The city of St. Petersburg is the most prominent creation of Peter the Great, whose 350th anniversary is widely celebrated in 2022. A visible culmination of the Tsar’s reforms, the centre of advanced Russian culture and the new capital of the Russian state, Peter’s “paradis” has been celebrated for centuries as a city of unparalleled beauty. Since the early 18th century, St. Petersburg had traditionally been portrayed in graphic art, and by the time the city celebrated its 200th anniversary, its photographic images had become more and more popular. Photography, a relatively young medium at the time, managed to significantly enrich the palette of the Silver Age of Russian art.

On the verge of the city’s anniversary in 1902, Mir Iskusstva magazine published a famous article by Alexandre Benois, “The Picturesque Petersburg,” illustrated with Petersburg-themed graphic works of Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Eugene Lanceray and Osip Braz, as well as with photographic views of St. Petersburg’s streets, squares and embankments. 

In 1903, the artists involved with Mir Iskusstva took active part in organising the exhibition Old Petersburg, and in 1907, contributed greatly to the foundation of the eponymous museum, whose main goal was to collect photographic records of architectural monuments, primarily those of the 18th century. Photographs made by V. Y. Kurbatov, N. G. Matveev, K. K. Kubesh, P. S. Radetsky were displayed in the Exhibition of Artistic and Architectural Photographs (1911) and reproduced in the postcards published by the Community of St. Eugenia and in the famous guidebook Petersburg (1913). 

The exhibition project City of Peter includes works by the masters of the Mir Iskusstva circle, book illustrations, postcards and magazines of the early 20th century, as well as over 150 original photographic prints, many of which are shown for the first time.

Karl Bulla
Saint Isaac’s Cathedral from Senatskaya Square, 1990s

The show is accompanied by audio recordings of poems on St Petersburg by A. Blok, A. Akhmatova, O. Mandelstam, A. Beliy, V. Ivanov, M. Kuzmin and N. Agnivtsev performed by theatre actors.

The exhibition is supported by the Ministry of Culture of the Russian Federation, as part of the projects of the Assembly of Peter the Great Museums of Russia.

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