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Vasilyevich Zvorykin

Boris Vasilyevich Zvorykin (1872, Moscow -1942 (45?), Paris) - a virtuoso graphic and ornamentalist, one of the most popular masters of the “Russian style” in book illustrations of the beginning of the twentieth century. The artist is known at home to a relatively small circle of art historians and bibliophiles. Meanwhile, at the time of the active creative work of the artist, they called him “Moscow Bilibin”; they valued Zvorykin’s works at the imperial court, he painted the churches and was widely known for his holiday cards with his illustrations published in large editions.

Features of Boris Vasilyevich Zvorykin: the master of the Russian fairytale theme, Zvorykin paid special attention to details, used bright, contrasting tones, and carefully painted the ornaments that he had not only played the role of a frame in book illustrations, but were often actively involved in the composition.

The most famous works of Boris Zvorykin: illustrations for the book by Alexander Pushkin "Boris Godunov", illustrations for the collection of fairy tales "The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales": "Snow Maiden", "Vasilisa the Beautiful", "Marya Morevna" and "Firebird".


The biography of Boris Zvorykin abounds with white spots, despite the fact that this master left a rich heritage: illustrations for children's and adult publications, richly decorated collectible anniversary and gift books, art albums, many greeting cards and even murals of church interiors (alas, the last to this day did not reach).

Boris Zvorykin avoided participation in various artistic societies, of which there were many in the early twentieth century, and did not make close friends in the artistic environment, preferring to build a career on his own. This is probably why the references to it are practically absent both in the memoir literature and in the press of those years. Because of what the artist so much to a solitary lifestyle? One of the possible - and partially confirmed - reasons lies in the peculiarity of his communication with the outside world: according to the memoirs of one of the descendants of the Zvorykin family, Vera Robertovna Nikitina (born Lang), Boris Zvorykin was deaf-and-dumb. In her book of memoirs, “The House overlooking the Sunset” (ed. 1996), there are such lines: “... The last name of Zvorykin originates from some Tatar exiled from the Horde — either Khan or Baskak, whose desolate descendants were two brothers Nikolai Vasilyevich and Vasily Vasilyevich Zvorykin. Vasily Vasilyevich Zvorykin had two sons from his first marriage - Vasily, who died of diphtheria in childhood, and Boris, deaf-and-dumb, who became a fairly well-known graphic designer ... ”The work was the meaning of the master's life.

To the yard

Despite the fact that Boris Zvorykin had limited opportunities to communicate with others, he still gained his vocation, and also received a classical secondary education. In 1892, the young man graduated from the 3rd Moscow gymnasium, and the next year he spent at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

Five years after studying at the school, Boris Zvorykin had already collaborated with the most famous publishing houses - Sytin, Mamontov and others. The publishing house, or rather the Fellowship of Alexander Levenson, with whom Zvorykin collaborated, regularly received orders from the imperial court for the decoration of luxurious commemorative books and various printed materials, including French menus. In 1896, the partnership fulfilled the order of the Ministry of the Imperial Court for the coronation of Nicholas II and Alexandra Feodorovna, and did so brilliantly, for which he was awarded the title of Supplier of the Court of His Imperial Majesty. Since then, Zvorykin has performed many works on imperial orders — from commemorative gift books to piece menus for gala dinners — all in small editions and hand-painted.

The work of Boris Zvorykin can be divided into two main historical stages - Moscow (until 1921) and Paris. Among the main works created by the artist in his homeland are the publications “Lavra, Monasteries and Churches in Holy Russia” (1909), “In commemoration of the centenary anniversary of the Patriotic War of 1812” (Stockholm, 1912), an anniversary wall calendar-album for 1912 with drawings according to Leo Tolstoy's novel War and Peace (1912). The elegant, richly decorated gift edition "The Chronicle and Facial Izbornik of the House of Romanov" (1913) in our time is a real rarity and a dream of any historian and bibliophile.

Tales of Pushkin: not Bilibin!

The remarkable works of Boris Zvorykin, made in the style of Russian antiquity, quickly made him famous - the masters even called it “Moscow Bilibin”. However, one cannot say that Zworykin was a literal imitator Ivana Bilibin. Rather, he was the successor of his style, which developed and inventively supplemented with personal talent.

In 1903, Zvorykin creates the first major work for a children's book - he designs and illustrates Alexander Sergeyevich Pushkin's The Tale of the Golden Cockerel. The following children's books, decorated with bright and elegant pictures of Zvorykin, will be released only in 1917 - the fairy tale “Comrades” by A. Remizov, “Christmas grandfather” and “Yaga and Zemlyanichka” by V. Smirnov.

Exclusive, luxurious and very time-consuming work was done by Zvorykin commissioned by the church in late 1917. The artist designed a unique manuscript stylized as letters of the 17th century, the length of which was about 20 meters - the Message of the Local Council on the restoration of the patriarchate. The document was decorated with elegant capital letters and figures of saints. Another order of the clergy is a sketch of the Patriarchal press as well as the design of the personal message of Patriarch Tikhon to the heads of foreign Christian churches. It is also known that Boris Zvorykin took part in the painting of the Feodorovsky Gosudarev Cathedral in Tsarskoye Selo, as well as the Cathedral of Sts. Alexander Nevsky in Simferopol.

Revolution and Paris

After the October Revolution, the artist continued to cooperate with the publishing house Sytin, and also did work for the children's almanac “Creativity”. The last works he performed for Russian customers were the covers of the magazine “The Red Army”, as well as the posters “Fighting the Red Knight with Dark Force” and “The Red Plowman”. The ideas of the revolution turned out to be unacceptable for Zworykin, and he decided to go abroad.

It must be said that Zvorykin practically repeated the path of Bilibin from Russia to Paris: like Bilibin, he traveled through the Crimea to Constantinople, from there to Cairo, and in 1921 arrived in Paris - the artistic “capital of the world”. He was much more fortunate than most of his compatriots, and soon became one of the most sought-after illustrators of the Russian school, working, in particular, with H. Piazza. The peak of the foreign period of Boris Zvorykin's creativity is the book “Boris Godunov” by A.S. Pushkin. Published in 1927, it is recognized as a masterpiece of ornamental art. In 1928, Boris Zvorykin took part in the “Luxurious Book. 1923–1927.

Book for the museum

In 1930, Zworykin translated four fairy tales into French - "Snow Maiden", "Vasilisa the Beautiful", "Marya Morevna" and "Firebird". And not just translated: a stylized handwritten text, luxurious illustrations and ornamental design in the “Russian style” - it was a whole artistic and literary project. The folder with this work was donated to the Parisian publisher Louis Freekelly, and then disappeared for a long time. It was only in 1978 that the American publishing house Viking Press shook off the dust, and edited the book by Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, who worked in this publishing house from 1975 to 1978. Zvorykin's works for this book, which in English translation was called “The Firebird and Other Russian Fairy Tales”, are kept in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York). In 1982, the book was released in France.

As some researchers write, both Zvorykin and Bilibin — both died at about the same time, in 1942. However, there is evidence that Boris Zvorykin lived until the spring of 1945 and died in his own house in the town of Courbevoie, located near Paris.

Author: Rita Lozinskaya


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