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Lubok, the Art of Old Russian Comics
May 31, 2007 22:49


The lubki (sing. lubok) are Russian hand made folk prints representing a rich and expressive layer of this country’s culture, history and art. These once popular simple printed pictures coloured by hand eloquently speak about life and outlook of the common people of the past.

First these broadsides were called friazhskie (coming from the West), then “funny sheets” and for a long time prostoviki (simple things) or the common people’s pictures. In the 19th century they got the name of lubok.

Numerous lubki made up a sort of an extensive encyclopedia imparting diversity of knowledge about faraway countries and important events, about whims of nature and common peasant living. There were ABC lubki, calendar lubki, medical lubki, herbal lubki, arithmetic lubki, fairy tale lubki and song lubki. Even long bylinas (epics) and entertaining stories were narrated and drawn in series of small frame pictures.


Baba Yaga Fighting Crocodile
      Scholars keep arguing about the origin of the word lubok. Some say it comes from lub, the old Russian name for linden, that was used as material for lubok boards. Others assert it is because lubki were carried in bast (lub) baskets by peddlers. As a Moscow legend says, it all started from Lubianka, the street where lubok masters used to live long ago.

The comic folk prints, sold at fairs as far back as the 17th century, till the beginning of the 20th century were considered the most popular type of graphic art in Russia. Yet, they were not treated seriously by the upper circles that rejected to call art the creations of self-taught folk artists, who amused peasants with their “cheap pictures”.

 


Bird Sirin of Holy Blessed Paradise
      Initially, however, prints used to decorate tsar’s palaces and boyar’s mansions. At that time they were black-and-white. Later the production of lubki developed, they becoming coloured, widely spread, affordable and thus popular.

Women in Moscow and Vladimir region painted black-and-white prints with use of hare’s pads. Quite a number of those lubok pictures could remind us of a small kid’s crude paintings illogical in colour. However, there have been found a lot of pictures, considered precious by scholars in regard to the artists’ inborn feeling for colour, which enabled them to create quite unexpected original combinations, impossible in accurate painting, and thus, unique.

The topics of folk prints greatly vary, ranging from religious and moralizing subjects to folk epics and fairy tales, from historical and medical lubki always attended with didactic or joking texts to genre pictures, from amusing stories to skillfully disguised bitter political satire.


Adam and Eve Under Tree of Knowlege
      As time passed by the lubok technique was changing. In the 19th century wood gave place to metal as a better etching material, which gave an opportunity to create more delicate works. The palette of lubki became still brighter and richer, sometimes going into unexpected, fantastic riot of colour.

For a long time the colourful prints remained food for thought and spirit of common folks, a significant source of knowledge and news, since newspapers were scarce, whereas lubki were popular and cheap. They were distributed all over the country and could travel unthinkable distances. However, by the end of the 19th century the art of lubok exhausted itself and gave way to pictures printed at factories.

Lubok pictures are creations of unknown folk masters. Labeled as vulgar by the top-drawer, the folk art, nevertheless, once rapidly developed and played an important role in society. Today lubok specimens are treated as particularly valuable cultural heritage and are subject to collecting and thorough research by many scholars in Russia and abroad. They occupy a merited place in fine arts museums, where they neighbour works by the greatest masters of the past. Where to See Lubok:

The Moscow State Museum of Folk Graphic Art

The major part of the museum exposition is made up of the collection of the artist V.P. Penzin, who is also the director of this institution. Along with that the museum keeps reconstructed ancient lubok prints and works by modern lubok masters. The collection consists of Russian engravings of the 17th – early 18th centuries, lubok samples of different centuries, and modern popular prints, including works by the folk graphic art studio Russian Lubok and a collection of children's popular print.

It should be mentioned that not far from the museum, on the fence of St. Trinity Church back in the 18th-19th centuries popular prints were hung out for sale at the former Sukharevsky market square. The fact is recorded in the very first publication about Russian lubok - I.Snegirev's book “Lubok Pictures of the Russian Folk” of 1861. The museum address: 103045, 10/9, bld.1, Maly Golovin Lane, Moscow. Days off are Monday and Tuesday.

 

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Sources:
    bridge.artsportal.ru
    zavtra.ru


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