Elisabeth Boehm (Elizaveta Merkurievna Boehm, née Endaurova; 24.02.1843, St. Petersburg — 1914, St. Petersburg) was a Russian draftsman and silhouette artist. From the age of 14, the girl studied at the School of Painting at the Society for Promotion of Artists (1857—1864), from which she graduated with a Large Silver Medal. She studied under I. Kramskoy, P. Chistyakov, A. Beidman.
In 1867, she married a prominent violinist Ludwig Boehm.
The works by Elizaveta Merkurievna (since 1868) have participated in international exhibitions — in Paris (1900), Munich (1902), Milan (1906) — and received medals everywhere. In Milan, the artist received a gold medal, as well as at the exhibition in Chicago (1893), for her fan drawings and glassware.
In 1904, the artist became a widow.
Elizaveta Merkurievna Boehm (née Endaurova; 24.02.1843, St. Petersburg — 1914, St. Petersburg) was a Russian draftsman and silhouette artist. Her ancestors, the Tatars, used the surname Indigir, which meant “Indian rooster”. Ivan III bestowed the family with the surname Endaurov.
Elizaveta Boehm was born in the capital, but she spent her childhood in the Endaurov family estate in the Yaroslavl Governorate. The artist’s parents moved to live there when she was six years old. The brightest childhood memories of Elizaveta Merkurievna were associated with rural life.
Like many future artists, she liked to draw from childhood: “I had a love of drawing from a very young age; I don’t remember myself otherwise, but drawing on all the pieces of paper that came across to my hands. In my letters to my Petersburg friends, I always put my drawings of puppets and animals; it was this that drew the attention of people who understood somewhat that I should have seriously taken up painting.” Life in Russia in the second half of the 19th century did not particularly dispose a woman to do something else besides home, family and children, but Elizaveta Merkurievna’s parents turned out to be progressive people and listened to the opinion of those “who understood”. From the age of 14, the girl studied at the School of Painting at the Society for Promotion of Artists (1857—1864), from which she graduated with a Large Silver Medal. She studied under I. Kramskoy, P. Chistyakov, A. Beidman.
In 1867, she married Ludwig Frantsevich Boehm, a Russified Hungarian, a talented violinist, teacher, and later professor of the Petersburg Conservatory. The marriage was happy, and the couple had several children.
As a silhouette artist, Elizaveta Merkurievna began to work actively since 1875, when she began “publishing her first books of silhouettes, lithographing them herself and on stone”. It would seem that a lady should rather make silhouettes in an easy and familiar way — cutting them out of black or tinted paper. But the artist chose her own path, since only the possibilities of lithography, drawing on stone, allowed her not only to immediately release her books in small runs, but to do the finest elaboration of all the details that would have been impossible when cutting with scissors. She carefully drew feathers of birds and curls on the head of a village girl, dog hair and lace on dolls’ dresses, the smallest details made the graphics by Elizaveta Boehm unusually delicate, sincere, alive; her products hinted about the unspoken, what was hidden from the viewer inside her silhouettes. In 1877, the artist made one of her most famous books, “Silhouettes from the Life of Children”. On large greenish sheets, white cards with silhouette images of children were scattered. The combination of colours is exquisite, resembling a room where the porcelain collection is kept, because snow-white dishes with a pattern are often placed against a similar greenish-brown background. The very construction of the book imitates the calm and quiet world of a family album, the impression is emphasized by the halftone, detailed images of herbs and flowers, as if forgotten by someone between the pages, shadows from the cards... The captions of the drawings are a little pretentious: for example, a picture of two children playing musical instruments is signed “Future great musicians”, girls were called in the spirit of their time — “Future moms” and so on.
In 1878, Elizaveta Merkurievna completed her illustrations for the fables of Krylov. The figures of people in this book, as usual, are located in a conventionally drawn space, made somewhat superficially compared to the silhouettes. “Her black silhouettes were much more spectacular than the background itself, the environment. It even seems a bit student-ish against her silhouettes, which are always skilfully executed,” wrote V. I. Glotser about Boehm’s works.
In 1880, she created another book, “The Pie”, that added to her fame. On tinted paper, there are white circles, in which the story of little girls is told who made a cake and dropped it, bringing much delight to a dog. The measured rhythm of the narration is set by static circles, the position of which does not change from page to page, but each time a new scene is played out there. “The Pie” was very well received by the artist’s contemporaries, and not only children, but also adults looked at it with pleasure.
Elizaveta Merkurievna decided not to limit her illustrations for her next book, “From the Village Memories” (1882), with any tone frames. The silhouettes in it are freely arranged on white sheets: the children gathering vegetables in the garden, walking somewhere among the herbs, sitting on a wagon with hay — all these subtle silhouettes are expressive and alive. There is a drawing in the book in which the artist painted herself among the children, because every summer she continued to come to her family estate in the Yaroslavl Governorate or to the Balashevs’ estate near Tosno. Every time, before going there, Elizaveta Merkurievna bought armfuls of village scarves, toys and ribbons for peasant women and their children. The children loved her and called their lady Boehmikha.
In the same 1882 she illustrated the Russian folktale Repka.
Perhaps the most unsuccessful book by Boehm was the Azbuka (18??); its illustrations “resemble provincial advertisements with pretty children models in fancy dresses with self-explanatory names neatly placed on a sheet.” Azbuka is a huge album intended for home desktop viewing. The images of children are somewhat pretentious here, and the book itself resembles a junk shop. The artist really wanted to create something between a primer and a popular science book and squeeze in as much information as possible about all and every thing: coins of different times, Siberian stones, dishes, Russian weapons, fairy-tale characters, etc. But she lacked the ability to organize these materials, to place them in a form convenient for a child. However, it was several decades before artists began to think about systematized alphabets and children’s popular science books.
In 1883, Boehm made the album “Characters from the Notes of a Hunter by I. S. Turgenev in Silhouettes” (the book was published in the last year of the writer’s life). In this album, sheets of illustrations alternate with sheets on which fragments of text are placed among headpieces and vignettes. And the silhouettes of hunters, fishermen, beggars, children are expressive and unusually accurate, because they were all based on numerous nature sketches. A rare combination of cordiality and cognition has made these silhouettes appealing to generations of viewers.
The artist also worked on books for the little ones. For them, she created small albums “Proverbs in Silhouettes” (1884) and “Sayings in Silhouettes” (1885).
She had commissions for her silhouettes from other countries, where the drawings of the Russian artist were very popular, and one Parisian publisher even offered an exclusive contract, but Elizaveta Merkurievna refused, because otherwise she would not be able to publish anything at homeland.
Along with working on books, Boehm also published her works in periodicals. Her silhouettes were regularly reproduced in various magazines and almanacs, such as Niva, Novoye Vremya, Zhivopisnoe Obozreniye, Vsemirnaya Illyustratsiya. The artist supported the movement and the ideas of the populists, who stood up for the enlightenment of the people rather than for sharp revolutionary actions. That is why she designed both rich publications and penny books of the Library of Free Education by I. I. Gorbunov-Posadov.
“The opinion has been established that marriage is always or mostly the end of art pursuits for a woman,” reasoned Elizaveta Merkurievna, “either music or painting or something else, because she doesn’t have enough time for this anymore. At the same time, I remember the words of our great writer Leo Tolstoy, who said that whoever has a real vocation, he finds time for this, as he finds it in order to drink and eat. And this is the perfect truth; I feel it from my experience. I heartly love my occupation, therefore I am still doing what I love after getting married and after having given birth to my child.”
The artist devoted most of her life to the creation of children’s books. But with the increase of years, it became difficult for her to work in the technique of lithography, and she was mainly engaged in watercolours, drew postcards and illustrated children’s magazines Igrushechka (1882—1886) and Malyutka (1886—1887).
In addition, she created drawings of things made for the highest persons. So, in the book of Lavrentieva there is a list (far from complete) of objects she painted at that time: “several prayer books with painting on parchment; fans for the silver wedding of the Greek Queen, for the wedding of the Grand Duchess Xenia Alexandrovna, several for the Grand Duchess Elizabeth Feodorovna... She made watercolours by the orders of Grand Duke Sergei Alexandrovich and for Count S. D. Sheremetev.”
Since 1893, Boehm became interested in the manufacture of glassware. This happened after her trip to the Oryol Governorate to the Maltsov factories, where her brother Alexander was the director of the crystal factory. She made moulds for dishes, focusing on ancient objects: loving cups, glasses, cups, ladles. She came up with drawings for enamels. She painted the dishes herself and carefully observed if someone else did the painting. Some drawings were engraved and then etched onto glass. And again, the artist tried to do everything herself, noting only that “the etching was made not with hard vodka, but with fluoric acid, so poisonous that you have to wear a mask when etching”. The works by Elizaveta Merkurievna (since 1868) participated in international exhibitions — in Paris (1900), Munich (1902), Milan (1906) — and everywhere they received medals. In Milan, the artist received a gold medal, as well as at the exhibition in Chicago (1893), for her fan drawings and glassware.
Boehm’s work was highly appreciated by her contemporaries, not only by readers of her books, but also by major artists. “I love her black ones more than many of her whites,” Ilya Repin said about the works of Elizaveta Merkurievna. He even painted her portrait.
In 1896, when the artist was being honoured on the occasion of the twentieth anniversary of her creative activity, among the many congratulatory telegrams there was one from the publishers of Posrednik: “On the day of your anniversary, the editorial staff of Posrednik warmly thanks you for everything you have done for the national publications, and with all our heart we hope that you will serve for the people with your wonderful brush for a long time to come. Leo Tolstoy, Gorbunov-Posadov, Biryukov”. Congratulations were also sent by V. Stasov, I. Aivazovsky, I. Repin, A. Somov, I. Zabelin, A. Maikov.
In 1904, the artist became a widow. Despite all the difficulties and troubles, she continued to engage in creativity until the last day. “At the present time,” she wrote in 1910, “that is, having 67 years of age, having grown-up grandchildren, I still don’t leave my work, not because it is necessary, but because I still love my work as before.”
The thinnest, soulful, living silhouettes created by Elizaveta Boehm have forever remained in the history of Russian illustrated books.