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Books: Reviews: Art to be dazzled by; Great Private Collections of Imperial Russia by Oleg Neverov, Thames & Hudson, pounds 36. Reviewed by Richard Edmonds.

Byline: Reviewed by Richard Edmonds

When Russia turned upside down during the Revolution it was great art which suffered as much as anything else. The diamond-encrusted Faberge eggs and gold boxes, the old masters, the silverware and the watercolours were looted by a bitterly resentful people's army who saw them as symbols of a flippant, indifferent ruling class.

Prince Felix Yussupov (the assassin of Rasputin) fled to Paris with what he could salvage of an immense collection of family works of art which predictably were seized by the Bolshevik government.

But Yussupov was lucky - other aristos on the run got nothing out of the political turmoil except poverty and worked as waiters, rent boys, servants and taxi drivers in Paris and Berlin hoping the world would right itself - which, of course, it never did. The extent and scope of these dazzling collections as they once were is shown magnificently in Oleg Neverov's fascinating book filled as it is with sculptures, watercolours, icons and ceramics.

But there are also intriguing stories which make the text something quite special.

Princess Tenisheva, for example, seems to have had little time for the preRevolutionary social round in St Petersburg. Maria Tenisheva may well have been an aristo, but she was also a blue stocking - a thinker, and an art teacher into the bargain.

At a time when Russian women had little chance to achieve emancipation, Tenisheva broke the mould by setting up an art settlement at Talashinko, where she revived traditional Russian crafts, built a peoples theatre, developed school of agriculture and in late middle-age wrote a doctoral thesis.

Perhaps, after all, it is Talashinko one might need to visit quite as much as the Kremlin or Red Square.
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Nov 6, 2004
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