Neoclassical Revival

The cultural and philosophical ideas of Neoclassicism were realised most fully and consistently in Russian architecture in the period between 1910 and 1920. This was the creations of such young architects as Ivan Fomin, Alexei Schusyev and Vladimir Schuko, who designed the highly successful Neoclassical Russian pavilion at the Espozizione Internationale in Rome in 1911. The Neoclassical Revival was also inspired by the Historical Exhibition of Russian Architecture held in spring 1911 (the foreword to the catalogue was written by Alexander Benois) and articles in Apollo magazine.

Russian Neoclassicism was another of the highly original phenomena of early twentieth century Russian art. At a time when innovative explorations in form were very much in vogue, artists like Alexander Yakovlev, Vasily Shukhayev and Zinaida Serebryakova sought inspiration in the works of medieval and Renaissance masters. They were, to a certain extent, following a path already taken by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Nazarenes. Modern subjects are lightly stylised in their works in imitation of the painterly and plastic styles of their great predecessors.

In the 1910s, a reaction against styleless (or multi-style) modern culture led to the Neoclassical Revival. Cultivating individualism, Art Nouveau could never be a universal style. This was understood by many Russian architects, who looked instead to the normative and stylistic integrity of the past.

The interest in the Neoclassical architectural heritage of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries reflected the quests in pre-revolutionary Russian art for a form of universal beauty capable of adorning and transforming the world. Like the masters of Art Nouveau, Neoclassical Revival artists did not slavishly copy old specimens. They operated freely with order architecture, deliberately seeking sharp and expressive plastic forms. Employing traditional classicist schemes for the parquet floors in the Prince Abamelek-Lazarev Mansion in St Petersburg, Ivan Fomin introduced an element of the grotesque by greatly increasing the scale of the pattern. Working on the same project, Yevgraf Vorotilov did the exact opposite, closely correlating the parquet compositions to the rest of the interior decor and the general architectural space of the rooms.

Several parquet floors by Neoclassical Revival masters reflected their interest in ancient art. Nikolai Lanceray created a unique floor at the Novinskaya and Zasetskaya Mansion on the Sandy Embankment in St Petersburg, placing a medallion with the figure of a dancer in an ancient tunic in the middle of the Corridor Rotunda on the first floor. This motif recalled Léon Bakst’s costume designs for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes.

Neoclassical Revival was the last great architectural style in imperial Russia.

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