The Serov exhibition catalogue : the January 2016 Slavonic item of the month


Popular demand for the Valentin Serov exhibition at the State Tret’iakov Gallery in Moscow saw its original closing date extended to 24 January.   When visitor numbers even in its re-scheduled final week were so high that 4-hour queues formed outside in sub-zero temperatures,  the gallery extended the opening again, to this Sunday, the 31st.

Visitor sentiment peaked on 22 January, when a door was broken in to gain entrance.  Runet (the unofficial name for the Russian-language internet) promptly filled up with related humour, with the contrast of such high demand at the close of the exhibition’s run with the low visitor numbers seen when it first opened in the autumn a particular target for humour.  A spin on one of Serov’s most famous portraits, ‘Girl with peaches’, for example, had the girl now lifting her hand to her head and wearily saying “that feeling when you’ve been sitting here with peaches since October, and they break the doors down in January” (here).

The exhibition catalogue – which gives the originally planned closing date of 17 January – is a lovely volume.  Its main body is over 230 pages of reproductions, with captions, of the exhibits on display in the Moscow show and other works.  Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911) was known first and foremost as a painter, particularly a portraitist.  The exhibition, however, and catalogue also celebrate Serov’s achievements in the many other artistic strands he pursued.  He designed stage scenery, for example, for operas and ballets, including a production of ‘Judith’, an opera by his own father, the composer Aleksandr Nikolaevich Serov.  Wowed by Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes, Serov designed the main backdrop for their production of Rimskii-Korsakov’s ‘Scheherazade’.  While the Tret’iakov itself is a major holder of Serov’s works, the catalogue contains reproductions of artworks from 25 galleries and many private collections.


A selection of images from the exhibition catalogue

At the time of writing, the University Library and the Tate Library are the only holders of the catalogue.  Library readers can consult our copy (S950.a.201.3788) in the West Room.

A list of other UL-held books about Serov or containing his works can be seen here.  The earliest date from 1914, three years after Serov’s death.  One is by his mother, a book about her husband and son, both of whom she sadly survived.  Also a musician, Valentina Semenovna Serova focuses mainly on Serov senior, and her book is held by the Music Department, at M529.b.90.6.  The other 1914 book is dedicated to Serov junior, and was written by the artist Nikolai Radlov.  Sierov (S405:45.d.9.24; note the pre-reform spelling of Serov’s name) was produced within the series ‘Modern art’.  Our copy, donated by Dame Elizabeth Hill, the first Professor of Slavonic Studies, contains a flyer for the series.  The series, it announces, contains illustrated monographs “about modern artists but also about past artists who have a direct influence on the art of our time”.

Mel Bach


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