Between Old and New: Russia's Modern Women

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"Between Old and New: Russia's Modern Women"

From Amazons of the Avant-Garde
Laura Engelstein
Published in 1999
15 pages, fully illustrated

Laura Engelstein takes a historic approach to defining the powerful women that dominated the Russian avant-garde in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. This text traces the genealogy of the modern Russian woman from the patriarchic monarchy that became dominant in the late sixteenth century, to the Soviet future (and hoped-for equality) that awaited the women artists of the Russian avant-garde. Taking a deeper look into the lives of Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova, and Nadezhda Udaltsova, this essay explores their formative experiences and emphasizes the role of the arts-and-crafts movement in the propagation of women's art.


Even though in these years women's professional gains were significant and their political gains few, the condition of women continued to impress contemporaries as a bellwether of the nation's cultural achievement. As mid-century moderates and radicals had measured social injustice by the intensity of women's oppression—burdened by poverty, patriarchy, and the moral double standard—so at century's end conservatives saw the nation's decline (or impending doom) in the measure of women's emancipation. The archreactionary Duma deputy Vladimir Purishkevich (1870–1920) inveighed against Jews and educated women, whose presence in public life he feared would open the floodgates to social and moral chaos.

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