Today is the birthday of Ivan Bilibin who was born in a suburb of St. Petersburg, Russia in 1876. He was an illustrator and theatre designer. I have to admit it, I hadn’t heard of him. It was really his name that drew my attention, but then I looked at his work. I haven’t been able to find out much about the details of his life but his drawings are beautiful. They make me want to stop writing this blog and pick up a pencil instead.
I know that he was very influenced by Russian Folk Tales. He illustrated a book of them which was published in 1899. The drawing of the girl with the skull lantern is from that book. The story is called Wassilissa the Beautiful. It starts out a bit like Cinderella, then it gets weird. You can read it for yourself here.
Between 1902 and 1904 he travelled around northern Russia for the Ethnography Department of the Russian Museum. There he collected folk art and took photographs of old wooden buildings. He published a book about his findings called Folk Arts of the Russian North. The picture below is from the title page, He has designed the typeface too. I do like hand drawn lettering and these are lovely. Ivan drew a lot of inspiration from the patterns he found in Russian Folk Art. He loved the images he found in embroidery, printed fabrics and old illuminated manuscripts called lubki. He was also influenced by Japanese woodblock prints and Art Nouveau. He clearly loved pattern, you can see it in the ornate borders of many of his illustrations.
After the Russian Revolution he lived in Cairo for a while and then in Paris. While abroad he painted a lot of murals for Russian Orthodox churches and for private individuals. He returned to Russia after painting the Soviet Embassy in Paris in 1936. Ivan taught at the Russian Academy of Arts whilst also working as a book and theatre designer. He produced designs for Pushkin, Mussorgsky and Rimsky-Korsakov. Sergei Eisenstien wanted him to work on his film Ivan the Terrible but sadly, Ivan died during the siege of Leningrad in 1942.