Databáze uměleckých výstav v českých zemích 1820 – 1950

Boris D. Grigoriev (107th Exhibition of the Mánes Fine Arts Association)


The exhibition of Boris Dmitrijevich Grigoriev can be considered one of the most distinctive presentations of Russian art during the Czechoslovak First Republic. The painter himself initiated the show, likely contacting the Prague co-organizer, Dalmat Lutokhin, through the writer Maxim Gorky, whose portrait Grigoriev made in the first months of 1926 during the writer’s stay in Milan, Italy [Любимова–Олонова 2003, p. 467].

The set of Grigoriev’s works at the Prague exhibition was almost identical to his show at the Pesaro Gallery on Via Manzoni in Milan in January, representing a cross-section of his oeuvre from the first half of the 1920s. Grigoriev was already a prominent figure in Russian art before his emigration due to his distinctive grotesque style, influenced by Cubist morphology – he was in direct contact with the French milieu from the early 1910s onward. In 1913, Grigoriev stayed in Paris for several months, attending the private Académie de la Grande Chaumière to expand his earlier artistic training from the Stroganov School of Industrial and Applied Arts in Moscow (1903-1907) and the St. Petersburg Academy (1907-1913). Before his final departure abroad, he drew considerable attention to himself with his series Intimité and Raseya, published as albums in 1918 in St. Petersburg. Re-published in the 1920s in Berlin, Raseya, a stylized depiction of the Russian village, contained all essential features of Grigoriev’s style, which later further developed in his portraits. These are characterized by frontal views and compositions based on traditional orthodox icon painting, often combined with a neutral, immaterial background. This style drew in part on Neoclassicism, which became one of the dominant currents in the Mir iskusstva group after it resumed its activities in Paris in 1921 as several members of the original St. Petersburg group joined the Parisian emigre community. However, while the other prominent figures in this circle, notably Alexander Yakovlev and Vasily Shukhaev, tended towards a strict neo-academism, Grigoriev incorporated many diverse influences, including older and modern Western and Eastern traditions. 

Grigoriev, who had been in exile since 1919, first in Berlin and later mainly in France, was at the height of his creative and social activity at the time of the Prague show. In addition to participating in exhibitions in several European cities, he made trips to the USA during this period. In 1928, he was invited to Santiago de Chile to reform the art academy there. During the interwar years, particularly after 1930, Grigoriev returned to his Russian motifs, drawing primarily on his earlier work, Raseya. Yet, the 1926 Prague exhibition featured mostly portraits (such as the portraits of members of the Moscow Art Theatre [MAT], which Grigoriev painted during the company’s tour of Western Europe and then included in his Faces of Russia series). But there were also landscapes and portraits from his stays in Brittany and Normandy (e.g. Bréhat Island, Pont-Aven, Fishing Harbour, Old Breton Woman, Norman Woman). 

The exhibition resulted from the activity of the Russian expatriate community in Prague (Dalmat Lutokhin, Nikolai Yelenev). Nadezhda Filaretovna Melnikova-Papoušková, a Russian ethnologist, literary critic, and art historian, connected the organizers with the Mánes Fine Arts Association. In addition to the Mánes Association, which provided the exhibition space, co-organizers included an association called Russkii Ochag (Russian Home). Founded on the initiative of Alice Masaryková just a few months before the exhibition, this organization aimed to fulfill the “spiritual, cultural and educational needs of the Russian community” [Постников 1928, p. 122]. Although Grigoriev had planned to attend the show’s opening, he eventually did not make it. The sitting sessions with T. G. Masaryk, whose portrait he intended to paint, had to wait until Grigoriev finally visited Prague in 1932.

All reviewers saw the Grigoriev show through the prism of his Russian origin, which served as a basis for evaluation: For Jaromír Pečírka, a reviewer for the Prager Presse, the exhibition was “a slight disappointment” because “one does not find much in his paintings that one could describe as truly Russian.” In Pečírka’s view, it was far too obvious that the painter had been staying in Paris for a long time as he sought the support of the two “tragic friends from Arles,” van Gogh and Gauguin. The exhibition, says Pečírka, has a particularly saddening effect on the viewer because “one feels that the artist is wandering the world strapped of his homeland” [Pecirka 1926, p. 8]. František V. Mokrý, on the other hand, believed that “in the non-Russian landscapes, in Brittany, in fishing ports, in drawings of Florida palm groves, and elsewhere, wherever we see him drawing, Grigoriev’s gaze is Russian and we can sense Russia in all these work, the Russian face." [Mokrý 1926, p. 4] Josef R. Marek evaluated Grigoriev based on the same stereotypes: “this Russian has seen Paris and Brittany and has seen America, still seeing it with his Russian eyes. And perhaps the Breton lands remind him of the Russian steppes, for he is so much at home there." [Marek 1926, p. 10] According to Josef Čapek, Grigoriev is “fully oriented toward modern French painting in his technique of expression.” However, the French models are “transformed... into a very Russian expression.” The two tendencies, according to Čapek, are “merged in a rather agile and harmonious way, and yet constantly in a struggle. The native one carves itself into the painting through the all-too-fierce drawing and the sharpness of colours, while the French one sets the tone and composition of the painting." [Čapek 1926, p. 7]

The most extensive and, at the same time, the most positive review appeared in the daily Tribuna. Here, the Czech-German art historian Oskar Schürer rejected the perspective from which artists of Russian origin were usually viewed (“European discussions about the Russian soul are generally bleak. ...”). In Schürer's view, Grigoriev’s “spirited realism, supremely aware of our era, for which a thing in its reality is, despite all, only a cipher, a mythogram of a felt deeper content ...,” fulfills “the latest slogan of ‘new objectivity.’” Schürer believed that Grigoriev’s “incredibly refined tissue of forms” [Schürer 1926, p. 8] can be equally comprehensible in the context of European new realisms and Russian artistic traditions. 

Jakub Hauser

Works Cited

Čapek 1926: jč [Josef Čapek], Výstava obrazů Borise Grigorjeva, Lidové noviny XXXIV, 1926, no. 284, 6. 6., p. 7

Любимова–Олонова 2003: Любимова, Марина – Олонова, Э.: Пражские выставки Бориса Григорьева 1926 и 1932 гг., in Владимир Черняев et al. (edd.), Зарубежная Россия 1917–1939 гг.: сборник статей, Книга 2, Санкт-Петербург 2003, pp. 467–471

Marek 1926: Josef Richard Marek, Malíř ruských tváří, Národní listy LXVI, 1926, no. 168, 20. 6., p. 10

Mokrý 1926: František V. Mokrý, Boris D. Grigorjev, Venkov XXI, 1926, no. 140, 13. 6., p. 4

Pečírka 1926: Jaromír Pečírka, Prager Ausstellungen, Prager Presse VI, 1926, no. 159, 11. 6., p. 6

Постников 1928: Сергей Постников, Русские в Праге 1918–1928 г.г., Прага 1928 (reprint: Praha 1995)

Schürer 1926: Oskar Schürer, Boris D. Grigorjev, Tribuna VIII, 1926, no. 134, 6. 6., p. 8

Further Reading

Тамара Галеева, Борис Дмитриевич Григорьев, Санкт-Петербург 2007

Tamara Galeeva – Daria Kostina, Russian Emigre Artists Boris Grigoriev and Grigory Musatov and 1920s-1930s Prague: Between „Russian Exoticism“ and Western Modernism, Centropa XIII, 2013, September, pp. 227–240

Борис Дмитриевич Григорьев, Расея, Берлин – Потсдам 1922

Boris Grigorieff, Visages de Russie, Paris 1923

Jakub Hauser, Sans retour. Výtvarníci ruské emigrace v meziválečné Praze, Praha 2020

Nikolaj Jeleněv, Boris Grigorjev, Zlatá Praha XLIII, 1925–1926, pp. 368–369

Глеб Поспелов, «Лики России» Бориса Григорьева, Театр, 1994, no. 3, pp. 116–132

С. Шумихина, Россия была мне мачехой... Письма Бориса Григорьева к Николаю Еленеву 1926 – 1932 гг., Независимая газета IV, 1996, no. 171, 13. 9., p. 8

Archival Sources

City of Prague Archives, fonds Spolek výtvarných umělců Mánes Praha [Mánes Fine Arts Association Prague], inv. no. 4104 (Boris D. Grigorjev)

Exhibiting authors

Boris D. Grigorjev


Publisher:  Mánes Fine Arts Association

Place and year of publication: 1926 Praha

Other author of the introduction: Dalmat Alexandrovich Lutokhin

Author/s of the introduction:Jeleněv Nikolaj Artěmjevič
Reviews in the press

adv., Ruský malíř, Večerník Českého slova, 1926, 8. 6.

Čapek Josef

-jč- [Josef Čapek], Výstava obrazů Borise Grigorjeva, Lidové noviny XXXIV, 1926, no. 284, 6. 6., p. 7

Lehmann Fritz

Fritz Lehmann, Ausstelungen, Prager Tagblatt LI, 1926, no. 130, 2. 6., pp. 6–7

Marek Josef Richard

Josef Richard Marek, Malíř ruských tváří, Národní listy LXVI, 1926, no. 168, 20. 6., p. 10

Mokrý František Viktor

František V. Mokrý, Boris D. Grigorjev, Venkov XXI, 1926, no. 140, 13. 6., p. 4


[N.], Z pražských výstav, Národní osvobození III, 1926, no. 159, 11. 6., p. 4

Pečírka Jaromír

Jaromír Pečírka, Prager Ausstellungen, Prager Presse VI, 1926, no. 159, 11. 6., p. 6

Schürer Oskar

Oskar Schürer, Boris D. Grigorjev, Tribuna VIII, 1926, no. 134, 6. 6., p. 8

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