Ivan Bilibin

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For my contextual studies of 1900-1914, I’d like to talk about Ivan Bilibin who I encountered last year in Level 2 Art and Design.

Ivan Bilibin (1876-1942) was a Russian illustrator whose work was largely inspired by his travels through northern Russia in his mid 20s, from 1902-1904. He was fascinated by the Russian folklore he encountered there. He produced a series of commissioned illustrated books of Russian folklore and fairy tales, as well as designing sets, magazines and book covers. Following the October Revolution he moved to Alexandra and Cairo in Egypt for 5 years, before moving to Paris for the opening of the World Exhibition.  He then decorated private mansions and churches and exhibited periodically, eventually returning to fairy tales in 1932 and Russia in 1936, where he died in 1942 in the Siege of Leningrad. Bilibin made frequent trips to the Crimea and found inspiration there. His works were often accurate and  solidly grounded in the forests and mountains of Russia.

Illustration from ‘Tsarevich Ivan, the Firebird and the Gray Wolf’

Bilibin was influenced by traditional Japanese art, renaissance woodcuts and art nouveau. He worked predominantly in lithograph  though he did some pen and ink, as well as pen and ink and watercolour. His early paintings were sometimes crowded and without direction, but throughout his career,  his pieces became more considered.  I like the feel of wonder from his illustrations of fairytales. His borders surrounding the illustrations are often very beautiful. I think the use of lines around the rich yet muted colours gives his work a modern yet contemporary feeling, which I also like. His combinations of inspirations  and influences gives his images great appeal and a freshness and individuality.  They simultaneously feel of their time and like something you’d see now on DeviantArt or similar, like RPG inspired illustrations. I love his work so much.

I’d really like to do my own emulation of his work, but since I don’t have the materials for lithography, I don’t feel like I could get the same effect. It does make me want to better my skills with watercolours in conjunction with pen and ink, though.

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