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History of Russian Caricature
June 5, 2012 23:27

Caricature developed in Russia from folk lubok pictures (popular prints) in the 17th century. It is known that the French Emperor Napoleon was outraged by Russian caricatures on him. During the Patriotic War 1812 against Napoleonic invasion a full-scale comic campaign flared up in Russia against the French emperor. The commander-in-chief of the Russian army Mikhail Kutuzov even founded a special printing house at his headquarters for distribution of caricatures. Throughout history it has been a practice during wars and military conflicts to widely use the so-called poster caricature for uplifting patriotism and fighting spirit and deriding the enemy.

Caricature gained special recognition in Russia since the 19th century. The development of caricature was closely associated with literary journalism. Initially newspapers featured some special articles with satirical drawings on this or that event with explanatory texts. Gradually, eventually, there appeared drawings without any accompanying explanatory texts, since the plot of drawings was clear without words. But the tsar's censorship kept vigilant watch over the political aspect in them and disallowed any freedom in insulting the establishment and the mighty of this world. However, the development of the genre could hardly be stopped already. Anonymous caricatures were distributed among friends, and the especially caustic and funny ones were copied by hand.

At the same time official caricature developed. Gradually satirical drawings started to take up more and more place in newspapers. Satirical and comic sections were opened in serious public periodicals, for example, in the magazine Son of the Fatherland (from 1812 to 1852), where some place was necessarily allocated for comic pictures. Special picture editions started to appear.

In the mid 19th century there sprang up quite a number of satirical magazines in Russia. One of them was the famous Yeralash (i.e. "jumble") - the Russian illustrated satirical magazine founded by the artist Mikhail Nevakhovich (1817-1850) and published in Petersburg from 1846 to 1849. One of Yeralash artists Nikolay Stepanov (1807-1877) in 1865 started his own satirical magazine under the title Budilnik (i.e. "alarm-clock"). This magazine figured in history of the Russian culture first of all due to publications of the first comic stories by Anton Chekhov, who contributed them under the pennames of Antosha Chekhonte and the Brother of my Brother. This was also the magazine that feature the first caricatures of the artist Dmitry Orlov (1883-1946), who later gained popularity under the pseudonym Moor, and the would-be famous architect of Fyodor Schechtel 

(1859-1926) under the penname Fin-Champagne, and drawings by Aleksander Lebedev (1830-1898). Other artists, such as Mikhail Mikeshin (1835-1896), Victor Shpak (1847-1884), Nikolai Ivelev (1834-1866), Pyotr Shmelkov (1819-1890), Nikolai Chekhov (1858-1889), Aleksei Afanasyev (1850-1920), etc. also became famous in this genre. Their caricatures were also printed in other editions of that time: Illustrated Almanac, Strekoza, Zritel, Iskra, Sverchok, Moskva, Oskolki, etc.

The growing tensions in the society of the Russian Empire made unpretentious comic editions to become interested in political aspects of the Russian life.

With the revolution of 1905 the freedom of speech reached its peak, making it possible for journalists and publishers of that time to publish drawings without censorship control. Unfortunately, this freedom did not last long. Anyway, it was the first step towards free dissemination of information. In 1905 the Russian people could observe a real upsurge in national caricature.At this time there stood out artists Sergey Chekhonin (1878-1936) and Valentin Serov (1865-1911).

From 1908 to 1914 the Satirikon magazine with lots of caricatures, including political ones, was published in Petersburg. In 1913 - 1918 it was replaced with the New Satyricon published by some of the authors of the old edition. After revolution the magazine was closed; most of its authors found themselves in emigration, and those who remained in Russia dispersed in Soviet editions, which turned to have extremely narrow limits for caricature.


Official caricature in the USSR served political aims of fighting against the external enemy in the face of capitalism and against internal moral shortcomings of the society of socialism builders, deriding parasitism, alcoholism, truancies and the like. But alongside with official caricature there always existed underground caricature taking liberty of mocking at the establishment and authorities, which was obviously a taboo for official comic publications.

In the Soviet Union caricature was divided into genres, such as cartoons, political caricature, topic of the day, portrait, posters, etc, though caricature as a genre was not officially recognized. Poster caricature was the most widespread type in the USSR. In 1922 a number of satirical comic magazines started to be published at once: Krokodil, Smekhach, Zanoza, Projector (at the Pravda newspaper) and some others. 

But all those editions stood out too much in the Soviet periodical press and soon were closed by the decision of Soviet authorities. From 1930 Krokodil remained the only satirical magazine in the USSR. Soviet caricature very quickly went back to the political and poster caricature.

Poster caricature became especially widespread during the civil war and the Great Patriotic War, when satire became a tool of fighting and a means of keeping up the patriotic spirit. Well-known are posters by Dmitry Moor (1883-1946), Kukryniksy, and Boris Yefimov (1899-2008). The Kukryniksy, classics of the Soviet political caricature, were an art group formed in the early 1920s from three graphic artists and painters: Mikhail Kupriyanov (1903-1991), Porfiri Krylov (1902-1990) and Nikolai Sokolov (1903-2000).

Underground caricature, just like any other manifestation of dissent, was immediately punished in the USSR. For example, a criminal case instigated in 1978 against caricaturist Vyacheslav Sysoev (1937-2006) and he had to hide for a few years. In 1983, however, he was arrested and sentenced to two years of labor camps under the article "pornography distribution".

With the termination of the Soviet power and censorship of border of comical subjects were abolished. Any subjects were open. At once the biggest distribution was received political by a caricature. Caricatures on political Soviet and Russian figures, captivated all newspapers, magazines both different sites and blogs. There were new subjects for caricatures: oligarchs, a crime in the power, the corruption, a new view on the political struggle, new social problems.


Author: Vera Ivanova

Tags: Russian caricature Fine arts Russian artists Popular print History of Russia 

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