The World of Art is an artistic association of Russian painters, the heyday of its activity fell on the first decade of the XX century. The society arose on a wave of protest against academism and itinerant movement and rallied young artists in their quest for complete creative freedom. Mir artists were the first to take a step towards a new culture, actively promoted progressive views and paved the way for the avant-garde. For seven years, the association has been publishing the World of Art magazine, which has become the first program-art periodical in Russia.
The “World of Art” appeared in 1898, the main ideologist of the community was the painter and art critic Alexander Benois. Since the early 1880s, the artist has rallied around himself a group of creative youth who gathered in his house to talk about painting, theater performances, literature and music. It was then that Benoit first had the idea to unite young artists of different styles and trends with common aesthetic and ideological principles.
The World of Art was created with the direct participation of Sergei Diaghilev, who constantly attended Benois’s friendly meetings. The energetic and enterprising theatrical figure was sincerely interested in promoting the work of Russian artists in the West. In January 1898, he organized a joint exhibition of famous Scandinavian and Russian painters, after which the community was finally formed.
Diaghilev took upon himself the search for patrons and preparation of the magazine for publication, the artistic policy of the publication was determined by Benois. In the summer of 1898, the critic wrote several materials on the history of art, where he finally formed the main principles of the community:
- recognition of the classical heritage;
- denial of pretentious and painful forms in art;
- commitment to beauty and harmony.
Both founders adhered to the concept of aestheticism, which was developed by the English designer and graphic artist William Morris. The highest criterion for evaluating artwork was declared to be beauty, and the source of beauty was the personality of the creator, free in his self-expression. The purpose of the new association was to combat the backwardness of Russian artistic life and to get closer to advanced Western art.
World of Art magazine
Diaghilev was involved in the technical side of preparing the World of Art magazine for publication he attracted authors, edited articles, ordered the design and negotiated with the publishing house. The first issue was published in the autumn of 1898 and made an indelible impression on both the public and the artists with its content and high quality printing. Subsequently, the magazine was published at different intervals up to 1904 and gained many admirers in the creative environment.
The publication became a platform for discussing the most pressing problems of the intellectual life of Russia and the West, articles on the topic of painting, religion, philosophy and literature were published on its pages. Diaghilev remained the soul of the magazine, who was passionately carried away by a new project for himself. He took an active part in organizing the annual exhibitions of the world of art, where the works of the masters of painting from St. Petersburg and Moscow were exhibited.
“World of Art”: artists and paintings
The members of the World of Art community were united by their interest in bygone eras and styles, the cult of the beautiful, romanticism with a touch of irony. A similar worldview influenced the choice of plots and motives of paintings, where historical scenes with a touch of theatricality occupied an important place. The association included many outstanding Russian painters, graphic artists and illustrators.
Alexander Benois (1870-1960) followed the concept he developed throughout his creative life. In the 1900s, he worked on the Versailles series of watercolors dedicated to the reign of Louis XIV. The king and the courtiers are depicted against the backdrop of palace landscapes, reminiscent of theatrical scenery.
Valentin Serov (1865-1911) took an active part in the work of the association and even persuaded Nicholas II to provide a subsidy for the publication of the magazine. The painter drew inspiration from the events of the 18th century, his characters are distinguished by some conventionality and emphasized decorativeness.
Eugene Lansere (1875-1946) artist, graphic artist and illustrator, was fond of Peter’s era. In his works dedicated to the construction of St. Petersburg, he created a living image of a cold and windy city with a cloudy sky.
Konstantin Somov (1869-1939) strictly followed the principles of world art aesthetics, his works are characterized by an exquisite style, sensuality and theatricality. The artist’s favorite themes were love scenes in the open air.
Maria Yakunchikova (1870-1902) designed the magazine and regularly exhibited her landscapes in the Impressionist style, where the subtle play of light and shadow conveyed the mood of the moment. Many of the artist’s paintings are dedicated to old interiors.
Lev Bakst (1866-1924) a master with versatile creative interests, known as a theater decorator.
The principles of the world of art are most clearly traced in his ironic illustrations for Nikolai Gogol’s story “The Nose” and watercolor sketches of old Petersburg. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875-1946) preferred to portray the northern capital without a touch of romance. In its landscapes, the city appears gloomy and empty, and deserted streets and unsightly apartment buildings create a sense of despair.
Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955) became famous for her watercolors depicting views of St. Petersburg in unusual color solutions. In the magazine she published engravings with urban winter landscapes.
With the emergence of many new currents, the activities of the community began to gradually fade away.
In 1903 the exhibitions stopped, and a year later, due to lack of funding, the magazine had to be closed. First, the Moscow masters separated, and then some of the St. Petersburg painters moved to the Union of Russian Artists. The last large-scale exhibition was held with the participation of Sergei Diaghilev, after which he switched to his theatrical projects.
In the next few years, the activities of the association practically died out, although on paper it continued to exist.
In 1910, Nicholas Roerich took the post of chairman, who led the movement to revive the organization and resume exhibition activities.
A small part of the artists continued to develop the principles and ideas of the older generation of the world of art, but the representatives of the avant-garde movements were no longer interested in the concept. The last exhibition under the auspices of the World of Art was held in France in 1927, after which the association was officially closed.