The album was created as part of the REM project – the winner of the Second Competition of Museum and Exhibition Grants of the Russian Jewish Congress for the development of projects in the field of Jewish culture.
The graphic and watercolor works of S. B. Yudovin in a collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography are at first sight not quite relevant material. However, knowing the origins of creation of the works presented here, their presence in a museum of ethnography will not surprise you. Solomon Borisovich Yudovin was born in the shtetl of Beshenkovichi near Vitebsk, he existed in an outright ethnographic environment from his childhood, and was its dweller “observer from inside.” Besides, he proved to be an artistically gifted child; he was discovered by Y. M. Pen, an artist and teacher of drawing known in Vitebsk, who brought up more than one generation of painters enriching the world art. Yudovin continued his education first at the Drawing School of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, St. Petersburg, in 1910, and later at the studio of Mstislav Dobuzhinsky in the same city, already renamed Petrograd (1916–1918).
Yudovin’s artistic formation was undoubtedly influenced by his participation as secretary, photographer, and artist in several historico-geographical expeditions headed by his uncle S. A. Rappoport (An-sky), a well-known researcher of traditional Jewish culture. The purpose of the expedition was studying and collecting ethnographic, folklore, and pictorial materials, and objects of Jewish folk art in shtetls and towns of the Podolia and Volhynia provinces. The expedition members also managed to take photos of hundreds of tombstones, ritual and household items, and craftsmen at work.
During three field seasons (1912–1914), the young photographer made a total of about 1500 photo images capturing various representatives of the Jewish people and quaint shtetls. Yudovin’s photos do not fit in the scope of traditional expedition photography of the early 20th century, amounting to a collection of works done in the vein of pictorialism, with pictural texture of photographs typical for it. As a true artist he approached photo portraying old people and children, or working men: a blacksmith, shoemakers, tailors, workers of a match factory and a textile mill, and synagogue clergy.
By admission of contemporary researchers, the photographs visualized the Jewish culture concealed until then from the broad public both by the culture bearers themselves enclosed in the Jewish communities, and by Russian laws of that time the residence of Jews to the “Pale.”
The impressions obtained when traveling in towns and shtetls of the Pale later served as the basis for Yudovin in creating many graphic sheets. The traditional world of the shtetl and its inhabitants became the main object of his art, and a photograph was the document that helped visually recollect details. Some of the artist’s works iconographically repeat the subjects of photos that became an inexhaustible source for his work on illustrations to books by Jewish writers and to cycles of his own opuses. For instance, this album of a collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography presents graphic works related to the cycles of the 1920s-1930s, “The Jewish Shtetl” and “The Bygones.” The Museum purchased these works from the artist in 1939 when preparing a large exhibition titled “The Jews in the Czarist Russia and in the USSR,” worked on by the Jewish Section headed by I. M. Pulner.
By Natalia Prokopieva, Vice-Director, Main KeeperRead more