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155 posts categorized "Slavonic"

08 February 2019

A Cat may Counsel a King: the Colourful World of Czech Cats

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Appropriately for a culture famous in later years for its lively animated films, talking animals were not slow to make themselves heard in Czech. Indeed, one of the first cats to find a voice expresses itself in that very language – in Smil Flaška’s Nová rada, written in the late 14th century. In this allegorical poem, the young king (the lion of Bohemia, symbolizing Václav IV), summons a ‘new council’ of birds and beasts to advise him how best to rule. Each of them offers advice appropriate to its natural qualities, including a wily and subtle cat who suggests that every king requires a cunning spy capable of seeing by night and keeping a watchful eye out for the criminals and murderers who perform their nefarious deeds under the cover of darkness – and who could be better suited to this important role than the cat?

Flaska Cup.502.aa.12

 

 Wood engraving by Antonín Strnadl from Smil Flaška z Pardubic, Nová rada, translated into modern Czech by František Vrba (Prague, 1940) Cup.502.aa.12

Although this urbane courtier is a native Bohemian cat, many of the most appealing and characterful examples in the long tradition of Czech illustration were created to accompany works by foreign authors. Among these, one of the most delightful is a very French cat depicted by František Tichý on the frontispiece of a Czech translation of Marcel Aymé’s Les Contes du chat perché, draped over the branch of an apple tree with a languid and knowing air.

Ayme RF.2000.b.66Illustration by František Tichý to Marcel Aymé, Co vyprávěla kočka na jabloňové větvi (Prague, 1939) RF.2000.b.66 

A few years earlier, Marie Majerová had published Veselá kniha zviřátek (‘The Jolly Book of Animals’), a collection of children’s stories based on English material. However, the cats depicted by Josef Lada, famous for his illustrations to The Good Soldier Švejk, bear a decidedly Czech stamp in the scene where a small boy named Jenda, in the middle of a dull afternoon when his brother and sister are suffering from colds and disinclined to play, finds himself transported to the magical Kingdom of Cats and becomes its king.

Vesela kniha zviratek X.998-3707

Jenda becomes king of the Kingdom of Cats. Illustration by Josef Lada’s from Marie Majerová, Veselá kniha zviřátek (Prague, 1933) X.998/3707

Like their English counterparts, where kittens lose their mittens and cats play fiddles and go to London to visit the Queen, Czech nursery-rhymes frequently feature cats in a starring role:

The cat took a husband,
The dog took a bride;
As groomsman our gelding
Limped at his side;
With him, as the bridesmaid,
There walked our old mare;
She gave him a nosegay
And kerchief to wear.

(This translation © Susan Reynolds 2019.)

Lada’s illustration for Karel Jaromír Erben’s Národní říkadla (‘National Nursery-Rhymes’) shows a demure white cat in wreath and veil stepping out on her bridegroom’s arm while the farm animals look on in admiration. In another picture, while their father and mother tuck into bowls of porridge and peas on top of the stove, three kittens sit in a row beneath them wearing their best bows and expressions of marked annoyance at being given nothing to eat. With a few skilful strokes Lada captures their disgruntled air as adroitly as he does the dumb insolence of Švejk and the unmistakably Czech features of the peasants who people his almanacs.

Narodni rikadlaIllustration by Josef Lada from Karel Jaromír Erben, Národní říkadla (Prague, 1921) LB.31.b.12138.

Dressed in bridal finery, advising the king of beasts or conferring royal honours on their newly-crowned human sovereign, all these cats are creatures of the imagination with very human features. One of the most charming portrayals of a cat in modern Czech literature, however, is taken directly from life. To English-speaking readers Karel Čapek may be most familiar as the creator of robots in his play R.U.R., but he was also a keen gardener and a great animal-lover (like another famous Czech author, Bohumil Hrabal, whose country home was a haven for cats). In his 1932 collection Devatero Pohádek a ještě jedna od Josefa Čapka jako přívažek (‘Nine Fairy Tales: And One More Thrown in for Good Measure’; 5th ed. 1946 at X.990/4608), he too conjures up a world in which cats enjoy adventures equal to any of those previously described.

It is in a later work, though, that Čapek reveals his true understanding of animals – Měl jsem psa a kočku (Prague, 1939; YF.2005.a.31524). Like the earlier book, it was translated into English within a short time by Robert and Marie Weatherall and became popular among British readers because of its dry, understated humour and affectionate depiction of the author’s pets. Like E. T. A. Hoffmann, the creator of Kater Murr, and his wife, Karel and Olga Čapek were childless, and it is tempting to assume that for them too animals represented surrogate children. Yet there is nothing mawkish about the ironic amusement with which Čapek describes the behaviour of his dog and cat, to which he brings the same detached, quizzical approach that he applies to the English, the Spanish or the Dutch in his various travel writings. Whether chronicling the wooing of his pet by caterwauling tomcats or the antics of the resulting litter of kittens, Čapek’s light and laconic style is perfectly partnered by that of his brother Josef’s drawings.

Capek 7294.de.34 Cat & kittens

  Illustrations by Josef Čapek to Karel Čapek, I Had a Dog and a Cat (London, 1940) 7294.de.34

Capek 7294.de.34 Kittens

For all their baffling and sometimes maddening idiosyncrasies, it is clear that for Čapek his feline friends were the cat’s whiskers – and who are we to disagree?

Susan Halstead Subject Librarian (Social Sciences), Research Services.

 

05 February 2019

Against Totalitarianism: the Serbian émigré review ‘Naša reč’, 1948-1990

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The review Naša reč (‘Our word’) was published in Paris from 1948 to 1958, then in London until 1990. Naša reč was printed in Serbian, initially every six weeks and from 1951 ten times a year. Democratically-oriented Yugoslav emigrants produced this journal for like-minded fellow emigrants in Western Europe and North America who opposed communism at home.

Although Naša reč advocated strongly against the communist political system imposed in 1945, it did not argue for a return to the pre-1941 regime in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. Instead, it pleaded for a new democratic country as a community of free nations willing to live together in a federal state which would guarantee human rights and civil, social and religious freedoms to all citizens. Naša reč strongly believed in a western model of parliamentarian multi-party political system with a free press and free vote at its core. Its editors thought that the one-party system could be replaced by compromise and reform in a peaceful democratic transition. Naša reč provided a platform for political debate not only for Serbs but also for all Yugoslavs, and welcomed contributions from outside émigré communities.

As an open, independent, democratic and liberal, often unapologetically Serbian and yet genuinely Yugoslav phenomenon, Naša reč was unique among other South Slavonic emigrant publications published in Britain and in the west in this period.

I Nasa rec 1949Issue of Naša reč for 1 September 1949. (P.P.3554.nzs) with title header in Cyrillic.

Permanent columns in Naša reč besides the editorial were Yugoslav and international politics, history and current affairs, topics from emigré life, book reviews, opinions and polemics, and letters to the editorial board as well as useful information about the review and its contributors over time. The review was open to political and cultural contributions in general.

II  Izdanje Nasa rec 1970Front cover by Budimir D. Tošić from Dvadeset godina stave i rada Saveza Oslobođenje (London, 1970)  X.709/10307, a special edition of Naša reč

Naša reč was published by an alliance of Serbian political, social and cultural emigrant organisations in Western Europe called cooperatives. The membership of these cooperatives included the Young Democrats, the youth section of the Democratic Party, a major party in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia. The Union Oslobođenje (‘Liberation’) was founded in 1949 as an umbrella organisation for the Western European and North American cooperatives. Naša reč was its official newspaper, funded mainly by the membership, but also by subscriptions, sales and donations.

III Biblioteka Nase delo 1960 Cover of Božidar Vlajić, Svodjenje računa i preispitivanje (London, 1960) W.P.7433/7. No. 7 of the series Naše delo published by Oslobođenje 

The majority of Oslobođenje’s members were young people born in the 1920s and 1930s. They belonged to the generation traumatised by enemy occupation and the ensuing civil war in Yugoslavia during the Second World War. Oslobođenje organised biannual conferences and published political programmes abroad, but its ideas, ideology and plans were designed for the country it intended to change. Oslobođenje wholeheartedly supported Yugoslav dissidents and gave them a voice in Naša reč, and over time collaboration was extended to democratically-minded people in Yugoslavia. After the death of the Yugoslav communist leader Tito in 1980, Naša reč began receiving contributions from that country, and by the late 1980s it was being discreetly distributed in Belgrade.

IV w_p_7433_map_1952Ethnographic map of Yugoslavia according to the 1921 and 1931 censuses and 1946 administrative division. From Desimir Tošić, Srpski nacionalni problemi (Paris, 1952) W.P.7433/1-4.

By creating a political model for a future multi-party system in the country, contributors to Naša reč were drawing on free thought, independent information, experience of public debate and critical media reporting in Britain. Between 1952 and 1988 the Union Oslobođenje published 17 books on Yugoslav political, historical, cultural and literary topics in the series Naše delo (Our work). While the review Naša reč was published solely in Roman script, giving the newspaper a Yugoslav character, the series Naše delo enabled authors to publish in both Roman and Cyrillic scripts.

V Biblioteka Nase delo 1975 Cover of Kosta Stevan Pavlović, Ženidba Kralja Petra Drugog: prema Britanskim dokumentima (London, 1975.) Series Naše delo no. 11. X.909/40358

In addition to the review and the series, Naša reč printed 15 special editions as offprints or separate publications between 1964 and 1990. These were mainly works and pamphlets by Yugoslav dissidents and writers such as Milovan Đilas, Mihajlo Mihajlov, Miodrag Ilić, Gojko Đogo and others.

Leading figures of the Union Oslobođenje were behind all its publishing activities. Desimir Tošić was the sole editor of Naša reč and the chief writer of editorials together with Božidar Vlajić, a pre-war politician and prominent member of the Democratic Party.

A major permanent subject of political debate in Naša reč was the national question in Yugoslavia. Naša reč advocated a compromise and sought a solution that would command the support of the majority in each of the Yugoslav nations. The preferred option for Naša reč was a federal multi-party parliamentary state such as Switzerland, but it was also open to a Yugoslav confederation, self-rule or independence for the Yugoslav nations. The standpoint of Naša reč and the Union Oslobođenje in this matter was that the nations of Yugoslavia, not its constituent republics, should decide on the future form of government and state.

In the end Naša reč didn’t find an answer to the key question of the first and the second Yugoslavia, but believed in the future of the ‘Third Yugoslavia’, a democratic country of free and equal nations and citizens. With the renewal of the multi-party system in Yugoslavia in 1990 Naša reč ceased publication, and the Union Oslobođenje was able to transfer its ideas and experiences into the newly-founded Democratic Party in Serbia. In his last editorial Tošić declared that the journal had completed its mission but the struggle for democracy continued at home.

VI Nasa Rec 1990 The last issue of Naša reč. (No. 420, December 1990) with a header in Roman type against a stylized Cyrillic backdrop

Naša reč is an indispensable source for studying the questions of liberal and totalitarian ideologies during the Cold War, the problems of interwar and post-war politics in Yugoslavia, and the topic of nationalism in general. In 43 years, Naša reč had over 300 hundred contributors and published a total of over 6,000 pages. The British Library holds an almost complete set of Naša reč in 420 issues; the missing issues are 1-3 (1948) and 137 (1963).

Milan Grba, Lead Curator South-East European Collections

References:

Dejan Đokić (editor), Nesentimentalni idealisti. Desimir Tošić, Božidar Vlajić i uvodnici časopisa Naša reč (Belgrade, 2013) YF.2014.a.25606.

 

14 January 2019

Pan Kotsky

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Pan Kotsky, or ‘Mister Cat’, if we translate his name literally, is the most famous cat in Ukrainian folklore. You will find him in virtually any anthology of traditional children’s tales . What does the story tell us about the Ukrainian way of life?

Pan Kotsky Hrinchenko
Opening of the story of Pan Kotsky from Boris Hrinchenko, Ukraïnsʹki narodni kazky vybrani dlia diteĭ (Kyiv, 1907) 12209.aaa.47.

The tale tells how a cat was too old to be able to do his job properly – catching mice - and his master decided to dump him in a forest. A dark and horrible future was waiting for the cat: he would slowly die of hunger and loneliness. But all of a sudden, our poor puss was given a second chance. A Lady Fox met him in the wood and became interested.

“What’s your name?" She asked.
“Pan Kotsky.”
“Great! Be my husband!”
“What a kind proposal!” thought the cat and agreed.

And they form a ‘typical’ Ukrainian couple often depicted in Ukrainian folkore: a clever and active woman with a kind and passive man. The Lady Fox cherishes her husband and presents him to the community. The Hare is the first to come to the house, and the Lady Fox announces her new situation: “Beware of my husband, Pan Kotsky, he’s fierce and will easily tear you to pieces!”

And the Hare believes her! The same happens with the other villagers: the Wolf, the Bear and the Boar. All of them are afraid of the new master of the forest.

“Let’s prepare a supper and invite him!” they decide. But nobody has enough courage to invite the fearsome Pan Kotsky personally, and so the Hare has no choice but go to the Lady Fox’s house. She plays her role awesomely well: “I’ll come with him, but hide away! Or he will tear you to pieces!!!” The others have no reason not to believe her, so the Bear climbs a tree, the Wolf hides behind a bush and the Boar finds a hole in the woodpile…

The table is full of tasty food and drink, waiting for the guests to dine. Pan Kotsky is a simple fellow and does not have good manners; he is just a peasant. He climbs on the table and starts to gorge himself on the meat. All of a sudden a mosquito decides to bite the Boar, who moves in his hiding place. Our cat does not forget his instincts and catches what he thinks is a mouse - but it is the Boar’s tail! The Boar roars and terrifies Pan Kotsky who promptly jumps into the tree, where he accidently disturbs the Bear… What a row! The surprised Bear falls on the Wolf and hurts the Hare, and all of them think they are going to die…

The image of Pan Kotsky as the most dangerous creature in the wood is well established now!

PanKotskyсто-казок-том-1

Pan Kotsky as seen by prominent Ukrainian illustrator Kost Lavro. Reproduced in: 100 kazok (Kyiv, 2005) LF.31.b.6371

What is this tale about? The Lady Fox is a master of manipulation, and Pan Kotsky just follows her without any opposition. Why should he oppose her?! He has a place to stay and food to eat; somebody takes care of him and makes decisions for him. He is a man, a ‘patriarch’, and as such, even if he is a fake one, he still deserves special treatment. The Lady Fox behaves like a ‘traditional’ wife: it’s better to be married to somebody than to be a single woman, even if you are perfectly self-sufficient and intelligent enough to live alone. But she uses her husband for her own purposes – to scare away other men and to establish her own social status.

Pan Kotsky Hnizdovsky
Pan Kotsky and Lady Fox as seen by J. Hnizdovsky.  Reproduced in Ukrainian folk tales, translated by Marie Halun Bloch (London, 1964). X.990/127

A conwoman and a conman, sly, dishonest and manipulative? Yes! In real life characters like them often succeed beautifully. The Lady Fox had her ‘LOL’ moment, and she and her husband do not seem to be punished in this tale for what they’ve done. They are the winners. It is a story of what the French call ‘être et paraître’, ‘to be and to appear’. A good image is more effective than actual status: fake it until you make it! It’s perfectly understandable in our own era of Instagram domination.

But we can see a different interpretation here, from Pan Kotsky’s point of view. Even if you are old and apparently useless, do not give up! You may still get a second chance. Maintain a positive attitude in life, stay open to opportunities…

The tale of Pan Kotsky inspired the Ukrainian composer Mykola Lysenko to compose an opera of the same title in 1891, and the writer Borys Hrinchenko  to write a version of the tale in 1904. In 1969 an animated film of the story, The Scary Creature, was created by a Kyiv animation studio - and many Ukrainian children are lucky enough to see Pan Kotsky on the stage!

Stamp_of_Ukraine_Mi521 (1)
Postal stamp of Ukraine from 2002 depicting Pan Kotsky (From Wikimedia Commons

Olena Yashchuk Codet, Artist, Author, Cultural Events Organiser, The creator of Katou-Matou Cat character

31 December 2018

A Look Back

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As another year ends, it’s time to look back again at our blogging activity in 2018 and to remind ourselves and our readers of what we got up to during the year and of the wonderful contributions of our colleagues within and outside European Collections and of our guest bloggers. And if any of you are grumbling about ‘typical seasonal repeats’, we’ve sprinkled this post with some festive and wintry images from our collection of Russian postcards which we hope are new to you.

Vol 11  sleeve 42

2018 was a year of many anniversaries. The end of the First World War loomed large, but we looked less at the end of the conflict itself than at some of its consequences, such as the establishment of the Belarusian Democratic Republic or the Dutch revolution-that-wasn’t. We also organised a study day looking at the legacy of 1918 in European film, part of a series of events which culminated in a performance of ‘Contagion’, a piece by the Shobna Jeyasingh Dance Company commemorating the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic which killed more than the War itself.

As well as the centenary of end of the First World War, 2018 was the 400th anniversary of the outbreak of another destructuve European conflict, the Thirty Years’ War, deemed to have started with the second Defenstration of Prague on 23 May 1618. Other anniversaries we marked were the 200th birthdays of Ivan Turgenev, Karl Marx, who was also the focus of an exhibition in our Treasures Gallery, and Emily Bronte, whose Wuthering Heights set many challenges to its translators.

Vol 11  sleeve 23

Talking of translation, we welcomed our second Translator in Residence, Rahul Bery, in July. Other newcomers attached to the department included PhD Placement student Phoebe Weston-Evans and Collaborative Doctoral Student Hannah Connell, who wrote about their work on French First World War posters and the Russia in the UK Web Archive respectively, and our first ever Chevening Fellow, Sanja Sanja Stepanovic-Todorovic, who is working on our rich collections of 19th- and 20th-century publications from Balkan Academies

Vol 12  sleeve 48

As ever, we kept up with the Library’s exhibition programme. In the last weeks of ‘Harry Potter, a History of Magic’ we featured posts on witches and the mediaeval History of Merlin. When ‘James Cook, the Voyages’  opened, we looked at the Icelandic trip taken by Joseph Banks when he dropped out of Cook’s second expedition, and also at the life of one of the naturalists who replaced him on that expedition, Georg Forster. The exhibition celebrating the anniversary of the Empire Windrush prompted a post on the relatively unknown history of Swedish colonization in the Americas, and the accompanying series of events included a study day on history, literature and migration in the French Caribbean. Our current free exhibition ‘Cats on the Page’ has already prompted posts on Russian cats and a mummified Italian cat, and we can promise you more cats in the new year!

But not everything was anniversary or exhibition related. We explored the little-known languages Sart, Gagauz and Vilamovian, and remembered J.R.R. Tolkien’s enthusiasm for Esperanto. A series of guest posts teased out the fascinating story of Polish and Russian works that prefigure  George Orwell’s Animal Farm, and speculated on whether Orwell himself could have been aware of these. There was another British connection in two posts about redoubtable British women with a passion for the Balkans – nurse and humanitarian Louise Paget and mountaineer Fanny Copeland.

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For sporting types we had posts on a Spanish cricket fan and a day at the races with Victor Hugo’s daughter Adèle. If you prefer more artistic pursuits, we celebrated World Ballet Day and dipped our toes into the world of contemporary fashion. And for the cooks among you, we developed a curious fascination with herring

Of course we always try to make our own collections central to our posts, and we celebrated the acquisition of, among other things, a French Revolutionary periodical and an Italian Futurist work. A recent Spanish antiquarian acquisition, meanwhile, offered a novel way to memorise the Bible.

Vol 6  sleeve 16

We hope you’ve enjoyed reading and following our blog this year, and that we’ve picked some of your favourite posts or some you may have missed for this review. If you’re here for the first time, we hope you’re tempted to visit us again! Meanwhile, we wish you all a Happy New Year and a wonderful 2019.

European Collections Blog team

28 December 2018

Two Distinguished Women and a Seasonal Greetings Card Mystery

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While I was looking for a nice seasonal picture (preferably, with lots of snow to compensate for another grey Christmas) to tweet @BL_European, I found this postcard from our collection of Russian Imperial postcards.

Image 1- Vol 11 sleeve 17

Image 1a

Just a standard greeting card in French. The postcard was sent from Kharkiv to Paris on 31 December 1902 and signed by ‘Christine Altchevsky’. The name looked vaguely familiar. Having looked at it more carefully, I realised that the postcard must have been written by either mother or daughter Alchevska on behalf of both of them since they bore the same first name – Khrystyna – and were distinguished women in their generations.

Khrystyna Danylivna Alchevska (1841-1920) was an educator, teacher and a prominent activist for national education in Ukraine and the Russian Empire, vice-president of the International League of Education in Paris.

Christina_D._Alchevskaya
Khrystyna D. Alchevska (image from Wikimedia Commons)

She created and promoted a training methodology, implemented in many schools, established the Kharkiv Women’s Sunday School, the first free girls’ school in Ukraine, which remained in existence for 50 years, and published articles on adult education. Khrystyna Alchevska wrote and taught in Russian and Ukrainian, promoting her native language and culture.

Alchevska - reading group
Khrystyna D. Alchevska teaching a reading class at the Kharkiv Women’s Sunday School (image from Wikimedia Commons)

She also initiated, edited and, as we would call it now, ‘project managed’ a fundamental three-volume annotated bibliography Chto chitat’ narodu? (‘What should people read?’ 1888-1906), to which she contributed 1150 articles and annotations. It is difficult to call this work simply a bibliography, as it is really an interesting combination of bibliographic, encyclopaedic and pedagogical knowledge. The book is divided into subject sections, such as History, Science, Fiction, Religious and Moral literature, Biographies, Geography, etc., and each book is fully described, annotated with certain critiques, and supplied with methodological instructions for teachers, including questions and suggestions for lesson planning. There are also several indexes and tables, including those that recommend texts according to levels of difficulty and suitability for adult and young learners. It is interesting to note that the core contributors to the work were fellow women teachers and educators.

Image 2
A volume of Chto chitat’ narodu? (St Petersburg, 1888) 11907.g.32

Khrystyna Alchevska left very interesting memoirs about her life and the people whom she had met, and corresponded with Leo Tolstoy, Fedor Dostoyevsky and Ivan Turgenev.

A talented and creative woman herself, Khrystyna Danylivna brought up five bright and creative children, among whom were an entrepreneur, a composer, a singer, and a theatre critic. The youngest in the family was Khrystyna (or Khrystia) (1882-1931), who became known as a distinguished Ukrainian poet, translator and educator.

Khrystia
Khrystia Alchevska, from Ukrains’ka literatura mezhi XIX-XX stolit’. Khestomatiia (Kyiv, 2016) YF.2016.a.19260.

1902 was the year when Khrystia’s poems were first published in Ukrainian magazines and almanacs. In 1907, her first book of poems appeared in Moscow and was noted by the maitre of Ukrainian literature of that time Ivan Franko. Later, Khrystyna translated Franko into Russian and French, but he was not the only author that she was interested in. She translated Pushkin and Pierre-Jean de Béranger, Voltaire and Alexey K. Tolstoy, Victor Hugo and Nikolai Ogarev into Ukrainian, and Taras Shevchenko and Pavlo Tychyna into French. In the 1920s she was friendly with Henri Barbusse, under whose influence Krystyna created two verse dramas.

Image 3
A collection of poems ‘To My Land’, K. Alchevska, Moemu kraiu. (Chernivtsi, 1914) 20002.a.9

Unfortunately, I could not find who Madame and Monsieur de Namur (?) of 30, Boulevard Flandrin were and how both Khystynas could have known them. But if someone knows the link between the Alchevskas and this family in Paris, please let us know. But I still like this story with an open ending that old Christmas cards can tell.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

Further reading:

K.D. Alchevska. ‘K russkim zhenshchinam’ (To the Russian Women), Kolokol, 8 March 1863, No. 158. C.127.k.4.

K.D. Alchevska. Peredumannoe i perezhitoe. Dnevniki, pis’ma, vospominaniia. (Moscow, 1912) X.525/82

The Book for Adults (written by the teachers at the Kharkow Sunday school, under the direction of Mme. Christine Altchevsky), and the surroundings which inspired it ... Translated from the French by Mme. Auguste Serraillier. (Paris, 1900) 4193.h.62

Sava Zerkal’. Clematis. [About the Alchevsky family]. (New York, 1964) X.909/5465.

A fairly comprehensive bibliography relating to works by and about the Alchevsky family can be found here: http://mtlib.org.ua/ukazateli/34-semya-alchevskikh.html

21 December 2018

The ‘Artist Maks’: The Ukrainian Disciple of Aubrey Beardsley

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2018 has marked 120 years since the death of Aubrey Beardsley (1872–1898), the British master of Art Nouveau who has been repeatedly named an emblem of Victorian Decadence. Born into the age of quick photomechanical reproduction of images, he exploited this new technology to circulate his black-and-white designs worldwide. ‘No artist of our time’, noted the poet Arthur Symons in his tribute to Beardsley, ‘has reached a more universal, or a more contested fame; […] none has had so wide an influence on contemporary art’.

Figure 1 (Beardsley portrait)
Above: Frederick Hollyer, photograph of Aubrey Beardsley, 1890s. Below:  Aubrey Beardsley, ‘The Dancer’s Reward’, illustration from Salome, 1893. Both images reproduced in Arthur Symons,
Aubrey Beardsley (London, 1898) L.R.269.a.2/3.

Figure 2 (Salome)

Among the histories of Beardsley’s extraordinary international influence, his Ukrainian reception is among the most surprising ones. Thus, a single look at the works by Vsevolod Maksymovych (1894–1914) justifies the artist’s nickname of the ‘Ukrainian Beardsley’. Like Beardsley, Maksymovych was a prodigy. At 19, he produced most of his paintings that shared the period’s preoccupations with exoticism, mysticism, and sexuality. At 20, he committed suicide. His short life did nevertheless overlap with key cultural events of the early 20th century, including the fading of the Art Nouveau style, the birth of the Futurist movement, and the earliest avant-garde experiments in film.

Figure 3 (Masquerade)
Vsevolod Maksymovych, Masquerade, 1913, Oil on canvas, reproduced in Ukrains´kyi modernizm 1910-1930 = Ukrainian Modernism, ed. by Anatolii Mel´nyk and John E. Bowlt (Kyiv, 2006), LF.31.b.3196

Maksymovych was born in the city of Poltava in 1894. In the West, it was the year of the Beardsley Boom, when the volumes of the Decadent almanac The Yellow Book and Oscar Wilde’s drama Salome disseminated Beardsley’s notorious designs. After Beardsley’s premature death in 1898, the international circulation of his images persisted through fashionable periodicals. In Eastern Europe, his drawings were popularised by the St Petersburg aesthetic journal Mir iskusstva (1899-1904; P.P.1931.pmb.) and the Moscow review Vesy  (1904-1909; Mic.F.430). The Kyiv magazine V mirie iskusstv (1907-1910) dedicated an illustrated essay to Beardsley in 1907.

Figure 4 (V mirie iskusstv)
Cover of V mirie iskusstv, 1 (1909). ZA.9.d.620

At the beginning of the 20th century, a Ukrainian art lover such as Maksymovych would have inhabited a world permeated by Beardsley’s visual language and imagery. While it was common for the artists of the 1910s to adopt Beardsley’s stylised line and black-blot technique, Maksymovych stood out among the imitators. The painter transferred the intricate graphic lace of Beardsley’s black-and-white illustrations to his colossal – up to four-metre-wide – oil canvases. As the art historian John Bowlt observes, ‘if certain esthetic ideas did bloom late on Ukrainian soil, they tended to assume luxuriant, hybrid proportions’.

Figure 5 (002)

 Vsevolod Maksymovych, Self-Portrait, 1913, Oil on canvas, National Art Museum of Ukraine, reproduced in Ukrains´kyi modernizm 1910-1930 

Maksymovych’s life-size Self-Portrait is an example of such luxuriant blooming. The picture centres on the immaculately-dressed figure of the artist who, like Beardsley, posed as a dandy. Even more fascinating than Maksymovych’s self-depiction is the backdrop which incorporates familiar details from Beardsley’s Salome designs: the dramatic peacock patterns formed of curvilinear tails and foaming crescents. Those Beardsleyesque backgrounds dominated the responses of contemporaries to Maksymovych’s work. In the words of the Futurist writer Boris Lavrenev: ‘His canvases consisted of circlets and rings, tangled and intertwined, […] which resembled a pile of soаp bubbles’. 

Lavrenev and Maksymovych met in Moscow in 1913 during the filming of The Drama in Cabaret No 13. This film is considered the first cinematic experiment of the global Avant-Garde. Directed by a pioneer of abstract art, Mikhail Larionov, it featured Futurist celebrities such as Vladimir Mayakovsky and David Burliuk. Although the film itself has been lost, surviving frames allow the identification of the male lead. It was, undoubtedly, Maksymovych, or the ‘artist Maks’ as he was called within the Futurist milieu.

Figure 7 (002)
A scene from The Drama in Cabaret No 13 featuring V. Maksymovych and N. Elsner, reproduced in M. L. Polianovskii, Maiakovskii-kinoakter (Moscow, 1940) YA.1997.a.3234.

The ‘artist Maks’ lived through the clash of the languorous Art Nouveau aesthetics with the revolutionary Avant-Garde. Despite Maksymovych’s prominent position in the Futurist networks, the style of his work was sadly out of date by the standards of 1914. When his one-man Moscow exhibition of that year failed, the ‘Ukrainian Beardsley’ overdosed on drugs.

Figure 8
A scene from
The Drama in  Cabaret No 13, from M. L. Polianovskii, Maiakovskii-kinoakter

After the painter’s suicide, his works did not stand much chance of entering official Moscow art collections. Maksymovych’s mother and the art collector Fedir Ernst eventually succeeded in bringing his works back to Ukraine. Ideologically incompatible with official Soviet culture, the paintings reemerged from the cellar of the National Art Museum of Ukraine only at the turn of the 21st century. Today, as we celebrate the international legacy of Aubrey Beardsley, it is time to look closely at his Ukrainian disciple and examine the transformations of art works, styles, and myths when they travel across national borders.

Sasha Dovzhyk, Birkbeck, University of London

References/Further reading

R. M. Iangirov, ‘Smert´ poeta: Vokrug fil´ma “Drama v kafe futuristov No. 13”’, in Tynianovskii sbornik: Sed´mye Tynianovskie chteniia, ed. by M. O. Chudakova, E. A. Toddes, and Iu. G. Tsiv´ian (Riga, 1995) YF.2004.a.14913

Linda Gertner Zatlin, Aubrey Beardsley: a catalogue raisonné (New Haven, 2016) LC.31.b.15403

V. N. Terekhina, ‘Vsevolod Maksimovich sredi moskovskikh futuristov’, in Russkoe iskusstvo: XX vek, Vol. 3 (Moscow, 2009), pp. 147–156. ZF.9.a.7176

18 December 2018

Russian cats 3: Muri in Search of his Kingdom

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Although this cat was created by a Russian author who made him live in Yugoslavia in the early 1990s, this is a universal cat, because what can be a more cat-like name than Muri? Muri, invented by Ilia Boiashov is quintessence of cathood. The title of this book, Put’ Muri, can be translated as ‘Muri’s Way’ or ‘Muri’s Path’. Published in 2007, this is not the first book by Ilia Boiashov, but it is the one that brought the author the National Best-seller award.

Put Muri
Ilia Boiashov, Put’ Muri (St Petersburg, 2007) YF.2008.a.8579

The publisher marketed Boiashov as “Russian Kusturica”, probably because of the Yugoslav and cats connections. I would also say that this book will probably appeal to Paulo Coelho’s fans.

The story is a classic example of a philosophical and allegorical travel novel. We first meet Muri as a young imprudent cat from a Bosnian village who thinks that he is a master of the world (or at least the house, the garden, the barn and the storehouses) and the universe revolves around him. As his peaceful life comes to an abrupt end due to the war, the cat starts its quest for “his armchair and warm blanket”. Muri travels around Europe in search for his owners, or rather his servants in his own view, a family of father, mother and two children. On his way Muri, as prescribed by the genre, meets other characters – people, sprites, and animals – who are either on the move too or static. Unlike other travel stories this one is not interested in the characters as such, but in their destiny.

Apart from Muri and the characters that he meets, there are quite a few other stories illustrating different scenarios of personal paths in life. A sheikh makes several attempts to circle around the planet in a small plane; a whale travels around oceans; a Serbian driver is on his way to his dream home. All the stories are framed by an academic argument between two rival groups of scholars divided by their attitude to the philosophical concept of movement and their views whether animals are capable of conscious decisions. While the philosophers debate the question of Super-significance of the True Being, Muri circles around Europe and through Austria, Belarus, Russia and Finland finally reaching Goteborg, where his universe has been preserved by his Bosnian family who are staying in a barrack for refugees in the outskirts of the city. Neither Muri, nor his servants-masters are surprised to see each other. Muri takes his milk as given and goes to sleep planning to explore this new kingdom tomorrow.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The British Library’s free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

11 December 2018

A Mysterious Linguistic Enclave in Southern Poland

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Wilamowice, a small town in southern Poland in the Silesian voivodeship, is the home of speakers of one of the most endangered languages on the linguistic map of Europe according to UNESCO’s Atlas of the world’s languages in danger (Paris, 2010; fm10/.1073). The language is known under a few names: Wymysorys, Vilamovian or Wilamowicean. Linguists tend to consider it one of the West German dialects, though the origin of the speakers is not clear.

Wilamowice postcard
An early 20th-century postcard of Wilamowice, reproduced in  Antoni Barciak (ed.), Wilamowice : przyroda, historia, język, kultura oraz społeczeństwo miasta i gminy  (Wilamowice, 2001) YF.2005.a.19308

In the 13th century, during the Mongol invasion the native Slavic population of the area was greatly reduced. It was later colonised by German, Scottish and Flemish settlers. In the course of a few centuries the foreign colonists blended into the local communities, with one exception, i.e. Wilamowice. The inhabitants of this town have always considered themselves to be people of Flemish descent preserving their distinctive language, costumes and customs.

Wilamowice women 010291i.38
Women from Wilamowice in the 1930s. The two on the right wear traditional costumes, the two on the left wear a more modernised variation. From Viktor Kauder, Das Deutschtum in der Wojewodschaft Schlesien (Plauen, 1937) 010291.i.38

After the partition of Poland in the late 18th century the area was under Austrian rule until the end of the First World War. German and Polish were the dominant languages. To sort out the linguistic issue of Wilamowice, in 1875 the authorities introduced Polish as an official language. This was the first step towards the polonisation of the town. Although education was offered both in Polish and German, most parents chose to send their children to Polish-language schools with German and the local dialect also taught. The only period when German became compulsory was during the Nazi occupation of Poland in the years 1939-1945. The Polish language was abandoned and, in some cases, forbidden from the official use, whereas Vilamovian, viewed by the Nazis as the local dialect of German, was even promoted. However the slow decline of the dialect had already started at the end of the 19th century, and apart from this short revival in the Second World War, it got almost extinguished in the Polish People’s Republic.

The Vilamovians were regarded by the post-Second World War communist authorities as Germans despite the fact that they stressed their Flemish origin. During the war the majority of the Vilamovians had been forced to accept the Volksliste and as a result they were subject to a harsh treatment in communist Poland. In the postwar period many people were arrested and their property was confiscated; some families were persuaded to relocate to the “Recovered Territories”. A decree issued in 1946 banned the use of the dialect and costumes. Soon people stopped speaking and teaching Vilamovian to avoid severe punishment. The social structure of the town also changed and many newcomers mixed with the native population. The ban was eventually lifted, but by that time no young people could speak or understand the language. The postwar period was the most traumatic in the long history of Wilamowice.

Vilamovian has seen a revival of interest among young members of the community in the last decade. Academics have also engaged in language revitalization, and Vilamovian can now be studied at the University of Warsaw. Nowadays about 300 people can understand it and approximately 60 people have the ability to speak it with varying degrees of fluency. It has been recognized as a separate language by a number of international bodies, but in Poland it has not yet been given the official status of a regional language.

You can read some poems in Vilamovian (with Polish and German translations) here, and listen to the language being spoken by a native of Wilamowice in this YouTube clip.

WilamowceBlog
A modern regional folk ensemble from Wilamowce  (Photo by Wymysojer from Wikimedia Commons
) 

Magda Szkuta, Curator of East European Collections

Further reading:

Tomasz Wicherkiewicz, The making of a language: the case of the idiom of Wilamowice, southern Poland, Trends in linguistics. Documentation; 19. (Berlin, 2003). YD.2005.a.3195

Józef Latosiński, Monografia miasteczka Wilamowic, (Kraków, 1910). 10292.s.8.

Zbigniew Rokita, ‘Kumże tu!’ in: Polityka, no. 13, 2017. MFM.MF1241D

Hermann Mojmir, Wörterbuch der deutschen Mundart von Wilamowice. (Kraków, 1930-1936.) Ac.750/109

07 December 2018

Russian Cats 2: The Hermitage Cats

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I wonder whether you were suitably confused by the first post about Russian cats that didn’t make it to the British Library exhibition Cats on the Page. Now, I want to tell you a story about more Russian cats on the page. No, I’ll start again: they are not all quite Russian, but they live in Russia. And they do not live quite on the page or in libraries, because the heroes of this blog live in museums. To be precise, in one particularly important and beautiful museum – the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 2009, curators who work in the Hermitage, published a book about the cats in their collection – cats on canvas, cats on lithographs and prints, in other words, all drawn, painted, photographed and sculptured cats.

Image 1
Cover of N. Gol’, M.Khaltunen, Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe (St Petersburg, 2009) YF.2011.a.360.

The book tells how cats were sacred in Ancient Egypt and how cats’ lives were worth more than human lives. Readers would also learn how Ancient Greeks smuggled cats in amphorae and how having a cat as a pet was a sign of wealth in the antiquity.

Image 2
Fragment of a red-figure vase, South of Italy, 4th century B.C., reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe
.

In mediaeval and early modern Europe cats were believed to possess demonic power and attributes. But later cats became just naughty. For example, they were portrayed numerously by a Flemish painter Frans Snyders to animate his game still lifes.

Image 3
Detail (above) from Frans Snyders, Cook at a Kitchen Table with Dead Game, 1634-37 (below), reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe

Image 3a

Cats in China are believed to be descended from the Sacred Tiger. While the Tiger was busy safeguarding good men by protecting them from evil, he found it very difficult to maintain his responsibility to protect fields from rodents. Once, accidently touched by a mouse, escaping from him, he sneezed a cat out of his nostril and thus – delegated his responsibilities.

Image 4
This Chinese picture from the Hermitage collections (late 19th/early 20th century) shows cats scaring mice who are enjoying a wedding procession. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

Cute Japanese okimono of waving cats bring luck. Legend has it that one poor woman said goodbye to her cat because she could not feed it any more. The loyal cat, instead, gave her a good advice to make a clay figurine of him waving his paw. And so she did! And her figurine sold well. And so were more figurines. So we can conclude: always listen to your cat and do what he says.

Image 5
 Okimono and netsuke from the Hermitage collections. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

The first cats came to the Old Rus’ and Muscovy in the 13th century and for the next 200 years remained an expensive curiosity. Since then cats in Russian folklore have occupied their place next to babies’ cots mewing lullabies, as ‘pioneers’ first entering newly built houses and showing the best and the worst corners, and in the kitchen forecasting the weather: curled-up cats mean frost the next day, while stretching cats predict a nice day ahead and pleasant visitors. And of course, like in many other countries, they are in confrontation with mice. One of the most popular stories presented on cheap prints sold for home decoration in the 19th century, shows a funeral procession where mice are taking their cat neighbour to the cemetery. We are still not quite sure whether the cat is dead or alive. We can treat this story as we feel fair and depending where our sympathies lie: the cat is trying to give the bothersome mice a lesson, pretending to be dead and then suddenly scaring them away (or worse, if you like!), or being naughty and greedy he indeed had fed on mice and died of surfeit (awful!).

Image 6
Russian popular print (lubok) showing mice burying a cat 
(1879), reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

And, of course, I don’t need to remind you about the pussy-cat who visited the Queen.  Some lucky Russian cats not only visited Tsars and Tsarinas, but were courtiers. The book tells us about the rules how palace cats were catered for. Catherine the Great imposed people’s social structure on cats, who were divided into two uneven categories: general palace cats (business class) and room cats (first class).

Image 7
Dasha Chernova made this picture when she was 8 years old. Reproduced in Koshkin dom v Ermitazhe.

 

Image 8
These well-fed cats eating asparagus in a palace garden came to Russia from France on Princess’s Dagmar of Denmark’s fan and settled down in the Winter Palace among other things that belonged to Maria Feodorovna, Empress of Russia.

The last chapter of this book is devoted to the cats who live in the Hermitage now. If you are to travel to St Petersburg and visit the Hermitage, say hello to Ksiusha, Dasha, Wonderful Prince, Vas’ka, Timur, Tishka, Katya, Lana, Vlada, Lera, Matilda, Liutik and Van Dyck.

Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections

The free exhibition Cats on the Page continues until 17 March 2019, with a series of accompanying events for all ages and interests.

27 November 2018

Some Russian Cats

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These cats didn’t make it in a tough competition to be displayed at and contextualised within the British Library exhibition Cats on the Page, but they still deserve a couple of nice words.

One of the first cats on the page that any Russian child would see, is an arrogant and conceited fashionista cat who did not allow her young orphaned relatives into her nice luxury house, preferring to entertain a company of servile ‘friends’. Guess what? The house is burnt to the ground the next night and, homeless and miserable, she finds that none of her former companions would want to provide shelter and share food with her. Of course, the kind kittens, who have very little food and live in a tiny cold hut, are generous and happy to help. This teaches the cat to be kind and she becomes a responsible and respectful auntie who takes good care of the kittens and they will take care of her when she is old.

Image 1S.Marshak, Koshkin dom (‘The Cat’s House’) Illustrated by Iu. Vasnetsov (Moscow, 1996) YA.1999.b.278

Fairy-tale cats don’t always act as characters. Some of them are enigmatic story-tellers themselves. Like other most popular cat in Russian literature, created by Alexander Pushkin. He lives in the mysterious land called Lukomor’e, walks up and down the chains fixed on a huge oak tree and mews his stories. One of them, a love story of Ruslan and Liudmila, he mewed to Pushkin himself.

Image 2a Endpapers from A. Pushkin, Ruslan and Liudmila. Illustrated by L.Vladimirskii (Moscow, 1989) YA.1997.b.2434

Actually, some cats are really strange. I would say that all cats are strange, but some cats are stranger than others. Because they are actually dogs. Or they are dogs, who are actually cats. This strange phenomenon was discovered and described by Tim Sobakin (‘sobaka’ is ‘a dog’ in Russian, so he might be a little bit of a cat himself), a contemporary children’s author. His character Shar lives with his master Auntie Solveig, somewhere in Glasgow, but actually in Oslo. You see, they all are quite eccentric, so why should the dog/cat or cat/dog be different? So, the story goes that Shar once climbed a tree as a cat, but while climbing, forgot how to get down, because on the tree he felt like dog. Only a passing fisherman could save Shar, because Shar suddenly felt like a hungry cat chasing fish and remembered how to climb down trees.

It all is getting too confusing, isn’t it, especially if you don’t read Russian? But if you do, it is actually more confusing. These cats can confuse anyone. So, I’ll leave you with this for the time being and come back with more confusing stories about cats on the page with lots of confusing Russian words.

Image 3 T. Sobakin. Sobaka, kotoriaia byla koshkoi. Illustrated by A.Grashin (Moscow, 1995)

 Katya Rogatchevskaia, Lead Curator East European Collections