The launch of the Kindle got me thinking about all the things an e-reader can never be. You can't inscribe it to a loved one or press flowers between it's pages. It can never be an object, loved and cherished and passed from person to person, with any history. Your children cannot draw upon the pages and fill it with precious memories. Illustrations look terrible on it, especially art, which needs a grand scale. For these reasons and many more, help me celebrate the real thing: dusty old books!

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

More on Bilibin

I feel Bilibin will feature on this site rather often. Even today he is little known and under appreciated. He was not just an illustrator but also a famous designer of sets and costumes, in particular for operas. The illustrations here are from two sources. One is the programme for a season of Russian Opera in Paris in 1929. For this he produced designs for Rimsky-Korsakov's The Tale of Tsar Saltan (after Pushkin). Here is the spectacular front cover and one of the set designs.

The set shows the Island of Bouyan where an enchanted Swan Princess will turn Prince Guidon into a Bumble Bee (cue the composer's famous "flight" for orchestra!). The image is in the Ashmolean in Oxford (incorrectly assigned to another Rimsky-Korsakov opera, The Invisible city of Kitezh). 30 years earlier, when the opera Tsar Saltan was premiered, Bilibin produced an illustrated book of Pushkin's original poem, which was dedicated to the venerable old composer. The picture from the book is a scan of a first edition. Imagine it! Rimsky-Korsakov may have held this very book in his hands! As noted in an earlier post, these picture books were lavishly produced with sumptuous glossy inks (almost like oil paints - a process called chromolithography) and with gold as a fifth colour. Pictures alas cannot do justice to the fabulous colours and textures of this VERY dusty old book.

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