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Russia - Expo Paris 1878

Russia at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1878


The fine arts exhibition is, we will not hide it, one of those which particularly charmed us, because one finds there an originality, a special stamp, finally the genius of the country.

A Russian painting, as well as a Swedish or German painting, will be recognisable at first sight; on the contrary, an English, Italian or Swiss painting will be less easily distinguished, because the artists of these countries now strive to be everything except themselves.

Russian artists are obviously inspired and tend to be inspired more and more by the French way, but, while adapting this way, they remain themselves.

M. Marius Vachon said: "The genre in which Russian artists seem to us to show a real superiority and an undeniable originality is the landscape. There is currently a school of landscape artists in Russia that can be compared with those of all other countries, and which does not have to fear the test of comparison, even perhaps with the French school.

"We find in their works a lively feeling for the beauties of nature, a great poetry, a sober and severe form, without dryness or aridity. Simplicity in the subject and in the means of execution seems to be the characteristic of their manner. One will not find in their work the superb colourful bursts of Diaz, the grandiose inspirations of Th. Rousseau, the Elysian compositions of the French, etc., nor the preciousness of the Italians - and the Spaniards, nor the immense panoramas and the rural fantasies of the English. They take after our severe naturalists, Tassaert, Daubigny, Millet, etc., and seem to ask for interest and grandeur only in the faithful and sincere reproduction of their subjects. The choice is vast; in its immense extent^ Russia has all the latitudes. Also, the physiognomy of the landscapes exhibited is very-varied."

This judgement seems to us admirably made and we share it in all points. We would add that feeling plays a large part in Russian art; if the Russian paints without pretension, without any other pretension than that of remaining true, it is certain that he always paints with soul.

We shall deal straight away with the painting, not the best perhaps, too many defects oppose the qualities that are real, but the largest in this exhibition: you have to go to the Austrian section to find something bigger; the dimensions of Mr. Mackært's Charles V in Antwerp alone exceed the extraordinary dimensions of Siemiradski's Living Torches of Nero. We know what these living torches are: Christian martyrs tied to poles coated with pitch that the torch of the executioners is about to ignite. There's a whole alley of them! The foul emperor presides over this scene, which is as ridiculous as it is cruel, and which human cowardice allows him to enjoy; wallowing on a parade litter, holding on to his leash his tiger, which is less cruel and less stupid than he is, he is surrounded by courtiers, civil servants, and low-level familiars crowned with flowers, their faces full of apparent joy, their souls consumed by fear; Underneath, the debased people throng in a disorderly fashion to witness this spectacle, and yet here and there, on some withered face of man or woman, an expression of indignation and anger.

This painting is in every way magnificent; at first sight, one might be tempted to reproach it with a certain profligacy of colour; but one soon recognises that this excess of colour is merely the expression of historical truth. Under this exaggeratedly blue sky, during this period of unbridled luxury, when debauchery adorned itself richly, and yielded excessively to that passion for colour inherent in anyone born under the Italian sky, it was necessary for the artist to use his palette, and in doing so he simply obeyed the truth.

The thrilling motif of this great scene is not the pale, jaded Caesar who needs human groaning to amuse himself, not the court, frightened of forced debauchery, who amuse themselves above all out of fear, because they know that the despot would bring down the head of anyone who did not enjoy himself; The thrilling and strikingly true motif is the slave who, coldly, even cheerfully, as calmly as if he were doing an ordinary job, sets fire to the post to which a well-bound Christian is tied, well wrapped in oakum and coated with tar.

The same artist exhibits another painting, of lesser size: The Cup or the Woman.

Jews present an old praetor with an object of art, a magnificent cup, and a woman of marvellous beauty whose veils he removes in the manner of Aspasia's lawyer before the Athenian senate.

Unfortunately, one must choose. The old man holds the cup, and covets the woman.

There is no need to say, we must choose... the cup or the woman...

Our choice would be made quickly, but the old man hesitates.

The woman is so young and so beautiful that, out of interest for the poor child, we want the old man to choose the cup.

Mr. Kaelher exhibits the portrait of the Grand Duke Wladimir Alexandrowitch. It is an official painting, but a good one. It belongs to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg.

Among the other paintings we may mention the Naval Combat by Peter the Great near the Island of OEsel, by M. Bogolaboff, an artist who has been prominent for several years, and the View of Petersburg on a Summer Night, by the same artist; the Night by M. Mansterhjelm, the Night of the Great, by M. M. M. Mansterhjelm, the First Snow, the Forest of Firs and the Forest of Pines by M. Schihckine, and finally the Wedding in an Ice Palace on the Neva in the Winter of 1741, an original subject well treated by M. Jacoby and much appreciated by the public.


The pedagogical museum, an institution which does not yet exist in Russia, is the great curiosity of the educational group in the Russian exhibition.

Its purpose is to provide educational institutions with their materials, instruments, books, etc., etc.

In addition, it is concerned with finding methods and perfecting existing ones; it gives lectures and readings for teachers. A journal founded under the auspices of the museum deals with school matters and serves to put all members of the teaching profession in communication.

One understands," says M. Louis Liévin, in the newspaper La France, "the immediate usefulness of such an establishment. It is a trading house whose operations are guaranteed by the State and which travels on behalf of the government, treating public education as one would treat a business, with the difference that it does not reserve any profit for itself. This is a very interesting aspect for us and contrasts with our habits and ways of proceeding. In France, the school exists when the teacher has been appointed and when there are a few pupils; in Russia, the first thing to do is to take care of the material, the school replacement, and then the construction of the classroom; the dimensions are calculated, the number of windows is fixed, their height, their width, the number of panes they will have; the openings through which air and light will enter are measured, and then the heating and lighting are taken care of. The room is then furnished, the walls are decorated, the collections are arranged, and when the material organisation is thus provided for, the teacher is created as God created man on the seventh day.

"The excellent Russian spirit of method and practice is to be found in the composition of the museum, in the choice of the articles and objects which appear there. While in France the spirit of routine limits to a very small number of species the "things" worthy of being shown to pupils, the Russian genius, much less reserved, does not shrink from any reality. In France, teaching is afraid of getting bogged down; in Russia, it goes straight ahead, without worrying about ruts; there are words that are not pronounced here, things that are never alluded to; even hygiene has unexpected quirks, and it seems that man's nature seems to man himself too coarse to be studied in detail. The Russian does not know, fortunately for him, these small and infinite delicacies of the French; it is enough to go through the pedagogical museum of the Exhibition to be convinced of this. One is struck, if not immediately, at least after examination, by the very different conception of the study plan. Hygiene, with all its necessary precautions, is given the highest priority, and the organisers of the museum felt no embarrassment in starting at the beginning and teaching their pupils to preserve their lives first, by pointing out to them, above all else, the notions of hygiene and sobriety.
This concern characterises Russian intelligence. This is also its profound originality.

The pedagogical museum dates from 1864.

It comprises three main groups: education, instruction and hygiene.

The Russian pedagogical museum is, as we can see, an invention of undeniable utility, an invention whose creators are to be highly congratulated.

Moreover, the Russian Ministry of Education has perfectly understood the method of making the child fit for education; it gives the child the basic notions by showing him the facts and familiarizing him with them. When the child is older, he is taught theory, which he assimilates without difficulty, and on the contrary with speed, thanks to his extensive knowledge of the facts.

This very just sentiment is perfectly defined by the regulations, which are expressed in these terms:
"It is necessary, say these regulations, to give as a real and effective aim to our lower and middle schools to train men, that is to say, to produce in the youth that equal and complete development of intellectual, moral and physical forces, with which only are possible, on the one hand, a sure and rational view of life, and on the other, the faculty of knowing how to use life. It is essential to develop in the masses an awareness of their rights, to awaken a love of intellectual work, and to inspire in each individual a respect for himself and for humanity in general... The child encounters a painful contrast when, once he enters school, he is no longer presented with what he sees and hears, but with what the teacher deems appropriate to communicate to him. To soften this abrupt transition, which often disgusts the child from the start, intuitive teaching is of great help.

Among the many teaching methods exhibited by the Musée pédagogique, there is one that we must mention, because it is a real invention, a real find; its purpose is to facilitate the child's understanding of optical phenomena.

In order to make him understand the phenomenon materially, it was imagined to represent the play of the rays of light with the help of fine little rods which are directed as the rays themselves would be directed, breaking, meeting, colliding, and reversing themselves according to the laws of nature.

Thanks to such a process, the most rebellious intelligence is forced to understand.


A society has been founded under the name of Friends of Old Literature, and it is carrying out a work of restitution, to which many publishers in Russia have long been devoted. It reprints old texts that have become rare and are therefore in danger of being lost.

Here is a list of the most curious publications she has already brought out, of which only two hundred copies have been printed and which are not allowed to enter the market.

No. I. Description of twenty monasteries on Mount Atbos (reproduction of a very rare book published in 1839 on Mount Athos).
NO. II. Nine miraculous images of the Mother of God; reproductions of old religious engravings.
NO. V. History of the Romans. This is the first edition of a Slavonic-Russian manuscript of the 18th century, translated from the Latin text of the Gesta Romanorum. The Tranchel printing house of St. Petersburg has cast special elegant type for this edition.
NO. IX. The invention of the head of the prophet and forerunner St. John the Baptist (facsimile of a XV century work).
NO. X. Discourse of St. John Chrysostom on the beheading of St. John the Baptist (ibid.).
N°XII, XIII. Facsimile of religious manuscript.
N°XVI. Reproduction of the collection of Indian tales entitled Stcfamde et Ichnilat.

No. 8 of the second series is of great interest; in fact, this number contains the Russian alphabet corrected by Peter the Great, as well as the ukase which prescribes the general use of this alphabet in the future.

The proof that has been reproduced is corrected by the hand of the great emperor himself, who wrote at the head of the book:
"It is with these letters that historical and industrial books must henceforth be printed; those that are erased must not be used.


The printing and book trade is represented by seventeen exhibitors, and the exhibition could not be more satisfactory; we note principally the prints exhibited by the State Paper Factory, - the most successful of all the prints, - and the editions of the Imperial University of Warsaw.

In the paper industry, we find the State Paper Factory, which defies all competition, and the large Epstein factory, which has a European reputation.

Let us not forget a real curiosity, a portable box, with office supplies, for the use of the natives.

Exhibitor, the Governor General of Turkestan.

In the class of the usual application of the arts of drawing and plastic, there is a small recess taking in the daylight on the Rue des Nations, through red stained glass windows.

It is here that Dr. Sevittoux has exhibited two superb female bodies, admirable in their beauty and moulded from life.

The first model is lying on her stomach in order to show the dorsal performance of the body; the second model is lying on her back, with the two arms joining behind her head in order to show the face of the body in all its fleshy and muscular development.

Apart from the unquestionable merit of these two tests, the public, who flocked in droves, was - we must admit - a little attracted by the attraction of the nude and by the somewhat fantastic way in which the show was presented to them.

We will say only one thing about photography, and that is that it shows great progress.

Musical instruments, precision instruments, will not stop us; as far as geography is concerned, we must note the extension it seems to have acquired, judging by the large number of geographical and geological maps we see. Among the heating appliances is the national stove, the samovar, which is used both to heat the home and to make tea.


Russia is still dependent on Europe, and particularly on England, for a large number of industries, such as cutlery and watchmaking.

We shall therefore endeavour to place before the reader's eyes those industries in which the Russians have an unquestionable superiority.

Their furniture is not very original; one detail should be noted, however: their washbasins all have running water.

The Schrader house, of St. Petersburg, has remarkable cupboards made of blackened pear wood.

One must also consider, as furniture, these magnificent pedestal tables and furniture of all kinds in malachite, from the Wœrfel house. This same house shows, at the corner of the transverse gallery, an enormous block of malachite which weighs 1,080 pounds and represents a value of more than 17,000 fr.

A little further on, we see a colossal vase and two giant bowls also made of malachite. The bowls are worth 35,000 fr. each and
63,000 fr. for the pair. The value of the vase is 50,000 fr.

In Mr. Lizeray's showcase, one can admire a magnificent fireplace screen sold to H.M. the Empress of Russia. The frame of the screen is made of gilded wood, and its main attraction to the visitor is that it was sculpted by Russian workers, which allows one to judge the degree to which the art of sculpting has reached in Russia.

The goldsmith's art is the real triumph of the Russian exhibition. One cannot but admire the magnificent gold fragment of the choir rail for the Cathedral in the Name of the Saviour in Moscow.

This grille has four grams of gold per square foot.

There are also the masterpieces of the Artchinnikoff company, which has, among other things, superb cloisonné.

Glassware is represented mainly by the Prince of San Donato, Mr. Demidoff.

Now comes the section of clothes, fabrics and furs. Here we notice the red cotton fabric called koumatch, worn by the peasants of certain provinces; thick silks from the Caucasus; sheets of wool and goat and camel hair; rich gold and silver fabrics for the ceremonial dresses of the popes; and furs: sable, marten, otter, beaver, ermine, black fox, blue fox, etc. There are only two exhibitors for furs, Messrs Odmoouchévski of St. Petersburg and Greenwaldt of Riga. At either of these gentlemen, one can easily find a good blue fox-filled paletot for the princely sum of 10,000 francs in round figures, or a simple collar for 4,000 francs. It is true that fifty foxes, from whose skin only a narrow strip of 5 to 6 centimetres was taken on the back, were used in the making of the coat. We will say nothing of the large display cases, erected in the transverse avenue, where the stuffed animals whose congeners provided the clothes exhibited opposite with their precious furs are gathered together.


We shall pass over the fabrics, which are very widely and prominently represented, and we shall come to the mines, which are very important in Russia.

There are, in fact, mines of steel, iron, zinc, sheet metal and copper, coal, etc.; there are even gold mines in Siberia, in the Amur province.

"Here we are in a small room, filled with a huge pile of agricultural products. In thin samples, of prodigious variety, under two showcases built in the shape of thatched barns, you contemplate, but are unable to count the species of grains and herbs that the "black earth" produces.

"This 'black earth' extends from the Pruth to the Caucasus, and its fecundity," says M. Chassin, "is such that, since Herodotus, in spite of perpetual migrations of enemy races, in spite of military movements which have not ceased until the present time, whenever the rest of our continent has been hungry, it has been it that has provided it with food."

The food class consists of preserved meat and fish, as well as vegetables and dried fruit, which are highly prized and constitute a considerable export trade. Sugar is included in large quantities.

Beverages consist of wine, beer, brandy, kümmel, etc., etc.

The Wolfschmidt company has excellent kümmel in particular.

Here are some details about this new drink. We borrow them from Mr. Jules Richard:
"The cumin plant is found mainly in the vicinity of Riga, where there are many distilleries.

"While the Germans put it in their bread, the Dutch use it to flavour their cheeses, and the Turks add it to their stews, the Russians have found its true use, and thanks to the stomachic and excitatory qualities of the plant, which they mix with it in large doses, their liquor can be used both as an aperitif and a digestive, depending on whether it is taken before or after meals.

"In Russia, kümmel is taken in these two different ways.

"The Russians, who are great eaters, are in the habit, - before attacking the first course in earnest, often even before sitting down at table, - of indulging in a serious consumption of a host of excellent hors d'oeuvres: caviar, sardines preserved in pepper and other national dishes.

"The kümmel plays an important role in this sort of prologue.

"In Paris, we are beginning to adopt the Slavic fashion, and to circulate the kümmel during the minute preceding the "Madame est servie.

We shall not speak of the annex, it contains nothing exceptional, but we shall not leave the Russian exhibition without mentioning its elegant, aristocratic coachwork, and particularly its ravishing sleighs.


This chapter would be incomplete if we did not make a special mention of the Finnish exhibition, which has its own special compartment to the left of the Russian exhibition.

First, a few details about Finland. We borrow them from the excellent notice that Mr. Uchatius, Director of the Statistical Office, has written for the Universal Exhibition.

Finland, in the local language suomi or suomenmoa, is the northeastern slope of the great depression in the earth's surface which has given northern Europe its configuration and of which the Baltic Sea occupies the deepest part. It is bordered to the south and west by the Gulfs of Finland and Bothnia, to the northwest by the Scandinavian peninsula and to the northwest by Russia.

The area of Finland contains about 6,800 geographical miles, or 375,000 square kilometres. This area has a peculiar appearance. On the map, it presents a confusion of land and water where you can hardly find yourself. The coastline, which extends for 1,400 kilometres, is jagged, especially to the south and south-west; it is also bordered, over a width which in places reaches several miles, by innumerable islets and rocks, which make up what is called the skârgârd (archipelago). It is impossible for a foreigner to navigate without a pilot in this labyrinth of straits and gulfs, between these islets, rocks and reefs which stretch out before him as far as the eye can see as soon as he approaches the coast. This archipelago offers the image of the configuration of the country itself in its general features. Here the islets are hills and mounds, the gulfs and straits are represented by valleys, of which lakes often still occupy the bottom, especially inland. By sailing on these lakes, one would think oneself in the archipelago: same multitude of islets, between which the water sometimes narrows in narrow channels, sometimes spreads out in vast basins, which often measure several miles; only here nature is more cheerful: the naked and arid rocks of the archipelago are replaced by green and wooded islands; the heights are covered with forests of dark green pines, and on the shores one sees villages and cultivated fields.


No country in Europe, and perhaps in the world, can compare with Finland in the number of lakes. It is estimated that they occupy 12% of the total surface area; but this proportion does not express nearly all the part invaded by water; to this must be added 20% of marshes and peat bogs, for the drying of which nature and man will have to combine their efforts for many centuries to come. Considering these circumstances with the map in front of us, one naturally comes to think that Finland was the uneven, still incompletely dried out bottom of a sea which, on retreating, left water in the lowest parts. This hypothesis is further supported by a fact that has been put forward for a long time by popular tradition and that has been confirmed by observations made for more than a century: the ground of Finland is constantly rising above sea level. It has been calculated, by means of landmarks fixed on rocks bathed by the sea, that this rise is one metre per century on the coasts of the Gulf of Bothnia and Qvarken, and about six decimetres on those of the Gulf of Finland.

Finland has a rich flora and fauna. Its flora is similar to that of Scandinavia. Pine and fir trees abound in Finland; bears, foxes, elk, hares and seals are the most numerous members of the fauna.

The population of Finland is 1,912,647.

It is divided into 1,875,426 Lutherans, 36,653 Greek Orthodox and 566 Roman Catholics.

In Finland, the old breakdown of the population in feudal times has been maintained.

Thus, in 1875 the Finnish census gave the following divisions:
Men. Women.
Nobles and knights........ 1,248 1,553
Clergy and teachers...3,403 4,512
Other notable persons... 8,636 10,425
Bourgeois.................. 11,209 12,126
Peasants................... 805,137 842,545
Unclassified............... 104,067 107,159

It was after the wars of 1809 that Sweden ceded Finland to Russia; in 1811, Emperor Alexander ensured that the country retained its institutions, completed its unity and received the title of Grand Duke of Finland.


There are at present (in 1878) 55 newspapers and magazines, of which 30 are in Finnish and 15 in Swedish. Of these newspapers, 21 appear in Helsingfors, of which 5 are published daily, 2 every other day, 1 once a week and 13 once or twice a month. Abo has two daily newspapers: the other 13 newspapers are published in the smaller towns two or three times a week. The largest daily newspapers are published in Swedish, but the Finnish newspapers have the largest circulation; the most widespread of these has 6-7,000 subscribers, while the most widespread in Swedish has only 4-5,000.

The fine arts are well represented and show that Finnish artists take pride in competing with their continental counterparts.

Painting and sculpture hold their own; among the marbles we may mention Psyche with Lamp by Mr. Walter Runeberg, who is a member of two academies of fine arts, one in St. Petersburg and the other in Stockholm.

The subject is charming:
According to Apuleius, Psyche was a princess of such radiant beauty that men, forgetting Venus, paid her divine honours.

The goddess, irritated, asked her son Cupid to punish Psyche by inspiring her to great love for the most miserable of mortals, but Cupid himself could not resist her beauty.

Then an oracle ordered that Psyche, dressed in a shroud, should go and wait on a mountain for the husband who was destined for her, a dreaded being by whom the inhabitants of earth, heaven and hell trembled.

The sad Psyche was led to the dreaded betrothal, but, left alone for a moment by the guests, she felt herself lifted by gentle zephyrs, which from the top of the mountain where she was, carried her to the valley, depositing her gently on the flowering grass.

There she lay, recovering the calm of her troubled mind with sweet repose, when a slight sound made her tremble. It was Love, her husband, who was resting invisibly beside her. Psyche begs him to let her see her sisters again, and despite all his efforts, Love is obliged to let her go, warning her to beware of their jealousy.

Indeed, Psyche's sisters, envious of her wealth, advise her to put her invisible husband to death, and to this end give her a lamp and a dagger.

At night, when the husband she has not yet seen is sleeping, she rises from her bed, raises the lamp to reveal his face; but no sooner does the first light shine on the charming being lying at her feet, than the dagger falls from her trembling hand. The voluptuous weapons of the mighty god hang by her bed; Psyche is wounded by an arrow, but the angry god flees.

Filled with pain, she seeks Love, but in the end she is reduced to abandoning herself to Venus, her rival. Venus subjects her to the harshest of trials and, to kill Psyche, orders her to fetch a cup of the water that falls from the mountain into Lake Stygian to feed the murmuring waters of the torrent of tears in Hell.

Only when she reaches the top of the mountain does she realise how difficult her task is. Dreadful snakes cling to the perpendicular rocks, and the water itself shouts horrible threats at her. An eagle, full of gratitude for Love, comes to Psyche's aid and fills her cup with the dreaded water.

Psyche, accepting the cup with gratitude, hurries back to Venus.


We shall confine the account of this exhibition to a general survey, for the reason that, although it has a physiognomy of its own, it nevertheless fits somewhat, as a background and as a detail, into the composition of the Russian exhibition.

First we see the primary schools with the work of their pupils; then comes the Finnish Higher School Administration, which exhibits statistical work and maps of the country.

The Finnish School Board has been in operation since 1870. Until then, the inspection of the country's schools was in the hands of the church authorities. The administration consists of a chairman and a board of six members, including three primary school inspectors and one municipal school inspector. All educational institutions in the country, except for the University and vocational schools, are under this administration. The supervision of religious education belongs as before to the consistories.

The other parts of the exhibition are only of interest from a comparative point of view, in that they allow us to determine the extent of the progress made by trade and industry.

We shall first note papers and samples of paper pulp made from fir and aspen. At a time when the consumption of paper is so considerable and the raw material is no longer sufficient to meet the demands of production, attention cannot be paid too much to the use of wood. The reader will remember that Sweden and Norway are very happily engaged in this new industry.

The manufacture of matches represents a fairly important turnover, but which cannot be compared with that of the two countries we have just mentioned.

Finally, we should mention the forestry exhibition with its specimens of wood, the Finnish butter which is so highly esteemed, and the preserves and foodstuffs; the drinks consist of porter, Swedish punch and brandy.

©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878