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24 November 2021 11:03

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Photo by M. Denisov.

Read the article to find out what the composer’s photographs and the works of British artists from the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Union have in common.

The portrait of Alexander Scriabin, located above the piano in the living room of the composer’s house-museum, attracts the attention of visitors. At first glance, it is difficult to determine whether it is a photograph or a pencil drawing. The portrait, created by the famous Moscow photo artist Emil Bendel, not only accurately conveys Scriabin’s features, but also tells about pictorialism, a trend in photography at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.

Between photography and painting

In 1886, the British writer and photographer Peter Henry Emerson in his article “Photography, pictorial art” suggested that human vision is designed in such a way that only the center of the image is clearly perceived, leaving the periphery blurred. This idea formed the basis of the method of pictorialism, which combined photography, at that time relatively young, with classical painting. Largely due to pictorialism, photography penetrated into museums and was recognized as an art.

The Pictorialists are believed to have been influenced by the Pre-Raphaelites, painters of Victorian England who defied convention. The very name they chose for themselves hinted at a spiritual connection with the early Renaissance artists who worked before Raphael and Michelangelo – Fra Angelico, Giovanni Bellini. The Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood Union was founded in the early 1850s by seven artists – John Everett Millais, Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his younger brother Michael, Holman Hunt, Thomas Woolner, Frederick Stevens and James Collinson.

The brotherhood did not last long, but influenced many cultural and artistic phenomena, for example, the British decadence of the 1880s, as well as the international trend of pictorialism that emerged in European and American photography at the end of the 19th century and lasted until the 1920s and 1930s. Chronologically, the popularity of pictorialism is often correlated with the Art Nouveau era – the characteristic features of this style are pictorialistic photographs: soft focus, bizarre lines. Photographers achieved this effect in different ways – some dripped oil onto the lens, others carried out a special treatment at the printing stage. The period from 1885 to 1915 is considered the classic period of pictorialism. In the 1920s, interest in him dwindled as blurry lines were replaced by the sharp focus of modernist photography.

The most famous representatives of pictorialism in different years were Hugo Erfurt, Frantisek Drtikol, Alexander Keigly, Robert Demachy, Clarence Hudson White, Edward Steichen, Alfred Stiglitz and others.

The Russian school of pictorialism was considered one of the strongest and most ambitious in Europe. Among the famous representatives of the trend were Yuri Eremin, Sergei Lobovnikov, Miron Sherling and other masters. In the 1930s, pictorialism in the USSR was recognized as ideologically incorrect and was defeated. The delicate half-blurred pictures were forgotten for many decades.

Bendel and his workshop

Among the domestic representatives of pictorialism, one can also name Emil Sigismundovich Bendel (1870-1948). The fame of the photo artist went through pre-revolutionary Moscow. His studio “Art Photography”, located on Kuznetsky Most (if the street is meant) and which was awarded a bronze medal in 1908 at an international exhibition in Moscow, always had clients. One of them was Alexander Nikolaevich Scriabin.

The composer visited Bendel in the early 1910s. The original photograph, which was taken by the master then, can also be seen in the museum – it is in the closet, in the partition between the living room windows.

The first piano and the last tailcoat. Favorite exhibits of the chief curator of the Museum A.N. ScriabinEagles, unicorns and flowers. We understand the coats of arms of the Pushkins, Scriabin and other nobles

Having created a classic photo, Bendel got rid of unnecessary details for the final image (this was done in various ways of bleaching the image, applying photosensitive silver salt, and so on), leaving only the composer’s head and neck in the form of a photograph. The rest of the details – clothes, shadows cast by the hero – were completed.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This article is a translation. Apologies should the grammar and or sentence structure not be perfect.

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