Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944): From Cubism to Surrealism (St Petersburg Gallery, London)


The Sphinx of St Petersburg(1909) © St Petersburg Gallery

If every ground-floor window on Cork Street is alive with the lure of artworks, St Petersburg Gallery’s is ablaze with a kaleidoscope of colours and styles. Dazzling variety is indeed one’s first impression of Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné’s work, an impression strengthened by the exhibition’s title, From Cubism to Surrealism.

Indeed, from the realistic style of Mansions (1907), to the Cézannist landscape Red Roof (1910) via the impressionistic touches of Barges on the Dnieper (1907) and the green shadows of Nude (1909), Baranov-Rossiné’s early paintings seem to chronicle the discovery of the French avant-garde in Russia. Influenced by the artistic discoveries of the group ‘World of Art,’ these works seemingly reflect the international climate of turn-of-the-century St Petersburg, where Baranov-Rossiné studied. Yet despite their formative importance, these works are relegated to the gallery’s lower ground floor.

Baranov_Politech Sculpture2

Polytechnical Sculpture (1915) © St Petersburg Gallery

Greater prominence is given to works displayed on the gallery’s ground floor. With one exception, these are all from the period between 1910 and 1915, when, under the alias Daniel Rossiné, the artist was living in Paris among the well-known émigrés of the creative colony La Ruche.

Placed on each side of the entrance, Still Life with a Shell (1910) and Maternity (1910) reveal the impact of post-Impressionism and synthetic Cubism on Branov-Rossiné’s work. Unfortunately, excessive emphasis on these works prevents the viewer from seeing Baranov-Rossiné’s career as a unitary development, eventually presenting him as an eclectic creator without a personal style. On the contrary, sculptures such as Polytechnical Sculpture (1915), Rhythm (1913) and Dance (1914) are original experiments with three-dimensional form and unconventional sculptural materials such as polychrome metal, cardboard and even crushed eggshell.


Counter Relief (1917) © St Petersburg Gallery

The later Counter Relief (1917) manifests the same interest with three-dimensionality, yet employs a very different style. Marking the artist’s return to Russia after the Revolution of 1917 and directly borrowing its title from Tatlin, this work reveals Baranov-Rossiné’s willingness to embrace a new art for a new order. In fact, Baranov-Rossiné gained immediate recognition upon his return to Russia and obtained important official positions such as Head of Painting at the Petrograd Free Studios.

Despite Baranov-Rossiné success in Bolshevik Russia, no other work of this period is included in the show. Lack of information on this period is all the more regrettable for it is in Russia that the artist perfected his Octophonic Piano (1920-1923), a silent instrument which, when played, projected ever-changing coloured patterns through a magic lantern. Yet for all its whimsical appeal, little importance is given in the exhibition to Disk for Colour Music (1921-1922), now but a cracked and inert memorabilia of the artist’s life.

Around the disk, the artist’s earlier and later works are juxtaposed in a synthesis that is often hard to follow. Certainly, the resulting exhibition has striking visual dazzle; but fascination can all too easily turn into disorientation, as the viewer is offered no contextual information to decode this catalogue of heterogeneous styles.

Constanza Beltrami is a third-year BA student at the Courtauld.

Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944): From Cubism to Surrealism is at the St Petersburg Gallery, London until 29 March 2014.

Natalia Murray on the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 and the Quest for the New Art

Street festival May 1926, Leningrad

At the end of January, Natalia Murray spoke about ‘The Proletarian Art Enigma’ as part of the Modern and Contemporary Research Seminar. She began with the social and historical background of the Russian Revolution of 1917—aimed at establishing a homogenous socialist state and culture to serve purely political needs—and ended with the year 1921. In her lecture, Murray sought to question whether proletarian art was a reality or a contradiction during this interlude.

The French Revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries set an important precedent for the Bolsheviks. Influenced by the writing of Gustav le Bon, renowned French social psychologist, the Bolsheviks understood the power of the image for manipulating the masses. In his work on the psychology of the crowd, Le Bon believed that sentiment, not rational nature, is key. It follows that images, not words, are more powerful in controlling and manipulating crowds. Note that le Bon has been quoted by Mussolini, Stalin, Lenin and Hitler.

Russian Futurists and Leftist artists were quick to support the Bolshevik Revolution and moved to the forefront of new proletarian art . Murray took us through images of the first expressions of this art: from the Futurists’ sculpture of a fumbling eagle located at Peterhof Station nearby the Summer Palace of the Tsar, which symbolised the collapse of autocracy, to agitational propaganda on trains and trams with slogans in German due to the influence of Karl Marx to street decorations reminiscent of parade floats from the French Revolution to items of porcelain and posters by Natan Altman and Vladimir Lebedev.

Possibly the most well-known surviving artistic work from the period is the dramatically staged “Storming of the Winter Palace” by Soviet Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein. Recall the heroic toppling of the statues and masses with torched flames clambering over the palace gates. He based his film on the 1920s public re-enactment of the supposed legendary event of the 1917 Revolution. It epitomised Bolshevik mythology and points towards social manipulation, as in fact the Red Guards entered the government buildings to take control without a shot being fired.

Did proletarian art achieve its individuality; did it create a seismic effect on socialist society? Art as propaganda certainly continued beyond 1921 and was successful for agitational purposes. However the Futurist artists were removed as they ultimately failed to engage the workers who preferred more realistic decorations in a conventional style.