• 27 June 2017
  • 12:30 – 2:00 pm
  • Seminar Room, Paul Mellon Centre

The Victoria and Albert Museum holds a sizeable collection of Russian art, the beginnings of which can be traced back to a new interest in Russia that emerged in the decades after its foundation as the South Kensington Museum in 1857. This period in the Museum’s history was shaped by the vision of its first director, Henry Cole, who aspired to create an institution for ‘art education’ that would serve both artistic communities and the wider public. Founded after the Great Exhibition of 1851, an immense international showcase of art and industry which Cole had directed, the Museum was outward looking from the outset. The Russian court in 1851 was one of the most talked-about displays, yet it received little attention from Cole. But soon he and his successor, Philip Cunliffe-Owen, would become much more interested in Russian art, at a time when the subject was barely understood in Britain. An important turning point was the inclusion of Russia in their ambitious programme for the creation of plaster casts and electrotype copies of European art, to be used not only for teaching but also for commercial gain.

Concentrating on this formative period, this lecture will consider Russia as a case study illustrative of the Museum’s initial international strategy. It will also explore the Museum’s engagement with Russian art, its efforts to build a collection and promote better understanding of the subject; in this regard, it will discuss Alfred Maskell, who led a six-month expedition to Russia in 1881, taking in Moscow, St Petersburg and other important sites, and wrote the first British history of Russian art: Russian Art and Art Objects in Russia: A Handbook to the Reproductions of Goldsmiths’ Work and Other Art Treasures from that Country in the South Kensington Museum (1884).

The Fellows Lunch Series is a series of free lunchtime research talks given by recipients of Paul Mellon Centre Fellowships. All are welcome but please book a ticket in advance.

Image credit: Henry Pidgeon Clarke, Part of the Russian Court, 1851. Purchased with the assistance of the Art Fund, the Friends of the Victoria & Albert Museum and the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851

About the speaker

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    Dr Louise Hardiman is an art historian specialising in nineteenth- and twentieth-century Russian art and the history of Anglo-Russian cultural exchange. She is a graduate of the universities of Oxford, London and Cambridge, where she completed a PhD in 2014 entitled ‘The Firebird’s Flight: Russian Arts and Crafts in Britain, 1870-1917’. She was consultant and catalogue contributor for the exhibition ‘A Russian Fairy Tale: The Art and Craft of Elena Polenova’ (Watts Gallery, Guildford, 2014-15), and is the editor of Elena Polenova, Why the Bear Has no Tail and other Russian Folk Tales (2014). In 2016 she worked for the Faculty of English Language and Literature at the University of Oxford on a project for Dr Rebecca Beasley entitled “Russomania: British Modernism and the Translation of Russian Culture”. She has been awarded a Paul Mellon Postdoctoral Fellowship (2016-2017) and is preparing a monograph on the history of Anglo-Russian artistic exchange between 1851 and 1917. Hardiman has published several journal articles on her research, and teaches and lectures for a wide range of academic and public audiences.