The collection of Russian prints in the National Library of Russia is one of the most remarkable in the country, illustrating the history of printed graphic art from its beginnings up to the present day. With respect to the period between the seventeenth and early nineteenth centuries the collection is fairly comprehensive.
The rarest works have come into the library from private collections. The National Library of Russia holds many such collections, notably:
A few seventeenth-century prints can also be found among the stocks of the Prints Department which do not belong to any specific collection. They entered the library from the archive of the Holy Synod.
Among the especially rare engravings of the late seventeenth century are two examples of what is known as a konkluzia, a complex allegorical composition made up of portraits, coats-of-arms, ornament and texts. Both engravings feature depictions of Peter I and his half-brother Tsar Ivan VI and so were included in the Petrine Gallery. It was Vladimir Stasov, the leading Russian critic and the staff member, who came up with and carried out the idea of creating the Petrine Gallery of all the graphic material relating to Peter the Great.
A considerable part of the collection, and the most valuable, comprises Russian engravings from the first quarter of the eighteenth century: portraits, scenes of land and sea battles, victory celebrations and views of Moscow and St Petersburg.
Peter the Great understood the importance of secular engraving as propaganda for his reforms and invited the Dutch master etchers Adriaan Schoonebeeck and Pieter Pickaerdt to Russia. This pair not only produced many works of their own, but also trained Russian pupils, the most well known of whom were to be the Zubov brothers, sons of an Armoury icon-painter.
A large part of the engravings from the Petrine era consist of impressions specially taken for the Public Library in 1851 from all the plates stored in the General Staff archive.
By the 1760s the centre of engraving in Russia shifted to the Academy of Arts which was founded in 1757. The plates cut by the pupils of the engraving class were carefully preserved. In the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries prints were regularly taken from them. The impressions requested by the Public Library in 1855 significantly filled out its collection of copper engravings.
Petrushechnik (a Buffon).
From the St Petersburg
Etching and watercolour.
The Russian lithographs belonging to the department include the very earliest which were produced in a workshop of the Military Topographical Depot attached to the General Staff in 1816. The first Russian work in this technique, Horsemen by Alexander Orlovsky, is dated March 1816.
Views of St Petersburg form a notable category within the Prints Department holdings. Indeed, the theme of the capital city runs through all Russian graphic art from Pickaerdt and Zubov to the World of Art artists.
By the early nineteenth century St Petersburg had become one of the most beautiful cities in the world, attracting foreign artists and engravers who lived in Russia, notably Gerard de la Barthe, Michel Damame- Demartrais and Benjamin Patersson.
From the 1820s views of the city were produced predominantly by lithography.
Nineteenth-century engraved and lithographed views of St Petersburg mainly came into the library from private collections, in particular as part of the collection of Nikolai Siniagin (1874-1912).
Highlights of the holdings include views of St Petersburg collected by Iosif Rybakov (1880-1938) of Leningrad.
The library also possesses a copy of the Panorama of Nevsky Prospekt lithographed by Ivan and Piotr Ivanovs from the drawings of Vasily Sadovnikov. Two strips with a total length of 15 metres depict all the buildings on either side of the thoroughfare in the 1830s.
The collection of modern prints in the National Library contains an extensive range of works by some major figures of Russian art: Boris Kustodiev, Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Sergei Chekhonin, Yelizaveta Kruglikova, Konstantin Rudakov, Georgy Vereisky and Vladimir Konashevich. There are artists' proofs of book illustrations and also original graphic works by Vladimir Favorsky and his school, Yevgeny Kibrik, Anatoly Kaplan and Nikolai Brimmer. A special category is formed by the Second World War cycles created by Alexei Pakhomov, Solomon Yudovin and Alexander Kharshak.
The collection consists predominantly of works by St Petersburg artists, produced in a variety of techniques and styles: etchings by Yury Liukshin, mezzotints by Valery Mishin, woodcuts by Viacheslav Begidzhanov, autolithographs by Victor Vilner, Mikhail Karasik, Oleg Yakhnin, and other works by both well-known artists and talented youngsters. The quantity and quality of the library's stock of modern prints make it possible to gain a complete picture of the features which have created a distinctive St Petersburg school of graphic art, to trace its history and the development of ideas as they are passed from one generation to the next.
Other schools are most fully represented through the works of Mikhail Poliakov, Vladimir Noskov, Ilya Bogdesko and Vitaly Volovich.