On our last night in Moscow a few weeks ago, Alex and I decided to finally take it easy and spend some time doing one of our favorite things: browsing around a bookstore.
Moskva is an awesome bookstore right in the center of Moscow on Tverskaya Ulitsa (street). It's open until 1AM and has the best selection of art and academic books i have ever seen.
The Moskva Bookstore also has a really wonderful collection of antique books, where I spent probably two hours looking through mostly battered editions of old illustrated Pushkin children's tales. I love them.
Sitting on the floor among dusty books, i stumbled across a facsimile of the 1907 edition of Ivan Bilibin illustrated children's classics. I havn't looked at Bilibin's illustrations since I was a baby and was completely in awe of his beautiful, beautiful work. Some of his long lines and muted color choices remind me of Japanese woodcuts.
Bilibin was born in St. Petersburg in 1876 and went on to become one of the most respected and well-loved illustrators of Russia. He loved old Slavic folk tales and the wooden carvings found in the north/eastern regions of the Russian Empire.
Bilibin's illustrations are reproduced regularly in new additions, but the gorgeous facsimile i found is really something unique and special. It includes all 6 books from the original set and every detail of Bilibin's brush strokes is replicated.
I can't help being a show-off about it!
Several of the books have never been opened, which makes them more valuable as collector's items, but my hands are just itching to go through the gorgeous, dream-like pages.... ooooh!!!
The characters in these fairy-tales continue to hold a really significant place in Russian literature, poetry and really culture in general. For me, they still retain the magic I felt when my mom and grandma Sonichka read them to me in bed at night... Sonichka is the best fairy-tale reader and teller ever. She always somehow managed to include my sister Val and I in all the action - we became characters too.
If you are interested in Russian fairy-tales or folklore in general, there is a great book put out by the State Russian Museum called Fairytales in Russia.
The tome (available in both Russian and English) starts as a compendium of Russian and Slavic folk tales and then highlights the influence they've had on design and popular culture. It's priced at $89, which is really not very much for a book of this quality and beauty.
You can buy at on-line at the Hermitage Museum Shop.
In the meantime, here are some more wonderful Bilibin illustrations for you to enjoy:
From Czar Sultan (Pushkin)
Baba Yaga - that old hag! (the topic of Baba Yaga, the ugly and evil old woman, is very interesting... the progression of wise old women from mothers and healers into child-eating monsters - but that's a whole other post.)
From Vasilisa the Beautiful (another Baba Yaga tale) - note the traditional Russia costumes
If you want to browse through some more of Bilibin's work - which you now obviously do - check out SurlaLuneFairyTales.com - they have a really nice collection from the works of many illustrators.