Things of Interest

A New Childhood: Picture Books from Soviet Russia

In 1925, Olga and Galina Chichagova created a two-part poster that demanded a revolution in children’s illustration in the new Soviet Union. The illustration on the left featured traditional characters from Russian fairytales, including – kings, queens, the Firebird and the witch Baba Yaga. Underneath read the caption “Out! with mysticism and fantasy of children’s books!!”

The right illustration offered a juxtaposed image of what the two artists thought fellow image makers should be illustrating to improve the first generation of Soviet citizens. Under the ever present Lenin were drawings of young soviets in red neckerchiefs, working on collective farms and factories, as well as illustrations of Red Army cavalry troops riding into battle. It seemed that the revolution had no time or interest in kings, queens or flying snakes. Underneath this image read “Work, battle, technology, nature – the new reality of childhood.”

This image is just one small part of a stunning collection from Sasha Lurye, that is being exhibited for the first time in the UK. The selection of rare books and original works explores this period of unprecedented innovation, from pre-revolutionary Russian illustration to the pioneers of Soviet children’s publishing. There are illustrations of folk tales, poetry, educational volumes, and extremely rare hand-printed editions and Jewish books illustrated by Marc Chagall and El Lissitzky, all brought to life with bold colours, dynamic shapes and playful layouts.


Discover rarely-seen work by some of the most influential figures of the age, including Vladimir Tambi, sisters Olga and Galina Chichagova, and Vladimir Lebedev, whose avant garde illustrations for prominent poet and translator Samuil Marshak such asCircus and Luggage have become iconic.

Soviet books of the 1920s and early 1930s influenced children’s publishing around the world and provide the key to the modern picture book in the form that we recognise today. In the Netherlands, exhibitions of Soviet books in the 1930s caused a sensation. In France, Russian émigrés Nathalie Parain and Feodor Rojankovsky created an unmistakable aesthetic for the Père Castor albums. And Soviet books brought to England by artist Pearl Binder inspired Noel Carrington to create the illustrious Puffin Picture Book series which began in 1940.

A New Childhood is at the House of Illustration, 27 May–11 September.