500 Bookplates from the Collection of Semyon Georgievich Ivensky

The exhibition of graphic arts from the collection of S.G. Ivensky had a look of its own. First of all, it was of interest from the cognitive point of view: it presented a rather rare kind of prints – artistic bookplates, also known as ex-libris - to visitors of the younger generation. These were works of famous and obscure artists of different generations and countries of the 20th century. Their miniature oeuvres were made using the technique of printed engraving on cooper, wood, linoleum and plastic...

The exhibitions of bookplates from the collection of S.G. Ivensky were staged in the museums of our country and abroad since the 1960s. Such a display was organized in the Kirillo-Belozersky museum-reserve in 1968. Semyon Ivensky often donated some of the exhibited collections to the museums after their display. It happened in Kirov, Kirillov, Smolensk, Tyumen, Chelyabinsk, and Hungary (the collection was handed over to the National Széchényi Library in Budapest).

The exhibition in the Kirillo-Belozersky museum-reserve was about Semyon Georgievich Ivensky, special personality, Ph.D. in Art history, well-known in the art world. In spite of the fact that he lives in Israel now, many specialists of fine art, artists and collectors know him very well and remember him in Russia. This display marked his 85th birthday. The exhibited articles were given by his daughter Evgenia Semyonovna Ivenskaya (Yaroslavl).

Colleagues and friends wrote a lot of special articles for catalogues of the exhibitions or articles published in other issues on fine art about the art critic, museum employee, collector and artist S.G. Ivensky. Nevertheless, the books and articles written by the art critic himself and his thoughts on the Russian and European art are of principal interest.

Visitors could see his name, initials in the form of inscriptions, monograms, his portraits or a figure in the depiction of bookplates – all of them were variants of the ex-libris from his personal library. Displayed together, they introduced the personality of the man who entirely devoted himself to art, books and, what was important for us, history and theory of the bookplate itself. Bookplates made by Ivensky for other bibliophiles were also presented at the exhibition.

People could learn some facts from the art critic’s biography thanks to the specific character of subject bookplates and picturesque solutions of graphic aphorisms, because to say briefly didn’t mean little.

The first two decades of the creative work of S.G. Ivensky were historically connected with the Vologda region. A young art critic came to Vologda in 1953 and had a specific aim: to establish a specialized museum of fine arts. The Vologda Picture Gallery was only formed (1952). He was prepared enough for such a serious independent deed already during his study in Leningrad Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture named after I.E. Repin (he preferred to tell about it modestly). In his graduation work, he gave a scientific description and made up a catalogue of paintings and drawings of the new art museum in the town of Osipenko (now the city of Berdyansk) of the Zaporizhia Oblast (Ukraine) where he did pre-graduation practical training (1952-1953). P.E. Kornilov, docent of the institute and art critic of the Russian Museum, was his research adviser. Their professional friendship lasted dozens of years. It is worth noting that V.F. Levinson-Lessing, famous historian of the Western European painting of the Hermitage, taught history of museum management studies at that time.

Starting to work in Vologda, S.G. Ivensky consulted with another famous Moscow’s art critic and experienced museum employee A.M. Efros who had worked in the Tretyakov Gallery and in the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts earlier and was directly involved in the formation of collections of these museums.

They met in Rostov in the 1930s in their school days and then continued communicating with each other when A.M. Efros moved to Moscow. Ivensky often went to art museums and exhibitions with him. He remembered well “last precepts” of A.M. Efros how to make, to design an exposition of the gallery, to find his own hobby and to establish a museum dissimilar to others.

Working as a director of the Vologda Picture Gallery, S.G. Ivensky diligently educated people enlarging the circle of Vologda’s amateurs of fine art. Therefore the collections of his bookplates contained so many depictions of the architectural monuments of the Vologda Kremlin, including the Resurrection Cathedral where the Picture Gallery was located in the 1950s. A separate exhibition about the Russian architectural monuments in the depiction of bookplates was staged by him in Vologda.

S.G. Ivensky switched his attention to graphic arts for several reasons. And one of the main ones was formation of the own look of the Vologda Picture Gallery collection among the regional museums of the country. As a result, along with the exposition of painting, he established a wonderful department of graphic arts which presented drawings and engravings of the Russian and Soviet artists of the 18th – 20th centuries. The extensive museum collection gave a chance to renew the permanent exposition of graphic arts. The range of exhibits allowed museum employees to give more detailed information about peculiarities and originality of graphic arts considerably broadening visitors’ horizons. The retrospective show of the exposition was concluded with drawings of talented Vologda’s artists of the late 19th – 20th centuries.

Vologda’s residents who got accustomed to the exposition and exhibition of graphic arts were quite surprised when they didn’t find any similar departments visiting other regional museums, for instance, the one in Yaroslavl. People really believed that departments of graphic arts should be in all art museums of the country.

In this connection, I would like to particularly note children for whom S.G. Ivensky wrote a special monographic article about the ex-libris later. It was destined for a children’s encyclopedia.

During tours about the graphic arts history, pupils learnt about many secrets and miracles of fine art. Pencil, water-colour and gouache drawings were closer and more understandable for children. Boys’ eyes lit up, especially when it concerned woodcut printing and the guide showed them a board of box-tree and even allowed them to hold it. The author of this article witnessed teenagers creating hand-made chisels using old umbrella spokes and having a shot at engraving using a softer material – linoleum – after the visits to the gallery. Thus children became interested in graphic arts and future artists were born, because they constantly went to art exhibitions from an early age.

Along with original drawings and rare ancient engravings, the collection of prints of small forms, including bookplates, was a peculiarity of the graphic arts collection. And the publication of unique catalogues printed from the author’s boards (in limited edition) was the Ivensky’s dream that came true indeed. He wrote about it: “Thus we could come round the insurmountable border between the art and viewers – readers of the catalogue”.

These issues are very rare and are of great historical value today.

The interest of S.G. Ivensky in the art of ex-libris in 1962 developed into a huge and the most important chapter of his creative bibliography.

S.G. Ivensky wrote about the art historian Pyotr Yevgenievich Kornilov in his memoirs: “The first teacher and instructor of prints who introduced me to the fine and intimate art, having determined in many respects the direction of my art activity in Vologda, then in Tyumen and Yaroslavl”.

S.G. Ivensky managed to interest artists of Vologda, Cherepovets, Veliky Ustiug, Sokol in the art of prints, firs of all, bookplates.

As it is known, we learn much information about people of different historical epochs, their personal thoughts, displays and estimations of real-life situations thanks to chamber art works of small forms.

During the period of graphic arts boom, the Vologda Picture Gallery became an art centre for artists and attracted attention to practical activity of many amateurs. There were a lot of them: the Burmagins, Sergeev, Nagovitsin, Edemsky, Chernov, Shchetnev, Ivanov, Belozyorova, and also painters: Korbakov, Tutundzhan, Sokolov and others. An opportunity of free author’s expression and improvisation, S.G. Ivensky’s advice, systematic exhibitions – all this promoted improvement and development of the Vologda’s graphic arts. After the enforced departure of S.G. Ivensky to Tyumen (in 1973), Vologda lost a tactful instructor of the art and nobody could take his place. But many of his precepts continue to live. Employees of the gallery replenish the collections of graphic arts and bookplates, stage exhibitions and have even held the First All-Russian Ex-libris Congress in Vologda in 2004.

It seemed that everything started by chance and not by chance at the same time. L.F. Dyakonitsyn, historian, archival researcher, close friend of S.G. Ivensky, introduced him to the collector S.V. Klypin, amateur of bookplates from Vologda, who was a man of venerable age and the former printer by trade. It turned out that in the 1920s, he printed the first Vologda’s issue about the bookplates of the famous graphic artist, native of Vologda – N.P. Dmitrievsky. The collection of Klypin contained not only the works of Dmitrievsky, but also old stamp bookplates, signs in the form of drawings in Indian ink created by the well-known artist of Totma F. Vakhrushov; a sketch of the sign made by the classic M. Dobuzhinsky and many others. S.G. Ivensky organized the first exhibition of ex-libris in the gallery at once. It was based on the Klypin’s collection. The art critic himself became so much interested in the history of the Vologda’s and Russian ex-libris that study of this kind of graphic arts became his life-work. Since the 1960s, Ivensky published articles about the art of bookplates created by artists V.A. Frolov, G.A. Kravtsov, Yaroslav Vodrashki, A.I. Kalashnikov, V.A. Maryin, V.V. Timofeev and Vologda’s residents N. and G. Burmagins, A.T. Nagovitsyn, A.V. Sergeev, L.N. Shchetnev and others.

His life situation which was far from easy from an early age, lots of ideological conventionalities of the Soviet epoch forced Ivensky, as many people of art, to look for his own circle of like-minded persons, and, what was also very important at that time, to find means of communication, i.e. to overcome the space separating many people. Looking back, Ivensky wrote that he “wanted to go to his own world”. And he found such a way out in the work of the ex-libris art. Initially, the bookplate appears and lives in its own isolated world, but it is open for everybody in the world of books and libraries, in the world of fine art, in the world of people of different professions. The community of professionals and amateurs of the bookplates has its own clubs and associations for a long time, holds the International Congresses. As for S.G. Ivensky, he could go to Germany – the country where the ex-libis first appeared – as a historian and researcher only during the years of Perestroika. The bookplate became widespread in Russia in the 18th century and continues developing now. Ivensky wrote many scientific works exactly about the Russian bookplate, finally bringing it to the world arena. He was the first to defend a thesis on the history of ex-libris. Today authors of the Russian encyclopedias refer to his fundamental monographic works.

At present S.G. Ivensky lives not far from Haifa in the kibbutz which is located in the north of Israel and continues working: he writes articles about art, his life, exchanges letters with artists, including the painters from Vologda. Using picturesque sketches painted from life in Vologda, Plyos, and Yaroslavl earlier, he creates new landscapes which become his picturesque recollections of Russia. Semyon Georgievich remembers Vologda, Totma, Kirillov and we remembers him with sincere gratitude and we hope that he will continue working on his memoirs and will pay special attention to the thoughts of the history and the present of painting and graphic arts.

E.B. Savina, art critic, Vologda

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