, varnish on paper mounted on cardboard. 60 × 152 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Pan. 1899
Mikhail VRUBEL. Pan. 1899
Oil on canvas. 124 × 106.3 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 86. Sheet 2
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 86. Sheet 6
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 86. Sheet 4
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel against a Background of Birches. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel against a Background of Birches. 1904.
Watercolour, pastel, gouache, charcoal lead pencil, chalk on paper. 67.6 × 32.3 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Lilac bush at the cottage belonging to Nikolai Ge (Ivanovskiy Village, Chernigov Governate). 1900
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Lilac bush at the cottage belonging to Nikolai Ge (Ivanovskiy Village, Chernigov Governate). 1900
Photograph by Viktor Zamerailo.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 1
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Lilac bush at the cottage belonging to Nikolai Ge (Ivanovskiy Village, Chernigov Governate). 1900
Photograph from Mikhail Vrubel’s personal collection. Lilac bush at the cottage belonging to Nikolai Ge (Ivanovskiy Village, Chernigov Governate). 1900.
Photograph by Viktor Zamerailo.
© Manuscript Department, Russian Museum, St. Petersburg. Fund 34. Inventory 1. Item 84. Sheet 13
Mikhail VRUBEL. Lilac. Unfinished. 1901
Mikhail VRUBEL. Lilac. Unfinished. 1901
Oil on canvas. 214 × 342 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. After a Concert. Portrait of Zabela-Vrubel by the Fireplace. Unfinished. 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. After a Concert. Portrait of Zabela-Vrubel by the Fireplace. Unfinished. 1905.
Pastel, charcoal on canvas. 168.5 × 191.5 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Lilacs. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Lilacs. 1904
Lead pencil on paper. 27.6 × 17.7 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Dress. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Dress. 1904.
Sketch for the portrait “After a Concert”. Lead pencil, compressed charcoal on tinted paper. 174 × 25.3 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Lilacs. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bouquet of Lilacs. 1904
Watercolour on cardboard. 31.3 × 44.4 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Morning. 1897
Mikhail VRUBEL. Morning. 1897
Oil on canvas. 261 × 447 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Initial variant of a composition from the cycle of decorative panels “Times of the Day” for the mansion of Savva Morozov on Spiridonov Lane in Moscow (architect: Fyodor Schechtel, 1893-1898). The work was rejected by the client. In 1898, Vrubel painted a new version of the panel “Morning,” which was accepted by Morozov
Mikhail VRUBEL. Evening. Panel from the cycle “Times of the Day” for the mansion of Savva Morozov. 1897
Mikhail VRUBEL. Evening. Panel from the cycle “Times of the Day” for the mansion of Savva Morozov. 1897.
Oil on canvas. Mansion of Zinaida Morozova (Reception House of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Floral ornament. Album with sketches. 1884–1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Floral ornament. Album with sketches. 1884-1889
Pencil on paper. Image: 5 × 12.3 cm; sheet: 12.5 × 8 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Floral ornament. Album with sketches. 1884–1889
Mikhail VRUBEL. Floral ornament. Album with sketches. 1884-1889
Pencil on paper. Image: 12 × 8 cm; sheet: 12.5 × 8 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers. 1890s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flowers. 1890s.
Ornament sketches. Lead pencil on paper. 45 × 56.6 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Prince Guidon and the Swan Princess. 1890s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Prince Guidon and the Swan Princess. 1890s
Distemper (with gold and silver) on hessian canvas. 87 × 97 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with geometric patterns and stylised flower buds. Early 1890s. Sheet 28
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with geometric patterns and stylised flower buds. Early 1890s. Sheet 28
Ink, watercolour on paper. 7.5 × 7 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 52, cat. 11)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with four round flower buds in the corners. Early 1890s. Sheet 31
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with four round flower buds in the corners. Early 1890s. Sheet 31
Ink, watercolour on paper. 7.5 × 7 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 53, cat. 12)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with yellow dandelions. Early 1890s. Sheet 34
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with yellow dandelions. Early 1890s. Sheet 34.
Ink, watercolour on paper. 5 × 5.3 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 60, cat. 18)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a frieze of two tiles. Early 1890s
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a frieze of two tiles. Early 1890s
Sheet 9. Pencil and watercolour on paper. 9.4 × 4.2 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 63, cat. 21)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a vase with stylised flower shoots. Early 1890s. Sheet 5
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a vase with stylised flower shoots. Early 1890s. Sheet 5.
Pencil on paper. 4.7 × 6.5 cm (the image is cut out along the outline and glued to a thick paper sheet 8.5 × 9 cm).
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 80, cat. 31)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with a flower. Early 1890s. Sheet 3
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a tile with a flower. Early 1890s. Sheet 3.
Pencil and watercolour on paper. 10.2 × 10.2 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 44, cat. 6)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a frieze of two tiles with flower patterns. Early 1890s. Sheet 14
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a frieze of two tiles with flower patterns. Early 1890s. Sheet 14.
Pencil, ink, watercolour on paper. 11.5 × 5 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 62, cat. 20)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Dog Rose. 1885–1886
Mikhail VRUBEL. Dog Rose. 1885–1886
Watercolour, whitewash, varnish on paper. 24.5 × 16.4 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Tile with a relief image of a rose on a bright background. Ambramtsevo Pottery Factory, Moscow. About 1900
Mikhail VRUBEL. Tile with a relief image of a rose on a bright background. Ambramtsevo Pottery Factory, Moscow. About 1900
Majolica, glaze and fired enamels. 18 × 18 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 103, cat. 43)
Stove tile based on a sketch by Mikhail Vrubel. 1890–1918
Stove tile based on a sketch by Mikhail Vrubel. 1890-1918
Clay, majolica. 13.5 × 13.5 × 5 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile with an image of a daisy. Early 1890s. Sheet 19
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch for a tile with an image of a daisy. Early 1890s. Sheet 19.
Pencil and watercolour on paper. 4 × 4.2 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum. (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 61, cat. 19)
Tile based on a sketch by Mikhail Vrubel. Hearth from the house of N.F. Usoltsev. 1890–1918
Tile based on a sketch by Mikhail Vrubel. Hearth from the house of N.F. Usoltsev. 1890-1918.
Clay, majolica. 16.5 × 16 × 5 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bush under Snow. 1903–1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bush under Snow. 1903-1904
Charcoal and lead pencils, gouache and oil on primed plywood. 18.8 × 26.2 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Field Flowers. Embroidery motif. 1884
Mikhail VRUBEL. Field Flowers. Embroidery motif. 1884
Watercolour, lead pencil, whitewash, varnish on paper. 40.8 × 29.5 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Decorative motif with white waterlilies. 1890s
Decorative motif with white waterlilies. 1890s
Pen, ink, watercolour, whitewash on paper. 21.5 × 32 cm
© Abramtsevo State Historical, Artistic and Literary Museum-Reserve
Mikhail VRUBEL. Design for a comb. Illustration taken from “Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel
Mikhail VRUBEL. Design for a comb. Illustration taken from “Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel. Life and Work” by Stepan Yaremich (Moscow: Izdaniye I. Knebel, 1911, p. 125)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a flower on a dark blue background. Early 1890s. Sheet 12
Mikhail VRUBEL. Sketch of a flower on a dark blue background. Early 1890s. Sheet 12.
Pencil and watercolour on paper. 16 × 5.5 cm
© Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Design and Applied Arts Museum (Reproduced from: A. Troshchinskaya, The Works of M. Vrubel... P. 36, cat. 2)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Pink Azalea. 1886–1888
Mikhail VRUBEL. Pink Azalea. 1886-1888
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 23.8 × 15.8 cm
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine. Previously kept in E. Bunge collection, Kyiv
М.А. ВРУБЕЛЬ. Скачущий всадник. «Несется конь быстрее лани…». Иллюстрация к поэме «Демон». 1890–1891
Mikhail VRUBEL. Horseman Galloping. “The horse careered faster than a deer...” Illustration for the poem “Demon.” 1890-1891
Black watercolour, whitewash on paper. 23.5 × 33.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mariano FORTUNY. Just a Shell (Puro en una venera). 19th century
Mariano FORTUNY. Just a Shell (Puro en una venera). 19th century
Watercolour on paper. 30.5 × 23.1 cm.
© El Prado, Madrid
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. 1904–1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. 1904-1905
Charcoal, watercolour, whitewash on paper. 18.6 × 32.3 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Moonlit Night. 1901
Mikhail VRUBEL. Moonlit Night. 1901.
Blue watercolour, lead pencil on paper. Image: 25.5 × 17.8 cm; sheet: 30 × 22.3 cm
© Roman Babichev Collection, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904.
From the “Campanulas” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 33.3 × 19.8 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
From the “Shells” sketch series. Black pastel, charcoal and lead pencil on paper. 23.8 × 32.7 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Rose. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Rose. 1904.
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 29.8 × 18.5 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Faust and Marguerite [Faust and Marguerite in the Garden]. 1896
Faust and Marguerite [Faust and Marguerite in the Garden]. 1896
From a sketch by Mikhail Vrubel. Reproduction from the journal “Shute”. 1897. № 16. Colour zincography. Image: 32.2 × 26.5 cm; sheet: 47 × 29.4 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Marguerite. The middle part of the “Faust” triptych from a cycle of decorative panels for the Gothic study in the house of Aleksei Morozov. 1896
Mikhail VRUBEL. Marguerite. The middle part of the “Faust” triptych from a cycle of decorative panels for the Gothic study in the house of Aleksei Morozov. 1896.
Oil on canvas. 435 × 104 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bell-Flowers. 1885–1887
Mikhail VRUBEL. Bell-Flowers. 1885-1887
Watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 28.3 × 33.4 cm
© Berezovsky family collection, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Abstract composition. Early 20th century
Mikhail VRUBEL. Abstract composition. Early 20th century
Black watercolour, whitewash on paper mounted on cardboard. 26.8 × 24.6 cm.
© Hermitage, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Church (St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv)
Mikhail VRUBEL. Church (St. Volodymir’s Cathedral in Kyiv)
Pencil on paper. 32 × 23.5 cm
© Far Eastern Art Museum, Khabarovsk
[Righteous Soul in the Hand of God]. A drawing on a torn-out piece of paper from a letter that Mikhail Vrubel sent to Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel. [After 1902]
[Righteous Soul in the Hand of God]. A drawing on a torn-out piece of paper from a letter that Mikhail Vrubel sent to Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel. [After 1902].
© Manuscript Department of the Tretyakov Gallery. Fund 71. Inventory 1. Item 13. Sheet 3
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904.
From the “Campanulas” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 26 × 16.3 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Prophet’s Head. 1904–1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Prophet’s Head. 1904–1905
Charcoal, lead pencil, whitewash, watercolour on paper mounted on cardboard. 43.2 × 33.5 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904. From the “Campanulas” sketch series
Mikhail VRUBEL. Campanulas. 1904. From the “Campanulas” sketch series.
Lead pencil on paper. 33.2 × 19.8 cm
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Self-Portrait. 1885
Mikhail VRUBEL. Self-Portrait. 1885.
Lead pencil on paper. 13.2 × 9 cm. The paper was originally part of the “Album. 1884-1885”. On the reverse: The hand of Mikhail Vrubel on the back of a chair
© Kyiv Art Gallery National Museum, Ukraine
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
From the “Shells” sketch series. Lead pencil and black pastel on paper. 17 × 24.8 cm (without frame)
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Illustration for Mikhail Lermontov’s poem “Demon”. Museum attribution: 1900s. [?] More accurately: [1890-1891 or 1890s]
Mikhail VRUBEL. Illustration for Mikhail Lermontov’s poem “Demon”. Museum attribution: 1900s. [?] More accurately: [1890-1891 or 1890s].
Varnish, lead pencil, watercolour, tinted paper mounted on cardboard. Image: 32.5 × 48.8 cm; sheet 33 × 50 cm
© Vladimir Dahl State Museum of History of Russian Literature, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Doctor F.A. Usoltsev with an Icon in the Background. 1904–1905.
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Doctor F.A. Usoltsev with an Icon in the Background. 1904–1905.
Charcoal, sanguine, whitewash on paper. 51 × 32.8 cm.
Private collection
Victor HUGO. Taches. About 1875
Victor HUGO. Taches. About 1875
Black and grey-blue ink and wash on paper. 44.3 × 55 cm
© National Library of France, Paris

Given the development of the visual aspects of artistic thinking within the context of art history, it is highly symbolic that the ontological poetics of Mikhail Vrubel’s “atomic” shells and flowers contain a broad range of figurative and semantic correlations with drawings by Victor Hugo from the 1850s-1870s, depicting the existentially metaphorical dimensions of Romanticism as a subjective and personal experience of comprehension of the spiritual spontaneity of the universe.

Victor HUGO. My Destiny (Ma destinée). 1867
Victor HUGO. My Destiny (Ma destinée). 1867
Brown ink, wash and white gouache on paper. 17.2 × 26.4 cm
© House-Museum of Victor Hugo, Paris
Mikhail VRUBEL. Marcella Bedspread. Bed with a Sleeping Person. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Marcella Bedspread. Bed with a Sleeping Person. 1904.
From the “Insomnia” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 18.5 × 26 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Artist’s Left Hand with a Handkerchief. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. The Artist’s Left Hand with a Handkerchief. 1904
From the “Insomnia” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 13.8 × 22.2 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Throw on a Chair. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Throw on a Chair. 1904
From the “Insomnia” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 22 × 17.5 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. A Person Sleeping on a Bed. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. A Person Sleeping on a Bed. 1904
From the “Insomnia” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 11.1 × 22.1 cm.
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Chequered Gown and Bed. 1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Chequered Gown and Bed. 1904.
From the “Insomnia” sketch series. Lead pencil on paper. 17.7 × 30 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Tree by a Fence. 1903–1904
Mikhail VRUBEL. Tree by a Fence. 1903–1904
Lead pencil on paper. 24.9 × 35.7 cm.
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shell. Late 1904 – early 1905.
From the “Shells” sketch series. Italian and lead pencils, watercolour, whitewash on paper. 22.9 × 34.8 cm (without frame).
© Russian Museum, St. Petersburg
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Valery Bryusov. Unfinished. 1906
Mikhail VRUBEL. Portrait of Valery Bryusov. Unfinished. 1906
Compressed charcoal, sanguine, chalk on paper. 102.2 × 69.5 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shadows of the Lagoons. 1905
Mikhail VRUBEL. Shadows of the Lagoons. 1905
Pastel, gouache, charcoal, lead pencil on paper. 69.5 × 90.6 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flower. Composition. 1902
Mikhail VRUBEL. Flower. Composition. 1902.
Colour pencil on cardboard. 22.4 × 21.3 cm. Mamontov family collection, Moscow
© Copyright 2021, M.V. Mamontova, Moscow
Mikhail VRUBEL. Preparatory sketch for the decoration of the piece “King Saul”, which was performed on the stage of the Abramtsevo Circle on January 6, 1890. 1890
Mikhail VRUBEL. Preparatory sketch for the decoration of the piece “King Saul”, which was performed on the stage of the Abramtsevo Circle on January 6, 1890. 1890
Pencil, gouache on paper mounted on cardboard. 16.5 × 10.1 cm
© Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts

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