The Russian nation imagined: the peoples of Russia as seen in popular imagery, 1860s-1890s.
Abstract: This essay traces changing representations of ethnic Russians and other peoples of the empire in popular prints (lubok), illustrated weeklies, and the art of the Itinerants (Peredvizhniki) from the 1860s through the 1890s. The author describes the role of the expanding print culture in an emergent Russian national identity. After 1861, cheerful images of Russian common people in popular prints and weekly magazines clashed with elite artists' and writers' stress on peasants' noble suffering. During the next three decades, however, images in all three lenses converged to form a positive view of ordinary ethnic Russians, particularly peasants. Similarly, negative stereotypes of non-Russian nationalities in illustrated magazines in 1860s gave way in the 1880s and 1890s to positive views of a multiethnic nation.
Article Type: Essay
Subject: National characteristics (Portrayals)
Russians (Portrayals)
Author: Brooks, Jeffrey
Pub Date: 03/22/2010
Publication: Name: Journal of Social History Publisher: Journal of Social History Audience: Academic Format: Magazine/Journal Subject: History; Sociology and social work Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2010 Journal of Social History ISSN: 0022-4529
Issue: Date: Spring, 2010 Source Volume: 43 Source Issue: 3
Geographic: Geographic Scope: Russia Geographic Code: 4EXRU Russia
Accession Number: 223732160
Full Text: Newly energized citizens partaking of expanding political and cultural activity throughout Europe in the last half of the nineteenth century sought out and found positive images of themselves in the literary marketplace. They also contrasted their evolving self-images with portrayals of minorities, colonial subjects, and foreigners. The recasting of the national self and the "other" took place against the backdrop of European imperialism and the scramble for Africa. Russia with its contiguous empire was no exception to this phenomenon, although its imperial ambition stayed closer to its national borders.

During the last third of the nineteenth century enterprising Russian publishers flooded the country with new representations of citizens and subjects in works that ranged from the humble lubok--the cheap often crudely hand colored prints that circulated at urban stands, rural markets, and through colporteurs - to illustrated weekly magazines sold by subscription to a general readership and themed publications for women, children, hunters, and even hairdressers. These publications put into play images and descriptions of the nation that initially differed markedly from the varied notions of Russianness, the peasantry, and the non-Russian peoples of the empire held by the cultural elites at the time, though eventually these images tended to converge. This essay concerns two invented empires of the visual imagination in the era following the 1861 Emancipation of the serfs; the empire of the lubok and that of the illustrated magazines, including humor magazines.

The imaginative empires emerged as part of a broadly based pictorial and textual revolution. Russia shared in a pan-European transformation of communications and transportation that contributed to the commercialization of urban life. A new commercial nexus arose between publishers and consumers according to which publishers issued what they considered appropriate with an eye on the censor, and consumers purchased what they liked with an eye to their interests and pocketbooks. Technological improvements in printing, papermaking and the reproduction of pictures and photographs together with improvements in the means of distribution increased the availability of images. News and information about Russian colonialism and empire building provoked a lively interest in the peoples of the Russian Empire, as did sensational reports about European nationalism, colonialism, social Darwinism, "scientific" racism, and the global struggle for power. Russia responded to European cultural influences, including realism in literature and art. Lastly, the widespread reproduction in illustrated journals of pictures by the Peredvizhniki (Itinerants), the painters who brought pictorial realism to Russia and broke with the official Academy of Arts, added a distinct aspect to the interaction at various levels of cultural expression.

Russia's passage to a modern nation led directly from a visual world dominated by elite images of Russian peoples and the highly stylized saintly figures in icons to one flooded with modern mass-produced representations of an active populace that included the lower classes. Peasants had figured occasionally in the pre-Emancipation lubok, but largely as heroic symbols of the nation, counterpoised to the country's enemies. (1) Although women had appeared in the lubok of the eighteenth century and the first half of the nineteenth, they were chiefly from the upper and merchant classes. When peasant women did appear, it was often as semi-pornographic figures naked in the bath or serving the bidding of non-peasant men. (2) The expansion of the market economy after 1861 stimulated new sensibilities and new demands among liberated peasants, lower-class city inhabitants, and a burgeoning lower middle class. Simultaneously, Russian artists, and particularly the Peredvizhniki, adopted a realist aesthetic borrowed in part from Western Europe that lent their representations of ordinary people, particularly ethnic Russians, an enhanced agency and dignity, albeit one that differed from that found in popular prints and illustrated magazines.

Russian consumers of the new mass print culture expressed a shared identity in the era following the 1861 Emancipation of the serfs by purchasing affirming images of themselves and demeaning portrayals of non-Russians within the empire. These twin streams of often formulaic pictures comprise in part the background noise against which speakers in the great conversations of Russian civilization struggled to be heard, subtexts to the glories of the late-imperial imagination and also to the frustrations, animosities, and pride of an expanding empire. Without these images some of the most unique and compelling features of Russian civilization would seem curiously groundless. So would some famous evocations of people from different backgrounds, including Dostoevsky's jury of peasants in The Brothers Karamazov (1879-80) and Tolstoy's half Gypsy heroine in his last large novel, Resurrection (1899), which was serialized in the illustrated magazine Niva (Grain field, 1870-1917).

The most widely circulated secular images were those of the lubok, the prints thought to have been named for the inner bark (lub) of the linden tree, which was once used for paper and crude woodblocks. (3) The lubok became a modern mass image when commercialized and linked to popular demand after the Emancipation of 1861. Lower class purchasers emerged as a consuming public, and innovative publishers profited by selling them what they wanted. What most characterized the image of ethnic Russians in the post-Emancipation lubok was their positive look. The illustrators of the lubok sometimes communicated this through the more than human size of their heroes. Lubok artists beginning in the eighteenth century had portrayed stalwarts from the oral tradition and military figures as larger than life, dwarfing their opponents and surroundings alike. (4) Caricaturists from the time of the Napoleonic invasion had shown large Russians overcoming smaller enfeebled enemies. Lubok artists later used the same technique in patriotic images of generals, military heroes, peasant warriors, and of the rulers. (5) Typical of such outsized military figures is a lubok published in 1889 of General Adjutant Prince Gorchakov, a hero of the Crimean war. (His famous brother Prince A. M. Gorchakov was appointed foreign minister in 1856 and chancellor in 1867. (6)) Miniaturized soldiers around Gorchakov may recall lubok prints from the eighteenth century in which ordinary soldiers and other subjects were similarly diminished according to a hierarchy of scale. (7) The late nineteenth-century lubok illustrators' convention of representing the nation or national spirit as an enlarged figure parallels that of late nineteenth-century artists. Victor Vasnetsov's Three Bogatyrs (1898) seems suggestive of this inclination as does Mikhail Nesterov's 1889 painting of St. Sergius of Radonezh towering over the hills and trees around him. (8) Representations of the nation as a huge Cossack, a peasant, or later as a worker appear throughout the modern era, from patriotic prints of the mid-nineteenth century to Soviet poster art, in which peasant or proletarian giants stamp out domestic and foreign enemies. (9)

Closer to a virtual catalogue of the nation than pictures of tsars, generals, or traditional emblematic heroes are the large number of lubok prints featuring scenes from daily life. (10) These show ethnic Russian peasants who arc physically attractive and vigorous in clean well-fitting clothes. They often appear in situations in which they seem to be making life-determining decisions, rather than succumbing passively to fate. In one humorous example printed in 1878, though it circulated in earlier editions, a father asks his son what happened to the money he earned while he worked in the city (Fig. 1). In reply, the son points to his full belly. Family members watch in amusement and in the lower left of the print a chicken and a pig satirically reenact the full family drama. The strutting chicken's patterned feathers match the pompous father's striped pants, and the pig symbolizes the son's gluttony. In other prints typical of the era a hussar comforts a lady promising by his "honor and his moustache not to be unfaithful," a woman sadly abandons her child (1882), two gentlemen and a schoolboy in a coach woo a pretty peasant girl, and a lovelorn young woman leaning out of a cottage window seeks solace from a Gypsy fortuneteller (1887). (11) In another print titled simply "Tavern" (kabak) drunken peasants in disorderly clothes squabble while an inn keeper with an icon on the wall behind him looks on thoughtfully. (12) The common people are portrayed in these prints as actors who can shape their own lives, for good or ill.


Dostoevsky and Balzac would have understood the dilemmas represented in these prints, as would have the Peredvizhniki. The semi-educated artists of the lubok also situated ordinary Russians in a human context, and they evoked conversations about life's dilemmas. There was nothing ugly or infirm about their subjects, unless the prints were designed to illustrate moral failings. In such cases they often balanced a negative example with a positive one, as in lubki representing good and bad marriages. Typical is an undated print, probably from the 1860s, showing good and bad marriages, with observers looking on, including a couple in German style dress, suggesting perhaps their association with a Protestant sect such as the Stundists (Fig. 2). (13) These figures from daily life are individualized and active, physically and intellectually. The Grub Street artists who drew them invited viewers to ask, "How should I live and how should I treat others?" Such questions reverberated through Russian society at almost every level in the last third of the nineteenth-century, from the semi-literate public for the new cheap popular fiction to the elite readership of modernist prose and poetry.


The Russian illustrated magazines of the post-Emancipation era drew a broader and more prosperous swath of readers than the lubok. Published in St. Petersburg with an eye on the capital and the wider world, they burst onto the scene in the mid-1860s and early 1870s. Their editors tried to replicate the success of British and continental magazines such as The London Journal (1845-1906), The Illustrated London News (1842-), and Punch (1842-1992) in England; L'illustration (1843-1944) in France; and Illustrazione Italiana (1873-) in Italy, and Leipziger Illustrirte Zeitung (1843-1944) and Fliegende Blatter (1844-1944) in Germany. Such publications adopted the realist aesthetic, with its emphasis on the portrayal of women and the lower classes. They promoted an image of the nation that suited the expansion of the franchise, increased levels of public education, a growing consumer economy, competition among the European powers, and empire building. The Russian illustrated magazines were poor stepsisters with hardly a tenth of the circulation of the most successful foreign models, but they too created a new visual world and one not entirely dissimilar from that of their mentors.

Five illustrated weeklies vied for the audience for "family reading" in 1860, 18 in 1880, 29 in 1890, and 41 in 1900. (14) Niva, the cheapest of these magazines at 6 rubles a year, was read by nobles, merchants, the middle classes of the cities and countryside, and even by rural schoolteachers, parish priests, tradesmen, and the odd prosperous peasant. (15) A. F. Marks, the editor of Niva whom one scholar dubbed "the manufacturer of readers," sold 100,000 copies a week in 1890 and 200,000 a decade later. (16) Its editors promised all the news of "Russian literature, Russian science, and Russian art." (17) R. A. Kaspari raised the circulation of his journal Rodina (Motherland) in the late 1880s from 200 to 40,000 and soon after that to 120,000. (18) Another widely read illustrated magazine, Vsemirnaia illustratsiia (Universal Illustration, 1869-1898), claimed a "Slavic" orientation, and covered political life, the nationalities, and a host of other subjects from foreign affairs and the fringes of empire, to the arts. The editors of such journals introduced monthly literary supplements with works by Russia's greatest writers. The editors of Niva, for example, began to issue their enormously successful supplement in 1891. Weekly urban humor magazines, such as Budil'nik (Alarm Clock, 1865-1918) where the young Chekhov published, excelled in stereotyping by ethnicity, class, profession, city, and gender. Budil'nik sold for 9 rubles a year with delivery, and also issued a literary supplement, including occasional classic works of Russian literature.

The public for these journals and particularly Niva was large and diverse, including virtually everyone with any education at all except perhaps the most refined among the cultural elite. Copies of these weekly so-called "thin" magazines appeared in bars, reading rooms, hotels, railroad stations and households at almost every level of society. By one estimate such journals with a varied middling to lower class readership had 100,000 subscribers by the end of the 1870s. (19) Artisans, craftsmen, workers, and domestic servants at a free Moscow city library in 1887 particularly favored the illustrated journals, although others read them as well. (20) The pioneering modernist literary critic and historical novelist D. S. Merezhkovskii called these journals the "petty press" (mel'koi press) in his famous early critique of Russian literary practices in 1893. He estimated that subscribers, who came from "the most democratic, even non-intelligentsia milieu," numbered 200,000 to 300,000. (21) This was probably a low estimate of readership, since if each issue of Niva was read by ten people that magazine alone attracted a million readers. According to the 1897 census 90 percent of the million people in the Empire who had attended but not necessarily finished a higher or secondary educational institution did not go beyond the secondary level. (22) In addition, there were many who were home schooled among the nearly two million hereditary and personal nobles and 600,000 who carried the rank of distinguished citizens and merchants. (23) To capture the attention of the public that had attended at least middle school and attract some readers both above and beneath it was a remarkable achievement for any publication.

Niva was the most successful weekly. Subscribers could feel cultured as they paged through articles on zoology, hygiene, astronomy, painting, sculpture, architecture, geography, ethnography, archeology, technology, new inventions, and even Paris fashions. (24) The magazine highlighted European civilization and denigrated the alternatives. Thus readers could find in single issue pictures of scruffy mullahs on a mountain top in the Philippine Cordilleras beside a two page map of Paris with the Eiffel Tower at its center. (25) The editors praised their "public" for valuing "aesthetic satisfaction" over all else in a front page essay on 28 January 1889 (5). The magazine displayed on its cover throughout the 1870s a picture of a well-dressed young man seated beside his wife and a teen-aged boy reading from the magazine open before them. In the background is the city of St. Petersburg, including famous buildings and crowds of ordinary people. The cover for the bound 1899 volume shows a goddess-like woman in peasant dress distributing illustrated pages from Niva. Below are symbols of the arts--a lyre, a statue of Pushkin, and three cherubs. The signature front page of each individual weekly issue in 1894 shows a bearded man in a suit-jacket reading Niva while a fashionable woman and child look on. The editors of Vsemirnaia likewise identified their readers with "the civilized world" and their representations of Russians, even of peasants confirm this connection." (26)

The difference between this essentially flattering presentation of common people and the intellectual currents of the early post-Emancipation era could not be sharper. A powerful literary and artistic tradition stemming back to Turgenev's Sportsman's Notebook (1852) inspired portrayals of peasants as people with emotions and expectations, worthy of admiration but also objects of pity. (27) Ilya Repin's Barge-Haulers on the Volga (1870-73) belongs to this tradition despite its optimistic storyline as does Vasilii Perov's The Last Journey (1865) showing an adult figure on a cart with two grief-stricken children and a coffin and his Troika (1866) in which three weary children drag a heavy sledge across grey snow. (28) Portraits of peasants by such artists as Ivan Kramskoy, Vasily Polenov, Nikolai Ge, and Ivan Masoedov show simple people struggling nobly to survive. Although the Peredvizhniki could portray peasants positively, their subjects were usually raggedly dressed with stained faces worn by care and set in bleak landscapes. (29) The editors of the illustrated magazines sometimes reproduced such pictures, but their selection of images did not share the populist sensibility of patronizing empathy and pity. (30) Rather, they repeatedly represented Russian common people as lively, cheerful and productively engaged, healthy, clean, and nicely dressed.

What explains the early disjunction between the Peredvizhniki's oppressed if noble peasants and the more prosperous protagonists of the illustrated magazines? The answer in one sense is obvious; they addressed different audiences. The widely-circulating magazines exhibited a home grown variant of the Dickensonian common man and woman and packaged this as a national story for a broad-based reading public. Nothing less picturesque and affirmative would have suited an era of active nation building, imperialistic projects, expanded schooling, and growing civic consciousness. (31) Naturally, the Russians rather than other nationalities were the first objects of this new almost cloying vision of the nation and not only for reasons of national pride. Such buoyant images and portraits of common people would have flattered subscribers who could look at such pictures and feel both proud and superior to have the images in their possession. The same can be said for the lubok, since peasants could hardly be expected to tack unflattering pictures of their misery to the walls of their homes. In fact, positive representations of ordinary peasants date from the middle of the nineteenth century, if not earlier. (32)

Such positive pictures of ordinary Russians in the magazines and in popular prints paralleled representations in the emergent world of advertising. Typical of the images displayed in commercial graphics in the last third of the century is a poster for the 1872 Moscow Polytechnic Exhibition showing rural people in hats and pants shifting sheathes of hay beside an agricultural machine, and a poster published in 1884 of sprightly figures in peasant dress sorting yarn for the Mariia Vasilevna Sadomovaya factory in Moscow ("the foremost manufacturer of knitting and embroidery yarns"). (33) Such upbeat images continued to circulate despite the famine and cholera of 1891-92, the growing influence of the negative Marxist perspective of the peasant life, and widespread reports on the myriad problems of rural Russia. Simultaneously many of the Peredvizhniki gradually adopted a more positive view of rural Russia that converged with the sensibilities expressed in the illustrated magazines, which reproduced their pictures. (34)

The editors of Niva and Vsemirnaia evoked the majority citizenry of a powerful nation. They gave well-dressed and well-formed Russian peasants and lower-class city folk center stage and marginalized the poor, the ugly, and the miserable as did illustrated magazines elsewhere in Europe. (35) Vsemirnaia in 1874 printed a full page picture of the Nikol'skii Market, famous for its profusion of hawkers and cheap goods, including books. In the picture smiling ordinary people circulate, including a plump woman in peasant dress and a young boy selling bread. (36) There were also cheerful rural scenes, such as one showing a large room with tables and boisterous peasants enjoying ample food and drink. (37) The title is simply "Scenes from Peasant Life: A Village Eatery." In 1878 Niva featured "Russian types" including a street peddler selling "Fresh plums, plums," a smiling young woman hawking eggs and herrings from a basket, a grinning young cobbler in a white shirt and apron, and a picture of a peasant girl titled "Russian village beauty" (38) The magazine published a full-page chart in the same year showing "Great Russian types" - men and women in hats and national costumes, identified by town or region. (39) With the exception of two heavily bearded peasants, these figures are not only solid and pleasant, they are also animated and sentient, rather than decorative. Vsemirnaia following the assassination of Alexander II featured a dignified peasant in a heavy coat and boots, with a well-trimmed head of hair, bringing a simple wreath to the bier of the tsar-emancipator. A cover illustration of Niva on January 9, 1899 (Fig. 3) further reveals how fully the illustrated magazine's vision of the nation depended on such energized figures. In the picture two jubilant young peasant women return "From the Market" in a hay wagon. One is thoughtful, and the other chortles with pleasure about what we can only guess. Neither is passive or glassy-eyed.


The illustrated magazines showed a wider slice of society than the lubki. On the cover of Niva on January 4, 1886 two well-dressed women and two men appear in a sitting room. One man reads a magazine, presumably Niva, while two servants serve the women. The city surrounds the scene. On one side a guard patrols the street, and on the other a servant meets a postman. Decorative sprigs of pine enhance the festive air of prosperity. It could well be in London or Paris. Such displays imply a society comfortable with itself. In other pictures, representations of crowds document moments of daily life. Vsemirnaia in 1874 featured a review of the St. Petersburg fire brigade, the nighttime illumination of a new monument to Catherine II, and an Easter promenade on the Nevskii Prospect with several Cossacks moving among other citizens. (40) Niva in the 1890s showed parishioners of various social classes streaming out of a Church on Easter evening, the arrival of the first train of the Siberian Railroad at the city of Kurgan, and people eating pancakes on the winter holiday of Maslenitsa (Shrovetide) in a Moscow market. (41) The illustrated magazines outdid themselves in their lively and optimistic representations of the social order during Maslenitsa, the pre-Lent holiday celebrated with pancakes, sleigh rides, and fun for all. (42) In the Easter picture an upper class woman in a fine hat walks beside a peasant, while a young workman, a lady with large bundles, and an elderly upper class woman with a cane and a servant advance. At the station the social classes are almost but not quite indistinguishable, whereas the pancake eaters show clearly their social positions in their varying uniforms, smocks, everyday clothes, and boots. Russian Orthodoxy figured in the magazines' construction of the Russian ethnic identity but the majority of religiously defined images were of Churches and sacred figures rather than contemporary people. (43)

Complementing Niva and Vsemirnaia were the urban humor weeklies. The most famous and successful was Budil'nik (Alarm Clock, 1865-1918), chiefly a men's magazine with a focus on St. Petersburg but carrying regular features on the provinces as well. The humor magazines affirmed the social order but derived comic energy from its tensions. Four years after the Emancipation Budil'nik showed a schoolboy in uniform threatening to beat up a peasant lad only to be challenged with the quip, "What? After February 19, 1861?" In another from 1865 a peasant told by an unscrupulous bookseller to pay 50 kopecks responds, "Then why does it say only 15 kopecks?" The tradesman snaps back: "Oh you rascal. You learn to read and come to rob me. Scram!" (44) Budil'nik targeted all social classes but, like the lubok, usually coupled negative stereotypes with positive contrasts. Thus a cartoon of "The Russian Capitalist and His Money Factory" on the cover of the January 1 issue for 1894 shows a shift of diligent workers turning out the capitalist's money, accompanied by a caption, "Others do the work, and I can take it easy." In a cartoon on April 15, 1890 similarly treating the culture of work, a clean cut young man reproaches an unkempt chum for taking an unnecessary holiday. (45) In a cover picture on February 27, 1894 (8) a respectable village woman rebuffs a barefoot drunk's invitation for a walk with the rejoinder, "And what will you be walking in after drinking up your boots?"

Budilnik, true to its presumed masculine readership, showed a misogynist streak, often portraying women as scheming troublemakers, but also crediting them with being active and forceful. In one cartoon, a woman is an evil spider who entangles several men in her powerful web. (46) A cartoon in 1885 contains two boxes captioned "Politics." (47) In one, marked "internal," men scrutinize newspapers; in the other, marked "external [or foreign]," women scrutinize their looks. It is unclear who is sillier. The cover picture on June 30, 1876 - "A Break in Enjoyment"--shows a well-dressed voyeur with a cigar spying on peasant women in a river while his wife prepares to hit him with her umbrella. (48) Both look ridiculous. Budil'nik sent, up the working woman but also the puffed up man in a cartoon in which a woman asks: "Tell me Paul; should a woman work?" The man's answer is, "Of course, if you want to be a cook or a washerwoman." (49)

The illustrated magazines regularly alternated flattering images of Russian citizens with unflattering ones of non-Russians in contrast to the less worldly lubok, which was generally slow to move beyond European Russia. The lubok prints were fabricated largely in and around Moscow, and they reveal a world of few outsiders besides Ukrainians, Gypsies, and Russia's military antagonists. When the illustrators did venture beyond these ethnographic bounds, it was with an amicable inclusiveness. (50) The most common alternative in the lubok to an ethnic Russian was not a nasty Jew, a glowering Tatar, or a threatening Chechen, but rather a dancing Ukrainian or Gypsy. Ukrainians figure in these prints as young and attractive singers and dancers in rural settings. A print from 1857 published by E. Yakolev in Moscow titled Ukrainian Dance is typical. It shows an attractive woman dancing with a man with musicians and fellow villagers looking on. (51) Such prints set Ukrainians apart almost as Gogol had imagined them, insulated from the tensions of modernity with which ethnic Russians contended, but. nonetheless positively portrayed.

Gypsies often appear powerful and wise as in Pushkin's famous poem from 1824 "Gypsies," but they also engage in interactions with Russians, particularly as fortune tellers. In a lubok published by Vasil'ev in Moscow in 1887 also entitled Song, a lovelorn peasant woman leans out of a cottage window to ask a Gypsy fortune teller, "Guess my dear. Why am I so sad?" (52) In another lubok published in the same year in Moscow by Abramov (Fig. 4), a dancing man sings in praise of his beautiful wife, bemoans his evil mother-in-law, demands respect, and announces that he will ride into the steppe: "I am a fine Gypsy fellow; neither peasant nor merchant." He concludes: "Hey stand back, watch out; hats off, bow lower." Images such as this one reveal a limited but approving national inventory in contrast to a plethora of disparaging national stereotypes in other media of the time.


To move from the nation of the lubok to that of the illustrated journals is to trade a provincial world for an international one. Throughout Europe nation-building spurred racist and anti-Semitic distinctions; lines drawn between us and them. (53) The new mass publications created images of Gypsies, Jews, "black" Irish, and "dark" Italians as well as exotic orientalist colonial subjects. (54) With such pictures Europeans inscribed their "civilized" superiority over various others inside and outside the nation. Russians did likewise in their own context, as they had since the eighteenth century. Though Russian educated and governing elites imagined the integration of the empire through acculturation, Russification, and modest but amicable accommodation, the illustrated magazines circulated images more likely to tear the nation apart than bind it together. (55) In Niva and Vsemirnaia Europe and its colonies served as a subtext to contrast civilized Russians with other peoples of the empire. The editors and illustrators represented some non-Russian peoples in a positive light, but most appear frozen in a timeless backwardness. The use of photography and before that lithographs derived from photographs defined the unequal relationship by appearing to show actual people posing for the satisfaction of the viewer. In the literary imagination, the clash between Russian Europeans and backward non-Russians, particularly Muslims, originated in the romantic era, but the earlier images lacked the apparent verisimilitude of the newer stereotypes that more fully confined the peoples they presumed to represent. The last third of the nineteenth century offered Russian readers a wider lens as well but familiar images retained their power. Thus the dichotomy between the Europeanized Russian and the semi-subjugated other in the Russian illustrated press was incomplete, since the heterogeneity of images sometimes clashed with familiar powerful stereotypes.

Jews were portrayed most negatively of all nationalities and Ukrainians most positively. Yet a picture of a rural Ukrainian bumpkin could be undercut by a frontpage essay on Taras Shevchenko, and a picture of a miserable Jew on a rare occasion could be followed by an article about a musician such as A. G. Rubinstein, who though Christian might well have been perceived by some readers as a Jew. (56) Despite occasional exceptions, the gap that separated the images of both Jews and Ukrainians from those of modern Russians was considerable. Jews were portrayed as active, but malignly so; their unpleasantness and rapaciousness implied a need for constraint and confinement, rather than sanctioned interaction with the general populace. The magazines drew on the range of European stereotypes of Jews, from ambitious plutocrats and grasping dishonest peddlers to degenerate figures whose very physiognomy seemed to threaten public health. (57) Niva in 1878 featured a picture of several dark faced long robed Central Asian Jews with an accompanying text: "Jews everywhere have dragged out a miserable existence from ancient times and comprised, as is well known, one unrepentant tribe spread over the whole earth." (58) Even the religious aspect of anti-Semitism, usually muted in the illustrations, is here in evidence. A one page summation of Jewish history in this spirit concludes with the observation that however Jews try to disguise themselves they remain Jews all the same. The cover of Budil'nik on May 22, 1874 showed a thin hunched Jew in a skull cap at the desk in his counting house, spinning a web in which tiny men dangle helplessly. (59) The caption reads "A Two Legged Spider".

Ukrainians often appear in the illustrated magazines as picturesque primitives. A Ukrainian shepherd stares blankly at the viewer from a lithograph published in Niva in 1886 (Fig. 5), much as do his sheep, with a thatched cottage in the background delimiting his existence. A viewer observing him drowsing on the rickety wooden cover of the well could hardly imagine him transposed to the active life of a city. Romantic images reinforced this isolation as did illustrations for the occasionally republished story by Gogol. (60) These images were similar to those found in the lubok. Gypsies often appeared in the illustrated magazines much as they did in the lubok, either as fortune tellers or as wild children of freedom, but they also suffered from an occasional demeaning stereotype. (61)


The Muslim peoples of Central Asia, the Kazakh Steppe, and the Caucasus appeared frequently as did Jews and Ukrainians, particularly in the 1870s. While Russian colonial expansion proceeded at a rapid pace, articles about "our Central Asia" proliferated. In the pictures accompanying such accounts popular illustrators cast differences in a harsh light, emphasizing exoticism, remoteness, and danger. In June 1873 Vsemirnaia ran a series captioned "From Central Asia." (62) "Begging Dervishes from Khiva" in caftans and conical hats seem as remote as aliens. In another picture several Kirgiz men stand together in scraggly robes with long dark beards. Framing these reports are articles such as "On the Road With our Troops in Khiva" in which the Russian soldiers appear in white uniforms or on horseback while natives in striped robes sit on the ground. (63) The pictures of the Russian pavilion at the Universal Exhibition in Vienna in 1873 showed Central Asians and other nationalities in box-like displays. (64)

These images co-existed with anti-Muslim sentiments at a time when Russia competed with Turkey for control and influence over a vast region, including the Balkans, but secular representations outweighed religious ones in the magazines. (65) Religious figures do appear, but most images are simply strange and violent, as in a series in Niva in 1894 in which mustachioed men arrayed in necklaces of bullets stare menacingly at the viewer. (66) Such pictures recall romantic literary images of the Caucasus, but modern stereotypes dehumanize their subjects as literary portraits such those of Mikhail Lermontov do not. (67) Moreover, the heterogeneity of the mass images is so great that no individualization of the peoples of Russia seems appropriate other than the great divide between European and non-European. The magazines also featured various smaller peoples of the Russian Empire such as Samoyeds (shown encamped on the frozen Neva River), Tatars from Tobolsk, and Lithuanians from the Western borderlands, the latter appearing prosperous and "European." (68) Jokes and cartoons sharpened the divide between Europeanlike Russians and others in the illustrated and humor magazines. Budil'nik's cover for number 34 in 1878 shows a garden scene with Turk in a fez and a European-looking man in a western suit. The Turk, when asked if he misses his homeland and family replies, "Allah is everywhere so I'll find a wife and children here too." Cartoons of this sort anchored negative images of Central Asians. A cartoon in Budil'nik in 1874 shows an elegant couple in Western dress flanking a man in a turban and caftan, and joking about the difficulty of finding animals for the zoo. (69) An anti-Semitic cartoon in Budil'nk from 1868 works similarly. A man in a top hat is restrained from openly striking a Jew in a skullcap, and admonished that now such things must properly be done in private, not in public. (70) Tatars and others from the colonial regions received similar treatment, as in a cartoon in 1874 showing Tatars selling rugs to the well-dressed women of an upper class Russian family, bowing and scraping in their ragged gowns. (71) The caption reads, "I thought we were already done with the Tatar yoke." Again, the contrast between the dress, posture, and physical appearance of Russians and others makes the cartoon. The pictures and themes of the humor magazine recurred in the illustrated weeklies.

The ugly non-Russians of the jokes and of the other marginalized images of non-Russians are the flip side of a heavy handed Russian Europeanism. The pictures convey mystery and ambiguity because they resist attempts to fix their meaning and leave wide scope for different responses by different viewers. (72) For ethnic Russians these images were a backhanded way of making the empire their own, rather than that solely of the autocrats; of taking command of newly acquired regions. For non-Russians, however, the derisive images and the attitudes that generated them could only have had a divisive effect engendering either humiliation or antagonism, depending on the personality of the viewer. For example, a picture on the cover of Budil'nik on 20 August 1875 shows a row of national stereotypes gathered to watch a German fat-lady at the Nizhny Novgorod Trade Fair (Fig. 6).


The art critic W. J. T. Mitchell suggests that one can regard images as "a social collective that has a parallel existence to the social life of their human hosts, and to the world of objects that they represent." (73) Images of Russians in the lubok, which were made to a large extent for and by ordinary people, were flattering and inoffensive. After all, why would ordinary people purchase pictures of people like themselves that did not ascribe agency and moral authority to the figures represented? Ordinary Russian people could find a common humanity in the lubok, whether or not they consciously identified themselves ethnically or religiously with the figures portrayed. The empire of the illustrated magazines, with its increasingly standardized stereotypes, was another world entirely. The opposition between the fashionable Russian Europeans and lively city or country folk on the one hand, and the varied nationalities on the other, demanded the engagement of the viewer. Within the targeted audience of Russians this response may well have been satisfaction and an arrogant feeling of superiority. Among those negatively stereotyped in the magazines, the images and the concurrent attitudes were also likely to solidify a sense of exclusion and marginalization. In the era of photography, the editors and illustrators of the new weeklies and humor sheets of the 1860s, 1870s, and 1880s, fixed the non-Russian in a confining gaze. They magnified differences between peoples. They had no illusions about the underlying good will of the empire's peoples toward each other, and saw instead the rough and tumble of a society in motion along lines of class, gender, and ethnicity. They realized that the differences and tensions sold copy, and that playing to Russians' emerging sense of superiority within the empire sold even more.

The polar opposition between Russians and non-Russian citizens diminished after the absorption of Central Asia and the Caucasus. Russian expansion into the Far East in the last decade of the century did not spark such intense contrasts between Russians and natives, and the empire matured in the Russian imagination. In an era of colonial rivalries in Europe the editors of the illustrated press came to portray Russia's peoples as objects of autocratic pride and came also to delight to a degree in the diversity of peoples. The same phenomenon was evident in popular fiction, including the literature of the lubok (lubochnaia literatura) as well as newer newspaper serials, detective stories, and tales of adventure. (74) In Budil'nik the butt of jokes became avaricious capitalists, drunken peasants, and above all women. In Niva I. I. Shishkin's alluring forests and parks came to represent rural Russia and the Russian nation more generally. (75) Typical of this shift with respect to nationalities was Niva's cover illustration on June 12, 1899 24) Kievan Flower-seller by N. K. Pimonenko, which shows a sprightly young woman on a busy city street smilingly offering the viewer a pair of lilies from her basket (Fig. 7). Neither the subject nor the situation has much in common with the moon faced Ukrainian rustics who had adorned the magazine's pages in first decades after the Emancipation. Even Poles, a people with whom conflict was endemic, appear positively as in the picture in Niva on 4 December 1899, "The First Sledging Day" by the popular artist A. Verush-Kovalev'skii (Fig. 8). Although favorable images of Muslims and Jews did not follow, the negative images became less common.



The editors paired their new more inclusive view of the peoples of the empire with a chauvinistic view of Russia's would-be rivals among the great powers in the 1890s. They thus joined in the pan-European inclination to demonize foreigners of all sorts, and particularly colonial peoples beyond the national borders. (76) Harsh images of Russia's great power rivals--the British, German, and American imperialists--replaced those of Jews and non-Russians, though anti-Semitism persisted in diminished form, particularly in Budil'nik. Anton Chekhov evoked the new mood in his The Island of Sakhalin, which was serialized in Russkaia mysl (Russian Thought) in 1893-94. Chekhov observed that among his interlocutors was one with a powerful animosity toward Russia's foreign competitors. He described an officer, "a great patriot" who spoke "with unfeigned enthusiasm of the mightiness of Russia and with great scorn about the Germans and the English whom he had never seen in his life." (77) Chekhov mocked this pompous nationalist who saw himself as a civilized being among barbarians.

By the 1890s, representations of peoples of the empire in the popular prints and illustrated magazines had taken a wide arc away from the years following the Emancipation, as had the empire, itself. The images of ordinary people as active agents that initially contrasted with the populist vision of powerless though dignified peasants gradually gained currency and found a place in high culture as well, appearing in advertisements and also in paintings by the increasingly prosperous and well-established Peredvizhniki. The sea change in the imagination of class also encompassed gender, and active powerful women gained a place in popular illustrations. The imagination of the ethnicity of the nation took a similar though somewhat different tack. The initial divergence between the lubok prints, which largely lacked Jews and Muslims but included Ukrainians and Gypsies, and that of the illustrated magazines, diminished. That it had existed at all, however, suggests that the images complementing the ethnic hatreds of the early twentieth century arose not among peasants but higher on the social scale.

This is not to deny, however, that wartime prints mocking enemies and celebrating Russian heroes figured in every war from 1812 to the end of the old regime. (78) They did. In 1927, The French philosopher Julian Benda published a thin volume entitled The Treason of the Intellectuals (Traison des clercs) in which he blamed school teachers and intellectuals for spreading the hatreds that led to World War I rather than the common people. The Russian experience suggests his point was well taken.

Images of nationalities including ethnic Russians had become increasingly multi-dimensional and layered in the illustrated press of the 1890s. They often showed recognition of diversity and agency of the various peoples, but they also presaged some of the fault lines on which Russian society was soon to fracture. Surveying the brutal century that followed, with its nationalistic clashes and ethnic rivalries, one cannot but regret that the seemingly more humane and tolerant images of different nationalities in the late nineteenth century were so closely bound to the pride of empire. The heightened tensions at the turn of the century, the savage war with Japan, and the rise of contesting political parties in the early twentieth century, including militant rightwing nationalist parties, insured that what might have been a moment of reconciliation among nationalities at least on the terrain of the imagined empire, would soon be forgotten.

Department of History

Baltimore, MD 21218


I am grateful to the New York Public Library Slavic and Baltic Division and the Library's print collection for access to their remarkable holdings. I particularly thank Edward Kasinec and Hee Gwane Hyoo at the Library for their help with the collection. I also thank Georgiy Chernyavskiy, Wendy Salmond, Elizabeth Valkenire, Richard Wortman, and Peter Stearns for his helpful suggestions, and Carol Sturz for her assistance.

(1.) Stephen M. Norris, A War of Images: Russian Popular Prints, Wartime Culture, and National Identity, 1812-1945 (Dekalb, IL, 2006), 11-35.

(2.) See for example, D. A. Rovinskii, Russkiia narodnyia kartinki, ed. N. P. Sobko (St. Petersburg, 1900), 280-89 prints 120, 125, 187, 217 in Rovinskii's collection. See also D. A. Rovinskii, Russkiia narodnye kartinki 5 vols. (St. Petersburg, 1881-83).

(3.) N. Snegirov, Lubochnye kartinki russkogo naroda v moskovskom mire (Moscow, 1861), 5-6.

(4.) N. A. Kozhin and I. S. Abramov make this point in Narodnyi lubok (Leningrad, 1929), 17. Analagous Lubki such as Slavnyi i sil 'nyi Vitiaz Eruslan Lazarevich (Moscow, 1889) and Bitva Bovy Korolevicha s Polkanom Bogatyrem (Moscow, 1889) can be found in (Russkii narodnyi lubok: albom] (Moscow, 1887-1889). Slavic and East European Collections of The New York Public Library..

(5.) On lubki of military heroes and tsars in this style see Norris, A War of Images, 93.

(6.) General Ad 'iutant Kniaz' Gorchakov, (Moscow, 1889).

(7.) Slavnoe poboishche tsaria Aleksandra Makedonskogo s tsarem porom Indiiskim. The print is reproduced in VI. Bakhtin and Dm. Moldavskii, eds., Russkii lubok xvii-xixv. (Moscow-Leningrad, 1962), 31,

(8.) Vasnetsov's and Nesterov's paintings appear in Russian Landscape eds. David Jackson and Patty Wageman (Washington D.C., Nd), 144, 49.

(9.) Norris, War of Images, 21, 84-80, 122, 155, 181-83.

(10.) On the presence of such prints in peasant cottages and lower-class city dwellings see T.A. Voronina, "O bytovanii lubochnykh karunok v russkoi narodnoi srede v xix veke," in Mir narodnoi kartinki, eds. K. K. Iskol' dskaia and B. I. Sokolov (Moscow, 1999), 192-211.

(11.) Gusar (Moscow, 1869, no publisher, L v. 1, No. 19) can be found in Narodnye karunky religio znovo I nravstvennogo soderzhaniia I vidy stolits ...] (Moscow?, 1871-1885). Slavic and East European Collections of the New York Public Library. "Romans" (Moscow: Vasil'ev, 1882) (based on Alexander Pushkin's 1814 poem "Romance), Poekhali rebiata (Moscow, 1889); and Ogliadi moia rodnaia (Moscow, 1887) can be found in Russkii narodnyi lubok: albom] (Moscow, 1887-1889). The Slavic and East European Collections of the New York Public Library.

(12.) Kabak (Moscow, 1887) can be found in Russkii narodnyi lubok: albom (Moscow, 1887-1889). The Slavic and East European Collections of the New York Public Library.

(13.) On the Stundists and the role of clothing in the peasant identity see Sergei Zhuk, Russia's Lost Reformation: Peasants, Millennialism, and Radical Sects in Southern Russia and Ukraine, 1830-1917 (Baltimore, 2004), 276-77. The Print is reproduced in Pierre-Louis Duchartre, L'Imagerie populaire Russe (Paris, 1961), Fig. 71.

(14.) A. Reitblat, Ot Bovy k Bal'montu (Moscow, 1991), 97.

(15.) A. S. Prugavin, Zaprosy naroda l obiazannosti intelligentsia v oblasti prosveshcheniia I vospitaniia 2nd edition (St. Petersburg, 1895), 209-18. See also Reitblat, Ot Bovy, 98-99.

(16.) E. A. Dinershtein, "Fabrikant" chitatelei A F. Marks (Moscow, 1986); Brooks, When Russia Learned to Read: Literacy and Popular Literature, 1861-1917 (Evanston, IL, 2003, 1985), 113.

(17.) Niva. 52 (1889), 1353.

(18.) Reitblat, Ot Bovy, 100. 105.

(19.) Reitblat, Ot Bovy, 98.

(20.) Otchet o deiatel 'nosti gorodskoi besplatnoi chital 'ni, uchrezhdennoi V. A. Morozovoi v pamiat' I. S. Turgeneva za 1887 god (Moscow, 1889), 21-29. Cited in Tatsumi Yukiko, "Russian Illustrated Journals in the late Nineteenth Century: The Dual Image of Readers," in Acta Slavica laponica Vol. Xxvi (2009): 165-67.

(21.) D. S. Merezhkovskii, O prichinakh upadka l o novykh techeniiakh sovremennoi russkoi literatury (St. Petersburg, 1893), 20.

(22.) Obshchii svod po imperiii rezul 'tatov razrabotki dannykh pervoi vseobshchei perepisi naseleniia, proizvedennoi 28 lanvaria 1897 goda (St. Petersburg, 1905), 188-89, 190-95, 198.

(23.) Hugh Seton-Watson, The Russian Empire 1801-1917 (Oxford, 1967), 534-35.

(24.) Niva 6 (February 4, 1989): 176.

(25.) Niva 11 (March 11, 1889): 285.

(26.) Vsemirnaia illustratsiia, (June 1, 1889).

(27.) Sjeng Scheijen, "Slaves of Literature: Literature, Visual Art and Landscape Art," in Russian Landscape, 100-101. See also David Jackson, The Russian Vision: The Art of Ilya Repin (Schoten, Belgium, 2006), 103.

(28.) On Repin's Burlaki as "paradigmatic of Russian realism" and "peasant hardship" see David Jackson, The Wanderers and Critical Realism in Nineteenth-century Russian Painting (Manchester, 2006), 41.

(29.) Christopher Ely, This Meager Nature: landscape and National Identity in Imperial Russia (Dekalb,, 2002), 180.

(30.) Cathy A. Frierson, Peasant Icons: Representations of Rural People in Late 19th Century Russia (New York, 1993), 41 argues that populists of this era saw peasants as homogenous, simple-minded, and ignorant to a moral fault.

(31.) On the picturesque and populist see Ely, This Meager Nature, 183.

(32.) See for example the prints from the late 1840s and 1850s of Russian Christmas: Fortune-telling with Hens (Moscow, 1858) and All around the Village. Katen 'ka was thought exceedingly Fair (Moscow, 1858). The prints are reproduced in Alla Sytova, ed., The Lubok: Russian Folk Pictures 17th to 19th Century (Leningrad, 1984), 125, 129.

(33.) Elena Chernevich, Mikhail Anikst, and Nina Baburina, eds. (Russian Graphic Design (New York, 1990), 93-94.

(34.) Frierson, Peasant Icons, 190-92 points to writers such as A. 1. Ertel' and V. G. Korolenko who opposed the pessimism of the reactionary era. See also Elizabeth Valkenier, Russian Realist Art: The State and Society: the Peredvizhniki and their Tradition (New York, 1989), 123.

(35.) Illustrazione Italiana represented Italians similarly, showing the mass as attractive or picturesque and a minority as nasty and dangerous. See John Dickie, Darkest Italy. The Nation and Stereotypes of the Mezzogiorno, 1860-1900 (New York, 1999), 88-92, 106.

(36.) Vsemirnaia illustratsiia 289 (July, 13, 1874): 40.

(37.) Vsemirnaia Illustratsiia, 290 (December 15, 1873): 57.

(38.) Niva 7 (February 11, 1878): 128; 8 (February, 20, 1878): 144; 9 (February 27, 1878): 160; 14 (April 8, 1878): 245.

(39.) Niva 7 (February 16, 1878): 121.

(40.) Vsemirnaia illustratsiia 250 (October 13, 1874); 248 (1873); 258 (December 15, 1873); 274 (March 30, 1874): cover.

(41.) Niva 16 (April 16, 1894): 364; 25 (June 18, 1894): cover.

(42.) Niva 8 (February 19, 1894): cover picture shows a panorama of people in sleighs, riding on slides, with a oversize man playing a traditional instrument at a table beside two serving people with pancakes.

(43.) On the promotion of Orthodoxy in the illustrated journals and its use to distinguish Russians from others see Tatsumi Yukiko, "Russian Illustrated Journals," 172-76.

(44.) Budil 'nik 12 (April 5, 1868): 94.

(45.) Budil 'nik 5 (February 6, 1894): unnumbered page.

(46.) Budil 'nik 25 (June 29, 1873): 7.

(47.) Budil 'nik 63, (August 20, 1885): 250.

(48.) Budil nik 25 (June 30, 1876 ): cover.

(49.) Budil nik 6 (February 9, 1865): 42

(50.) They also did nor always demonize foreign opponents. See for example The Surrender of the City and Fortress of Kars November 16, 1855 in the Print Collection, Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints, and Photographs, The New York Public Library It is reproduced in Robert D. Crews, For Prophet and Tsar: Islam and Empire in Russia and Central Asia (Cambridge, MA, 2006), 35. A copy in the author's collection was republished by Vasil'ev in Moscow in 1887.

(51.) The Print is reproduced in Duchartre, L 'lmagerie populaire Russe, Fig. 125.

(52.) Narodnye kartinky religioznovo i nravstvennogo soderzhaniia i vidy stolits.., Pesnia (Moscow, 1887).

(53.) Nell Macmaster, Racism in Europe (Houndmills, UK, 2001), 20-27.

(54.) For a recent comment see lmmanuel Wallerstein, European Universalism: The Rhetoric of Power (New York, 2006), 44-49.

(55.) Robert P. Geraci describes these integrative views in Window on the East: National and Imperial Identities in Late Tsarist Russia (Ithaca, 2001), 9, 343.

(56.) Niva featured covers of A. G. Rubinshtein 14 (April 14, 1886) and T. G. Shevchenko 3 (January 19, 1876).

(57.) Macmaster, Racism in Europe, 87-97.

(58.) Niva 19 (Mayl9, 1978): 331.

(59.) Budil 'nik 19 (May 22, 1874): cover.

(60.) See the cover by K. la. Trutovskii By the Window in Vsrmimaia illustratsiia, 246 (September 15, 1873), which was part of a lengthy series; see also illustrations to N. V. Gogol, "Sorochinskaia iar-marka," Niva 18 (August 30, 1894): 425-426.

(61.) Note the skulking image in Niva 18 (August, 30, 1894): 426. Five years later, however, Niva features a charming Gypsy boy on its cover 27 (July 3, 1899).

(62.) Vsemirnnia illustratsiia 232 (June 9, 1873): 380-81

(63.) Vsemirnaia illustratsiia 234 (June 23, 1873): 413.

(64.) See for example the picture of the Turkestan Section on the cover of Vsemirnaia illustratsiia 240 (August 4, 1873).

(65.) Crews in For Prophet and Tsar, 354-56 stresses the religious competition.

(66.) Niva 4 (January 22, 1894): 86)

(67.) This is the theme of Susan Layton's Russian Literature and Empire: Canquest of the Caucasus from Pushkin to Tolstoy (Cambridge, Eng., 1994), particularly 258-62; See also Ewa M. Thompson, Imperial Knowledge: Russian Literature and Colonialism (Westport, CT, 2000), 58-64.

(68.) Vsemirnaia illustratsiia 63 (March 14, 1870): 204.; Vsemirnaia illustratsiia 236 (July 7, 1873): 25; Niva 3 (January 19, 1876): 38.

(69.) Budil 'nik 8 (March 5, 1874): cover.

(70.) Budil 'nik 13 (April 12, 1868): unnumbered page.

(71.) Budil'nik 4 (May 2, 1874): 5.

(72.) W. J. T. Mitchell, What Do Pictures Want? The Lives and Loves of Images (Chicago, 2005), 5-27.

(73.) Mitchell, What Do Pictures? 5-27, 93, and also 5-27. Mitchell draws on Nelson Goodman, Ways of Worldmaking (l978).

(74.) Brooks, When Russia Learned to Read, 214-45.

(75.) See for example I. I. Shishkin, "Prud v starom parke" in Niva 3 (January 16, 1889): cover.

(76.) Michael Diamon, 'Lesser Breeds' - Racial Attitudes in Popular British Culture, 1890-1914 (London, 2006) describes the popular literature.

(77.) Anton Chekhov, Polnoe sobranie sochinenii i pisem v trinadtsati tomakh, Vol. 14-15 (Moscow, 1978), 58-59.

(78.) This is the theme of Norris, A War of Images.

By Jeffrey Brooks

The Johns Hopkins University
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