Attrib. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, Theatrical Set Design - 1930s watercolour painting


An original 1930s watercolour painting, Attrib. Mstislav Dobuzhinsky Theatrical Set Design.

This striking and beautiful work is attributed to the important Russian-Lithuanian artist Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957). Dobuzhinsky was at the centre of various cultural and artistic circles of early 20th-century Russia: through his association with the avant-garde World of Art (Mir iskusstva) movement and other Russian artists such as Alexandre Benois and Konstantin Somov; through his theatre work with seminal actor/director Stanislavsky; and his association with Diaghilev’s Ballet Russes. The work, in watercolour and graphite on card, displays Dobuzhinsky imaginative and distinctive approach to set design - the vision here at once ethereal and emotionally charged but also demonstrating the artist’s strong stage sense and skills in the graphic arts, with its considered structure and symmetry.

Dobuzhinsky worked for theatre at various points in his long career: from 1907 he collaborated with Moscow Art Theatre working with Stanislavsky; in 1924 he worked in Lithuania designing sets for more than seventy productions, the best of them Russian and world classics, including  Tchaikovsky, Mussorgsky, Mozart and Shakespeare; and from 1939 he produced designs for Mikhail Chekhov Theatre in America. It is unclear from which period this painting dates, but the format and palette resemble designs Dobuzhinsky was producing in the 1930s and 1940s.

The painting is accompanied by historic dealer’s/collector’s notes as shown, which suggest an interesting provenance and starting point for further research. The notes comprise the attribution, notes relating to what appears to be a V&A archive reference, and a copy of an image by Konstantin Somov from the Courtauld Witt Library 1974.

Overall in good condition, there is some wear and small knocks to the outer edges of the card, including a small bend across the lower left corner and two short, superficial hairline tears (to the paper surface only) at the upper centre and right edge. There are a number of tiny scattered abrasions in the sky area, which appear as small white marks, as shown.
cm x cm.

Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957) was born in Lithuania into the family of an army officer and opera singer. He spent his childhood in St Peters­burg, had drawing lessons at the Society for the Furtherance of the Arts, then went on to study Law at St Petersburg University. As a student he attended classes at the studio of Dmitriev-Kavkazsky, and after graduating he spent time in Munich and Paris, studying at the famous A. Azbe school and S. Hollosy’s studio in Munich.

In 1901 Dobuzhinsky joined the ‘World of Art’, where he quickly became a celebrity despite being its youngest member. He became known for his cityscapes, capturing the realities of modern urban life, and he also produced satirical political cartoons.

His connection with the theatre began in 1907 and this was to continue for the rest of his life; he also excelled in book illustration, including illustrations for Hans Christian Andersen and Dostoyev­sky. He was renowned as an excellent art teacher, counting among his pupils Vladimir Nabokov, with whom he maintained correspondence for decades.

Dobuzhinsky’s works can be found in numerous public collections, including Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow; The A. A. Bakhrushin Theatre Museum, Moscow; The Russian Museum, St. Petersburg; National Gallery of Armenia, Yerevan; Irbit State Museum of Fine Art, Irbit.

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Product code: JH-047

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