The Courtauld Institute of Art
Supervised by Dr Klara Kemp-Welch, Lecturer in 20th-century Modernism, The Courtauld Institute of Art and Dr Matthew Gale, Head of Displays, Tate Modern
October 2015 –

Photograph of a book cover, browned with age, with Russian text and a small illustration of a figure reading from a scroll with graphic sun rays behind

Front cover of A. Sidorov, Iskusstvo knigi [Art of the Book], 1922

In 1927, art critic Erikh Gollerbakh referred to Mir iskusstva [World of Art] as a peredatochnaia instantsiia, ‘a transmission authority, through which the best traditions of graphic art related to the book got transferred into the artistic and productionist practice of the revolutionary epoch’. Taking Gollerbakh’s claim as a starting point, this thesis uses unpublished and under-utilised material from a wide range of archives and museum collections to assess the influence of the World of Art circle on Soviet book design in 1917 to 1930. If English-language scholarship, to date, has tended to perpetuate a view of early Soviet book design as a field dominated by avant-garde experiments, Russian- and English-language scholarship have all predominantly presented World of Art as a pre-revolutionary phenomenon, disregarding its Soviet activities.

This thesis argues that, irrespective of their stylistic and theoretical concerns, Soviet figurative graphic artists recognised the importance of World of Art’s legacy, thereby distinguishing themselves from the radical nihilism of leftist artists working in the same field. In its first chapter, ‘“One front”: the traditionalist network behind World of Art’s enduring post-revolutionary influence’, the thesis offers the first comprehensive survey of the pathways by which a tight-knit network, whose members included Gollerbakh, promoted World of Art during the 1920s. The second chapter, ‘World of Art and the teaching of graphic art at VKhUTEMAS-VKhUTEIN in Petrograd/Leningrad and Moscow’, evaluates the persistence of World of Art’s ideas at the two major centres of Soviet graphic art education. In the third chapter, ‘From Florence to Leipzig: book art at the forefront of early Soviet cultural diplomacy’, the thesis argues that an exploration of the inclusion of World of Art designs in international book art exhibitions – key cultural-diplomatic endeavours of the 1920s – transforms our understanding of the circle’s post-revolutionary international significance.

About Sofia Gurevich

Sofia received her Graduate Diploma and MA in the History of Art from the Courtauld Institute of Art in 2012 and 2015, respectively. As part of her collaborative PhD, she assisted the curatorial team in the run up to the Red Star over Russia: Revolution in Visual Culture 1905–1955 exhibition at Tate Modern (2017–18). Before receiving her MA, she worked as a Junior Russian Art Cataloguer at a London auction house.

Publications include: Sofia Gurevich, ‘The David King Collection of Russian and Soviet Ephemera at Tate: Expanding the Museum Narrative with Ephemera’, in R.E. Iskin and B. Salsbury (eds.), Collecting Prints, Posters and Ephemera: Perspectives in the Global World, London 2019.