Best wishes from Trotsky : the February 2018 Slavonic item of the month

Among the February 1918-related exhibits soon to be added to the University Library’s Revolution exhibition is a letter from Leon Trotsky.  The letter came to the Library as part of the papers of the Conservative politician, Sir Samuel John Gurney Hoare (1880-1959), second Baronet, and first and last Viscount Templewood.  Hoare was in Russia as an intelligence officer in 1916, and his interest in the country continued long after his departure.  Quite how this letter, which is dated 27 February 1918 and refers to the work of the agent Bruce Lockhart, came to be amongst Hoare’s papers is only one of its mysteries.

Templewood II:2(27)

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New additions to the Revolution exhibition : the January 2017 Slavonic items of the month

In late 2017, we announced on this blog the start of Revolution : the First Bolshevik Year, a new online exhibition at the University Library tracking the dramatic events unfolding one hundred years ago.  Since then, two new batches of items have been added.  Most recently, six pieces have gone up which link to developments in December 1917 and January 1918 (this doubling up will cease with the next month’s batch, since the Soviet adoption of the Gregorian calendar took place in February 1918).  Stamps, books, music, and a satirical cartoon, the new items relate to the formation of the Red Army and the increasing activity of the White movement, revolution and the arts, and the short-lived Constituent Assembly.

The preceding batch looked at the December 1917 armistice for the Eastern Front, the rapidly unravelling situation in Ukraine, and the introduction of revolutionary economy.

Full captions for all the items featured in this post can be found on the exhibition site.

Before long, the most exciting stage of work on the exhibition – the involvement of undergraduates as co-curators – is due to begin.  A further report on progress will appear on this blog before long.

Mel Bach

Alphonse Mucha, master of Art Nouveau

Alphonse Mucha (1860-1939) was one of the most relevant Art Nouveau artists. He created the “Mucha style” that had a great influence in decorative arts and advertising illustration. Several exhibitions on this artist have taken place recently, both in the UK and other European countries; all have been promoted by the Mucha Foundation. There is also a permanent collection at the Mucha Museum in Prague, opened by the foundation in 1998.


Self-portrait with Gismonda‘s poster in the background. Ca. 1896. S950.a.201.2411

Mucha was born in Ivančice (near Brno) in 1860, when it was part of the Austrian Empire (now Czech Republic). He lived his youth in Brno in a growing atmosphere of Czech nationalism. Despite having artistic talents from a very young age, he was not able to gain a place at the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Mucha worked for a major theatrical company in Vienna, but the theatre burnt down. Then he ran out of money, but he was lucky enough that his portraits were appreciated by the Count Khuen Belasi in Moravia. Thus, the Count Khuen and his brother, Count Egon, decided to commission him to paint some murals. The latter was so fascinated by his works that decided to become his patron. Thanks to his benefactor Mucha received two years of training at the Munich Academy of Fine Arts before moving to Paris in 1887. There he continued his formal art training and worked for a magazine creating advertising illustrations. He met Paul Gauguin in 1891; they become friends and Mucha offered Gauguin his studio, which they shared for some time. Continue reading

С Новым годом! Happy New Year! : late delivery of the December 2017 Slavonic item of the month

The December 2017 item of the month was held up in the post, so with apologies here is a lovely festive card sent on 20 December 1967 to celebrate the incoming new year.

Postcard recto. From the Catherine Cooke postcard collection.

In the Soviet period, Christmas played a much-diminished role – new year celebrations took on much of Christmas’ character and iconography, and New Year’s Eve remains the main time for present-giving in much of the former Soviet bloc to this day.  In the card above, we have Ded Moroz (Grandfather Frost) being ferried by a troika of horses, with the Kremlin star shining in the background.

This lovely card was sent from Nizhnii Tagil, a town in the Sverdlovsk Region, to the small Norwegian town of Vikersund.  The fact that the Russian sender had a personalised stamp for his details (a sign that he was well established), bottom right, made me hope that he and the recipient might be traceable – and so it turned out to be the case.

Postcard verso.

Rudol’f Kopylov was an artist and Thor Skullerud was a pharmacist – what linked them appears to have been bookplates.  Kopylov specialised in the production of ex-libris and Skullerud was an avid commissioner of them.  For readers of Russian, here is more about Kopylov in connection with an exhibition of some of his works in 2014:; for all, here is a link to some of the bookplates he produced which commemorate the poet Sergei Esenin:  Skullerud is harder to pin down in terms of biographical details, but here are some of the ex-libris he had made for him:  It would seem that several of his bookplates are now in the Rijksmuseum, but copyright sensitivity prevents the museum from providing images:

Somewhere, presumably, there is a bookplate designed by Kopylov for Skullerud to be found, but I have yet to track it down.  Ex-libris are the subject of many books in the UL.  A search for the subject bookplates will provide long lists.  Among the results will be a formidable Russian publication which lists all bookplates found in the holdings of the rare books department of the Gosudarstvennaia publichnaia istoricheskaia biblioteka (the State Public Historical Library).  Listed by name of owner, the set has covered only three letters of the alphabet and already stands at four volumes.  Once complete, it will be an extraordinary resource.  It can be consulted via the West Room and stands at  874.d.70-73.

Happy New Year to all our readers.

Mel Bach

Russian Revolution exhibition at the University Library

Futurizm i revoliutsiia (Futurism and revolution) by N. Gorlov; CCD.54.243

This week saw the launch of Revolution : the First Bolshevik Year, a year-long online exhibition which will grow on a monthly basis and will be co-curated with undergraduates.  The first month’s exhibits are also on physical display to readers and the public in the Library’s Entrance Hall for today and tomorrow – Friday 1 and Saturday 2 December 2017.

This exhibition will look at the events of the October Revolution and the year that followed, using a wide range of material from the University Library’s collections to illustrate the dramatic 1917-1918 timeline.  In future months, we will see students from various faculties and departments get involved in the project, giving them the chance to curate books and objects from the Library’s fascinating revolution-era collections.

The first month’s worth of exhibits consists of 11 items in 8 online groups, telling the story of the 27 October/7 November start of the revolution, with postcards of Moscow showing buildings altered by the fighting that took place and foreign accounts of the tumultuous events in Petrograd and beyond, before taking an initial look at the impact of the revolution on the arts.  Regular readers of this blog will be unsurprised to hear that several of these first exhibits (and more of those to come) are from the Catherine Cooke collection.  It is a pleasure to be able to look out items there and further afield in the Library for the exhibition, and I hope that students will feel similarly inspired as they handle this remarkable material.  Monthly updates to the online exhibition will be flagged by further blog posts.

Excerpt from Dvenadtsat’ (The twelve) by Aleksandr Blok with illustrations by Iurii Annenkov; S756.a.91.1

Mel Bach