In the latest issue:

Real Men Go to Tehran

Adam Shatz

What Trump doesn’t know about Iran

Patrick Cockburn

Kaiser Karl V

Thomas Penn

The Hostile Environment

Catherine Hall

Social Mobilities

Adam Swift

Short Cuts: So much for England

Tariq Ali

What the jihadis left behind

Nelly Lahoud

Ray Strachey

Francesca Wade

C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill

At the British Museum: ‘Troy: Myth and Reality’

James Davidson

Poem: ‘The Lion Tree’

Jamie McKendrick

SurrogacyTM

Jenny Turner

Boys in Motion

Nicholas Penny

‘Trick Mirror’

Lauren Oyler

Diary: What really happened in Yancheng?

Long Ling

At the Royal AcademyPeter Campbell
Close

Terms and Conditions

These terms and conditions of use refer to the London Review of Books and the London Review Bookshop website (www.lrb.co.uk — hereafter ‘LRB Website’). These terms and conditions apply to all users of the LRB Website ("you"), including individual subscribers to the print edition of the LRB who wish to take advantage of our free 'subscriber only' access to archived material ("individual users") and users who are authorised to access the LRB Website by subscribing institutions ("institutional users").

Each time you use the LRB Website you signify your acceptance of these terms and conditions. If you do not agree, or are not comfortable with any part of this document, your only remedy is not to use the LRB Website.


  1. By registering for access to the LRB Website and/or entering the LRB Website by whatever route of access, you agree to be bound by the terms and conditions currently prevailing.
  2. The London Review of Books ("LRB") reserves the right to change these terms and conditions at any time and you should check for any alterations regularly. Continued usage of the LRB Website subsequent to a change in the terms and conditions constitutes acceptance of the current terms and conditions.
  3. The terms and conditions of any subscription agreements which educational and other institutions have entered into with the LRB apply in addition to these terms and conditions.
  4. You undertake to indemnify the LRB fully for all losses damages and costs incurred as a result of your breaching these terms and conditions.
  5. The information you supply on registration to the LRB Website shall be accurate and complete. You will notify the LRB promptly of any changes of relevant details by emailing the registrar. You will not assist a non-registered person to gain access to the LRB Website by supplying them with your password. In the event that the LRB considers that you have breached the requirements governing registration, that you are in breach of these terms and conditions or that your or your institution's subscription to the LRB lapses, your registration to the LRB Website will be terminated.
  6. Each individual subscriber to the LRB (whether a person or organisation) is entitled to the registration of one person to use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site. This user is an 'individual user'.
  7. The London Review of Books operates a ‘no questions asked’ cancellation policy in accordance with UK legislation. Please contact us to cancel your subscription and receive a full refund for the cost of all unposted issues.
  8. Use of the 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is strictly for the personal use of each individual user who may read the content on the screen, download, store or print single copies for their own personal private non-commercial use only, and is not to be made available to or used by any other person for any purpose.
  9. Each institution which subscribes to the LRB is entitled to grant access to persons to register on and use the 'subscriber only' content on the web site under the terms and conditions of its subscription agreement with the LRB. These users are 'institutional users'.
  10. Each institutional user of the LRB may access and search the LRB database and view its entire contents, and may also reproduce insubstantial extracts from individual articles or other works in the database to which their institution's subscription provides access, including in academic assignments and theses, online and/or in print. All quotations must be credited to the author and the LRB. Institutional users are not permitted to reproduce any entire article or other work, or to make any commercial use of any LRB material (including sale, licensing or publication) without the LRB's prior written permission. Institutions may notify institutional users of any additional or different conditions of use which they have agreed with the LRB.
  11. Users may use any one computer to access the LRB web site 'subscriber only' content at any time, so long as that connection does not allow any other computer, networked or otherwise connected, to access 'subscriber only' content.
  12. The LRB Website and its contents are protected by copyright and other intellectual property rights. You acknowledge that all intellectual property rights including copyright in the LRB Website and its contents belong to or have been licensed to the LRB or are otherwise used by the LRB as permitted by applicable law.
  13. All intellectual property rights in articles, reviews and essays originally published in the print edition of the LRB and subsequently included on the LRB Website belong to or have been licensed to the LRB. This material is made available to you for use as set out in paragraph 8 (if you are an individual user) or paragraph 10 (if you are an institutional user) only. Save for such permitted use, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt such material in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department.
  14. All intellectual property rights in images on the LRB Website are owned by the LRB except where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited. Save for such material taken for permitted use set out above, you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, post, reproduce, translate or adapt LRB’s images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the LRB. To obtain such permission and the terms and conditions applying, contact the Rights and Permissions department. Where another copyright holder is specifically attributed or credited you may not download, store, disseminate, republish, reproduce or translate such images in whole or in part in any form without the prior written permission of the copyright holder. The LRB will not undertake to supply contact details of any attributed or credited copyright holder.
  15. The LRB Website is provided on an 'as is' basis and the LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website will be accessible by any particular browser, operating system or device.
  16. The LRB makes no express or implied representation and gives no warranty of any kind in relation to any content available on the LRB Website including as to the accuracy or reliability of any information either in its articles, essays and reviews or in the letters printed in its letter page or material supplied by third parties. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) arising from the publication of any materials on the LRB Website or incurred as a consequence of using or relying on such materials.
  17. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability of any kind (including liability for any losses, damages or costs) for any legal or other consequences (including infringement of third party rights) of any links made to the LRB Website.
  18. The LRB is not responsible for the content of any material you encounter after leaving the LRB Website site via a link in it or otherwise. The LRB gives no warranty as to the accuracy or reliability of any such material and to the fullest extent permitted by law excludes all liability that may arise in respect of or as a consequence of using or relying on such material.
  19. This site may be used only for lawful purposes and in a manner which does not infringe the rights of, or restrict the use and enjoyment of the site by, any third party. In the event of a chat room, message board, forum and/or news group being set up on the LRB Website, the LRB will not undertake to monitor any material supplied and will give no warranty as to its accuracy, reliability, originality or decency. By posting any material you agree that you are solely responsible for ensuring that it is accurate and not obscene, defamatory, plagiarised or in breach of copyright, confidentiality or any other right of any person, and you undertake to indemnify the LRB against all claims, losses, damages and costs incurred in consequence of your posting of such material. The LRB will reserve the right to remove any such material posted at any time and without notice or explanation. The LRB will reserve the right to disclose the provenance of such material, republish it in any form it deems fit or edit or censor it. The LRB will reserve the right to terminate the registration of any person it considers to abuse access to any chat room, message board, forum or news group provided by the LRB.
  20. Any e-mail services supplied via the LRB Website are subject to these terms and conditions.
  21. You will not knowingly transmit any virus, malware, trojan or other harmful matter to the LRB Website. The LRB gives no warranty that the LRB Website is free from contaminating matter, viruses or other malicious software and to the fullest extent permitted by law disclaims all liability of any kind including liability for any damages, losses or costs resulting from damage to your computer or other property arising from access to the LRB Website, use of it or downloading material from it.
  22. The LRB does not warrant that the use of the LRB Website will be uninterrupted, and disclaims all liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred as a result of access to the LRB Website being interrupted, modified or discontinued.
  23. The LRB Website contains advertisements and promotional links to websites and other resources operated by third parties. While we would never knowingly link to a site which we believed to be trading in bad faith, the LRB makes no express or implied representations or warranties of any kind in respect of any third party websites or resources or their contents, and we take no responsibility for the content, privacy practices, goods or services offered by these websites and resources. The LRB excludes to the fullest extent permitted by law all liability for any damages or losses arising from access to such websites and resources. Any transaction effected with such a third party contacted via the LRB Website are subject to the terms and conditions imposed by the third party involved and the LRB accepts no responsibility or liability resulting from such transactions.
  24. The LRB disclaims liability to the fullest extent permitted by law for any damages, losses or costs incurred for unauthorised access or alterations of transmissions or data by third parties as consequence of visit to the LRB Website.
  25. While 'subscriber only' content on the LRB Website is currently provided free to subscribers to the print edition of the LRB, the LRB reserves the right to impose a charge for access to some or all areas of the LRB Website without notice.
  26. These terms and conditions are governed by and will be interpreted in accordance with English law and any disputes relating to these terms and conditions will be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales.
  27. The various provisions of these terms and conditions are severable and if any provision is held to be invalid or unenforceable by any court of competent jurisdiction then such invalidity or unenforceability shall not affect the remaining provisions.
  28. If these terms and conditions are not accepted in full, use of the LRB Website must be terminated immediately.
Close
Vol. 30 No. 3 · 7 February 2008
At the Royal Academy

From Russia

Peter Campbell

The pictures, Russian and French in about equal numbers, lent for the exhibition From Russia – at the Royal Academy until 18 April – were made in the last quarter of the 19th century and the first quarter of the 20th. Early publicity for the show concentrated on the French paintings. This was not, I think, because we are familiar with the work of Cézanne, Matisse, Picasso and the Impressionists and not with the Russians. Kandinsky’s abstracts and Malevich’s black-on-white circle – it hangs like a full stop in the last room and seems to announce not just the end of the exhibition but the end of old painting – are as well known from histories of modern art as Matisse’s Dance and as much written about, if not, perhaps, as well loved. Nor, I think, is it just because the French pictures are better. The promotional advantage the French work had was, in part at least, the story that came with it.

Russian collectors – Sergei Ivanovich Shchukin and Ivan Abramovich Morozov in particular, but others too – felt the lift of a new wave at the turn of the century, and rode it. Unlike other collectors, they didn’t wait to surf its tail. The collections they made were nationalised after the Revolution (some former owners becoming guides, curators and ticket collectors). Later, the forced retirement of pictures to museum basements and, later still, their gradual, finally triumphant rehabilitation provided a coda to the stories of the collectors: humiliation was followed by posthumous vindication. The works themselves take on a double life as masterpieces and resurrected martyrs of modern art.

Vasily Polenov, ‘Moscow Courtyard’ (1878).

Vasily Polenov, ‘Moscow Courtyard’ (1878).

The quantities are amazing. Shchukin’s collection of 250 paintings, hung edge to edge in his ‘medium-sized mansion’, covered the walls from floor to ceiling. They included 13 by Monet, 16 by Gauguin, more than fifty by Picasso and dozens by Matisse. From Russia has five each from Cézanne, Matisse, Gauguin and Picasso: enough on their own for an exhibition. But, the hard-to-imagine power of the big Matisse apart, the French paintings only reinforce what you know. On the other hand, the juxtaposition of French and Russian pictures shows how distinctive Russian Modernism became in relation to new art from abroad and the traditions it broke with. Some Russians just learned to be like everyone else. In Serov’s portrait of Sophia Botkina (1899), the handling is freer than in the portrait of Nadezhda Polovtsova that Carolus-Duran was imported to paint twenty odd years earlier, but it is essentially an example of an international genre, the society portrait in haughty, brilliant, confident decline.

Turn to the landscapes and things are a little different. Daubigny’s Banks of the River Loing, painted in the late 1860s, is a crisp record of flat fields, very fresh and bright; in Levitan’s Summer Evening, painted thirty years later, a similar horizontal band of distant trees is more starkly lit. Evening is upon us. A shadow has advanced over the foreground. It is getting chillier. The Daubigny reads as a place, the Levitan as a mood. Landscape painting in Russia had become a vehicle for national pride and national self-examination. In an essay in the Royal Academy catalogue Yevgenia Petrova suggests that ‘sacralisation of art is something peculiar perhaps to the Russian mentality,’ and speculates that art of all sorts took the place of the pulpit and debating chamber when no channels for open discussion existed.* A retreat from high themes distressed the old guard and their audiences everywhere. In Russia – where art was deeply engaged with nationalist, religious and social themes – the loss was felt more strongly. So strongly indeed that you can watch mood and story stealthily creep back into the work of painters who have ostensibly taken their lead from French contemporaries.

Poppy Field (1890-91) and Haystack at Giverny (1888) by Monet, for example, are radically uninterested in anything other than the look of things and, above all, in the way paint can evoke effects of light by blurring form and tuning colour values, adjusting saturation and hue as you do on a television set. Of Igor Grabar’s September Snow of 1903, by contrast, less radical technically but aiming at a similar luminous Monet-like presence, the catalogue note, picking up a mood that is surely intended, says: ‘This is a truly poetic work conveying the beauty and “abandonedness” of a Moscow suburban estate.’

The contrast, clear enough in landscapes, is even more obvious when figures are involved. Matisse’s The Dance (1910) shows five dancers: three have their faces completely hidden; those of the other two are not much more than hieroglyphs. The force of the picture cannot be separated from its subject – women dancing – but a story in which these were individual characters is precluded. A theatre director might use masks to set an analogous distance between actors and the parts they play. Much that is accidental has been eliminated but the arrangement of the figures in space is complex, as though a Baroque engine were driving a Modernist machine. The left-facing figure at the top of the canvas leans forward; her head, back and torso are foreshortened. A version of the pose (indeed of all the poses) could probably be found in Rubens. Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s Boys Playing (1911) is so similar in its elements – naked figures, warmish in colour, holding hands against a green hill with a blue sky above – that it is hard to believe there is no connection with the Matisse. It is even signed and dated in similar script in the same corner. The effect, however, is utterly different. The blond boy’s girlish face, the black-haired boy’s face-covering gesture, the very un-Baroque flattening out of the figures onto a narrow stage parallel to the picture plane, the refusal to give up the pleasure of showing an expression or meaningful gestures are – in comparison – embarrassments. ‘The difference in characters and temperaments of the two subjects is revealed,’ the catalogue notes, ‘in the painterly expression of the bodies and the rhythm of the lines.’ Of Petrov-Vodkin’s Bathing the Red Horse (1912), it says that the painting ‘was received by contemporaries as a metaphoric expression for their time, as a kind of unique premonition of the events which the 20th century would soon bring’.

Once you become attuned to the need Russian painters, even radical ones, had for meanings and messages, differences from other Modernist streams become apparent. The most extreme case is Malevich, who thought that church and factory were essentially identical – ‘the goal,’ he said, ‘is the same, and the meaning lies in the search for God’ – and saw his Black Square as ‘a bare icon without a frame (like a pocket), an icon of my times’. Abstraction could not stifle the need for meaning, even though it might drive the search into unlikely country. It would be some time before Rothko and others began to talk so plainly about abstraction and the human spirit.

Borrowed styles and native ones could both lead back to the social and the spiritual. Ilya Repin’s October 17, 1905 (1907), a broad-based pyramid of figures, one waving a chain and manacles (they are cheering Nicholas II’s proclamation of reforms), is the one picture in the exhibition that connects clearly with what may be the most famous of all Russian pictures: Repin’s own Barge Haulers on the Volga of 1870-73, reproduced in the catalogue but perhaps not allowed to leave Russia. The belief some Russian artists had in the possibility of a Modernism that was popular – an escape from bourgeois convention and a continuation in a better world of the aspirations embedded in paintings like Repin’s – was very imperfectly realised. Styles have lives of their own. Echoes of Rodchenko and Tatlin can be found today in new buildings and smart magazines. This may be Russian Modernism’s truest, if not its most welcome legacy.

Send Letters To:

The Editor
London Review of Books,
28 Little Russell Street
London, WC1A 2HN

letters@lrb.co.uk

Please include name, address, and a telephone number.

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.