Monday, November 27, 2017


Russia is known for several types of its folk art. Probably one of the most widely known pieces are Russian nesting dolls (my husband said he knew these as Russian cup dolls), otherwise called Matryoshka dolls. Each doll fits into the next larger doll, and there are typically six or more, although many sets I’ve seen only include 4-5 dolls. For the most part, the dolls are painted like peasant girls, but sometimes it can be fairy tale characters or national/political leaders (what a way to ruin a kid’s toy). 

Other handicrafts include Dymkovo toy (painted clay figurines of animals and people), gzhel pottery (a type of pottery noted for its white or cream background and blue glazed painting/decoration), Khokhloma (a type of painting using a black background with floral decorations, typically in red and gold but sometimes with added green), Zhostovo painting (painting floral or natural scenes on metal serving trays), palekh (a type of lacquered papier-mâché), pysanka (elaborately painted Easter eggs, of a Ukrainian origin), and Filimonovo toys (small, brightly painted clay figures).
As far as painting goes, early Russian artists were known for their icon paintings of religious figures and Biblical characters. There were actually pretty strict guidelines in how to paint this, and Andrei Rublev was one of the more well known painters of this time. By the 17th century, there was a split in whether to paint them more realistic or not, based on the growing trend of Western European realism spreading throughout Europe. 

famous painting of composer Modest Mussorgsky, painted by Ilya Repin
In 1757, the Russian Academy of the Arts opened its doors, and Russian artists were learning many of the styles and techniques that were making waves in the rest of Europe. Many artists made their living during the 18th and 19th century by painting portraits. Realism rose to prominence during the 19th century; artists painted landscapes and other scenes of daily life, although many artists just started creating their own styles in the 20thcentury, including avant-garde.
by avant-garde painter Natalia Goncharova
Most of the literature produced by Russians is written in Russian, although there is a significant number of works written in Tatar and Ukrainian as well. Russian is one of the six official languages used by the UN, and about a quarter of scientific literature is written in Russian. It’s also the second-most used language on the web, next to English.

Folklore has long been a staple source of stories in Russia. Throughout the centuries, there have been many interpretations of Russian fairy tales. Initially, Stalin was going to throw out fairy tales as being useless to his evil diabolical plans, but Maxim Gorky convinced him they could use fairy tales to their advantage to push their Communist agenda. So, many of these fairy tales that the people knew so well were modified as Soviet fairy tales now. (Great, now fairy tales, too?)

Now, we come to my favorite part: 19th- and 20th-century Russian literature. I’ve been a fan of this period of Russian literature of many years. I discovered it in college. Each author is different, many of it is philosophical and centered around the complexity of human emotions. That’s why I like it, I suppose. And this period not only included novels, but there were many short stories, poems, and plays as well.

scene from the play Uncle Vanya (Chekhov)
Here are a few of my favorites, and I’d recommend any of these: Anton Chekhov (The Seagull; Uncle Vanya; Three Sisters; The Cherry Orchard), Leo Tolstoy (War and Peace; Anna Karenina; The Death of Ivan Ilyich), Fyodor Dostoyevsky (Crime and Punishment; The Idiot; The Brothers Karamazov; Notes from Underground), Boris Pasternak (Doctor Zhivago), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich).
There were three Russian authors (when it was the Soviet Union) who have won the Nobel Prize for Literature: Boris Pasternak (1958 – he was famous for his refusal of the prize under pressure from the Soviet government), Mikhail Sholokhov (1965), and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn (1970).

A few famous authors who I haven’t read much yet include Ivan Turgenev (Fathers and Sons), Vladimir Nabokov (Lolita), Alexander Pushkin (Boris Godunov; Eugene Onegin), Mikhail Sholokhov (And Quiet Flows the Don), and Nikolai Gogol (Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka; Taras Bulba; Marriage, several short stories).

Up next: music and dance

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