Yakov Chernov, Portrait of Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva, Russia, 1921 (detail). The State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg. Photograph © The State Hermitage Museum. Photo by Svetlana Suetova, Sergey

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva: 10 things you should know

An introduction to the pioneering Russian printmaker whose work tells of an enduring love affair with St. Petersburg — illustrated with examples offered at Christie’s

1. Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955) is best known as a pioneering Russian printmaker, but she initially rejected the medium entirely

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), The Summer Garden; Fireworks in Paris; Venice; Choristers and Eight Views of St Petersburg. Six-colour woodcut. Dimensions 14 x 17¾  in (35.8 x 45.1  cm); and smaller. Estimate £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), The Summer Garden; Fireworks in Paris; Venice; Choristers and Eight Views of St Petersburg. Six-colour woodcut. Dimensions: 14 x 17¾ in (35.8 x 45.1 cm); and smaller. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

While studying at the Stieglitz School of Technical Drawing in St. Petersburg,  Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva became increasingly frustrated with the slavish copying from Old Masters, and so dropped out. It was only after the persistent lobbying of Vasily Mate, her teacher at the Academy of Arts — where she enrolled as a student in the early 1890s—– that she was persuaded to return to the woodblock and gouge. Further study under Ilya Repin and James McNeill Whistler in Paris between 1896 and 1898 convinced Ostroumova-Lebedeva of the potential of the medium.

2. Her preferred printing technique was woodcut

Although Ostroumova-Lebedeva worked in watercolour and, occasionally, in oil, she is best known for her woodcuts. In Russia, the woodcut was traditionally linked with lubki  — popular prints dating to the late 18th and early 19th centuries characterised by their naïve pictorial style, minimal text and folkloric or religious subject matter. Lubki were inexpensive to reproduce and printed in large numbers, and, in some cases, are compared to modern-day comic strips. Ostroumova-Lebedeva elevated this traditional art form by producing small editions of prints, which were characterised by her sophisticated and laconic lines by hand.

Sign up today

Christie's Online Magazine delivers our best features, videos, and auction news to your inbox every week

Subscribe

3. Her monogram pays homage to Dürer

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Fiesole, Tuscany; and eight other compositions from the artists travels, 1904. Dimensions 10⅛ x 13⅛  in (25.5 x 33.2  cm); and smaller. Estimate £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Fiesole, Tuscany; and eight other compositions from the artist's travels, 1904. Dimensions: 10⅛ x 13⅛ in (25.5 x 33.2 cm); and smaller. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Devised in 1899, Ostroumova-Lebedeva’s distinctive monogram — an entwined A and O — is a nod to the influence of Albrecht Dürer, whose woodcuts had revolutionised the medium 400 years earlier. The prominence of her monogram in the Tuscan landscape, Fiesole (above), dating to 1904, can be read, according to Russian Art specialist Sarah Mansfield, as an assertion of her status as an established artist.

4. Her first competition entry was so extraordinary that judges dismissed it as a watercolour

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Perseus and Andromeda after Peter Paul Rubens; Venice, Grand Canal; and eight other compositions. Dimensions 18½ x 13¼  in (47 x 33.6  cm); and smaller. Estimate £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), 'Perseus and Andromeda' after Peter Paul Rubens; Venice, Grand Canal; and eight other compositions. Dimensions: 18½ x 13¼ in (47 x 33.6 cm); and smaller. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Ostroumova-Lebedeva submitted Perseus and Andromeda’ after Peter Paul Rubens to the jury of the All-Russian printmaking competition, organised by the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, in 1900. It was, however, initially disqualified on the grounds that it was a watercolour, not a woodcut as originally stated. Ostroumova-Lebedeva challenged the decision and explained her technique, forcing the jury to re-examine the work and reconsider their decision. They acquiesced, and awarded her second prize.

5. Landscape prints: Paeans to St Petersburg

Ostroumova-Lebedeva’s stylised landscapes document her travels in Finland, Belgium, Spain, France and Italy, and, perhaps most memorably, in Rome, Florence and Venice. The pinnacle of her achievements as a printmaker, however, lies in her pristine panoramas of her beloved St. Petersburg. In his brief introduction to a collection of her St. Petersburg views published in 1922, Alexandre Benois credited Ostroumova-Lebedeva with creating the definitive ‘portrait gallery’ of the city.

6. Ostroumova-Lebedeva had a soft spot for dogs

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Bobbi; and nine other compositions, circa 1922-25. Woodcut. Dimensions 12⅝ x 10¾  in (32 x 27.2  cm); and smaller. Estimate £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Bobbi; and nine other compositions, circa 1922-25. Woodcut. Dimensions: 12⅝ x 10¾ in (32 x 27.2 cm); and smaller. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Ostroumova-Lebedeva avoided depicting figures, preferring not to spoil what she considered to be the ‘quiet grandeur of nature’ with their presence. This stance, however, did not apply to animals: she made repeated images of her beloved French bulldog, named Bobbi.

7. She was involved with the Russian Mir iskusstva movement

Established towards the end of the 19th century in Russia, Mir iskusstva, or World of Art — the name given to a magazine, a group of artists, and a series of art exhibitions — explored artistic individualism and other principles of Art Nouveau. Founding members of the artistic movement included Sergei Diaghilev, Alexandre Benois, Léon Bakst and Konstantin Somov, a close friend of Ostroumova-Lebedeva with whom she corresponded for many years. Ostroumova-Lebedeva was one of few women artists, with the exception of Maria Iakunchikova, actively involved with the group.

8. She was a notable collector of Japanese prints

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Villa dEste; Villa Borghese; and six other compositions, 1924. Dimensions 12⅛ x 17⅝  in (30.8 x 45  cm); and smaller. Estimate £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

Anna Ostroumova-Lebedeva (1871-1955), Villa d'Este; Villa Borghese; and six other compositions, 1924. Dimensions: 12⅛ x 17⅝ in (30.8 x 45 cm); and smaller. Estimate: £3,000-5,000. Offered in Russian Art on 3 June 2019 at Christie’s in London

The first major exhibition of Japanese prints in Russia in 1896 triggered a craze for Japanese art and design in the country. Like her Russian peers — namely, Léon Bakst, Konstantin Somov and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky — Ostroumova-Lebedeva assembled a notable collection of Japanese prints, which included significant works by Hokusai and Hiroshige. Ostroumova-Lebedeva responded to the rich yet subtle visual language of Japanese Ukiyo-e prints in her work by employing flat areas of colour and gradation, severe crops, silhouettes and decorative patterns to create her own distinctive landscapes.

9. Her work probably inspired the Russian avant-garde

‘Ostroumova-Lebedeva’s woodcuts were instrumental to what has been called the “rebirth of original printmaking” in Russia at the turn of the 20th century,’ says Galina Mardilovich, Curator of Russian & European Art at the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. ‘Many artists sought her advice about the medium, different techniques, and printing in colour — including at one point Mikhail Larionov, who visited her with his friend Vadim Falileev.’

10. The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, holds the largest collection of her work in the world

Ostroumova-Lebedeva bequeathed a significant number of works and woodblocks to The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, in 1956. Her work can also be seen at the British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Bibliothèque Nationale, the Louvre Museum and the Fondation Custodia in Paris.