1923 · Paris
Two volumes. Quarto (7” x 9”). Wrappers. Text in original glassine. 91pp., with 21 illustrationsin color, including seven full-page and fourteen in text. Board folder with two suites of the plates(one in color and one in black). Introduction by André Gide. Printed using the “pochoir”process on March 15, 1923 on the presses of G. Kadar in Paris. Fine copy.
The illustrations are done by the Russian “neo-Romantic” artist Vasily Ivanovich Shukhaev(1887-1973). (His works were signed Vassili Choukhaeff from 1921-35.) A portraitist, stagedesigner, book illustrator, and muralist, Shukhaev is now remembered primarily as a superbdraftsman. Shukhaev was a member of the influential group of artists and intellectuals “Miriskusstva” [World of Art] (1898-1903; 1911-1927) from 1917. During this period, the groupadmitted avant-garde artists that included the Bubnovy Valet (Jack of Diamonds group) withtheir interest in French art. The miriskusniki (members of the movement) turned away fromcontemporary art and gravitated toward folk themes and even the 18th-century rococo drawingsof Watteau. Although closely associated with Russian avant-garde painters, Shukhaev “lived andworked outside the confines of the avant-garde, and consciously or unconsciously, fought againstits extremism. Jacovleff and Shukhaev, for example, never betrayed their allegiance to thecanons of the Italian Renaissance” (Bowlt, et al., 247-8).
After studying in Italy, Shukhaev moved to Finland, then to southern France, and then to Paris in1921, where he stayed for 14 years. As a “Russes francisés,” he was part of the early Russianimmigration to Paris after the Revolution, allying himself with artists such as Alexandre Benois,Ivan Bilibin, Dimitri Bouchčne, and others. “[His] endeavor to maintain the elegance andmeasured taste of the World of Art is clear from his pochoir illustrations to the deluxe editionsof Alexander Pushkin’s Boris Godunov and Queen of Spades” (Bowlt, et al. II, 372).
In addition to book illustrations, Shukhaev did important work in the theatre for Balieff’sChauve-Souris (he was a close friend of the impresario Baileff) and for Ida Rubinstein’sSémiramis at Opera de Paris (1934). He also influenced American artist John Steuart Curry(1897-1946) who began painting during a visit to Paris for several months in 1926-27 where hestudied at Shukhaev’s drawing academy. In 1935, Shukhaev returned to the USSR and, in thespring of 1937, he was sentenced on a charge of espionage to nine years at a correctional laborcamp. He was discharged in 1945. From 1947, he lived in Tbilisi, Georgia where he taught untilretirement.*
The translator and publisher Jacques Schiffrin (1892-1950) founded Éditions de la Pléiade in1922. La Dame de Pique was his first book. Later, he expanded the name to the Bibliothčquede la Pléiade, a publishing project founded to provide the public with reference editions of thecomplete works of classic European authors in a pocket format. Bibliothčque de la Pléiade wasintegrated into Gallimard in 1936 and is still published today. Gallimard and Einaudi began asimilar series of literature in Italian, the Biblioteca della Pléiade. The Library of America series,launched in 1979, is a similar project in the United States inspired by the Bibliothčque de laPléiade.
Schiffrin was born in Baku, Azerbaijan in 1892. Raised in comfortable circumstances due to apetrochemical business established by his grandfather with the assistance of Alfred Nobel, hewas educated in Switzerland and in Florence. Schiffrin became secretary to the art historianBernard Berenson and later served as a Russian language tutor to Peggy Guggenheim. His familyassets were nationalized after the Russian revolution. In A Political Education, his son Andrétells the story of Jacques winning enough money at the tables of Monte-Carlo to support himselffor several years. After a short-lived marriage to pianist Youra Guller, he went to Paris in 1921where he became an apprentice to the art-book publisher Henri Piazza.
Jacques decided to create a publishing house for the publication of Russian literary classicstranslated into French. “It was at the very beginning of the Éditions de la Pléiade that my father[in 1922] got in touch with André Gide, whose help he sought in translating what would be hisfirst book, Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades. The books [of the first years] were lavishlyillustrated, some by Russian artists living in Paris, and they had stunning typography, which myfather had himself designed” (Schiffrin, 24).
Jacques had a long and important friendship and collaboration with André Gide: “They had metin Paris in 1922, shortly after my father’s arrival and his decision to launch his original series ofRussian classics with Pushkin’s The Queen of Spades. As was common at the time, my fatherhad been taught French from the earliest days of his Russian childhood, and so he decided totranslate the book himself. Nonetheless, he also decided to seek someone to help him check andimprove his translation, and out of the blue, he wrote to Gide, who was already very famous”(Schiffrin, 70).
Schiffrin, who was Jewish, managed to get his family out of Nazi-occupied France and into theUnited States because of the work of the American diplomat Varian Fry**. In 1942, Schriffinjoined Pantheon Books in New York with the intention of publishing works that were lesscommercially successful, but intellectually important.
*Shaukhaev was the subject of a retrospective exhibition and symposium at the MoscowMuseum of Modern Art in 2014.
? For more information about this artist, see the following sources:
Bown, Dictionary of Twentieth Century Russian and Soviet Painters, 1900-1980s (London:Izomar Limited, 1998);
Lobanov-Rostovsky, “Russian Painters and Their Activities for the Stage, 1885-1935,”Transactions of the Association of Russian-American Scholars in the U.S.A. 2 (1968): 195;
“Shukhaev Vasily Ivanovich,” Elysium Art Gallery, http://www.elysium.ru/en/painters/310.html;
“Vasili Shukhaev. (1887-1973). Retrospective,” Moscow Museum of Modern Art,http://www.mmoma.ru/en/exhibitions/petrovka/vasili_shukhaev_retrospective/;
“Vasily Shukhayev,” RusArtNet, http://www.rusartnet.com/biographies/russian-artists/20thcentury/turn-of-thecentury/neoclassical-revival/vasily-shukhayev.
**Varian Fry (1907-1967): After Germany invaded France in June 1940, the Emergency RescueCommittee, a private American relief organization, sent Fry to France to aid anti-Nazi refugeeswho were in danger of being arrested by the Gestapo. In Marseille, Fry's network of accomplicesforged documents and created clandestine escape routes. He offered aid to antifascist refugees,both Jews and non-Jews, threatened with extradition to Nazi Germany under Article 19 of theFranco-German armistice (the "Surrender on Demand" clause). Fry remained in France for 13months. He was under constant surveillance, and was questioned and detained by authoritiesmore than once. He established a legal French relief organization, The American Relief Center.
Fry's efforts resulted in the rescue of some 2,000 persons, including such distinguished artistsand intellectuals as Marc Chagall, Max Ernst, Franz Werfel, Lion Feuchtwanger, and HeinrichMann. His covert activities angered officials of both the US State Department and Vichy France,and in September 1941, he was expelled from France.
References: Bowlt, et al., Russian Stage Design, 1880-1930 (2012); Schiffrin, A PoliticalEducation: Coming of Age in Paris and New York (2003). (Inventory #: 1302)