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Alexey Makhrov, Introduction to V.V. Stasov, 'To the Advocate of the Academy of Arts'

Copyright 2003; all rights reserved. Redistribution or republication of this text in any medium requires the consent of the author(s).

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The turning point in Stasov's career as an art critic occurred in 1861. This came with his publication of a series of articles in which he for the first time in print applied the ideology of the radical intelligentsia, (particularly Dobroliubov's 'real criticism' and the materialistic aesthetics of Chernyshevskii), to the analysis of Russian art. In the period between 1856 and 1861, during which Stasov did not publish on Russian painting, his views underwent a complete transformation. The admiration for Briullov and appreciation of the Academic art expressed of his early writings disappeared completely in the articles 'On the Significance of Briullov and Ivanov in Russian Art' (the publication of the section devoted to Ivanov was delayed until 1880) and 'Apropos of the Exhibition at the Academy of Art', (both 1861). The former article attacked the cult of Briullov and elevated the importance of Ivanov, and the latter harshly criticised the outdated Academic teaching system. It focussed in particular on the programmes, or students' works produced on subjects set by the Academy, which Stasov contrasted with the genre paintings by Valerii Iakobi (which was also analysed by Dostoevskii), Mikhail Klodt and Grigorii Miasoedov. Stasov's critical acumen must seriously have irritated the Academy, since its rector Fedor Bruni decided to engage with the critic and published his first article in the periodical press. The second and the last of Bruni's articles used similar arguments against opponents of the Academic teaching system, particularly Stasov, and were published in 1865. Stasov's article 'To the Advocate of the Academy of Arts' is a brilliant refutation of Bruni's statements and is particularly interesting for its clear formulation of the mission of the specialist art critic as intermediary between art and the public, an analyst and an outsider to the artistic Academic establishment. Stasov vigorously attacks Bruni's insistence on the superiority of antique models and historic subjects and denounces the Academic practice of setting identical subjects to students. These views were also expressed by the students themselves, who demanded a free choice of subjects in their petitions to the Academic Council in 1863.