Jews in the Russian Avant-Garde: Iosif Shkolnik

Iosif Solomonovich Shkolnik (Иосиф Соломонович Школьник) (1883-1926) was a painter, graphic artist, theatre designer and a promoter of art. He was born in a middle-class family in Balta, in the Kherson province of what is now Ukraine. He studied at the Odessa Art School and then at the High School of Art at the St Petersburg Academy of Art. In 1908, he became a member of the artistic-psychological group ‘Triangle’, which had been set up by the amateur artist N. I. Kulbin, a promoter of new directions in art. At the end of 1909, some of the more active promoters of art including Shkolnik left ‘Triangle’ and, in February 1910, formed a society of avant-garde artists which they called ‘Union of Youth’. Shkolnik became a secretary of this organisation, editor of a series of publications, the author of two collections of articles published in St Petersburg under the auspices of the organisation.

One of Shkolnik’s most famous works was the design of costumes and sets for the tragedy ‘Vladimir Mayakovsky’, which he worked on along with P.N. Filonov and O.V. Rozanova. This was promoted as the first theatre of futurists in the world, and appeared in December 1913 in St Petersburg. Four years later, Shkolnik was a major player in the establishment of the Union of Artists in Petrograd. In 1918, he became a member of the College of Fine Arts ‘Narkompros’ (People’s Commissariat of Education), where he led the theatre and set design sections. In 1920, the section was reorganised into the Institute of Decorative Arts, of which he became Director.

Between 1913 and 1919, he was also principal set and costume designer at the Troitsky and Maly Theatres in St Petersburg.

From 1919 onwards, Shkolnik was a teacher and supervisor of the classes on decorative arts at the Petrograd State Free Art Workshops.

Shkolnik’s art encompasses nearly every genre of the avant-garde: landscapes of his native Balta, still life, portraiture, poster art, theatre and costume design.

Shkolnik’s works, some of the finest of the St Petersburg avant-garde, are available to be seen at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg and at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

(Translated from the appendix to Alexandra Shatskikh’s ‘Jews in the Russian Avant-Garde‘, and interspersed with remarks from N. A. Grishina’s biographical writeup in the Saratov State Museum of Art’s website.)


Still life with yellow cloth. (1910s).

Village street. (1910s).

Landscape with a road.

Landscape with flowerbed. (1910s).

Courtyard (Landscape). (1910s).

Turkish Central Courtyard. (c. 1917).

Still life with vases. (1910s).

House with open window.


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