So that's how you are, the East!*

Pavel Pavlinov

Magazine issue: 
#4 2014 (45)


* A line from the poem “The Moon at Zenith” by Anna Akhmatova written while in evacuation in Tashkent in 1942.

From February 14 to March 30 the Tretyakov Gallery hosted the exhibition "Zinaida Serebryakova - Away in Paris". Whereas previously (in 1986) the gallery has showcased the work of this artist with a selection of paintings representative of her entire artistic career, this time it included only those created after her move to France in 1924, now largely belonging to the "Fondation Serebriak-off" in Paris. Most prominent, amounting to about half the display, were her Moroccan series of 1928-29 and of 1932. Paintings by Serebryakova's children, Alexander and Yekaterina were also exhibited for the first time in Moscow. Almost at the same time (from November 27 2013 to March 16 2014) the Kolomenskoe open-air museum celebrated the work of Serebryakova's brother with an exhibition "Dagestan through the eyes of Eugene Lanceray". These two events, running concurrently, provided an opportunity to compare and study how "Eastern" trends were taken up and developed by those remarkable representatives of the Silver Age - Zinaida Serebryakova and Eugene Lanceray.

The first in the family to turn to the East was their father, the sculptor Eugene Alexandrovich Lanceray, who in the 1870s made several trips to the Caucasus. In the autumn of 1874, having just married his wife Yekaterina Nikolaevna (nee Benois), he took her on honeymoon to Georgia. Inspired by the local culture the artist created a number of ethnographically accurate Georgian ("Georgian Boy Driving Three Donkeys", "Caucasian Camel Driver"), Tatar ("Tulukhcha, the Water-carrier from Tiflis"), and Circassian and Lezgin ("Lezgin Dzhigitovka") figures. While in Tiflis (Tbilisi), Yekaterina, who was a painter (she attended the drawing classes of Pavel Chistyakov at the Academy of Arts) and daughter of the architect Nikolai Benois, made a few watercolour landscapes of the city as seen from the river Kura and the nearby mountains, and also some animal pieces ("Baby Donkey", "Phasianus colchicus").

Lanceray's 1870s figures on horseback representing the inhabitants of Central Asia, the Kyrgyz and especially the Uzbeks - "Afghan from the North", "Turkestan Warrior", "The Emir of Bukhara" - are also of great interest. It is still unclear whether the sculptor ever met Yekaterina's cousin, Alexei Benois (1838-1902), who had worked as an architect in Turkestan since 18741.

In 1883 the artist went to Algeria, following in the steps of the Russian painter Stepan Bakalovich who had visited the country a year earlier. That trip resulted in the "Algerian" series which included a "Large Arab Dzhigitovka" (a kind of horse race with acrobatic tricks) group with four mounted Arabs, and a host of small bronze sculptures touching upon the subjects of death ("Arab with a Dead Son"), poverty ("The Arab Beggar"), and the life of common people ("Kabil, the Water-seller"). It is worth noting how Lanceray's "Odalisque after Dance" (1885) has something about it that recalls the Moroccan women of Eugene Delacroix.

Yevgeny Lanceray-père died young, at 37, but he managed to pass on to his children, especially to the eldest Eugene (1875-1946) and to the youngest Zinaida (1884-1967), his interest in studying different regions and nations. Zinaida's Moroccan series created during her trips of 1928-29 and 1932, in which she was able to fulfill her longing for depiction of exotic countries, gained international acclaim. She had entertained a liking for Oriental motifs since before the revolution, including her splendid "Self-portrait Wearing a Scarf" (1911, Department of Private Collections, Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow) and multiple sketches from 1915-1916 with allegorical figures - "Siam", "Turkey", "India" and "Japan" - for the panel paintings at the Kazan railway station in Moscow.

Her brother Eugene had a particularly strong influence over Zinaida and was the source of many of her artistic inclinations; before the First World War he was mainly interested in the culture of Western Europe, where he had often traveled since 1894. Jan Tsionglinsky, one of his principal tutors at the School of Drawing of the Imperial Society for Encouragement of the Arts, was studying Egypt, Tunisia, Turkey, Palestine, India and even Ceylon. Eugene, however, had only once ventured to the Far East, on a trip to Manchuria and Japan from June 4 to August 11 1902, in the company of his uncle Leonty Benois. A significant part of their journey was undertaken on the newly opened Chinese Eastern Railway (CER) at that time (1902-1908) under the management of Dmitry Horvat, the husband of Kamilla Benois. While traveling the artist painted a large number of eloquent sketches and studies of landscape and everyday life, 18 of which were reproduced in 1904-1906 on postcards printed by the community of St. Eugenia, including views of Manchuria with the Greater Hingan mountains also known from a later expedition of Nicholas Roerich in 1934-35. There were only a few architectural impressions ("Walls of Old Harbin", "Manchuria. Joss-house"), in contrast to a greater number of genre paintings and sketches from life ('Port Arthur. Chinese Houseboats").

A turning point in Eugene's career came in 1912 when "The R. Golike and A. Vilborg Partnership" publishers from St. Petersburg commissioned the artist with design and illustrations for Leo Tolstoy's novella "Hadji Murat". In July he traveled to the Caucasus to see for himself and to sketch the places connected with Hadji Murat and to reconstruct his image. He visited Chechnya, Dagestan, the Zakatalsky district, the Yelisavetpolsky province and Tiflis, relating in a letter of August 19 to his uncle Alexandre Benois: "The 'Hadji Murat' special trip is over, but apart from that what a wealth of subject matter, what authentic medieval life is beckoning and already making me dream of coming back... There should be an expedition - to 'discover' the Caucasus!" This fascination with the nature, people and culture of the Caucasus - one of the most distinctive regions of the "Russian Orient" - remained with Eugene throughout his life.

A remarkable description of his first days in Dagestan is given in a letter to his brother Nikolai written on August 5 1912. Along with the text he drew a portrait of a young Andi girl with a jug, comparing her to the Algerians whom he possibly knew from his father's drawings: "Look at the peculiar dress - this is an Andi girl. Having negotiated the first high ridge we came over from Chechnya to Dagestan. Chechnya is almost ignorant of art and lives under the Russian influence, whereas here the eye immediately catches Persian (or Arab?) culture - the ornaments, the colonnettes, the profiles are all oriental and women are uncommonly suggestive of Algeria."2

In 1914 when many artists started to work as war correspondents Lanceray chose the Caucasian rather than the European front. His drawings of December 1914-March 1915 give us a much better idea of how the First World War unraveled on the as yet little-studied Turkish line of conflict3. Upon his return from the Caucasus his sister Zinaida draw a portrait of the artist wearing a Cossack hat.

The revolution of 1917 broke the family up. Zinaida, with her husband and four children, moved from their Neskuchnoe estate in Kursk province to Kharkov, taking her mother with them. A year and a half after her husband's death they managed to transfer to Petrograd. In 1924, encouraged by Alexandre Benois, Zinaida departed for Paris, where she was joined by her son Alexander in 1925 and her daughter Yekaterina in 1928. While living in Paris Zinaida, both together with her children and on her own, made some 40 artistic trips. Accustomed to life on country estates and talking to peasants, she tried to spend more time in small towns and out in the countryside, staying six times in Brittany, more than ten on the Cote d'Azur; she also visited Britain, and a number of times Switzerland, the Pyrenees and in the central regions of France. Everywhere she went it was the common people that interested her most - the fishermen, the tradeswomen, and the Breton ladies in their typical headpieces. In her beloved Italy, where she had traveled for the first time with her mother and sisters in 1902, and then later just before the outbreak of war in 1914, on her visit in the 1930s she did not, as on earlier occasions, travel to the big cities like Rome, Milan, Venice or Naples, but headed to the little villages in Tuscany and Umbria (Assisi, Buggiano near Pistoia, San Gimignano). It was there that Zinaida's gift for landscape opened up wonderfully4.

It was a different story with Zinaida's brother Eugene, who remained in the Soviet Union. In November 1917 he accepted an invitation to move from the Ust-Krestische estate in Kursk province and settled down with an old acquaintance, Magomet Hizroev, in Temir-Khan-Shura in Dagestan. Here the full member of the Imperial Academy of Arts not only kept himself and his family safe but further developed as an artist and painter of portraits and landscapes5. In his essay "A few words about my life in the Caucasus" published in 1936 Lanceray remembered: "The absence of significant commissions and the climate of the Caucasus that allows working in the open air for almost nine or ten months a year; the novelty and the captivating breadth of purely picturesque and ethnographic subjects all around induced me to focus primarily on studies from nature as opposed to studio painting as in previous years. My first efforts were drawing-based, they were mostly detailed pencil sketches with a bit of a watercolour tinting. But little by little, under the influence of an ever-growing interest in colours and hues, the pencil in my hand was replaced by a brush."6

In 1920 Lanceray moved with his family to Georgia where he remained until he returned to Moscow in 1934. During the 1920s and 1930s he made more than 20 expeditions to various parts of the Caucasus. Enjoying the views, meeting different people and seeing the traditions of the Caucasian republics the artist often traveled in response to invitations from the Commissars of Education, museum directors and also in his capacity as a specialist at the Ethnographic Museum (1920-1922), the Caucasian Archaeological Institute (from 1925) and professor of painting and drawing at the Tiflis Academy of Arts (1922-1934). He traveled not only in Georgia (visiting, among other places, the monasteries of David Garedji in 1921, and going to Svanetia in 19297), but also in Armenia (Zangezur, 1926; Lori, 1930), Azerbaijan (Lenkoran, 1928; Julfa in the Nakhichevan republic, 1929; around Lake Gek-Gel in 1930) and Dagestan (in the mountains of Avaria, 1925). Lanceray's visit in 1922 to Angora in Turkey is better known because of the collection of the artist's diaries and drawings published in Leningrad in 1925 under the title "A Summer in Angora". That was an eventful journey with the ship sailing from Batumi to Ineboli finding itself under gunfire from the Greek fleet, while on the way back the carriage in which Lanceray was travelling was attacked by robbers at the Ilgaz pass8.

The artist's creative energy was impressive. In the summer of 1922 he produced more than 150 pieces of artwork, a great number of which were displayed at an exhibition in the Moscow Kremlin during the assembly of the Fourth Comintern Congress in October 1922, and at a separate show held by the All-Russian Society of Encouragement for the Arts in Petrograd. At the suggestion of Vadim Falileev, the "Gosizdat" publishing house was preparing an album of 20 coloured auto-lithographs. Lanceray was so absorbed in the romance of the East that even in a letter to Alexander Golovin while accepting a proposal to do sketches for the "Prince Igor" and "Werther" to be staged at the Odessa Opera House he accompanied it with the important remark, "being however currently interested in the East above all"9.

Lansere's "Oriental" experience was of great value for Serebryakova and she wrote to her brother enquiring about his travels, and in 1927 when he came to France she was able to discuss it in person. In an article by Lolliy Lvov published in issue No. 30 from 1927 of the "Illustrated Russia" magazine the following account is offered: "Eugene Lanceray is presently in Paris. He arrived on the first day of the exhibition held by 'Mir Isskustva' (World of Art) where they have some of the paintings from his major series accomplished during recent years in the Caucasus. It is a steady-paced, quiet, inward-looking 'eastern' art of an only-recently 'western-oriented' Eugene Lanceray." After three months in France, having reestablished contact with his sisters Zinaida and Sofia, with Alexandre Benois, Konstantin Somov, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Charles Birle and many others whom he had missed since 1917, the artist went back to Georgia. But the interest in his art among the emigres in Paris was only growing, and many of Lanceray's Caucasian landscapes and portraits appeared in "L'lllustration" magazine (1928, No. 4450).

Serebryakova also admired the African travels undertaken by Alexander Rubtsov and Alexander Yakovlev10, as well as by many French artists including Camille Boiry, Henri Pontoy, Jacques Majorelle, Matteo Brondy as well as Marcel Vicaire, Gabriel Rousseau and Genevieve Barrier Demnati, but she still looked above all to the example of her brother's many expeditions, including one to Turkey. In autumn 1928 the Belgian Baron Jean-Henri de Brouwer whom Zinaida had met in May of that year at the "Old and New Russian Art" exhibition in the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels, offered her a trip to Morocco on the condition of keeping for himself whatever paintings he would choose from the ones she made there. At first Zinaida could not make up her mind about traveling to North Africa on her own, but recalling the experiences of those who had been there before she accepted. In December 1928 she started on a train journey through Spain with a stop-over in Madrid. She then took a ferry across from Gibraltar to Tangier, and from there traveled to the capital Casablanca.

Her final destination was, however, the more traditional and to this day still most fascinating Moroccan city, Marrakesh. "The road from Casablanca is absolutely smooth and even reminded me of our Kursk province but, closer to Marrakesh, Africa all of a sudden springs up in red soil and palm trees, with the snow-covered Atlas mountain range in the distance, so far away that it is almost always hidden behind the clouds. And Marrakesh is all pink and flat, without any mountains or hills...," Zinaida wrote in a long letter to her brother upon her arrival11. For a month she was held in thrall by everything around her: the people, nature, traditions and particular details of everyday life. In spite of the difficulties in getting the locals in this Muslim country to sit for her she managed a few dozen pastels of Arabs and Africans, sometimes with their children, wearing traditional clothes, in their familiar surroundings. In the same letter to Eugene of December 24 1928 she related: "I am impressed by everything here to the last degree - by the costumes of every possible colour, by all the human races fused together - Africans, Arabs, Mongols, Jews (very biblical too!), etc. The life they lead in Marrakesh is also unimaginable – everything is hand-crafted just like it must have been done a thousand years ago. The market square, Jemaa el Fna, is occupied daily by thousands of people sitting in circles on the ground and watching the dancers, the magicians, the snake-charmers (just like dervishes and Hindus), and so and so forth".

Serebryakova rarely noticed the landmarks - she was not interested unless they had something to do with the particular life of the Orient. Her landscapes are rare, including views of the city walls, the Atlas foothills and the village of Tameslut. She did far more quick sketches with scenes involving tradesmen, musicians, people smoking, drinking tea, making crafts, having a rest sometimes next to the camels under a hazelnut tree and the like. It is precisely in these genre scenes that Serebryakova showed her fine composition skill, distributing the narrative emphasis by fleshing out faces, objects, the heads of the camels, including those that remain in the background. Achieving various degrees of focus, often only drawing in shapes and making three-dimensional allusions, the artist remained a realist, something that distinguished her from the great number of the other Orientalists of her time. Especially in her pastels the apparent ease of touch and distinctiveness of artistic language developed by Serebryakova, without regard to fashion or commercial success, remains striking.

However, she experienced considerable difficulty in drawing people. At the sight of Zinaida at work, the people of Marrakesh either shut their shops and left, or asked for money. As was to be expected in the East, drawing women posed a special challenge. "All the women are wrapped up from head to foot, and only their eyes are visible... This trip was altogether a risk, having borrowed the money from that Mr. Brouwer for whom I was painting portraits in Brugge in the summer. He wanted me while I am here to do nudes from the fair native females but those fantasies are quite out of the question - none of them are willing to sit even fully-covered with only eye-slits showing, let alone any hint at nudity."12 The artist nevertheless succeeded in creating a few nude pieces.

Back in Paris in February 1929 Serebryakova exhibited the works at the Berhheim-Jeune gallery. A year later it was described by the art critic Lolliy Lvov: "Zinaida presented us with a long line of her radiant and full-of-life impressions of the exotic sights of Marrakesh - a sweet suite of her pastels, so very masterful in their portrayal of the unparalleled beauty of that African land."13 The discovery of this new aspect of Zinaida's talent was the subject of a letter written by Alexandre Benois from Paris on May 17 1929 to his nephew, Zinaida's brother Nikolai Lanceray, in Leningrad: "Everyone was simply knocked over with her Moroccan collection created over a stay of only six weeks - such freshness, simplicity, aptitude, vitality, and so much light!"

Zinaida had very much counted on exhibition sales but they proved only sufficient to cover the costs of hiring the venue. Mikhail Zelikin communicated his impressions from Paris to Pavel Ettinger in Moscow: "There is an exhibition of Zinaida Serebryakova at Bernheim's. I went twice and was positively delighted. That artwork is likeable, impressive, and on top of that should attract a particular customer, someone connected with the colonies (everything on display resulted from a trip to Morocco); but I noticed that only two or three pieces out of 50 had been sold..."14

Soon after returning from Morocco Zinaida wrote to her brother Eugene about the difficulties of the trip: "It was a great inconvenience to have been on my own, shy and afraid to leave the city and go to the Atlas mountains or travel to the other cities in Morocco, for example to Fez, which, they say, is a hundred times more scenic than Marrakesh."15 Already in March 1932 the artist decided to return to Morocco with the help of Brouwer and Leboeuf, on the same conditions but with on a broader geographical scope. Serebryakova took a steam ship from Marseille to Casablanca. She then stayed for a month in Fez, visited Ain Sefra to draw the Moroccan Jews, and went to the picturesque town of Mulai Idris that had been opened for Europeans only a few years earlier; then she spent two weeks in Marrakesh.

Returning in 1932 Zinaida Serebryakova set up an exhibition at the Charpentier gallery and sold nothing. Alexandre Benois attributed this to the recession, but there was another reason, too -the artist was not sufficiently popular due to her refusing, on principle, to follow the trends fashionable at the time. Zinaida's work met with wider acclaim much later in connection with the exhibitions of 1965-66 and 1986 held in the USSR. Her daughter Tatiana Borisovna Serebryakova actively helped to organize them, and like the rest of Serebryakova's children held her mother's art in great esteem. In her article in"Moskva" (Moscow) magazine she put special emphasis on the Moroccan trips: "The liveliest and most happy memories for my mother while living abroad were her trips of 1928 and 1932 to Morocco, where she was inspired by people and nature. Coming into contact with that fairy-tale world made her forget all her troubles; she wandered the streets of Marrakesh and Fez and was drawing for hours on end."16

After 1932 Zinaida Serebriakova never went to the Orient again. Eugene Lanceray, after moving to Moscow, had a few short (lasting less than a month) trips to Georgia (in 1937 and in 1943) and Kyrgystan (in 1939)17. Alexander Serebryakov, Zinaida's son, was interested, perhaps under the influence of Alexandre Benois, in the 18th-century styles of chinoiserie and turkerie, and showed this in his designs for garden pavilions made in the 1950s-1970s. He designed the "Pagoda" bridge and Turkish pavilion in the Floral park in the grounds of the Apre-mont-sur-Allier castle close to Nevers, and the Chinese pavilion in the park of the Grousset castle near the town of Rambouil-let.18 But the Caucasian works of Eugene and the Moroccan series by Zinaida would remain the unsurpassed heights of the Orientalist achievements in the Lanceray-Serebriakov family. The steadiness of the artistic characteristics of these two masters, who found themselves in different countries after the 1917 revolution, and their mutual fidelity to the principles of traditional art and to their own personal integrity, look more and more impressive.


  1. Among the many buildings designed by Alexei Benois was the Palace of the Emir of Bukhara in the city of Kagan in Uzbekistan erected in the neo-Moresque style in 1893-98.
  2. Letter from Eugene Lanceray to Nikolai Lanceray, August 5 1912. - Department of manuscripts, Russian Museum, Archive 38, archived unit 12, sheet 14.
  3. Fore a more detailed account see: Pavlinov, P.S. "Eugene Lanceray on the Caucasian front. Artist's drawings and notes" // "Sobranie", 2005, No. 2. Pp. 16-23.
  4. About the Paris landscapes by Zinaida Serebryakova: Pavlinov, P.S."Zinaida Serebryakova: Landscapes of the Paris Period" // "Russkoe Iskusstvo", 2012, No. 3. Pp. 102-109.
  5. For more information about the Dagestan art works of Eugene Lanceray see the "Dagestan through the eyes of Eugene Lanceray" exhibition catalogue (Moscow, 2013).
  6. Lanceray, E."A few words about my life in the Caucasus" // "Tvorchestvo", 1936, No. 1. P. 11.
  7. For a more detailed account see: Pavlinov, P.S.:"Eugene Lanceray's expedition to Svanetia in 1929" // "Russkoe iskusstvo", 2013, No. 1. Pp. 104-111.
  8. For a more detailed account of this trip see: Pavlinov, P.S. "The artist's travel diary" // "Russkoe Iskusstvo", 2004, No. 4. Pp. 148-153.
  9. "Rendezvous with the past". Issue 3. Moscow, 1986. p. 212. Article by T.E. Pavlova.
  10. In 1924 Alexander Yakovlev took part in ethnographic and zoological expeditions of the Citroen corporation to Central Africa and in 1928 traveled with Henry Rothschild across Ethiopia. On May 29 1933 Zinaida Serebryakova wrote to Eugene Lanceray:"There is an extremely engaging exhibition of Alexander Yakovlev from his travels to Central Asia with an expedition - 400 pieces, one better than another, his skill powerfully impressive! Some of his landscapes with dancing scenes from Afghanistan, horse-mounted groups, Mongols and others reminded me of your style and your skill."
  11. Letter to her brother Eugene Lanceray from Marrakesh to Tiflis, December 24 1928. Archive of Eugene Lanceray.
  12. Ibid.
  13. Lvov, L.K."About the exhibition of Zinaida Serebryakova" //"Mir i Iskusstvo". Paris. 1930. No. 16. P. 6.
  14. Letter from Mihail Zelikin to Pavel Ettinger March 6 1929. - Archives of the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. F. 29.
  15. Letter from Zinaida Serebryakova to Eugene Lanceray (Paris to Tiflis, February 17 1929). Archives of Eugene Lanceray.
  16. Serebryakova, T.B."Theart belonging to the Motherland" //"Moskva" magazine. 1965. No. 11.
  17. In April-May 1939 Eugene Lanceray visited the city of Frunze, the capital of Kyrgyzstan, in order to select paintings of local artists for the First decade of Kyrgyz art and literature festival held in Moscow from May 26 to June 4. The artist went to Lake Issyk Kul, to the mountain regions on the way to Narym, and to the Dungan village of Milyanfan.
  18. For more information about the work of the children of Zinaida Serebryakova see: Pavlinov, P.S."The Children of Zinaida Serebryakova" // "Russkoe iskusstvo" (Russian Art). 2013. No. 4. Pp. 134-141.





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