World of Art

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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

World of Art


(Mir Iskusstva), a Russian art association that was formed in St. Petersburg in the late 1890’s (officially in 1900). It emerged from a circle of young artists and art patrons, whose leadership included A. N. Benois and S. P. Diaghilev. Until 1904, the World of Art association was an exhibiting alliance affiliated with the journal Mir iskusstva. Between 1910 and 1924 the movement became more diffuse, having lost its artistic and ideological unity. From 1904 to 1910 most of the masters of the World of Art association became members of the Union of Russian Artists. In addition to the initial circle of members (L. S. Bakst, M. V. Dobuzhinskii, E. E. Lansere, A. P. Ostroumova-Lebedeva, and K. A. Somov), the World of Art movement included many St. Petersburg and Moscow painters and graphic artists (I. la. Bilibin, A. la. Golovin, I. E. Grabar’, K. A. Korovin, B. M. Kustodiev, N. K. Roerich, V. A. Serov). The artists M. A. Vrubel’, I. I. Levitan, and M. V. Nesterov, as well as a number of foreign artists, participated in World of Art exhibitions.

The world view of the leading figures of the World of Art group was based on the unacceptance of the existing antiaestheticism of contemporary society, a foreboding of social upheavals, and a desire to juxtapose age-old spiritual and artistic values with disturbing reality. The proclaimed goal was the consolidation of artists who opposed positivism in the guise of the revival of the ideas of romanticism. Consequently, the World of Art theorists advocated the aestheticization of reality, thus assigning to art the role of a transfigurer of life. The members sought to arouse general interest in the art of the past (particularly the art of the 18th and early 19th centuries), to protect the masterpieces of antiquity, and to better acquaint the public with the newest trends in art. At the same time, the recognition of the active social role of art was combined paradoxically with the slogan of “free” or “pure” art. Proclaiming the independence of art and denying its biased nature, the World of Art group repudiated both academicism and the work of the peredvizhniki (the “wanderers,” a progressive art movement), acknowledging, however, the past historical significance of the latter. They criticized the aesthetics of the Russian revolutionary democrats (first and foremost, N. G. Chernyshevskii) and the ideas of V. V. Stasov.

Despite a certain inconsistency in the views of its members, the World of Art group was initially to a large degree ideologically and stylistically similar to the Western European groups that comprised the theorists and artists of art nouveau. As in the work of Western European art nouveau artists, the imagery used by the World of Art artists was based on symbolism and, more broadly, on neoromanticism. Yet, at the same time, historical and cultural reminiscences played a larger role in the imagery of the World of Art group than in that of art nouveau artists. It is important to note, however, that the retrospection of the World of Art masters was frequently imbued with a spirit of irony and self-parody and was, in essence, contrary to the principles of the traditional historical genre. Also characteristic of the World of Art artists was the frequent use of both the historical landscape and the “composed,” sometimes fantastic, landscape. The artists extensively used devices of the grotesque; elements of the game, carnival, and theater; the motifs of the mask and marionette; and the imagery of dreams, and apparitions. They were also attracted to fatalistic symbols, to the fantastic, and to the erotic.

Neoclassical tendencies were characteristic of the work of a number of World of Art’s members, including Bakst, Serov, and Dobuzhinskii. Dobuzhinskii also was noted for his predilection for urban motifs. Bilibin and Roerich displayed a passion for medieval Russian art, folklore, and ancient Russian history.

The search of the masters of World of Art for a distinctive style was reflected in their attempts to produce works designed according to the laws of “integral art,” that is, the synthesis of the arts. This search was most fully realized in book design, theater design, and, to some extent, interior design; it was also reflected in painting and the graphic arts. The works of the World of Art painters (primarily in watercolor or gouache) and graphic artists were characterized by refined decorativeness, stylization of rococo and Empire motifs, combination of two-dimensional and three-dimensional elements, elegant linearity that sometimes gave way to the ornamental, and combination of muted, as it were artificial, tones. The World of Art artists greatly influenced the development of book design in Russia. (In addition to the principal members of the association, representatives of the “second generation” of World of Art, such as G. I. Narbut, D. I. Mitrokhin, and S. V. Chekhonin, worked fruitfully in this field.) The World of Art group also contributed to portraiture.

Fundamental changes in the ideological and aesthetic views of the leading artists of the World of Art movement occurred after 1905. During the Revolution of 1905–07, a number of the group’s members, such as Dobuzhinskii, Lansere, and Serov, emerged as masters of political satire. The new stage in the development of the World of Art movement was also characterized by its disassociation from extreme left-wing currents in Russian art and its affirmation of the possibility and usefulness of regulation of art (the idea of the “new Academy” proposed by Benois). During this period, the movement was involved in stimulating theatrical activity and promoting contemporary Russian art abroad. Many members of the World of Art group worked with Diaghilev from 1905 to 1920 in organizing the Russian Seasons Abroad and the Ballets Russes—theatrical events that were models for the synthesis of the arts. In 1917 a number of exponents of World of Art, such as Benois and Grabar’, became active in museum organization and restoration work.


Benois, A. N. Vozniknovenie “Mira iskusstva. “Leningrad, 1928.
Sokolova, N. ”Mir iskusstva.” Moscow-Leningrad, 1934.
Petrov, V. N. “’Mir iskusstva’.” In Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, vol. 10, book 1. Moscow, 1968.
Lapshina, N. “’Mir iskusstva.’ “In Russkaia khudozhestvennaia kul’tura kontsa XIX—nachala XX veka (1895–1907), book 2. Moscow, 1969.
Sternin, G. Iu. “O rannikh godakh ’Mira iskusstva.’ “In his book Khudozhestvennaia zhizn’ Rossii na rubezhe 19–20 vekov. Moscow, 1970.
Gusarova, A. P. ”Mir iskusstva. “Leningrad, 1972.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
References in classic literature ?
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