The 1920s and 1930s were a cultural ferment in the Soviet Union, and no aspect of art was left untouched by their innovations. Design and illustrations, especially for children’s books, took great leaps forward. A recent book, Inside the Rainbow: Russian Children’s Literature 1920-35: Beautiful Books, Terrible Times, edited by Julian Rothenstein and Olga Budashevskaya with a foreword by Philip Pullman, illustrates and describes the beauty and creativity of the time.
Suprematism and constructivism were the main drivers of the illustrations. Who knows what kids of the period made of these abstract fashions? (It’s possible that most kids never even saw the books – when I lived in Moscow in the 70s, although many children’s books were published, they were hard to come by.) Bright colours and geometry abound. So you have the likes of El Lissitzky (he of wedges and sharp lines) and Alexander Deineka, Vladimir Lebedev and Alexei Laptev; you have the new Communist morals replacing traditional folk tales; you have education; you have poetry.
These artists and writers dreamed of endless possibilities in a new world where children and grown-ups alike would be free from the bitterness of ignorance. For a time, when children’s publications still escaped the scourge of state censorship, their books became a last haven for learning, poetic irony, burlesque and laughter. 1
Here are some of the illustrations that appear in the book.
- From the Foreword to the book, by Philip Pullman.
- Olga Bukhina (Sep 28, 2013), ‘What does this Rainbow promise?‘, WGRCLC Blog.