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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Discovering Russian Art in Paris, Part Two

MTAdvertisements accompanied by color plates for two publishing companies in Zhar-Ptitsa issue No. 10 from 1923.
Earlier this week I described how two decades ago I discovered a bound collection of “Zhar-Ptitsa,” the famous Russian émigré publication that came out in the 1920s, in a used book stand on the banks of the Seine in Paris. What I touched on only briefly in that bit of a detective story was the periodical’s extraordinary quality, something that is especially obvious in our age of fast and forgettable journalism.

Perhaps the most obvious example of the lengths to which the publisher Alexander Kogan went in order to achieve high quality is a pair of full-page advertisements placed in issue number 10 in 1923. Both ads are graced by detailed, full-color illustrations on plates. Now that’s what I call making an effort to impress potential clients.

The reproductions of paintings by Kustodiyev, Somov, Bakst and others are invariably done in deep, rich color with impeccable accuracy and detail. This is not a slap-dash, off-set printing job.

The collection of authors published and topics covered is endlessly impressive. Poetry by Vladimir Sirin (Vladimir Nabokov) stands next to prints by the great fairy-tale illustrator Ivan Bilibin. A short story by Boris Pilnyak is accompanied by a photograph of a marble sculpture by S. Yuryevich (whose first name I have not been able to verify). An article describing an excursion to Africa taken by the painter Alexander Yakovlev is illustrated with color plates of paintings he did during his travels.

We also find high-quality photographs, some on plates, that I assume have now become rare. These include a portrait of the great Russian painter Ilya Repin sitting with the violinist Cecilia Hansen, for whom Prokofiev wrote a violin concerto in the 1920s; and one of the great choreographer Mikhail Fokin (Michel Fokine) dancing with his wife Vera in “The Marquise” in what appears to be an outdoor setting. I cannot help but mention also a series of photos of the famous ballerina Anna Pavlova. Nearly 100 years after these photos were taken and some 85 years since they were published, the dancer of the images still exudes grace and charisma.

Go to the photo gallery to see these and several other pages from various issues of “Zhar-Ptitsa.”