December 8, 2020 in Art
The Russian Network of Artists in Paris


These days, many historians and specialist in the sphere of art are engaged in the study of the problem of Russian emigrants at the end of the XIX the beginning of the XX centuries. It was a time when many people from different spheres tried to leave Russia in search of a better life, which was also the case of Russian painters who, for many reasons, left the country. Most often, Russian artists of that time had disagreements with the government or they wanted to improve their living conditions. In this regard, the topic of Russian painters who moved to different countries is very important. For a long time, there has been no study of the history of their emigration. This fact was associated with the ideological censorship that existed in the Soviet historical science. Emigration, especially post-revolution, was perceived as a negative phenomenon. Rare publications on the subject could not compensate for the lack of factual knowledge and theoretical understanding of the problem. The problem of emigration of Russian artists is at the intersection of different fields of scientific knowledge and of particular interest to the specialists studying history, culture, art, and history of art. In recent years, the issue of emigration from Russia, especially in the interwar period, has been extremely actively studied by scientists of different specialties. The revolution of 1917 in Russia and the events that followed it led to the fact that millions of its citizens resided outside the country. Political motives did not always play a crucial role in their departure. Many people fled from intolerable living conditions while others followed friends and relatives. Others believed that it was impossible to continue their professional activity in Soviet Russia. However, most of the emigrants hoped for a speedy return to their homeland. Even though they were separated from their native land physically, the Russian intelligentsia had their hearts and souls at home, in Russia. The purpose of the current paper is to study the phenomenon of emigration of the Russian artists as well as the reasons of their departure from the native country.

Type of your assignment
Academic level

Emigration from Russia

Emigration is not a new phenomenon in the history of humankind. Large-scale events of the internal and external history of civilizational nature are always accompanied by migration and migration processes. For example, the discovery of America was due to the strong emigration to the countries of the New World of the Europeans from the United Kingdom, Spain, Portugal, and other countries. The motives for migration are always different ranging from the desire to improve ones financial situation to the political intransigence with the dominant power. An important feature of emigration of different times manifested in different ways is the fact of cultural cooperation, integration of historical and cultural processes inherent in the individual nations and countries. The contact with another culture, mentality, and a way of thinking affects the communicating parties the culture carried by immigrants and the culture of the country where they have settled. In Russia, migration of the population virtually did not cease. In the XVI-XVIII centuries, there was both the departure from Russia and the influx of foreigners into it. Since the 70s of the XIX century, there was a tendency of the predominance of people who left Russia. From 2.5 to 4.5 million people left Russia for the period in the XIX – early XX centuries. At that time, the political reasons for this departure from Russia were not dominant. They became such only after the October Revolution in 1917.

Read also: “Literary Analysis Essay Writing”

The Reasons of Emigration

The October Revolution, which caused changes in the whole system of Russian society, led to a massive outflow of people from the country. Russian emigration of post-revolutionary time is a special kind of emigration with certain specific features. Emigrants of that time were people who did not have mercantile purposes or material interests. Such factors as the existing system of beliefs, the loss of the usual lifestyle, the rejection of the revolution and related transformations, expropriation, and destruction determined the need to leave Russia. The reasons also included persecutions of dissents by the new government, arrests, jail, and, finally, forced expulsion of the intelligentsia from the country. After the revolution of 1917, the constant interference of the party in the affairs of art led to the mass wave of painters emigration. At that time, the culture of Russia was divided into three camps. The first camp consisted of those who had refused to accept the revolution and gone abroad. The second consisted of those who had accepted the revolution and glorified socialism and, thus, they acted as the creators of the new government. The third camp was composed of people who had doubts. At first, they left Russia but later, returned home. They were convinced that separated from their people they could not create new paintings. In the first camp, there were artists who formed the core of the so-called first wave of emigration. The first wave of Russian emigration is the most massive and significant for the contribution to the world culture of the XX century. In such a way, the October Revolution of 1917 divided the country and, accordingly, its culture. One part developed on its land and for over half a century was in a highly ideological regulation and state monopoly. The other part of the population lived outside of Russia and had no ideological restrictions. Nevertheless, the artists had to live and work in their new national and socio-cultural environment, which greatly affected their work.

Places of Settlement

Russian emigrants settled in the European countries. Paris, Berlin, Prague, Belgrade, and Sofia were the centers of Russian emigration. The maximum number of artists about 40% settled in France, generally, in Paris. Thus, in the book The Cases of Coincidental Clues: New Edition, Beatrice Dupree states that Paris, France had long been a favorite city for the Russian artists. Paris became the main place of arrival of the migrants from Russia. The next largest group of painters moved to the United States and Canada. Then, the lesser group of painters moved to the Balkan countries, Czechoslovakia, and Germany. Many painters went to Germany for training, particularly Munich. Some of them remained there for permanent residence.

Paris was traditionally a world center of culture and art. Painters constituted the predominant number of Russian immigrants in France. At the beginning of the XX century, the capital of France was home for many Russian artists. Some of them continued to develop their professional skills in the Parisian ateliers and academies while others started education from scratch. Many of them dreamed of participating in exhibitions of the Paris salons.

Russian Artists-Emigrants

In the years of the first wave of immigration, the impressive cohort of young and ambitious painters from different parts of the Russian Empire that sought to join the Paris art scene grew steadily. Among those painters who had arrived in France, the most famous were Wassily Kandinsky, Natalia Goncharova, Vladimir Gavrilov, Marc Chagall, Mikhail Larionov, Ivan Puni, and others. It is virtually impossible to describe fully the richness and diversity of the phenomenon of Russian Paris even with the help of several typical names that would determine the shape and complete at least one facet of this unique phenomenon. Russian abstract artists, especially Wassily Kandinsky, Valery Lansky, and Serge Polyakov had significant influence on the Western art. Each painter had unique style. A genre painter Philipp Malyavin, one of the pillars of modernism Marc Chagall, and many others were also equally famous. To imagine the impact of Russian artists abroad, it is important to mention that, for example, at the International Exhibition in Brussels in 1928, there were 58 works of Russian artists, sculptors, and architects, and at the exhibition in Paris in 1932 already 67. Artists who emigrated with all their works proved that they were not only Russian in origin but also in the spirit of their work, the way of thinking, and the subject.

The Reasons to Stay in France

In the 1910s-1930s, several Russian artistic communities in Paris did not always closely communicate with each other; sometimes, they directly vied for attention of the Parisian public. Frequently, Russian painters chose France as a country for emigration not by chance. France represented an exceptional phenomenon not only as a country where almost half of Russian artists had moved but also as a historically artistic center of attraction where since the middle of the XIX century, Russian artists, who sought to join the most advanced trends in fine arts, had settled. About 20% of the total number of artists of the Russian origin who were in the country to the beginning of the 1930s settled there long before the revolution. In such a way, their choice was professional and not related to the political factors. Moreover, a significant part of those who settled in the country after the revolution had studied or lived in France before it. The major part of painters arrived in France in the period between 1918 and 1924. They came mainly from Russia. Later dates of arrival state that the choice in favor of France was made after attempts to settle in other countries. The main factors determining the choice of the country were the existence of the developed market of art in the country and an opportunity to receive education and acquaintance with the latest artistic trends. France met all these requirements. Freedom of expression that prevailed in France was highly attractive to the Russian artists. For them, France was often a refuge. Thirsty for culture and to entertainment, painters from Russia wanted to find the soul of France the Versailles, the Loire castles, Gothic cathedrals, France landscapes, Paris performances, and many others.

Wassily Kandinsky

Wassily Kandinsky was one among numerous Russian painters who had decided to move to France. During his rather long life, he was a citizen of three countries Russia, Germany, and, at the end of his career, France. His life was an example that many Russian painters had left the native country not only after the revolution but also even before it. A future famous artist was born in Moscow in 1866 in a successful merchant family. Shortly after his birth, the family had moved to Odessa, where the boy received his first lessons in painting and music. Frank Magill in the book The 20th Century Go-N: Dictionary of World Biography affirms that The young Kandinsky drew, wrote poems, and played the piano and cello. In 1885, Wassily Kandinsky moved to Moscow and entered the Moscow University. At that time, he was not greatly interested in paintings, as he wanted to devote his life to the legal case. Mark Gibney states that As a young man, Kandinsky studied law, economics, and ethnography at the University of Moscow, eventually accepting a position on the universitys law faculty in 1893. However, several years later, he decided to give up this direction. He dedicated himself to art. It was connected with the exhibition, where Kandinsky saw Monets work Haystacks. As Magill notes, In Monets paintings, the subject matter played a secondary role to color, and reality and fairy tale were intertwined. These things became also extremely important in Kandinskys early paintings. When Wassily Kandinsky started painting, he was already 30 years old. After arriving from abroad, the artist began active participation in social and educational activities. However, in 1921, Wassily Kandinsky decided not to return to his native country. This decision was associated with the artists significant disagreements with the authorities. Therefore, Wassily Kandinsky settled in Germany. However, despite the forced departure, the artist kept his love for the Russian people and culture in heart until his death. He expressed this love in his paintings.

Wassily Kandinsky left Germany when Adolf Hitler came to power. Kandinsky felt threatened by the Nazi regime. For him, departure from Germany to Paris was a real expulsion. The last residence of the artist was compelled. In the last years of his life, Kandinsky entered the artistic life of France, strengthening his ties with the French painters. Nevertheless, he did not become a truly French painter. In Paris, Kandinsky regained his Russian identity. When it was time to open his first exhibition in Paris, the painter wanted to invite the Russian immigrants from Paris. Wassily Kandinsky lived in France with Russia always with Russia in mind. For him, Russia was a country that had disappeared. Thus, he had a tendency to embellish his previous ideas about it. It was the country of his childhood and everything that remained in him was an immense sadness. Moving to Paris significantly influenced the artists works. In Paris, Kandinsky did not use a combination of primary colors. He worked with pale, refined, and the most delicate color nuances. At the same time, the painter complemented and complicated the repertoire of forms. New biomorphic elements that naturally felt in the space of the painting as if floating over the entire surface of the canvas were at the forefront. Kandinskys paintings of this period are far from the feeling of cold romance as they are full of life. The artist called this period of creativity a truly beautiful tale.

Mikhail Larionov

Another outstanding painter of that time who had been forced to leave his homeland was Mikhail Larionov. He could not bear the life in Russia. In the book Mikhail Larionov and the Cultural Politics of Late Imperial Russia, Sarah Warren states that Larionov was often in conflict with administration. Thus, he followed an example of many of his compatriots and moved to Paris. There, Mikhail Larionov wanted to find peace of mind and freedom of expression of his thoughts. Thus, in 1914, Larionov together with Natalia Goncharova moved to Paris. Works in Paris brought Larionov the European fame. Larionov found the Russian revolution in France. He was keenly interested in what was happening in his native country and he never lost touch with his homeland.

The Paris School

It is important to note that at the time of arrival in Paris, the average age of the artists was about 20, with a range from 17 to 25. The only exceptions were the 30-year old Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. All immigrants who had arrived in France constituted a Paris school of artists. The vast majority of the Russian participants of the Paris school at the time of their arrival received some artistic training in one of the cities of the south-western region at that time Kiev, Odessa, Vilnius, Vitebsk, St. Petersburg, and Moscow. In Paris, some of them paid tribute to the famous School of Fine Arts at the French Academy of Fine Arts. Moreover, several Russian painters were trained in one of Paris free academies. Their views and skills were formed in the process of learning and in dialogues with other artists both with their peers, with whom they had shared common residence in addition to the total devotion to art, the collective use of workshops, training from the same masters, and talks with the proficient colleagues. Thus, such famous painters as Pablo Picasso, Modigliani, and the poet Guillaume Apollinaire played a major role in the professional formation of many Russian artists of the Paris school.

The Paris school is not the only example of how the professionalization implemented in the cultural environment provides a successful entry into the market system of the host country. A vivid example is the biography of Alexej von Jawlensky who chose a less typical way to enter the European culture for a Russian artist not through France but through Germany. In terms of ways of the formation of professional identity, this category also included immigrants of the post-revolutionary period that did not think about art activity in Russia. However, once in exile in adolescence or even childhood, they, who had no specific profession, had found an activity of an artist more appropriate to their social status than careers of a driver or a waiter. An officer Lansky went to Paris in 1921. At that time, he was nineteen years old. Although he tried the first watercolor in Kiev, he became a painter only when he started working with the Parisian gallery in 1925. Nicolas de Stael was taken from St. Petersburg at the age of five. Serge Poliakoff moved to Paris as an accompanist of his aunt. Only at the age of 29, he began to take painting lessons for the first time. Three children of the artist Alex Arnstamm left Russia with their father at a very early age. The smallest son at the time of departure from Russia was only two years old. All of them were formed as professional artists in exile. The ways of their professionalism greatly repeated those painters that were the members of the Paris School.

You will be satisfied because our
staff consists of:

By using our services, you will be satisfied because our staff consists of


The revolutionary events of 1917 resulted in a huge number of refugees from Russia. Emigration for political reasons happened before since the XVI century. However, after the revolution, were thousands of people wanted to leave the country. Outside Russia, there were about two million of its citizens permanently residing in the European countries. The first wave emigrants went mainly to France and Germany. In its composition, Russian post-revolutionary emigration was predominantly intellectual. Many representatives of creative professions left the country, especially painters. There were many reasons for this, including arrests, persecutions, and disagreement with the new government. The last decades are characterized by the increased interest to the Russian Diaspora, in particular, to the heritage of the Russian artists. It is associated with the fact that a significant part of their creative career came in the years of emigration. The brightest representatives of painters who created art abroad were Natalia Goncharova, Mikhail Larionov, Marc Chagall, Wassily Kandinsky, and others. They found their new home in France and created many outstanding works there. Despite the fact that many of the artists never returned to Russia, they still depicted their native country in many of their works and always considered themselves Russians.


Related essays