ROSPHOTO holds a considerable collection of Russian Pictorialists. This movement in photography, which first became known in Europe in the late XIX century, got its second wind in the 1920’s-1930’s in Russia. Some of the aesthetic concepts of image construction, along with the term itself, were borrowed from the important 1869 publication by British photographer Henry Peach Robinson, Pictorial Effect in Photography:

“Any dodge, trick and conjuration of any kind is open to the photographer’s use <…> A great deal can be done and very beautiful pictures made, by a mixture of the real and the artificial in a picture”.

One of the primary suppositions to Pictorialism was the photographers’ ambition of turning their practice into a creative form no lower in status than an art form. Pictorialists captured landscapes, still-lives, simple genre scenes, deliberately breaking away from documentalism. By simplifying the composition and turning to everyday subjects, they emphasized the utmost importance of artistic device. Pictorialists used simple soft-focus lenses and special filters that rendered characteristic atmospheric quality to the photograph, thus deliberately freeing it from everyday-life details. Pictorialists actively experimented with various “noble” print processes. Complemented with the use of a variety of hand-made papers, from rough-finish to soft Japanese ones, all of the above allowed free manipulation with the image. Thus, in Pictorialism the focus was shifted from the shooting and creation of negative to printing and darkroom processing.

In Europe and the USA, Pictorialism reached its climax by the first decade of XX century, which simultaneously became the start of its decline. The first international movement in art photography soon became a craze, further turned into a field for decorative experiment and, finally, lost its original sense in the 1920’s.

Pictorialism was brought to Russian photography by British, French and German magazines, by Russian photographers who attended European competitions and exhibitions. Masters of Russian Pictorialism were awarded golden and silver medals of most prominent international exhibitions and salons. However, the obvious conflict of Pictorialist aesthetic principles with the ideas of Soviet art led to building up of moral harassment until it was followed by real-life repressions in 1935. Virtually all Pictorialists were deprived of their right of professional work, and from late 1930s they had no chance to exhibit abroad. Eventually, Pictorialist aesthetics regained its important place both in Russia and internationally, the role of Russian Pictorialism having been finally defined.

The current project continues the series of ROSPHOTO’s exhibitions dedicated to this important part of photography’s history that for a long time remained underestimated. In 2002 ROSPHOTO held a large exhibition of Russian Pictorialism in the 1890–1920’s from state and private collections. In 2011 it was followed by the exhibition of St.-Petersburg Pictorialist school that showed over a hundred works by 25 authors. Last year our exhibition spaces hosted the retrospective exhibition of Lyudmila Tabolina’s work.

The part of ROSPHOTO collection featuring the works of Russian Pictorialists made in the 1910s–1930s, is on display for the first time. The project comprises the works of authors that have long taken their place in the history of photography:

Sergey Lobovikov (1870–1941), Alexander Grinberg (1885–1979), Nikolay Andreyev (1882–1947), Moisey Nappelbaum (1869–1958), Nikolay Petrov (1876–1940), Sergey Ivanov-Allilouyev (1891–1979), Abram Shterenberg (1894–1979), Vassily Oulitin (1888–1976), Semyon Friedland (1905–1964)

The exhibition also includes rare Abstractionist works of Mikhail Tarkhanov (1888–1962), student of Vassily Kandinsky.

Along with works by well known masters, the exhibition includes a series of lyrical landscapes of anonymous photographer who experimented with ‘noble printing techniques’ in 1910s.