Lobanov-Rostovsky Nikita Dmitrievich

Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky Collection

Russians living abroad have not remained indifferent to the fate of the Museum of Personal Collections. Ilya Silberstein enthusiastically described the project to representatives of Russian culture on each of his foreign trips. The first to respond was his personal friend Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky.

Nikita Dmitryevich Lobanov-Rostovsky was born in Bulgaria in 1935. He is descended from the famous family of Russian princes. After the Second World War, when he was still only in his teens, he made a daring escape to Western Europe from Soviet-occupied Bulgaria. In 1958, he graduated from Christchurch College of Oxford University with the degree of bachelor and master of geology. This was followed by the degree of master of economic geology at Columbia University in 1960 and master of banking at New York University in 1962. After briefly working in Argentina, Lobanov-Rostovsky moved to the United States in 1961. He has lived in London since 1980.

Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky was a leading economist and banking expert. He was an adviser to De Beers, the world's premier diamond company. Director of the Association of Theatrical Museums in London, he also sat on the boards of the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the Institute of Modern Russian Culture in Los Angeles and countless other cultural organisations.

In the early 1960s, Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky and his wife Nina began collecting Russian [fin-de-siècle] theatrical designs. Forty years later, their collection numbers around one thousand works, making it one of the most important bodies of Russian art outside Russia. Their collection was exhibited at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art in 1988 and 1994.

In 1987, Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky donated eighty works of art to the Museum of Personal Collections, including Alexandra Exter's famous series of [Theatrical Decorations] (1930).

Alexandra Exter was born in the town of Belostok near Kiev. From 1901 to 1908, she studied at the Kiev School of Art, where she was influenced by such young avant-garde artists as Alexander Bogomazov, David Burliuk and their elder colleague Nikolai Kulbin. Moving to St Petersburg in 1912, Exter made an active contribution to the art life of the Russian capital. She joined the Union of Youth and showed works at the Tramway V First Futurist Exhibition in 1915.

Alexandra Exter was a frequent visitor to Paris, where she met Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque and Fernand Léger. She was also a friend of the Italian Futurists Ardengo Soffici and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti. A bright and talented decorator, Exter worked much for the theatre, designing the costumes for the productions staged by Alexander Tairov at the Chamber Theatre in Moscow (1916--17). In 1924, she emigrated to France, where she continued her experiments in theatrical art. She taught at Fernand Léger's Académie d'Art Moderne and her own studios in Paris. The artist designed ballet costumes for Anna Pavlova, Bronislava Nijinska and Elsa Kruger.

From 1916 onwards, Alexandra Exter worked much for the theatre, realising her abilities as a constructor. Instead of painted decorations, she built her sets from simplified, three-dimensional forms.

The gouaches on permanent exhibition come from Alexandra Exter's famous album of stencils (1930). Henri Matisse, Mikhail Larionov and Natalia Goncharova also worked in this technique. Parisian publishers commissioned albums of drawings on a certain theme, which were printed in limited editions and signed by the artists. The works in Exter's album are not designs for a specific production. The compositions are based on the motifs of preceding theatrical works. In several cases, they demonstrate the artist's own vision of the stage decoration of a certain show.

On the eve of the opening of the Museum of Personal Collections in 1994, Nikita Lobanov-Rostovsky also donated his collection of early-twentieth-century porcelain. His wife Nina is an international authority on works of porcelain. The donated works were manufactured at the State (former Imperial) Porcelain Factory in Petrograd in the 1920s. The artistic director at that time was Sergei Chekhonin – a talented applied and graphic artist and theatrical designer. The exhibits include objects painted after designs made by both Chekhonin himself and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky – a leading graphic artist and member of the World of Art.

The works now on permanent exhibition offer a fascinating insight into the history of Russian porcelain in the first third of the twentieth century. Applied artists overturned the traditional forms of painting and were more audacious in their graphic resolutions. Sergei Chekhonin adds a refined colourist accent to the white background in the [Three Roses] service. Talaber plays up the contrast between black and red in the fruit stand with a ram's head.

The Lobanov-Rostovsky donation includes an example of Soviet propaganda porcelain. The script was applied with careful consideration to the surface of the object. The old mark of the Imperial Porcelain Factory, with the initials of Tsar Nicholas II, can be seen alongside the hammer and sickle, symbol of the Soviet period, on the bottom of Sergei Chekhonin's [Two Roses] cup. This interesting juxtaposition is often encountered in post-revolutionary porcelain, when Russian artists applied their designs to the old stock of china existing from before 1917.

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