MA in the History of Art

Contacts and Contexts in Russian Art c. 1905-1945

Study at the CourtauldStudy at the CourtauldStudy at the Courtauld

Course Description

This course presents a new approach to twentieth-century Russian art, often treated as an art isolated by geography and politics. It will investigate Russian/Soviet cultural relations with the West – both formal and informal – from the turn of the century to the end of the Second World War, from 1905 to 1945.
The course shows how Russian art gained strength and gave strength through exchanges of artistic ideas. We focus on key moments of personal contact between artists, exhibitions, documents, publications and moments of collaboration. This makes it possible to examine the Russian artist in two cultural contexts, one within Russia and one outside. This shift often occurred through the trauma of emigration that affected so many Russian artists.
We seek to examine, and in some ways explain, that moment of cultural interaction that occurs when an artist moves from one ideology, landscape, or country to another. We look at its motives, mechanisms and effects. In a period of great creative innovation despite wars, revolutions and extreme ideological shifts, contacts across geographic, political and cultural boundaries could be crucial to Russian artists’ development and survival.
These cultural connections linked art in Russia to contemporary art in France, Italy, Germany, Poland, Finland, the United States and elsewhere. The examples addressed reflect new research by the tutor and will be expanded by the projects of the whole group of students. The course will consider works of art in two contexts, highlighting the different opportunities and difficulties faced by both women and men working in Russia and outside.
The course is organised mainly in the form of case-studies that vary from year to year. Students’ topics play a major role in discussions. Among artists who feature in the course are Kandinsky, Larionov, Goncharova, Malevich, Tatlin, Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Chagall, Mayakovsky, Popova, Eisenstein, Vertov, Melnikov and non-Russian artists involved in contact and exchange.
Specific topics may include Russian artists in Rome in 1917, Matisse in Moscow, Russian artists in cubist Paris, Russian connections with the Bauhaus, Lissitzky among the Dadaists, Alfred H. Barr in Russia, Gabo in emigration, Le Corbusier’s work in Moscow, Malevich and the Blok group in Poland, the 1927 exhibition of French art in Moscow, Chagall’s return to Russia, Soviet and non-soviet Russian artists at the 1925 Paris exhibition.

Language and other requirements

Standard entry requirements. A reading knowledge of Russian would be useful but is not essential.