A New Childhood: Picture Books from Soviet Russia
27 May – 11 September 2016
Rarely seen examples from Soviet Russia that revolutionised the format.
With Stalin's great purges persecuting anyone deemed radical or unsupportive of the state – 'dissidents' were either sent to labour camps or executed – the 1930s were difficult years for avant garde artists who found their freedom of expression increasingly limited.
For many refuge was to be found in children's books; the genre naturally leant itself to the unusual shapes, experimental compositions and bold colours of Abstract art, and so they were able to publish their imaginative and playful designs without censorship or, worse, punishment.
Picture books produced during this era are therefore, quite remarkable. The sophistication of the typography, design and illustration was not only unparalleled, but also set a precedent for children's publishing in the years to come. House of Illustration brings together an array of striking examples by the likes of Vladimir Tambi and sisters Olga and Galena Chicagova.
The vibrant illustrations of Vladimir Lebedev, known as 'King of the children's book', are a highlight of the display. Friend to prominent Abstract artists such as Kazimir Malevich, it was Lebedev's bold work for titles such as Circus and Ice Cream, that transformed the genre, spurring countless imitations and homages. In fact, writer Nikolai Punin affirmed that all previous book illustrations 'paled in comparison', and 'began to seem impotent, overly concerned with aesthetics, and unexpressive'.
However Lebedev's work also caught the eye of the Soviet authorities, and he was subjected to repeated threats and censorship throughout his career.