Maestro Dobuzhinsky
20.04 - 23.07.2023
The Russian Silver Age contributed splendid set designers to the world's cultural heritage, and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky is one of them. In 2008, the Kournikova Gallery held an exhibition titled "From Lithuania to the United States," which showcased the artist's works from both Lithuanian museums and Rostislav Dobuzhinsky's former collection. The gallery's collection was further enriched by works from Dobuzhinsky's "Prague archive," once carefully preserved by Nikolai Zaretski, as well as works from the property of the artist's mysterious Danish muse, Maria (Mao).

The current exposition features 70 set designs created by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky from 1914 to 1951, including a masterpiece sketch for M. Fokin's "Papillions" ballet, which was part of Diaghilev's "Russian Seasons" repertoire. In 1919, soon after revolution, Dobuzhinsky designed the staging for "Andersen's Fairy Tales," which was performed in three parts: "Swineherd," "Comet," and "Little Ida's Flowers" at the "Prival Komediantov" cabaret, just before it closed forever.

At the end of 1924, the Dobuzhinskys left for Lithuania, where the artist was hired by the State Theater and designed 38 performances over 14 years. Mstislav often revisited his productions, varying the imagery and scenery, and humorously referring to them as "reheated dishes," as he did with the Andersen staging in 1925.

In 1926, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky accepted an invitation from N. Baliyev to take over the design setting for "The Bat" cabaret in Paris. The exhibition showcased costumes and decorations for two out of five interludes of the season - "Baker's wife" and "Platov's cossacks in Paris". Thanks to Dobuzhinsky the cabaret program was a great success.

A part of the exhibition is dedicated to works created abroad in collaboration with Russian directors and ballet masters who continued to work with Russian repertoire in European and American theaters. The designs range from "Tatiana's room" for the opera "Eugene Onegin" filled with a lyrical atmosphere in line with Tchaikovsky's music, to the grotesque characters from Nikolai Gogol's immortal "The Government Inspector", staged by M. Chekhov in Kaunas in 1933.

During World War II, Dobuzhinsky worked on sketches for the successful ballet "Russian Soldier" (1941), set to the music of S. Prokofiev. He also created the set design for the opera "The Fair at Sorochyntsi" by M. Mussorgsky, which was staged by M. Chekhov in 1942 at the New Opera Co. Theater in York. The exhibition showcases picturesque drawings of choristers' costumes and scenography.

The final section of the exhibition is dedicated to "Posessed", directed by M. Checkhov at the Lyceum Theater in New York in 1939. The play was experimental, implied textiles for decorations and light projections, but still was poorly received by American audiences and ultimately failed. However, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky's set designs and costume sketches reflecting the psychology of the characters, were highly praised.

On top of the Russian repertoire, Dobuzhinsky also tackled European classics such as the drama "In the Grip of Life" by K. Hamsun and "Don Giovanni" by V.-A. Mozart for the Lithuanian State Theatre in 1933. He was appreciated with American theater circles in 1941 for his scenography for the drama "Queen Anne of England" by M. K. Canfield and E. Borden. The exhibition shows four costumes from the production, they exquisitely detail and beautifully portray the historical period.

A decade later, Dobuzhinsky created a set of costume designs for the opera "The Boors," based on the play by Carlo Goldoni, for the Central City Opera, New York. This was not part of his contract, he made the whole set just for his pleasure. Five of these designs are on display.

Throughout his 50-year career in drama, opera, and ballet, Dobuzhinsky focused on functional design elements and avoided unnecessary details. He believed that the most important aspect of staging was to express the spirit and style of a particular era.

Natalia Kournikova