The State Memorial and Natural Preserve "Museum-estate of Leo Tolstoy "Yasnaya Polyana"
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“Anna Karenina“ in Aquatints by Alexeev


On January 13, 2018 at 14:00 the  exhibition “Anna Karenina“ in Illustrations by Alexander Alexeev will open at the Yasnaya Polyana Gallery (Tula, Oktyabrskaya St., 12); it features 120 engravings by the Russian/French artist and animated cartoonist. This series of unique works was loaned for the exhibition by Irina Stezhka, a collector from Germany, thanks to whom Alexeev’s graphic cycle was first shown in Russia in 2017. 

Alexander Alexeev is referred to as “an unknown Russian and a famous Frenchman.“ He was an emigrant of the first wave, who moved to France in 1921 and became a well-known artist, book illustrator, film director, and animated cartoon artist. During his creative career, the artist designed over 40 books by Russian and foreign classical authors, such as Alexander Pushkin, Nikolai Gogol, Leo Tolstoy, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Anton Chekhov, Boris Pasternak, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernst Hoffmann, and Charles Baudelaire. As a book illustrator, he began working in the woodcut technique, but later also mastered the techniques of lithography, aquatint, and etching. 


The artist worked on the series of illustrations to the novel Anna Karenina for six years – from 1951 to 1957, and created 120 etchings with aquatint. By December of 1956, the proofs were made, on which notes in the artist’s hand remain. However, the edition was never issued.

In 1997, after the great graphic artist‘s death, his wife Svetlana Alexeeva-Rockwell published those illustrations as a folder of prints in a print run of 90 copies. And only in 2005 did Leo Tolstoy’s text and Alexander Alexeev’s illustrations meet in a gift edition published by the Vita Nova publishing company in St. Petersburg.

The artist‘s engravings convey with amazing precision the passion, suffering and pain experienced by the novel‘s characters. Transparent moving shadows, shimmering candles in a crystal chandelier, ghost-like arm-chairs, and a set table with no people at it – all these details of Alexeev’s aquatints immerse us into the atmosphere of the world of Anna Karenina. The play of light and shade, the subtlest undertones of the black and white prints remind one of watercolour drawings and make the viewer not only remember scenes from Leo Tolstoy’s book, but also see the novel from a totally different angle. 

The exhibition will be open until February 25, 2018, from Tuesday through Sunday, from 11:00 to 19:00. Cost of an admission ticket: free of charge for visitors under 16; 15 rubles for a discounted ticket; 30 rubles for a full-price ticket. Cost of a guided visit: 30 rubles for visitors under 16 and for a discounted ticket; 45 rubles for a full-price ticket.

Background information:

Aquatint is a printmaking technique, a type of etching in which the artist makes marks on a metal plate; it resembles a watercolour drawing and enables the artist to convey very precisely various shapes, textures and the sublest nuances of colour shades. The aquatint technique appeared in France in the late 18th century; it is symbolic that Alexeev, who lived in that country for 60 years, chose this very type of print.

Alexander Alexeev (1901-1982) was an artist, engraver, animated cartoonist, and the inventor of pinscreen animation. He studied at the painting studio of the symbolist Sergey Sudeikin, and worked as a scene designer in theaters. In 1921, he moved to France where he made a career and lived most of his life.

Alexeev was a zealous experimenter; he is considered to be a progenitor of computer graphics and animation. He created a pin screen – a vertical screen filled with movable long and thin pins. The shadows of the pins pointing at the lens (a prototype of pixels) would “draw” Alexeev’s animated cartoons, which he himself called animated engravings. In 1963, the Russian/French animator became a winner at the experimental film festival in Knokke (Belgium) for his animated version of The Nose by Gogol.  

Alexeev was one of the originators of the International Animation Film Festivals in Annecy, which is still held. Alexeev’s works inspired well known animated cartoon artists, such as the author of A Hedgehog in the Fog, Yuri Norshtein, and the Oscar winner Norman McLaren.

In 2010, Nikita Mikhalkov made a film about Alexeev’s life and career, as part of the cycle Russians without Russia.  

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