On 29 December 2015, a new section of the permanent exhibition entitled A Cabinet of Artists’ Books presenting books from the collection of Mark Ivanovich Bashmakov, an academician of the Russian Academy of Education, and the Hermitage own stocks opened in rooms on floor 4. Mikhail Vitalyevich Balan, a research fellow in the State Hermitage Department of Western European Fine Art, talks about the new exhibition space, the principals of rotation (i.e. periodic changes of the exhibitions), and the most interesting publications.
The opening of the exhibition entitled “Paroles Peintes. Books from the Collection of Mark Bashmakov”.
М. Bashmakov, М. Balan. 17 April 2015. Photo by А. Koksharov
The term the “artist’s book” is likely familiar to most viewers primarily as the definition of a radical, purely modern tendency in book art. Here it is understood in a broader sense, namely as a general term and the term with multiple meanings that can be applied both to books by actual art masters and to rare publications illustrated by last century’s outstanding artists, primarily by Art Nouveau classics, otherwise referred to as “livres d'artiste”. It is these publications that are displayed in the Cabinet; however, this does not mean that in future contemporary “artist’s books” or any other examples of the illustrated book will not be showcased.
Tristan Tzara. Parler Seul
Collection of M.I. Bashmakov
A Cabinet of Artists’ Books is not only a new exhibition room, but also a completely new endeavour of our museum. On more than one occasion, fabulous illustrated books, both old and new, from our and other collections were exhibited in the Hermitage. Just over the past few years probably a dozen such exhibitions have been held. Yet those were nothing else but one-time temporary displays, not necessarily suggesting any continuation. In contrast, A Cabinet of Artists’ Books represents permanent exhibition space.
For the first time in the Hermitage history illustrated books found their permanent place in the museum. Indeed, this is chiefly determined by the fact that the books on display are highly unusual. These are works by leading masters, many of which gained international acclaim as painters and sculptors (hence the terms “livre d'artiste” or the “artist’s book”). As a general rule, illustrations are created in the original graphic art techniques, including etchings, lithographs, wood engravings, rather than photo reproductions we are so well familiar with today.
In the true sense of the word, books of this kind represent museum exhibits, and their proximity to painterly masterpieces is quite natural. It is important that A Cabinet is located next to the Sergei Shchukin and Morozov Brothers Memorial Gallery. Close at hand is also the recently opened pastels room, which gives visitors to the museum a rare opportunity to compare paintings and graphic works by the same artists, and, conversely, see those works by 20th-century painters, whose paintings are not possessed by the Hermitage. In any case, the comparison of these two related displays, showcasing paintings and books, can be quite revealing.
Henri de Montherlant. Pasiphaé – Chant de Minos
A Cabinet of Artists’ Books presents and will present publications from two collections: alongside books from the collection of Mark Bashmakov, an academician of the Russian Academy of Education, the exhibition will feature publications from the Hermitage Museum’s own stocks. For the most part these are supposed to be works by 20-th century French masters, although, as has been stated earlier, the display may include entirely different items, for example, old illustrated books or publications by Russian futurists. On the whole, the chronological and geographical framework is quite clearly defined; however, the books on view will be changed on a regular basis, once every three or four months. This is dictated by concern for the preservation of exhibits which can be harmed by prolonged exposure to light. In the meantime, this will enable to regularly show new books, present the history of the “artist’s book” from different perspectives and, as it were, to bring different aspects into focus, including a theme, an author, an artist, a publisher... up to a detailed display of a single book of particular value.
At present A Cabinet of Artists’ Books houses an exhibition which opened in December 2015. It was intended to be аn introduction to future displays and is therefore marked by the intentionally broad coverage of material, both varied and in some way even miscellaneous. Represented here are over fifty books by a variety of artists as well as a wide range of artistic trends, from the Nabis to postwar Abstractionism and late Surrealism. The earliest publications date from the turn of the 19th-20th centuries (an important prototype, Faustus by Delacroix, 1828, sets the stage for the others), while the latter go back to the 1970-1980s.
If the viewers had a chance to visit two exhibitions from the collection of Mark Bashmakov held in the Hermitage in 2013 and 2015, they will find many of the exhibited works fairly familiar. In the first place, this is Parallèlement by Bonnard, the book generally thought to be the “livre d'artiste“ history’s point of reference. Equally well-known may be the early masterpieces by Derain and Dufy (L'enchanteur pourrissant, Le Bestiaire ou Cortège d'Orphée), the famous books by Matisse (Mallarmé. Poesies and Pasiphaé) and Picasso (Le Chef-d'œuvre inconnu and Metamorphoses).
Paul Verlaine. Parallèlement
It might take a lot of time to list all the books on view. We were consciously not afraid of replications, which in this case was quite inevitable. However, it does not follow that the visitor will see the same artworks as before. If only because the familiar “old” books are open on a different page. Above all, alongside these will be a lot of new books, which for a number of reasons have not been on public display before.
This concerns small books which we saw no need to exhibit previously. For example, a poem by Vlaminck with llithographs by his friend Derain (À la santé du corps), a couple of books with Vlaminck’s illustrations, Chronique du temps héroïques by Max Jacob with Picasso’s engravings are now included in the sections devoted to these artists. There are truly remarkable books, which we had to intentionally “sacrifice” for the sake of the other, equally important ones. Among these is, for example, I Fioretti di San Francesco with illustrations by Denis, Les Conquérants by Masson, Paris by Utrillo, and also two interesting works by van Dongen.
Paul Leclère. Venise, Seuil des Eaux
Displayed for the first time are Art Deco publications, the most prominent among which being Alfred de Vigny’s Daphné illustrated by F.-L. Schmied.
Alfred de Vigny. Daphné
Finally there was just no possibility to show some of the books earlier. Being a passionate collector, Mark Bashmakov constantly enriches his collection with new books. Currently on view are at once several new acquisitions, which qualify as absolutely unique. They include two early books by Pierre Bonnard entitled Scènes de famille and Almanach du père Ubu, where we deal with an entirely different Bonnard in comparison to what we saw in the classic Parallèlement.
Alfred Jarry. Almanach du père Ubu
First and foremost, Verses and Xylographyies by Raoul Hausmann published by Iliazd (Ilia Zdanevich) is a masterpiece of avant-garde typography and design. Just as original is the makeup of Laisses, André du Bouchet’s collection of poems, with colour aquatints by Pierre Tal Coat, a master of late abstract art, whose work has never been represented in the Hermitage. For the first time on view are two books by Roberto Matta, a new name for the Hermitage as well. Come detto... (titled by a multiple-meaning quotation from The Divine Comedy) is the artist’s collection of texts containing his “cosmic” compositions. Père Ubu is a witty combination of the old and the new (late 19th-century typography, a comic book). In chronological terms, this is the last book in the display and at the same time a reference to its beginning, namely to the just mentioned Bonnard’s Almanach du père Ubu).
Following this first exposition, three more exhibitions, completely different by their character and the range of exhibits, will be held in A Cabinet of Artists’ Books in 2016. The first exhibition entitled Encounters on the Page, the opening of which is scheduled for mid-April, will be devoted to the role played in the publication of “livre d'artiste“ by publishers, art galleries, collector’s societies, as well as by artists and authors themselves. It can be regarded as a continuation of the present exhibition, equally diverse in terms of the artists’ names (although there are recurring artists, nearly all the books are new ones, having never been displayed before), but it will allow to look at the same story in an entirely new light. The next exhibition scheduled for September–November will present the work of Aleksandr Alekseev, a most interesting illustrator and the world renowned animation filmmaker. The exhibition entitled Genesis devoted to Andre Lanskoy will be opened at the end of the year. Here we will try to use the concept which will depart from the well-established tradition: Lanskoy’s work will be shown in full, but centered around it with be several thematic units including a wide variety of publications, from Renaissant to contemporary ones.