Tag Archives: Russia

Art Book of the Month, April 2016

Spine. The Costume of the Russian Empire, by C W Müller, 1804Costume of the Russian Empire, by C W Müller

Illustrated by a series of seventy-three colour engravings, with descriptions in English and French

William Miller, London 1804

A pictorial history of costume in the Russian Empire as it was at the beginning of the 19th century. An empire

“of an extent unknown to other modern nations…it touches the Frozen Ocean and borders upon the warm climates of Persia, Japan and China on the south.”

Not surprisingly, these costumes range from furs and ‘the skin of their rein-deer’ (Yakouti) complete with hair, to the skins of fish (Ostiaks), and – as in the case of the Tschutski of Siberia – ‘Men and women puncture their arms and faces in a regular manner’.  Eat your heart out Lady Gaga.

The elegant engravings are accompanied by hilarious descriptions, obviously from a more urbane explorer viewpoint, of the lifestyle of these people, long gone and long forgotten;

“The most part are satisfied with one wife” (Samoyed)

“Their manner of living, with respect to their food, is disgusting to the greatest degree.  They use no salt, and all their food is simply boiled”

“Their dances are pantomimical, and are not free from indelicacy” (Kamtshatka).

My favourite descriptions are of the Tungoosi, from the Lake Baikal region:

“ignorant of falsehood, treachery and robbery of any descriptions; they possess a gaiety of temper and openness of heart to the greatest degree; They will, with pleasure, divide their last morsel with their almost unknown guest; They fish and hunt with great skill; embroider in a very neat manner and – last but not least –  they are generally supplied with brandy, of which they are very fond.”

A priceless and utterly fascinating insight into primitive ethnicity and cultures that have pretty much disappeared from the face of the earth.


You can view this book in the Art & Design Collection at Westminster Reference Library.


Writing about Russia

Paddington Library hosted an interesting event to celebrate World Book Night on 23 April. Four authors – Vanora Bennett, Francis Spufford, Peter Higgins and William Ryan – who specialise in writing fiction and non-fiction about Russia, conducted a panel discussion about the pleasures and challenges of this fascinating subject.

World Book Night 2015 at Paddington Library

The authors gave first hand accounts of their visits to Russia and the sacrifices and hardships the Russian people have had to endure. I got the impression that Russia and the former Soviet Union are topsy turvy worlds in which nothing is what it seems. At the end they signed copies of their books. To explore their works, visit the library catalogue and search for books by Vanora Bennett, Francis Spufford, Peter Higgins and William Ryan

World Book Night 2015 at Paddington LibraryThe four writers kindly gave their time to support World Book Night and as part of the celebrations, members of the audience were all given a free copy of Elizabeth Fremantle‘s historical novel The Queen’s Gambit which is about the life of Katherine Parr, the 6th wife of King Henry VIII.


Captain Korolev comes to Paddington

The Twelfth Department, by William RyanAuthor William Ryan visited Paddington Library recently and gave a talk about his crime fiction, set in Moscow in the 1930s.

William has written three novels in the Alexei Korolev mysteries series, for which he did a great deal of research both in Moscow and on the internet to check valid details which he could put in his novels to make the background appear authentic.

William Ryan (author)He showed the reading group an interesting slide show of propaganda and genuine photos taken in Moscow in the 1930s.
The talk was part of the Paddington Festival which runs until the end of September.