Historians of Russian and Soviet Art

Published: March 1, 2013

We asked Elena Varshavskaya, who teaches art history at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and Eastern Connecticut State University, and who directs the art programs run by SRAS, a simple question: “If a student came to you and said that they were interested in Russian or Soviet art but were unsure where to start exploring it further, what books and authors would you recommend?”

The authors she recommends are described in detail below. A list of books, broken down according to historical era, can be found below the author information.

The field of Russian and Soviet art history has been shaped and influenced by several notable individuals, both from the territories of the former Soviet Union and, more recently, from the West.  They come from diverse backgrounds and often have very different life experiences, but their one commonality is the contribution that they have made to their respective research domains.  Often, their early experiences informed their later work and research, such as that of anti-communist art critic Igor Golomshtok, whose father was arrested in the 1930s on charges of “anti-Soviet propaganda.”  The following biographies give a brief overview of some of the best names in the field – to help get students on their way to exploring more about the vast and fascinating artistic heritage of Russia and the former USSR.

Unfortunately, many of these important works are now out of print – however students should be able to find them through interlibrary loan. We’ve also provided links to Amazon’s offerings, when available. Just click the names.

Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase. Revenue earned through this sites helps fund site maintenance and new content creation.


Table of Contents:


Authors From Russia:

Selim Khan-Magomedov has been widely recognized for his outstanding contribution to two very distinct fields of study, namely Dagestani architecture, and the Russian avant-garde movement during the 1920s and 1930s. A leading contributor to research on the avant-garde, he has written countless monographs, articles and books, including the legendary Pioneers of Soviet Architecture, Pioneers of Soviet Design and One Hundred Masterpieces of the Soviet Architectural Avant-Garde. He has written on the most important architects of the Russian avant-garde, including Konstantin Melnikov, Alexander Vesnin, Nikolai Ladovsky, Alexander Rodchenko, Moise Ginsburg, Ivan Leonidov, and Ilya Golosov. Khan-Magomedov contributed greatly to the scholarly research about Russian avant-gardists, and in the course of studying the personal archives of over 150 Russian architects, artists, designers and sculptors, revealed a number of previously unknown facts about their lives. [1]

In his work on the architecture of Dagestan, Khan-Magomedov has personally identified and studied more than 1000 architectural monuments in Dagestan, and has written widely on the subject.[2]  His works include Folk Architecture in Southern Dagestan, Lezgin Folk Architecture, and Dagestan Mazes.

Khan-Magomedov holds a doctorate in art history and is an honorary member of the Russian Academy of Art.  In 1992, he was awarded the Russian Federation’s “Distinguished Architect” title, and in 2003, he was awarded the State Prize of Russia for his contributions to the field of architecture. [3]

Selim Khan-Magomedov was born in Moscow on 9 January 1928, and passed away on 3 May 2011 at the age of 83.  He was the son of well-known war engineer Omar Khan-Magomedov, and the brother of literary critic Marietta Chudakovaya. [4]


Igor Golomshtok

Igor Golomshtok (Golomstock) was born in Kalinin (modern-day Tver), Russia on 11 January 1929.  In 1934 his father, Naum Yakovlevich Kodzhak, was arrested on the charges of “anti-Soviet propaganda” and sentenced to five years in a prison camp. As such, Golomshtok was registered in school under his mother’s maiden name, which he continues to retain to this day.[5]  In 1937, mother and son moved to Moscow, where they resided for two years before relocating to Magadan, where they lived until 1943. [6] Surely influenced by these early experiences, Golomshtok gravitated towards anti-communist art criticism.

Golomshtok’s roots were not originally in art history, and he graduated from Moscow’s Financial Institute in 1949. However, he had clearly been drawn to art history early on, and began taking night classes at Moscow State University’s art history department in 1948, while still studying at the Financial Institute.  Between 1955 and 1963, Golomshtok was employed in the department of traveling exhibitions at Moscow’s Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, where he worked in the research workshop for the restoration of architectural monuments.

In 1965, Golomshtok was called before the courts to testify in the pivotal Sinyavsky-Daniel case against Russian authors Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli Daniel.  The trial is widely acknowledged to be “symbolic of the end of the ‘Khrushchev Thaw’ and the beginning of the Brezhnev era.”[7] However, having co-authored the Soviet Union’s first work on Picasso with Sinyavsky, Golomshtok refused to testify, and as a result, was sentenced to six months’ hard labor.[8] In 1972, Golomshtok moved to Britain, where he continues to live.

However, the move to Britain did not stop Golomshtok’s involvement with the Russian arts scene.  He contributed to the inaugural edition of Kontinent, which was founded in 1974 with writer Vladimir Maksimov as editor-in-chief. From the beginning, the journal included the works of Western writers and intellectuals, as well as those of Russians living abroad. The four guiding principles of the journal were those of unconditional religious idealism, unconditional antitotalitariansm, unconditional democratism, and unconditional antifactionalism.[9] Golomshtok was also published in the journal Syntaxis.

Golomshtok’s contributions to the literature and arts scenes have not been limited to Russian works.  During the Soviet era, he translated Arthur Koestler’s novel, “Darkness at Noon,” which was circulated as samizdat (a self-published work), and has, more recently, published works on Picasso and the art of Ancient Mexico.  He has written countless pieces on Russian art, including Totalitarian Art in the Soviet Union, the Third Reich, Fascist Italy and the People’s Republic of China. His work has influenced scores of researchers, including those “scholars responsible for a profound recasting of the Stalin period.” [10]

Golomshtok has taught at the universities of St Andrew’s, Essex and Oxford, and worked with the BBC’s Russian service for many years.


Dmitry Sarabyanov

Dmitry Sarabyanov was born in Moscow on 10 October 1923, the son of Vladimir Sarabyanov, a Marxist philosopher.  He later married Elena Murina, a Russian art critic.

Sarabyanov’s early life was marked by the arts, athletics, and travel.  In the 1930s, he was actively involved with athletics, and in 1936-1937, he was the USSR’s primary school high jump champion.  In the same year, he traveled with his father and brother to the Caucasus, and along the Siberian rivers of Yuryuzan, Ufa, and Belaya.  During his childhood, he also tried his hand at composing music, and began writing poetry, a hobby which he continues to pursue. [11]

After graduating from high school in 1941, he attended Moscow State University, enrolling in the department of art history.  It was at this time that he also began work as an art critic. Unfortunately, his studies were briefly interrupted by the Second World War and his service in the Soviet army, for which he was awarded both the Order of the Patriotic War and the “Military Merit” medal.[12]  Following demobilization from the army, he returned to Moscow State University to continue his studies, and upon graduation, applied for and was accepted to a graduate program in art history.  He graduated in 1952, and by 1955, he had been admitted to the Union of Artists.[13] In the same year, he began work  as the senior researcher at the USSR’s Academy of Sciences, and went on to hold the positions of Deputy Director and Head of the Institute of Art History before his departure in 1960.[14]

Between the years of 1966 and 1996, Sarabyanov held multiple positions at Moscow State University, including those of associate professor, head of the art history department, and Russian art history consultant.  He earned his PhD in 1971, and his research interests include the history of Russian art, non-Russian art during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, issues in the relationships of art and literature, the interaction of Russian and Western art and peculiarities particular to the Russian avant-garde movement.  He has published over 360 articles and books, and in 1992, he was elected to the Russian Academy of Sciences.[15]

He currently resides in Moscow.


Authors From the West:

Christina Lodder, current honorary professorial fellow at the University of Edinburgh.

Christina Lodder is one of the West’s leading avant-garde specialists, and focuses her research primarily on the art of the 1910s and 1920s.  She has written a major study of Russian Constructivism, which has been acclaimed as the standard work on the subject.[16]  She co-authored a major monograph on the works of Russian sculptor Naum Gabo with her husband, Martin Hammer, and has also edited a collection of Gabo’s writings.  In 1985, working in tandem with Colin Sanderson, she published the Catalogue Raisonné of Gabo’s work. Her works cover everything from the development of new teaching programs during the early Soviet era and the implementation of Constructivist ideas in the areas of photography, textiles, and theatre, to a discussion on Vladimir Tatlin’s The Model for a Monument to the Third International of 1920.  She also spends her time researching the influence of the Russian avant-garde on the art of Central and Eastern Europe, and has more recently spent time writing on the relationship between art and science first discussed by Kazimir Malevich. [17]

Dr. Lodder currently resides in Edinburgh, Scotland, where she holds the position of Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Edinburgh. She is a member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh as well as the Royal Society for the Arts, and is the vice president of the Malevich Society of New York.


John Ellis Bowlt

John Ellis Bowlt was born in London, England on 6 December 1943, and currently teaches at the University of Southern California. He completed his PhD in Russian Literature and Art at Scotland’s St Andrew’s University in 1971, and his main research interests include Russian literature and art of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, as well as twentieth century Hungary, Poland and Czechoslovakia. He has written countless books and monographs the Russian avant-garde, Russian stage design in the years 1900-1930, the memoirs of Benedikt Livshits, and Sergei Diaghilev. He has a number of books forthcoming in 2013, including works on the Russian Silver age, Léon Bakst, and a catalogue raisonné on the stage designs of Nina and Nikita D Lobanov-Rostovsky.[18]

Bowlt has been awarded numerous awards and grants, including most recently a Fullbright-Hays follow-on award to continue research on the works of Léon Bakst in Moscow and Europe in 2010, and the Order of Friendship, which was awarded by former Russian president Dmitry Medvedev in 2009.  In 2012, he was awarded $17,000 from Moscow’s Prokhorov Foundation towards the publication of the English translation of the literary legacy of Léon Bakst. For this work, he also received $10,000 from the Advancement of Scholarship in the Humanities and Social Sciences from the University of Southern California. Bowlt has taught and lectured internationally, including work as a visiting professor at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University in 1985 and New Zealand’s University of Otago in 1982.[19]

John E. Bowlt currently teaches Slavic languages and directs the University of Southern California’s Institute of Modern Russian Culture.


Recommended Books on Russian and Soviet Art

1. General works

Hamilton, G. H., The Art and Architecture of Russia (1951), New Haven, 1986
Auty, R. and D. Obolensky, eds. An Introduction to Russian Art and Architecture (Companion to Russian Studies, vol. 3), Cambridge, 1980
Bird, A., History of Russian Painting, New York, 1987
Rice, Tamara Talbot, A Concise History of Russian Art, London, 1963
Billington, James, The Icon and the Axe: An Interpretive History of Russian Culture, New York, London, 1966
Brumfield, W., A History of Russian Architecture, New York, Cambridge, 1993
Opolovnikov, A. and Y. Opolovnikova, The Wooden Architecture of Russia, New York, 1989
Allenov, M., et al, Moscow. Treasures and Traditions (ex. cat.), Washington DC, 1990
The George Riabov Collection of Russian Art (Zimmerli Art Museum), New Brunswick, 1994
Grabar, I.E., V. Lazarev, V. Kemenov, eds. Istoriia russkogo iskusstva, Moscow 1958-68 (History of Russian art in 13 volumes; extensive illus. and biblio.)


2. Early Russia
Lazarev, V., Old Russian Murals and Mosaics, London, 1966
Onasch, K. Icons, London, 1963
Faensen, H. and V. Ivanov, Early Russian Architecture, London, 1975
Gates of Mystery. The Art of Holy Russia (exh. cat.) St. Petersburg, Baltimore, 1992-93
The Glory of Byzantium, (exh. cat.) New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1997


3. Seventeenth – Early 19th Centuries
Sarabianov, D. Russian Art from Neoclassicism to the Avant-garde, New York, 1990
Hilton, A., Russian Folk Art, Bloomington, 1995
Benois, A., History of Russian Painting, New York, 1916 (transl. of Istoriia russkoi zhivopisi v XIX veke, St. Petersburg, 1902)
The Art of Russia 1800-1850. (ex. cat.), Minneapolis, 1977
Stavrou, G., ed. Art and Culture in Nineteenth-century Russia. Bloomington, 1983
Roosevelt, P., Life on the Russian Country Estate, New Haven, 1995
Shvidkovskii, D.O., Orloff Alexander, St. Petersburg: architecture of the tsars. New York : Abbeville Press Publishers, 1996
Shvidkovskii, D.O., The Empress and the Architect: British architecture and gardens at the court of Catherine the Great, New Haven (Conn.) : Yale university press, 1996.


4. Second Half of 19th Century – Early 20th Century
Sarabianov, D. Russian Painters of the Early Twentieth Century. Leningrad, Aurora, 1973
Valkenier, E. Russian Realist Art, the State and Society: the Peredvizhniki and their Tradition, New York, 1989
The Wanderers: Masters of 19th century Russian Painting. (ex. cat.), Dallas, 1990
Sarabianov, D., Ilya Repin, Moscow : Foreign Languages Publishing House; 1st edition, 1955
Sarabianov, D. Alexei Venetsianov. Leningrad, Aurora, 1988
Sarabianov, D. Valentin Serov (Great Painters), Parkstone Press, 1996
Mir iskusstva, St. Petersburg, 1898-1902 (the journal of the World of art group)
Kennedy, J. The Mir Iskusstva Group and Russian Art. New York, 1977


5. Twentieth Century Avant-garde and Revolutionary Period
Bowlt, J., Russian Art of the Avant-Garde: Theory and Criticism 1902-1934, New York, 1976
Gray, C., The Russian Experiment in Art, 1863-1922 (1962), rev. ed. by M. Burleigh-Motley, London, 1986
Markov, V., Russian Futurism. Berkeley, 1968
Andersen, T., ed., Kazimir Malevich. Essays on Art. Copenhagen, 1968
Yablonskaia, M., Women Artists of Russia’s New Age. New York, 1990
Sarabianov, A., Neizvestnyi russkii avangard. Moscow, 1992
Paris-Moscou (exh. cat.) Paris, 1979
Compton, S., Russian Avant-Garde Books, 1917-34. Cambridge MA, 1992
Guerman, M., Art of the October Revolution. New York, 1979
White, S., The Bolshevik Poster. New Haven, 1990
Lodder, C., Russian Constructivism. New Haven, 1983, 1990
Tolstoy, V, I. Bibikova, C. Cooke, Street Art of the Revolution. London, 1990


6. Soviet Avant-garde; Socialist Realism, Non-conformist Art
Lissitzky, El, An Architecture for World Revolution, Cambridge, MA, 1970
The Great Utopia (Velikaia Utopia). (exh. cat. Frankfurt, Amsterdam, New York, Moscow, Petersburg), New York/ Moscow, 1993
Armas, V., D. Elliot, C. Lodder, “The Great Russian Utopia,” AD – Architecture and Design Magazine. London, 1993
Khan-Magomedov, S.O; Cooke, Catherine Pioneers of Soviet Architecture : the search for new solutions in the 1920s and 1930s. New York : Rizzoli, 1987.
Tupitsyn, M., The Soviet Photograph, New Haven, 1996
Johnson, P. and L. Labedz, Khrushchev and the Arts–The Politics of Soviet Culture. Cambridge, 1965 (documents)
Dodge, N. and A. Hilton, eds., New Art from the Soviet Union: The Known and the Unknown, Washington, D.C., 1977
Golomstock, I. and A. Glezer, Soviet Art in Exile. London, 1977
Bown, M. C., Contemporary Russian Art. New York, 1989
Elliott, D. and V. Dudakov, 100 Years of Russian Art from Private Collections in the USSR (ex. cat.) London, 1989
Ross, D. et al., Between Spring and Summer: Soviet Conceptual Art in the Era of Late Communism (ex. cat., Tacoma and Boston), Cambridge MA and London, 1990
Kornetchuk, E. The Quest for Self-Expression: Painting in Moscow and Leningrad 1965- 1990 (exh. cat. Columbus Mus.) Seattle, 1991
Dodge, N. and A. Rosenfeld, eds. From Gulag to Glasnost: Non-Conformist Art from the Soviet Union (Zimmerli Art Museum), London, 1995


References for the Author Section

1. Российская Архитектура. Хан-Магомедов, Селим Омарович. Accessed February 2013

2. Лента.ру (2011). Умер Академик Селим Хан-Магомедов.  Accessed February 2013

3. Лента.ру (2011). Умер Академик Селим Хан-Магомедов.

4. Лента.ру (2011). Умер Академик Селим Хан-Магомедов.

5. Голомшток, Игорь. (n.d.) Воспоминания Старого Пессимиста.  Accessed February 2013

6. Голомшток, И.  (n.d.)

7. PEN International. 1966: Andrei Sinyavsky and Yuli DanielAccessed February 2013

8. Anonymous. (n.d.) Igor GolomstockCardinal Points Literary Journal.  Accessed February 2013

9. Dobrenko, E. A., & Tihanov, G. (2011). A History of Russian Literary Theory and Criticism: The Soviet Age and Beyond. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press, 312.

10. Dobrenko, E.A & Tihanov, 312.

11. Международый Обьединенный Биографический Центр. (n.d.) Сарабьянов Дмитрий ВладимировичAccessed February 2013

12. Международый Обьединенный Биографический Центр.  (n.d.)

13. Международый Обьединенный Биографический Центр.  (n.d.)

14. Международый Обьединенный Биографический Центр.  (n.d.)

15. Международый Обьединенный Биографический Центр.  (n.d.)

16.  Lodder, C. (2005). Constructive Strands in Russian Art, 1914-1917. Pindar.

17. Lodder, C.

18.  Bowlt, J.E. (2013). Curriculum Vitae. Accessed February 2013.

19. Bowlt, J.E.

About the author

Taryn Jones

Taryn Jones graduated in 2008 from the University of Victoria (Canada) with her BA in history and anthropology. During that time, she also studied Russian and art history, and was heavily involved with the university’s Russian Studies course union. At the time she wrote for this site, in she planned to begin her studies at the University of British Columbia in a double Master’s program in library and archival science. Ideally, she would like to work in a gallery or museum’s library or archive. She has traveled throughout Russia on numerous occasions, and first studied in St Petersburg in 2007. In 2009, she traveled across Russia, beginning at the Mongolian border and going westwards towards St Petersburg. In recent years, she has studied art history and museum studies in St Petersburg with SRAS. Durring that time, she volunteered with the Youth Education Center of the State Hermitage, where she researched artists, edited English-language texts and translated Russian texts to English. Taryn’s specific artistic interests are the Wanderers, Socialist Realism and photography.

Program attended: Art and Museums in Russia

View all posts by: Taryn Jones