Russia Literature Fairytales Fables of Ivan Krylov

Fables of Ivan Krylov

Fables are short texts, sometimes in verse form, of a moral or satirical nature. Their heroes are often animals, plants or objects endowed with human attributes. Fables are almost as old as man himself and many of their subjects date back to Aesop’s fables, which later found their way into European writing. In Russian literature, fables are synonymous with the name of Ivan Krylov.

The history of the illustration of Ivan Krylov’s fables begins in the 1820s, when Aleksander Orlowski illustrated several of his works. The Polish artist’s drawings were only published a century later, however, when the true history of illustrated publications began, linked mainly to the activities of the World of Art group.

In the middle and late nineteenth century, Alexei Chernyshev and Elizaveta Bohm illustrated Krylov’s fables. At the turn of the century, Valentin Serov also addressed the works of the Russian fabulist. He first illustrated Krylov’s tales in 1895, continuing right up until his death in December 1911. The artist worked particularly intensely on his drawings in the summer of 1911, filling hundreds of sheets.

The only Russian artist to surpass Serov was Georgy Narbut, who illustrated four editions of Krylov’s fables in the course of only a few years. The first project was Three Fables by Krylov, published by Joseph Knebel in 1911. The following year, two more books came out – Krylov’s Fables and 1812 in Krylov’s Fables.

Narbut dedicated the first book to his fiancée, Vera Kiryakova, depicting her portrait in profile on the title-page. The overall design and illustrations of Krylov’s Fables were inspired by the Empire style of the early nineteenth century.

1812 in Krylov’s Fables was published by the Community of St Eugenia to mark the hundredth anniversary of the Russian victory over Napoleon. The artist wrote: “This book of fables has made me famous. Reporters call me up at home and then write various stuff and nonsense about me in the papers.” In 1913, he illustrated another edition of Krylov’s fables, called Russia Saved in Krylov’s Fables.

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