August 16, 2019 marks the 143th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Bilibin (1876–1942), artist, past master of the national form in art, who opened the world of Russian fairy tales to several generations of children. In theater, he designed the famous ballet The Firebird in Paris to the music of Stravinsky. He created sketches of costumes and sets for the operas by A. P. Borodin “Prince Igor” and N. A. Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Tale of Tsar Saltan. He vividly asserted himself on the stages of Egypt, France, Czechoslovakia. But his highest achievements belong to book graphics.
Ivan Yakovlevich was born in Tarkhovka near Sestroretsk in the family of a military doctor. From childhood, the future interpreter of Russian folklore was surrounded mainly by pragmatic lawyers, mathematicians and scientists. Ivan successfully completed a full law course at St. Petersburg State University. However, he understood that his real vocation lied in a completely different area. While still in high school at the St. Petersburg 1st Gymnasium, Bilibin got lessons from famous artists, and subsequently was Ilya Repin’s student for six years.
He was not afraid to be funny. A week before his death, waiting in the besieged Leningrad for the year 1942, a professor at the Academy of Arts read a funny ode to his friends, full of faith for tomorrow.
By the way, the main array of materials for the calendar of the Presidential Library was provided by the Ivangorod Museum - a branch of the Museum Agency, the state budgetary institution of culture of Leningrad Region. In the building where it is located, the Bilibin family once lived. Being a great esthete and a connoisseur of culture, Ivan Yakovlevich saturated his family house in Ivangorod with objects of art: painting, tapestries, porcelain and other antiques; the Bilibin family collection handed over to the city marked the beginning of the museum exposition. The collection of the museum includes more than 100 works of painting, drawing, decorative and applied art by Bilibin himself and his wife-artist. Not so long ago, his exposition was added with watercolors of the finest Bilibin elaboration from the Crimean Landscapes cycle.
The exhibition of works by V. M. Vasnetsov in the halls of the Academy of Arts (1898) impressed Bilibin much.
In 1899, Bilibin visited the village of Yegny of the Vesyegonsk district of Tver province and discovered impenetrable dense forests, the real "kingdom of Berendey". Here he first creates illustrations in the subsequently famous Bilibin style for his first book, The Tale of Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf. In 1902, 1903 and 1904, Bilibin visited the Vologda, Olonets and Arkhangelsk provinces, where he was commanded by the ethnographic department of the Museum of Alexander III to study wooden architecture. He first sees the Kizhi wooden ensemble and admires it, which he will write about upon returning to the article “Folk Art of the Russian North” mentioned above (The World of Art, 1904, No. 11).
The Presidential Library’s portal presents his most famous works from a series consisting of six fairy tales, including “The Tale of Tsar Saltan” and “The Tale of the Golden Cockerel”. Newspapers from the beginning of the last century wrote that Bilibin created a children's book as a work of art: his books look like painted caskets that can be considered for a long time; there is not only the plot, but also decorative elements invented by the master, ornaments, complicated fonts with curlicues...
Presidential Library’s electronic collections contain other publications issued by Bilibin, including truly unique books. The latter includes “Recorded and Illustrated Collection of the House of Romanov”, prepared in honor of the celebration of the 300th anniversary of the dynasty. Today, this publication is recognized as a masterpiece of typographic art: the pages of the collection are decorated with color screensavers, endings, and color photographic zincography. No less valuable are connoisseurs of such rarities as those made with the participation of Bilibin: “Onega Epics, recorded by A. F. Hilferding in the summer of 1871”, “Pictures on Russian History, published under the general editorship [and explanatory text] of S. A. Knyazkov” and other rare editions.
The national romantic trend in painting captured him as a supporter and continuer of the "contour line", which was then saturated with the finest watercolors - they became the artist's trademark.
Bilibin’s “gingerbread” compositions are permeated with crafty irony coming from the popular pub, and his political caricature perceived quite differently. Adhering to anti-monarchist, close to liberal convictions, the artist willingly collaborated with the satirical magazines "Zhupel" and "Infernal Post" - peers of the first Russian revolution of 1905. His political grotesques were merciless to the existing system. However, shortly after the revolution, which he initially sympathized with, Bilibin left Russia. He lived and worked in Cairo, Prague, Paris...
The artist gave rise to numerous imitators - the so-called ballast of the Bilibin style, as the artist himself called it. However, the historical significance of this style is undeniable. It is defined by critics as "disciplining".
“The merits of Ivan Bilibin to Russian culture are great”, - writes S. Golynets. “At the beginning of the 20th century, when vivid manifestations of talent and innovation were combined with quackery, sophisticated aesthetics and bad taste, Bilibin’s work served as an example of conscientious and thorough work on the development of the national artistic tradition”.