The Russia Season

From Saturday 14th October 2017 10:00 to Sunday 11th February 2018 17:00

In October 2017, to mark the centenary of the Russian Revolution, the Sainsbury Centre will stage two major exhibitions that will contrast art, life and culture in Russia before and after the Revolution.

Royal Fabergé

This exhibition will trace the story of one of the world's most exquisite jewellery workshops and reveal how the creativity of Fabergé came to extend from St. Petersburg and the court of the Romanovs to a dairy on Norfolk's Sandringham Estate. In 1907, Edward VII commissioned Peter Carl Fabergé to produce portrait sculptures of dogs and horses at Sandringham as a gift for Queen Alexandra. The project was soon extended to cover all the Norfolk estate's wild farm and pet animals. The best sculptors were sent from St. Petersburg to Sandringham to make wax models of the animals which were taken to Russia to be rendered in hardstones, gemstones, gold, silver and platinum as directed by Fabergé himself. More than 100 sculptures are known, most now in the Royal Collection.

The loans from the Royal Collection will be the centrepiece of the exhibition but the wider story of Fabergé will be told with major loans from private and public collections in Britain, Russia and America. Over 150 works, including vintage films and photographs, will illuminate the extraordinary skills of the Fabergé craftsmen who created glorious enamelled and bejewelled plants set in rock crystal vases as well as the famous Fabergé eggs and other royal gifts.

Radical Russia

At the same time as Fabergé was producing his jewellery, a very different artistic movement was taking shape in Russia. Prompted both by the conservatism of the Russian social and political establishment and by the emergence of new radical artistic movements across Europe, Russia developed its own unique version of the avant-garde. The revolutionary year of 1917 gave a dramatic impetus to the Russian avant-garde, providing a radical political dimension to the way in which Russian culture developed.

The exhibition will include pieces produced in the period before 1917, showing the way in which Russian abstraction included specific Russian themes - especially relating to the Russian peasantry. The avant-garde operated across the whole artistic spectrum, from poetry to urban planning, and the exhibition will demonstrate their vitality and creativity at a time of intense social and political transformation. It will focus on the varied ways in which the avant-garde sought to use revolutionary forms and themes in the everyday world. Ceramics, book designs, furniture, costume and urban planning all attracted the attentions of the Russian avant-garde as they attempted to 'live the revolution'. The exhibition will include a wide variety of object, ranging from Suetin's Suprematist ceramics that utilised revolutionary symbolism, to 1920s covers for books by the poets Mayakovsky and designs for a revolutionary urban environment. Alongside this, the exhibition will contain some of the purely artistic pieces produced by the avant-garde, showing how their ideas for reimagining the actual lived experience of revolutionary Russia were founded in the abstraction produced in the years before 1917.

The avant-garde will be placed in their social and historical context by utilising the contemporary photographs of Sergei Prokudin-Gorskii that portray pre-revolutionary Russian society, alongside film excerpts from the period that show how the revolution erupted and display the often chaotic and tumultuous environment in which the Russian avant-garde were creating their works.

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