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Gendered Sensation in the works of Zinaida Serebriakova

A woman’s perspective on early twentieth-century Russia
Une approche genrée de la sensorialité dans les œuvres de Zinaïda Serebriakova. Une perspective féminine sur la Russie du début xxe siècle
Sasha Rasmussen

Résumés

Nombreuses sont les œuvres de l’artiste Zinaïda Serebriakova dans lesquelles sont peintes des scènes intimes entre femmes, remplies d’allusions sensorielles et de marqueurs de la féminité bourgeoise. En plaçant la figure féminine et sa capacité à éprouver des sensations au centre de ces représentations picturales, Serebriakova offre un bref aperçu d’un paysage sensoriel uniquement féminin. La vie et l’œuvre de Serebriakova – tout autant femme qu’artiste - éclairent les expériences des femmes à Saint Pétersbourg à l’aube du XXe siècle. À travers trois études de cas, cet article examine la représentation des sens dans les œuvres de Serebriakova ; la manière dont cela reflète ses propres rencontres sensorielles avec la ville ; ainsi que le rôle des sensations dans la construction de l’identité féminine. Plus généralement, cet article démontre la nécessité d’adopter une perspective historique plus attentive à la relation réciproque entre le genre et les sens.

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Introduction

  • 1 Self-Portrait, 1909. Oil on canvas, 75 cm x 65 cm, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.
  • 2 Zinaida Serebriakova, Za tualetom. Avtoportret. (At the Dressing-Table. Self-Portrait), 1909, oil o (...)
  • 3 Alison L. Hilton, “Zinaida Serebriakova”, Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 3, n° 2, 1982, p. 32-35, hear p (...)
  • 4 Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, Zinaida Serebriakova: 1884-1967, Moscow, Izdatel’stvo “Iskusstvo – XXI (...)

1In her 1909 self-portrait, Za tualetom (At the Dressing-Table)1, Zinaida Evgenievna Serebriakova (née Lansere, 1884-1967) stands combing her hair, framed by her dressing-table mirror2. The painting offers an intimate perspective of the 25-year-old artist, coded with markers of her femininity and gentility, yet it is also an image heavy with sensory allusions. The dressing table holds an array of small but sensual objects: the extinguished candlesticks on either edge of the frame evoke both the qualities of candlelight and the smell of smoke; the foreground is strewn with perfume bottles and powder cosmetics; the roundness of a string of pearls contrasts with several sharp-looking hat pins3. Behind her, we catch a glimpse of a comfortable bedroom – a jug and washbasin stand below a smaller mirror in one corner of the room, while the other contains the edge of a bed, with its layered textures of linen and ruffled lace4. The mundanity – and therefore the familiarity – of these sensations contributes to the painting’s overall mood of cosiness and optimism. There is a brightness to the image, a playful femininity to the scene it depicts. Sight, smell, and touch are all readily represented, and we might easily imagine the sound of water pouring into the basin, of the comb moving through her hair, or a soft knock at the door.

2Serebriakova’s self-portrait reads as a sensory allegory of bourgeois femininity. For a male viewer, the painting might offer some small insight into the strange rituals of womanhood, or even a voyeuristic pleasure. However, the items and sensations depicted would have been instantly recognisable to women across Europe, who likely engaged in similar habits on virtually a daily basis. A chemise, a comb, perfumes and powders, jewellery, and assorted trinkets: these were the trappings of femininity acquired by those who could afford them, and some of the most common elements which distinguished a woman’s sensory world from that of her husband, father, or brother.

  • 5 The term “sensescape” is used variously in sensory studies both as a kind of shorthand to describe (...)

3This article explores the gendering of sensation and women’s sensory landscapes in early twentieth-century Russia, through the life and works of Zinaida Serebriakova. More broadly, it asks what role sensation played in constructing feminine identities, and how this might be articulated through a visual medium. Many of Serebriakova’s works depict scenes of intimacy between women set within female homosocial spaces – the domestic sphere, the bathhouse, or the theatrical dressing room – each with their own particular sensory profile and at least partially shielded from masculine influence and understanding. Serebriakova’s paintings offer a valuable glimpse of those sensory environments from a specifically feminine perspective. A woman as well as an artist, Serebriakova also inhabited a sensescape of her own5; by tracing her sensory encounters at various points in her career, we learn about how women more generally might have experienced life in St Petersburg in the early twentieth century. Concentrating on Za tualetom (At the Dressing-Table, 1909), a preparatory study for Bania (The Bathhouse, 1912-1913), and Baletnaia ubornaia (Ballet Washroom, 1924), this article considers the sensory conditions in which the works were produced, the representation of the senses and sensation in Serebriakova’s work, and how she used sensory allusions to enhance depictions of female intimacy.

Sensory History: A Gendered Perspective

  • 6 Alain Corbin, Le Miasme et la Jonquille: l’odorat et l’imaginaire social xviiie-xixe siècles, Paris (...)
  • 7 William Tullet, op. cit., p. 804.
  • 8 Jan Plamper, “Sounds of February, Smells of October: The Russian Revolution as Sensory Experience”, (...)
  • 9 Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience. (Questions of Evidence)”, Critical Inquiry vol. 17, n°  (...)
  • 10 Tricia Starks, Smoking Under the Tsars: A History of Tobacco in Imperial Russia (Ithaca: Cornell Un (...)

4The burgeoning field of sensory studies has produced a host of outstanding scholarship across a wide range of disciplines. In historical scholarship, the sensory turn began in the 1980s with the work of Alain Corbin, and historians have since become increasingly mindful of the social and cultural construction of the sensorium6. As its core principle, sensory history recognises the contingency of sensory perception, that it is “socially and culturally constructed, specific to time and place, and therefore has a history”7. It is a branch of history which “foregrounds the experience of historical actors”8, re-enlivening longstanding scholarly debates around experience as a category of historical analysis9. In the field of Russian history, a number of scholars have recently turned their attention to the senses: work by historians such as Tricia Starks, Jan Plamper, Claire Shaw, Emma Widdis, Vladimir Lapshin, Karl Schlögel, Alexander M. Martin and others has highlighted the sensory dimensions of life in Russia and the Soviet Union10.

  • 11 Aimée Boutin, City of Noise: Sound and Nineteenth-Century Paris, Urbana, University of Illinois Pre (...)
  • 12 See, for instance, Daniel E. Bender, “Sensing Labor: The Stinking Working-Class after the Cultural (...)
  • 13 Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England, New Haven, CT, (...)
  • 14 Mary Lynn Stewart, For Health and Beauty: Physical Culture for Frenchwomen, 1880s-1930s, Baltimore; (...)

5At its most persuasive, sensory history goes beyond individual encounters to connect particular sensory profiles or experiences with the broader sweep of cultural, social, and political trends. In these cases, sensation becomes a vantage point from which to examine other topics in a new light. Scholarship on the senses often fundamentally addresses signifiers of social difference: for instance, in her study of sound and urban space in nineteenth-century Paris, Aimée Boutin observes that “perception of street noise filters other reactions to social phenomena, such as poverty, class antagonism, xenophobia, and anxieties about gender roles”11. Crucial work on the sensory dimensions of class identity, social status, race, and racialisation has already emerged in this field, deepening our understanding of how social divisions were created and enforced12. It is surprising, then, that there have been comparatively few studies of the reciprocal relationship between the senses and cultural constructions of gender. Notable exceptions include the work of Laura Gowing, Christina Bradstreet, and Constance Classen, and much is owed to the feminist theorist Luce Irigaray for her analysis of how sensory perception intersects with gendered hierarchies13. While not always explicitly sensory in its purpose, scholarship on health, hygiene, and consumer capitalism – especially as regards commodities like clothing and perfume – can also offer valuable insights into the ways sensation was gendered14. However, there remains considerable scope within the field for a sustained analysis of the reciprocal relationship between gender and sensory experience, and particularly, of the role of sensation in constructing gendered identities.

  • 15 Mark D. Steinberg, “Russian History through the Senses: From 1700 to the Present. Edited by Matthew (...)
  • 16 Fretwell, Sensory Experiments, op. cit., p. 5.

6Influenced by earlier waves of scholarship on the history of sexuality, sensory historians have shown a heightened awareness of the body as the primary vehicle of sensory perception, and “as an object and source of history, as a site where materiality and subjectivity intertwine”15. Erica Fretwell has noted that sensory histories are deeply indebted to “feminist and queer phenomenologies” which trace the uneven effects of power on different bodies16. The centrality of the body and embodiment to a history of the senses underlines the relevance of gender as a lens, on account of the gendered treatment to which bodies of all sexes have historically been subjected. Combining sensory history with the analytical lens of gender offers a novel and productive approach to questions of subjectivity, identity, and embodiment.

  • 17 Paul Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Events, Experience, and Myth, New York, Columbia U (...)
  • 18 Aimée Boutin, City of Noise, op. cit., p. 3.

7Bodies – both those of the researchers and of their historical subjects – loom large in sensory history. In some ways, this shared experience of embodiment is the closest connection we have to the people of the past, a feeling articulated by Paul Cohen: “[a]ll of us, after all, have expertise in this area. We are all experiencers ourselves, not of the past but of a past”17. The desire to identify with our subjects is all the more compelling given that the sensory apparatus of the body – eyes, noses, ears, etc. – has changed little over recent centuries. But this physiological continuity underlines the importance of one of the fundamental tenets of the field: that sensory perception is not constant, varying by time, place, and culture. As Boutin writes within the context of aurality, “[t]hough our ears work the same way as they did in the nineteenth century, we do not hear things the same way: our sensitivity to noise has changed”18.

  • 19 This ambivalence surrounding the role of the body in creating knowledge has a long history: as Pame (...)
  • 20 Mark M. Smith, “Producing Sense, Consuming Sense, Making Sense: Perils and Prospects for Sensory Hi (...)
  • 21 Mark M. Smith, “Producing Sense, Consuming Sense, Making Sense”, op. cit., p. 849.
  • 22 Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan, op. cit., p. 6.
  • 23 Sven Dupré et al. (dir.), Reconstruction, Replication and Re-Enactment in the Humanities and Social (...)
  • 24 See Hjalmar Fors, Lawrence M. Principe, and Otto Sibum, “From the Library to the Laboratory and Bac (...)
  • 25 Sven Dupré et al., Reconstruction, Replication and Re-Enactment, op. cit., p. 22.
  • 26 Otto Sibum, “Science and the Knowing Body: Making Sense of Embodied Knowledge in Scientific Experim (...)

8The role of the body in sensory research has caused a divergence of approach amongst historians interested in the senses. Some have self-consciously moved away from attempts to recreate historical sensations19, concentrating instead on the frames of cultural reference within which they became meaningful: to borrow the terminology coined by Mark M. Smith, to distinguish between “producing” sense towards “consuming” sense20. Smith has defended the use of print as a source of sensory insight, as his focus is primarily how sensations were understood by those who experience them, rather than the sensation itself21. Others have been more willing to embrace “bodily knowledge”22 and “performative methods”23 in their research, particularly in the fields of the history of science, art history, and heritage studies24. By accepting that historical accuracy can be approached but never achieved25, methods which seek to reconstruct or reproduce aspects of the material past open new avenues of historical enquiry, drawing our attention to the bodily processes of imitation, repetition, and experimentation through which people acquired knowledge about the world. In the words of historian of science Otto Sibum, such practices are “not an attempt to find out ‘how it really was’, but rather ‘a complementary method to the existing modes of historical exploration’”26. Both of these epistemologies have a place in sensory research. If we conceive of femininity (or, indeed, masculinity) as a culture, what objects, gestures, and practices defined that culture?

  • 27 Michelle Tusan, “Inventing the New Woman: Print Culture and Identity Politics during the Fin-de-Sie (...)
  • 28 Collin G. Pooley and Sian Pooley, “Constructing a Suburban Identity: Youth, Femininity and Modernit (...)

9Gendering sensory experience in the past requires us to consider the question from two angles: how did the sensory worlds of women and men differ in their material substance, and how might a person have interpreted a common or shared sensation differently on account of their gender? The early twentieth century offers a particularly fruitful context within which to consider these differences, as the combination of technological innovation and major shifts in contemporary attitudes towards gender norms culminated in both a host of new sensory possibilities and new ways of existing as a woman in the world. A time when the ‘Women Question’ was at the forefront of debates across Europe, the early decades of the twentieth century saw ideas about femininity expand and diversify27. Undoubtedly, women’s presence and (perhaps more importantly) their “culture prominence” in mixed-gender urban spaces increased during this period28. However, I propose that despite women’s increasing confidence and freedom to move in shared public spaces, a woman’s sensory world still differed markedly from that of a man, not least because her means of interpreting and assigning meaning to her experiences were framed by expectations of femininity.

  • 29 Erika Rappaport, Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End, Princeton, NJ; Ch (...)
  • 30 The notion of separate spheres has come under considerable scrutiny in more recent scholarship. See (...)
  • 31 James H. Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, Berkeley, University of California Press, (...)
  • 32 Ruth Iskin, “The Pan-European flâneuse in Fin-de-Siècle Posters: Advertising Modern Women in the Ci (...)
  • 33 Masha Belenky, “From Transit to Transitoire…”, op. cit.; Id., “Transitory Tales…”, op. cit.
  • 34 Yuri Tsivian, Early Cinema in Russia and its Cultural Reception, edited by Richard Taylor, translat (...)

10The conspicuous presence of women in many European cities from the late nineteenth century onwards has perhaps contributed to the tendency to overlook the sensory specificities of their lives. For work or leisure, women were increasingly visible in their occupation of public space across the city, and codes of respectability changed accordingly to accommodate this new reality and legitimise women’s presence in spaces which had formerly been dominated by men. Infrastructure which accommodated women’s needs – such as tearooms and public lavatories – and expanding systems of public transportation meant that, by the late nineteenth century, practical restrictions on women’s urban mobility were significantly reduced29. As the tenuous spatial distinctions of the public sphere and domestic realm allegedly gave way to a more democratic urban landscape, women and men moved and mingled with comparable freedom30. As women’s access to the city expanded, so too did their sensory palette, through novel sensory encounters facilitated by new environments and social contexts. Ladies were admitted to the standing parterre of concert halls31; women of all classes could stroll the boulevards of the central city, pausing to gaze at consumer goods displayed in shop windows32; they could ride an omnibus or electric tram to their destination33; or they could nestle in the padded seats of a dim auditorium to take in a play or a film34.

  • 35 Mary Lynn Stewart describes how this was sold to women as a great opportunity to care for their bod (...)

11Yet even as women navigated the modern urban environment, there remained spaces, both physical and conceptual, which were homosocial or populated predominantly by women. Places like lodging houses, classrooms and lecture halls, and public bathing facilities were still consistently separated by sex, and other settings – like a fashionable atelier with its female clientele, models, salesclerks, and seamstresses – were overwhelmingly oriented towards women. Consequently, certain sensory experiences which were commonplace for women within those settings were largely closed to men, or had no obvious masculine equivalent. Particularly with regards to the care and management of their bodies, social expectations placed on women meant their routines bore little resemblance to the hygiene habits of men. In the pages of the burgeoning women’s press, a whole host of fashion and beauty articles were marketed to women, claiming to preserve or restore their allure – high heeled shoes and no-snag stocking suspender belts; corsets, girdles, and brassieres; floral-scented soaps, powders, and lotions; vanity mirrors; dressmaking patterns and supplies; and electric hairdryers and face massagers – all of which men were expected to take little notice. Indeed, a key tenet of feminine attractiveness has long been that it should appear effortless, and that men should remain ignorant of the myriad steps necessary to achieve the illusion35.

  • 36 Michelle DenBeste, “NOT Finding Women in the Archives: The Case of Evgeniia Serebrennikova, Pioneer (...)
  • 37 With the exception of Alison Hilton’s excellent but brief exposition of her life and works, “Zinaid (...)
  • 38 See, for instance, John E. Bowlt, “Women of Genius”, in John E. Bowlt and Matthew Drutt (dir.), Ama (...)
  • 39 Most recently, Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, Zinaida Serebriakova: 1884-1967, Moscow, Izdatel’stvo “ (...)

12Zinaida Serebriakova offers a valuable window onto these feminine sensescapes: by virtue of her gender, she was able to gain access to these spaces, and as an artist, left detailed visual records of her sensory impressions. Many women of this period lived without leaving any archival traces, and so Serebriakova’s paintings, correspondence, and other records are all the more precious36. Serebriakova is relatively little-known in anglophone scholarship37, seldom receiving more than a few lines in broader histories of Russian art, and often overshadowed by other women painters of the avant-garde movement, such as Natalia Goncharova, Olga Rozanova, and Liubov’ Popova38. She is, however, the subject of several Russian biographies written both during the Soviet period and subsequently39. Serebriakova came from an artistic family, and was encouraged to pursue her talents from a young age, frequently travelling abroad to study. Following the revolutions of 1917, her life became extremely difficult: she passed the civil war in Kharkov (now Kharkiv, modern Ukraine), where her husband died of typhus in 1919. She moved with her family to Petrograd (St Petersburg), but unable to find steady employment, she left for Paris in 1924, leaving her four children behind with her mother. She never returned to the Soviet Union, and died in Paris at the age of 82.

Za tualetom – At the Dressing Table (1909)

  • 40 John E. Bowlt, Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia’s Silver Age, London, Thames & Hudson, 2008, p. 9 (...)
  • 41 Leif Runefelt, “The corset and the mirror. Fashion and domesticity in Swedish advertisements and fa (...)

13To return to Serebriakova’s self-portrait, Za tualetom is a work which thematises the female gaze, emphasising the woman artist as observer and addressing itself to women spectators. Art historian John E. Bowlt situates the painting within the Symbolist movement and its fascination with mirrors and light, noting that self-portraits in mirrors were “a favourite genre during the Russian Silver Age”40. What sets Serebriakova’s self-portrait apart from similar works is the combination of these stock tropes with her overt femininity and confidence. Historically, women’s looking has been cast as an act of vanity, or as a potentially corrupting force41. Yet there is no hint of hesitation in Serebriakova’s unwavering gaze – she admires herself with a bold look and a wry smile. Her eyes are so central to the image, and the scene depicted is so clearly from her perspective, that the viewer cannot escape the feminine viewpoint.

  • 42 Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 33.
  • 43 Alexander Benois, “Vystavka ‘Soiuza’’, Rech’, 13 March 1910. The section pertaining to Serebriakova (...)

14While the painting was much admired by contemporary male critics, the image itself assumes a female audience through the inclusion of several gendered markers: the female body, the domestic interior, and what Hilton describes as “a remarkable still life of perfume bottles, hatpins, powder-puff and candlesticks on the dressing table”42. Both at its first showing at the Union of Russian Artists exhibition at in its later home at the Tretiakov Gallery, Za tualetom was accessible to a wide public, and was doubtlessly seen by countless bourgeois ladies of St Petersburg and Moscow. If we consider the painting from the perspective of the female spectator, part of its humour becomes a private joke between artist and the viewer, both women, who understand the sensual value of these trinkets. Serebriakova’s uncle Alexander Benois, however, was quite dismissive of this aspect of the painting. In his review of the exhibition, published in the daily newspaper Rech’ in March 1910, Benois referred to the objects as “a collection of perfumes and all variety of ladies’ odds and ends…”43 He continued:

  • 44 Ibid.

Everything is ugly and tacky. There is no trace of any modernist sophistication here. But a simple – and even a vulgar – way of life becomes charming and joyful in the light of youth. This set of cheap and worthless things in the foreground [of the painting] is transformed into some kind of fantastical garden, into sparkling bouquets of magical jewels.44

15While he applauded Serebriakova’s artistic talent, Benois’ disparaging words suggest a general disdain for this array of small items and the feminine “frivolity” they symbolise; their significance fell beyond his horizon of understanding.

  • 45 Mark D. Steinberg, Petersburg Fin de Siècle, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2011, p.  (...)
  • 46 S. P. Zavarikhin and R. A. Faltinskii, Kapital i arkhitektura: Istoriia arkhitektury i stroitel’stv (...)
  • 47 Abby Schrader, “Market Pleasures and Prostitution in St. Petersburg”, in Matthew P. Romaniello and (...)
  • 48 Ibid., p. 108
  • 49 Iulii L. Elets, Poval’noe bezumie: K sverzheniiu iga mod, St Petersburg, 1914; Christine Ruane, “Cl (...)

16Za tualetom coincided with a moment when the Russian market for women’s commodities was expanding. The first decade of the twentieth century saw the proliferation of European-style shops in St Petersburg, and the imperial capital boasted numerous department stores and large collective trading houses. One of the more prestigious of these many shopping venues was an elegant glass-covered arcade which connected Nevskii Prospekt to Italianskaia ulitsa and Mikhailovskii Square, known as Passazh45. The arcade was originally built in 1846, but underwent significant renovations completed in 1901, including the installation of heating and electric lights46. The growth of such commercial spaces, predicated on principles of display and consumption, was a major cause of moral anxiety amongst St Petersburg conservative commentators47. Rhetoric about the dangers of consumerism often linked the pleasures of looking to the possibility of erotic touch, cautioning that women selling sex feigned window shopping in places like Passazh “at the hour when bankers and officials were leaving work” in order to solicit clients48, or telling of young women lured into prostitution in order to afford fashionable trinkets they had seen in department store windows49.

  • 50 Karl Schlögel, The Scent of Empires: Chanel № 5 and Red Moscow, op. cit., p. 31-32.
  • 51 Ibid., p. 32.
  • 52 Ibid., p. 9.
  • 53 Ibid., p. 37.

17Karl Schlögel’s work on the Russian perfume industry remarks that “shortly before the outbreak of World War I, Russia had become a world power not only in the realm of culture but also in the production of cosmetics and perfumes”50. As the Russian middle classes expanded in the wake of the reforms of the 1860s, so too did demand for “everyday toiletries”, including a variety of soaps and other scented products51. Schlögel notes that the use of aldehydes was becoming common practice in the perfume industry of the early twentieth century, resulting in more intense and abstract fragrances52; however, women’s magazines from the period still featured a wealth of products with more traditional scents, such as violet or lily of the valley. In the pre-war years, Serebriakova formed part of this milieu, and the two perfume bottles and powder puff visible on her dressing table attest to her interest in the kinds of scented products marketed to women of her social standing. Za tualetom also neatly illustrates the connection between the cosmetics industry and the art of the Russian Silver Age: Schlögel points out that the designs of perfume bottles, labels, and advertising posters participated in wider aesthetic trends53; here, the modest glass bottles are integrated into a fine art medium, continuing the cycle of influence.

  • 54 There had been an earlier publication by the same name, edited and published by Aleksandra Nikolaev (...)
  • 55 Rachel Mesch has analysed women’s magazines which occupied a similar position in the French market, (...)

18In 1910, the same year that Za tualetom was first exhibited, the illustrated women’s magazine Zhenskoe delo (Women’s Cause) published its inaugural issue in Moscow under the direction of L. M. Rodionov54. Appearing fortnightly, Zhenskoe delo ran until 1918, selling for 10 kopecks in Moscow and St Petersburg, and 12 in the provinces. For this price, the paper quality was glossier and heavier than many competing publications, the format was larger, and beyond the coloured cover image were many more black and white illustrations and photographs. The magazine’s content included a wide range of topics which its editors considered of interest to a female readership, combining coverage of the latest fashions and celebrity profiles with news of organised campaigns and individual success stories associated with the women’s movement in Russia and internationally55. Advertising was also an important element of the publication’s commercial success, and the back of each issues contained several pages of advertisements for a wide range of commodities: soaps, perfumes, pomades, spectacles, gramophones, hairpieces, corsets, and galoshes.

  • 56 Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, vol. 16, n° 3, 1975, p. 6-18 here p.  (...)

19What Zhenskoe delo and Za tualetom have in common is their use of the female body and the paraphernalia of femininity to solicit the female gaze. Illustrated women’s magazines like Zhenskoe delo contained countless images of women – from photographs of celebrities and feminist activists to the elegant, sketched figures of the fashion plates – and the commercial success of this genre of publication is indicative of their female readership’s “scopophilia” – taking pleasure in the act of looking, particularly at human forms56. Similarly, Serebriakova staged her own body as the primary focus of Za tualetom, emphasising her youth and femininity through visual cues: her long hair, the clean and bright domestic interior, and the assorted beauty products play a similar role here as they did on the pages of the magazine.

  • 57 Joey Soloway, “The Female Gaze”, Toronto International Film Festival: Master Class address, 11 Sept (...)

20By addressing themselves to a female audience, both Serebriakova’s painting and women’s periodicals invited women to claim a position as the subject of the gaze. Yet female faces and bodies were also the object of their gaze. This captures the underlying irony of women’s engagement with visual culture in this period: even as women embraced new forms of spectatorship, this was accompanied by an acute awareness of their own visibility. We see this in Serebriakova’s self-portrait in the confidence of her posture and her cheerful glance, reflected back to the viewer in the mirror: she is conscious of her visibility and deliberately stages herself and her body for the painting’s audience, but she also returns the gaze, looking back at herself and at the viewer, sketching her reflection for her own visual pleasure. Where the male gaze alienated women from their bodies, Za tualetom and Zhenskoe delo not only permitted but encouraged women to “feel themselves as subject”, their representations of the female form calling the viewer’s attention to their own embodiment57.

  • 58 Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, op. cit., p. 22; Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 32.
  • 59 Z. E. Serebriakova to A. N. Savinov, Paris, 22(?) June 1966. Reproduced in Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida (...)
  • 60 Evgenii and Aleksandr were born in 1906 and 1907 respectively. Tat’iana and Ekaterina followed in 1 (...)
  • 61 Z. E. Serebriakova to A. N. Savinov, Paris, 22(?) June 1966. Reproduced in Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida (...)
  • 62 Ibid., p. 209.

21Za tualetom is also an allegory of the pleasures of domesticity: Serebriakova, a young wife and mother waits with her children for the return of her husband, occupying herself in his absence with her work. As one of her earliest and best-known works, Za tualetom was the subject of much curiosity, and Serebriakova recounted the circumstances of its creation on several occasions in her correspondence with various art critics later in life. She began the painting while at home in the village of Neskuchne, near Kharkiv: writing to the art critic V. P. Lapshin, she explained that “winter came early and with much snow – our entire garden, the fields, and the road were covered with snow”, and as such she was unable to source models from amongst the local villagers and turned to the subject of a self-portrait to amuse herself58. In a letter to the critic A. N. Savinov from 1966, the year before her death, Serebriakova wrote that while her mother and sisters had departed for Petersburg in the autumn of 1909, she had chosen to remain behind and wait for her husband to return from the Siberian Taiga, where he was working as an engineer59. Serebriakova and her two sons, Evgenii and Aleksandr60, installed themselves in the small farmhouse (khutor) on her husband’s adjacent estate, “where the house was small and could be heated more easily in winter than the big, high-ceilinged room of Neskuchne”61. Again, she mentioned the early winter, but recalled that inside the house all was “warm and cosy” (teplo i uiutno)62.

  • 63 Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 33.

22The final painting contains a number of visual clues to the sensory conditions in which it was created. Hilton notes that “[t]here is no window, but the yellow and bluish tints on the wall and linen give the effect of the low winter morning sunlight”63. The warmth of the room and her relative solitude account for her wearing only a light chemise. Thick layers of oil paint and visible brushstrokes in certain places on the canvas trace the pattern of the artist’s gestures, calling attention to the materiality of the painting as a made object and evoking the kinaesthetic process of its creation. Serebriakova’s body is the key to this image, providing both the inspiration for the subject and the physical means by which it was produced, and she seems to have taken pleasure in including object-references to the sensations of that day within the image.

Bania. Etiud. – The Bathhouse. Study. (1912-1913)

  • 64 Ibid.
  • 65 Rosalind P. Blakesley, “Women and the Visual Arts”, in Wendy Rosslyn and Alessandra Tosi (dir.), Wo (...)
  • 66 Ibid., p. 107.
  • 67 Ibid.

23One of Serebriakova’s most beloved subjects was the female nude, and she painted dozens over the course of her career. As Hilton notes, Serebriakova’s attention to this genre is “unusual”, given that “full-scale nudes were comparatively rare in Russian art of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries”64. For much of the nineteenth century, women had been refused entry to life drawing classes, ostensibly to protect feminine modesty but effectively excluding them from the more “serious” and lucrative artistic genres65. As women’s artistic professionalism advanced and their access to formal art education improved from the 1870s onwards, so too did their opportunities to work from live models. In this respect, Russian women art students in particular “found a valuable champion in Il’ia Repin”, under whom Serebriakova studied briefly in 190166. As Rosalind P. Blakesley observes, Repin “welcomed women into his studio at the Academy as soon as he began to teach there in 1894”, and significantly, “allowed women to work from female models alongside men”67.

  • 68 Z. E. Serebriakova to A. N. Savinov, Paris, november 1957. Reproduced in Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida S (...)
  • 69 Ibid.
  • 70 Ibid.
  • 71 Ibid.

24Serebriakova was forthright in a letter to Savinov in November 1957 that her attraction to the theme of bathing and the bania was largely due to the premise it offered to depict nude female figures68. She wrote: “What drew me towards the theme of the ‘Bania’ and, in general, to the depiction of the naked body? I have always been fond of the ‘nude’, and the subject of the ‘Bania’ was only a pretext for this”, agreeing with her correspondent that this was “simply because a young and clean human body is a good thing”, (prosto potomu, chto khorosho chelovecheskoe iunoe i chistoe telo)69. She explained that, during her first ten years in exile in Paris, she was able to find models through the Russian expatriate community, “lovely Russian girls who agreed to pose for me”, but lamented that once these young women married, they no longer had time to sit for her70. Unable to afford the cost of engaging professional models, Serebriakova shifted her focus and contented herself instead with still lifes, in which she also found “a painterly joy” (zhivopisnuiu radost’)71. However, especially in her earlier works, the nude woman is a constant presence.

  • 72 Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity”, in Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (di (...)
  • 73 Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, New York, NY, (...)
  • 74 Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity”, in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism an (...)

25Challenging the “gender-specific conditions” of mid-nineteenth-century art, Griselda Pollock invites us to “imagine a female spectator and a female producer of the works”72. In the works of Serebriakova, we do not have to imagine. The treatment of the nude in her first large-scale work, Bania (The Bathhouse, 1913) and the preparatory study which preceded it is typical of her broader style. In his cultural history of the bania in Russia, Ethan Pollock has suggested that “[i]n some sense, the painting [Serebriakova’s Bania] was a sensation simply because the artist was a woman and so the painting’s subjects were not conjured by a male artistic gaze”73. But it is not merely the absence of the male gaze which makes this work interesting; it is the presence of a powerful female perspective. Depicting the female nude is no longer a “sign” of masculine sexuality74, but a gesture of feminine intimacy, familiarity, and comfort; it is a sensual – rather than sexual – symbol. The thematic and compositional foregrounding of women’s bodies in Serebriakova’s work shapes them as sensory subjects, concentrating on the female body’s capacity for feeling, rather than on its erotic potential.

  • 75 Vasilisa Nikitichna Dudchenko, as quoted in V. P. Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida Serebriakova: Pis’ma. So (...)

26The intimacy of the Bania scene is also a reflection of the intimate ties which existed between the artist and her models. There is an intimacy inherent in the moment of posing, in which the model allows herself to be observed and the artist works at rendering her image, the pair alone in the studio potentially for hours at a time. While she occasionally made portraits of male friends and relatives, Serebriakova overwhelmingly depicted women in her works, often sourcing models from amongst the villagers near her family estate at Neskuchne. Artistically, her preference was for “strong, tall women, she conveyed their strength, vigour, diligence”75. The situational intimacy was heightened when the artist and model were already known to one another, as was the case in Serebriakova’s Bania. One of the models was Vasilisa Nikitichna Dudchenko, who had worked as a cook first in the Lansere household when Zinaida was a child, and was later employed by the Serebriakovs. The two women had known one another for decades, and Dudchenko spoke warmly of Serebriakova in her memoirs. She recalled:

  • 76 Ibid.

Zinaida Evgenievna painted the scene Bania in St Petersburg in her studio on Vasilievskii Island. I posed for her. I’m there in the centre, bending over, but my face is hidden by the sitting woman with a basin. Girls and young women who served as domestic workers in the city were also models for this painting.76

  • 77 Ibid.

27The relationship between Dudchenko and Serebriakova was apparently an especially close one, despite the power dynamics of their differing social status. Dudchenko recalled how both Serebriakova and her husband Boris had called her by the affectionate diminutive “Vasilisushka”, saying “[Serebriakova] loved us all: the cook, the nanny, she counted us as her own”77.

  • 78 Ethan Pollock, op. cit., p. 117.
  • 79 Ibid., p. 116.
  • 80 Nancy Condee, “The Second Fantasy Mother, or All Baths Are Women’s Baths”, in Helena Goscilo and Be (...)
  • 81 Ibid., p. 9.

28Despite this intimate connection between the artist and her subject, for Ethan Pollock, Serebriakova’s Bania is “the opposite of sociability”78. The lack of direct interaction between the women in Serebriakova’s painting leads him to conclude, “[t]he impression is almost as if the eleven subjects are all the same woman, at various stages of her bath, depicted at once”79. Pollock contrasts this with the apparent intimacy between the men captured by Karl Bulla in his photographs of the Egorov baths, in which men scrub one another’s hair and naked bodies. But I would argue that by conflating intimacy and social interaction, Pollock overlooks the quiet familiarity between the bathing women. Serebriakova’s vision stages a different kind of intimacy: it is a visual representation of a comfortable silence as a group of women – at ease in their bodies and in each other’s company – go about the task of washing themselves. The cultural significance of the bania in Russia imbues it with a reputation as an introspective, even spiritual space closely associated with femininity: hence, the Russian proverb, “the bathhouse is a second mother” (Bania – mat’ vtoraia)80. As Nancy Condee asks, “Is the bania a place where women come not only to wash, but for camaraderie, contemplation, and a range of physical sensations that temporarily relegates the male sex organ to the periphery…?”81

  • 82 Ethan Pollock, op. cit., p. 117.
  • 83 Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 34.
  • 84 Ibid.

29However, both Pollock and Hilton have pointed out the curious absence of these sensations in Serebriakova’s final work of 1913. While the warm lighting and orange tones of the nude bodies suggest the warmth of the crowded bathhouse, there is “no steam, no wetness, … and no attempt at rendering motion”82. Hilton observes, “[n]o actual activity is depicted; even the hot, steamy atmosphere of a Russian bathhouse is absent”83. Hilton continues: “In contrast, a large sketch for the painting conveys both the sensual effects of damp wood and steam and the interaction of the bathing women.”84 This earlier study, begun in 1912, is more dynamic; while it depicts fewer bathers, the variety of poses is greater. One woman rubs her raised calf muscle and ankle, while her seated companion empties a bucket of water over her head – the water has been drawn with such a powerful sense of downward motion that the splash is almost audible. In the background, women can be seen at varying stages of the bathing process: one stands with her back to the viewer with rosy buttocks and a bucket dangling from her hand; another is wrapped in a bright white towel; a third is seated with one leg raised and outstretched awkwardly; behind her, almost discernible, is a woman holding what looks like a venik – a bundle of birch twigs used to stimulate blood circulation by beating the skin. The women in the background are hazy and faceless, partially obscured by clouds of steam. From a sensory perspective, the study is by far the more descriptive of the two works.

  • 85 Much has been written about the particular importance of female artists to the arts and crafts move (...)
  • 86 Olga Petri, “At the bathhouse: municipal reform and the bathing commons in late imperial St. Peters (...)

30In some respects, the small, wooden-walled country bania which Serebriakova depicts here was a vestige of declining rural and peasant traditions – while not a figment of her imagination per se, certainly a harkening back to the time she spent at Neskuchne. This focus aligns Serebriakova’s paintings of rural life with the values of the arts and crafts movement, which sought to preserve and revalorise creative traditions threatened by Russia’s rapid industrialisation85. But elsewhere, the ritual of the bania was being adapted to the exigencies of late Tsarist ideas of modernity and hygiene: with the mass urban migration of the latter half of the nineteenth century, commercial bathing premises like the Egorov baths were increasingly a feature of Russian city life86. These very different bathing practices overlapped and coexisted in the lives and minds of St Petersburg’s inhabitants, and Serebriakova for one seems to have experienced this as a tension between the economic opportunities of the city and a sense of nostalgia for the traditions of her home village.

  • 87 Many of the streets on Vasilievskii Island run parallel to one another and are numbered rather than (...)

31Situating the creation of this painting within the physical landscape of St Petersburg also prompts us to consider Serebriakova’s experience of the urban environment. By the early twentieth century, women from across the social spectrum regularly moved through the city for employment or leisure, coming into contact with various forms of modern infrastructure. Here, the city itself becomes a source: the process of re-enacting or re-creating Serebriakova’s path through built environment draws our attention to new facets of her experience, such as the differing sensations of modes of transport, or the effects of the notoriously dreary Petersburg weather. According to Dudchenko, Bania was painted in Serebriakova’s studio on Vasilievskii Island, located at number forty of the “first line” (pervaia liniia), on the eastern, more sheltered side of the island87. If it faced the street, rather than the inner courtyard, it likely caught the morning light, and the rumble of passing trams might drift through an open window.

  • 88 Catriona Kelly, St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2016, p. 353.
  • 89 “Pitertransport”, “Istoriia tramvainogo marshruta 7”, 2022, available online at https://pitertransp (...)
  • 90 Catriona Kelly, op. cit., p. 353. See also, F. E. Enakiev, Zadachi Preobrazovaniia S.-Peterburga, S (...)
  • 91 “Novaia Moda”, Zhenskoe Delo, № 7-8, 1, 14, 1911, p. 34.

32Electric trams were introduced in St Petersburg in 1907, and were quickly embraced by local residents as a symbol of modernity and an affordable mode of transport around the city88. In 1912, Serebriakova would have been able to take the number seven tram which ran directly past her studio, down the pervaia liniia of Vasilievskii Island, along Universitetskaia Embankment, crossing the Neva by the Nikolaevskii Bridge (now Blagoveshchenskii Bridge) into the central district of the city, turning left and passing by the Admiralty spire before continuing down the length of the main thoroughfare, Nevskii Prospekt, towards Znamenskaia Ploshchad’ (now Ploshchad’ Vosstaniia)89. Civil engineer F. E. Enakiev estimated that over 115 million passengers had made similar journeys by tram the preceding year90. Trams also featured in debates about women’s personal mobility, as feminist activists pointed out the tensions between the active lifestyle of the modern city – riding in coaches and trams, and participating in sports such as skating or bicycling – and the impracticalities of women’s dress91.

  • 92 V. P. Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 147, 272.
  • 93 Vasilisa Nikitichna Dudchenko, as quoted in Ibid., p. 230.

33Alternatively, Serebriakova might have walked from her artist’s studio to the house of her grandfather, Nikolai Leont’evich Benois, at 15 Glinka Street, apartment 7 on the second floor: a journey which would have taken her over the Moika river by the Potseluev Bridge, passing between the Mariinsky Theatre and the St Petersburg Conservatoire to her destination in around 35 minutes92. According to Dudchenko, Serebriakova favoured flat-heeled shoes; when Dudchenko had purchased a pair of fashionable high-heels, Boris and Zinaida had gently teased her, suggesting she go the next day to the cobbler to have them made lower93. Again, this draws our attention to the ways in which women’s fashion and the physical environment through which they moved interacted to generate specific sensations: discomfort, aching feet, restricted mobility, or conversely, a feeling of nimbleness and ease.

  • 94 See letters from Zinaida Serebriakova to various members of her family and circle of friends, repro (...)
  • 95 Tatiana Borisovna Serebriakova, ‘Reminiscences’, reproduced in Kniazeva, p. 239-244, here p. 241.
  • 96 Zinaida Serebriakova, Mostik v Gatchine. Karpin prud. (The Bridge at Gatchina. Karpin pond.), 1923. (...)

34While walking, Serebriakova would have been exposed to the elements. Crossing the Nikolaevskii bridge on foot would have meant bracing against cutting winds, and the city was notoriously damp, with rain, fog, snow, and sleet throughout much of the year. Poor weather seems to have affected her especially, and she often complained of rain or cold in her letters to family members94. In this period of her life, despite spending the majority of her time in Petrograd, Serebriakova produced virtually no cityscapes, preferring the pastoral scenes of her village, Neskuchne. Perhaps she found the Petersburg weather too hostile to merit the effort of painting outdoors. Her first painting of the city, Vid na Petropavlovskuiu krepost’ (1921), shows a view of the Peter and Paul Fortress from across the steely grey Neva River, silhouetted against ominous storm-clouds. Later, Serebriakova’s eldest daughter Tatiana recalled that in the years following the Revolution, she and her mother had visited the Yusupov and Bobrinsky palaces in the city’s historic centre,95 and a 1923 work shows Tatiana overlooking the bridge in the gardens of Gatchina.96 However, the vast majority of the works Serebriakova produced while living in Petrograd were interior views, depicting intimate domestic scenes of her four children at play.

Baletnaia ubornaia – Ballet washroom (1924)

  • 97 Galina Illarionovna Teslenko, “Recollections of the Artist”, reproduced in Kniazaeva, op. cit., p.  (...)
  • 98 Galina Teslenko, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 233.
  • 99 Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, op. cit., p. 115.
  • 100 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.

35Following the Revolution, the ensuing civil war, and the death of her husband Boris in 1919, Zinaida’s material circumstances were much diminished. The decline in her fortunes produced a corresponding shift in her sensory world – feelings of cold and hunger become increasingly prominent in her contemporary letters, and in her daughter’s recollections. Galina Teslenko, a close friend of Serebriakova’s who worked with her at the Kharkov (Kharkiv) Archaeological Museum in 1920, wrote in her reminiscences of the artist that the temperature in the museum’s exhibition hall was often below zero, so cold that the ink froze97. She and Serebriakova “worked in winter coats, we didn’t take them off. Everyone’s fingers were swollen, including Zinadia Evgenievna’s. How she painted – I have no idea”98. Towards the end of 1920, Serebriakova moved to Petrograd with her four children and her mother, to pursue the possibility of work at one of the city’s museums.99 The family settled in the Glinka Street apartment belonging to Serebriakova’s grandfather. Tatiana, who was eight years old at the time, later recalled, “we occupied three rooms and installed a “pot-belly” stove. In the other rooms you had to go about in a coat. The small room with a balcony was designated as the workshop, it was easier to heat”100.

36Food was also a concern. When Teslenko stayed with Zinaida and her family in Petrograd in 1921, she was struck by the family’s circumstances:

  • 101 Galina Teslenko, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 236.

In material terms, Serebriakova’s life was difficult, very difficult. As before, kotlety made from potato peels were a lunchtime delicacy… Once Ekaterina Nikolaevna [Lansere, Zinaida’s mother] and I announced that today there would be dumplings [vareniki] with cherries for lunch. Zinaida Evgenievna, who was painting a portrait on commission away from home, was in such a hurry to get home that she arrived two hours before the appointed time and admitted that all morning she had been dreaming about dumplings with cherries.101

  • 102 Zinaida Serebriakova to Galina Teslenko, Petrograd, 18 november 1922, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. c (...)

37Serebriakova lamented the toll their circumstances took on her children, writing to Teslenko in November 1922 that “we live so monotonously, and the days go by so quickly, how frightening it is that this dreary life passes so irretrievably and so fruitlessly. […] The children go to school… they return tired and hungry, carry firewood, run for bread, potatoes, and so on, so they get awfully tired”102. The effects of poverty on sensory experience were enormous, and such hardship was widespread following the war and in the early years of the Soviet Union. For Serebriakova – as for many other women who had lost their male relatives to conflict, disease, starvation, or displacement – her struggles were also gendered, as the sole provider for a family of six after her husband’s death.

  • 103 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.
  • 104 Ibid.
  • 105 Zinaida Serebriakova to Galina Teslenko, Petrograd, 18 November 1922, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. c (...)

38The other rooms of their apartment were occupied by the art critics and lovers Sergei Ernst and Dimitrii Bouchene, whom Tatiana described as “balletomanes”103. Serebriakova’s uncle Benois lived on the floor above, and other members of the extended family and artistic community were scattered throughout the building104. Many were involved with the world of ballet and performances at the nearby Mariinsky Theatre, which was only a few minutes’ walk from the apartment. Tatiana was enrolled at the Mariinsky’s ballet school from the age of about nine or ten, and her performances were a source of pride for Serebriakova. In a letter to Teslenko, dated November of 1922, Serebriakova wrote that “Tatochka [an affectionate diminutive for Tatiana] has already performed once on the stage of the Mariinsky – in the role of a page she carried the train of ‘Sleeping Beauty’, made up and wearing a wig. It was very amusing for me to see her on stage.”105

  • 106 The Mariinsky was known as the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Gosudarstvennyi akademic (...)
  • 107 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.
  • 108 Scholars have debated Degas’ attitude towards women, and particularly to the working-class women he (...)

39In the early 1920s, Serebriakova was permitted to work backstage at the Mariinsky106, and over several years she produced a series of large-scale paintings of ballerinas in their dressing rooms. In these tableaux, dancers mill about in tulle skirts with bare breasts, applying cosmetics and pinning their hair. Like her group portraits of bathing women, Serebriakova’s series of ballet genre paintings have been compared to the works of Degas, whom she greatly admired107. However, they lack the sense of male voyeurism implicit in many of Degas’ paintings: the shadowy outline of a top hat or tailcoat at the edge of the canvas108. Instead, Serebriakova’s ballet series offers a rare glimpse of women without men; each canvas captures a moment of familiarity and intimacy between the dancers, as well as between the artist and her subjects. Tatiana Serebriakova recalled her mother’s presence at the Theatre:

  • 109 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.

On Sundays and Wednesday (on the days of ballet performances), her surprisingly modest little figure appeared in the ballet dressing rooms, where she continuously made sketches of the artists as they dressed and made themselves up, and became friends with many of them. And so, compositions on the theme of dressing ballerinas and a series of their portraits were born.109

  • 110 Ibid.
  • 111 Ibid., p. 241-242.
  • 112 Rosalind P. Blakesley, “Women and the Visual Arts”, op. cit., p. 92.

40Many of the dancers would also visit Serebriakova at her home, and the dynamism and activity of the candid paintings of the dressing rooms are paralleled by a series of more sedate, posed portraits of ballerinas, often in costume. This highlights the extent to which ballet was part of Serebriakova’s personal and social life, bound up with her friendships and family ties as well as her professional output. Although she was not trained as a dancer herself, Serebriakova acquired the various elements of ballet costuming – tutus, leotards, and pointe shoes – and would model them herself in front of a mirror, in order to perfect the poses for her compositions110. In this way, her method in creating the ballet series was intrinsically a haptic experience, as her body came into contact with the distinctive textures of tulle and satin. During this period, Serebriakova’s choice of medium also changed, and she began to work more frequently with pastel and tempera as well as oils, changing the olfactory profile of her workspace111. Tatiana attributed this change to Serebriakova’s admiration of Degas and her own artistic experimentation, especially a desire to develop her own technique with pastels. However, given the hardships she and her family faced, another motive may well have been to reduce the cost of her materials112.

  • 113 On the haptic appeal of the visual arts, see Lynda Nead, “The Layering of Pleasure: Women, Fashiona (...)

41Baletnaia ubornaia (Ballet Washroom, 1924) is a typical example of Serebriakova’s Mariinsky paintings. The dancer in the foreground is naked to the waist, wearing only a pair of pink tights. Her face is hidden behind the arm which pulls her hair back from her face, and her other hand holds a small compact mirror. Next to her, another woman dressed in blue tights and a white leotard applies kohl to her eyes, also looking into a small hand mirror. Behind the seated pair, two more ballerinas dress for the performance, faces turned towards one another as if in conversation, their breasts spilling over their unfastened costumes. The painting’s atmosphere is one of comfortable familiarity, and the dancers seem at ease both with one another and with Serebriakova’s presence and observing gaze. The lighting is dim and dramatic, highlighting the wrinkled fabric of the tights and the contrasting textures of tutus and bare skin113. The overall effect is one of sensuality, but again, Serebriakova stops short of representing explicit sexuality.

42Perhaps the most important sensation implicit in these theatrical works is sound. A communal dressing room is inevitably a noisy place: the ballerinas’ chatter and the rustle of costumes punctuated by the heavy thud of pointe shoes on the wooden floor. The soundscape of constant but indistinct noise is reflected in the texture of the painting – which in places almost resembles pointillism – and in the analogous, low contrast colour scheme. While she worked, Serebriakova might have heard the orchestra from the main stage, their progress through the ballet score marking the passage of time, as dancers listened for their cues and hurried from the dressing room to the stage wings.

Conclusion

43Women in the early twentieth century inhabited a rich sensory world, which historians are only now beginning to uncover. Serebriakova’s daily life, too, was inflected by sensory encounters – some pleasant, others painful – and these in turn influenced and informed her work as an artist. Her painterly interest in spaces where women gathered means that her works often capture sensory landscapes unique to female experience. By representing the female body as an instrument of feeling, Serebriakova’s works implicitly endorsed an understanding of women as sensory subjects; the shared experience of embodiment between artist, model, viewer, and indeed the historian herself, serves as a foundation for a sense of intimacy between them. The three paintings here not only represent particular sensations – scent, touch, sound, and so on – but provide a framework within which to consider Serebriakova’s own sensory encounters. Sensory details matter – the scent of soap and cosmetics, the heat of the bania, the rumble of trams, a rare taste of cherries, or catching one’s reflection in a mirror – because these details shaped the contours of women’s daily lives. By integrating an analysis of gender into our practice of sensory history – and vice versa – we stand to gain a much richer understanding of the sensory past.

Table of Illustrations

44Zinaida Serebriakova, Za tualetom. Avtoportret (At the Dressing-Table. Self-Portrait), 1909.
Oil on canvas, 75 cm x 65 cm, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.

Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Serebryakova_SefPortrait.jpg (accessed November 22, 2023).

45Zinaida Serebriakova, Bania (The Bathhouse), 1913.
Oil on canvas, 135 cm x 174 cm, The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Serebryakova_Bath_house_1913.jpg (accessed November 22, 2023).

46Zinaida Serebriakova, Bania. Etiud (The Bathhouse. Study) 1912-1913.
Oil on canvas, 102 cm x 82.5 cm, The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg.

Available online at: https://commons.wikimedia.org/​wiki/​File:Serebryakova_Bath_house_study_1912.jpg (accessed November 22, 2023).

47Zinaida Serebriakova, Baletnaia ubornaia (Ballet Washroom), 1924 (oil on canvas, The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg).  

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Notes

1 Self-Portrait, 1909. Oil on canvas, 75 cm x 65 cm, Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow.

2 Zinaida Serebriakova, Za tualetom. Avtoportret. (At the Dressing-Table. Self-Portrait), 1909, oil on canvas, 75 cm x 65 cm (Tretiakov Gallery, Moscow). In the past, I might have straightforwardly designated Serebriakova as a “Russian” artist, but reading Allison Leigh’s, “Farewell to Russian Art: On Resistance, Complicity, and Decolonization in a Time of War” (Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide, vol. 21, n° 3, 2022, p. 125-151), has impressed upon me the importance of being more precise. Serebriakova was born to a family of Russian heritage, on their estate in the village of Neskuchne (also rendered Neskuchnoye), near the city of Kharkiv in Ukraine. Her birthplace was of great sentimental importance to her, and landscapes and studies of the surrounding countryside and its inhabitants comprise a major theme in her artistic work. In 1924, she emigrated to Paris, where she lived until her death in 1967. Russian, Ukrainian, and French influences overlapped in shaping her life and work.

3 Alison L. Hilton, “Zinaida Serebriakova”, Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 3, n° 2, 1982, p. 32-35, hear p. 33.

4 Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, Zinaida Serebriakova: 1884-1967, Moscow, Izdatel’stvo “Iskusstvo – XXI vek”, 2006, p. 24.

5 The term “sensescape” is used variously in sensory studies both as a kind of shorthand to describe the sensory profile of an environment, and to emphasise the positionality – both physical and cultural – of the perceiving subject within that environment. David Howes has defined a “sensescape” as “the idea that the experience of the environment […] is produced by the particular mode of distinguishing, valuing and combining the senses in the culture under study” (David Howes, “Sensation in Cultural Context”, in David Howes (dir.), Empire of the Senses: The Sensual Culture Reader, Oxford and New York: Berg, 2005, p. 143) and Mădălina Diaconu notes that “ [...] sensescapes of any kind correspond to the inhabitant’s perspective and her environmental perception” (Mădălina Diaconun, “Mapping Urban Smellscapes” in Mădălina Diaconun et al. (dir.), Senses and the City: An interdisciplinary approach to urban sensescapes, Vienna, Lit Verlag, 2011, p. 227-228). Here, I use the term to denote both the material sensory environment which surrounded Serebriakova, and her unique perceptual topography, which was inevitably shaped by the social and cultural values of her time.

6 Alain Corbin, Le Miasme et la Jonquille: l’odorat et l’imaginaire social xviiie-xixe siècles, Paris, Flammarion, 1986, later published in English as The Foul and the Fragrant: Odor and the French Social Imagination, Hamburg and New York: Berg, 1986; and Alain Corbin, Les Cloches de la terre : paysage sonore et culture sensible dans les campagnes au xixe siècle, Paris, Flammarion, 1994, later published in English as Village Bells: Sound and Meaning in the 19th-century French Countryside, translated by Martin Thom, London, Papermac, 1999. On the sensory turn in historical scholarship, see William Tullett, “State of the Field: Sensory History”, History, vol. 106, n° 373, 2021, p. 804-820; Aimée Boutin, “How to Do Urban Sensory History”, Journal of Urban History, vol. 45, n° 2, 2019, p. 409-415; Emma Widdis, “The Challenges of Sensory History”, Kritika: Explorations in Russian and Eurasian History vol. 21, n° 1, 2020, p. 199-206.

7 William Tullet, op. cit., p. 804.

8 Jan Plamper, “Sounds of February, Smells of October: The Russian Revolution as Sensory Experience”, The American Historical Review vol. 126, n° 1, 2021, p. 140-165, here p. 141.

9 Joan W. Scott, “The Evidence of Experience. (Questions of Evidence)”, Critical Inquiry vol. 17, n° 4, 1991, p. 773-797.

10 Tricia Starks, Smoking Under the Tsars: A History of Tobacco in Imperial Russia (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2018); Jan Plamper, op. cit.; Claire L. Shaw, Deaf in the USSR: Marginality, Community, and Soviet Identity, 1917-1991, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2017; Emma Widdis, Socialist Senses: Film, Feeling, and the Soviet subject, 1917-1940, Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2017; Vladimir Lapin, Peterburg: zapakhi i zvuki, St Petersburg, Evropeiskii dom, 2007; Karl Schlögel, The Scent of Empires: Chanel № 5 and Red Moscow, Cambridge: Polity Press, 2021; Alexander M. Martin, “Sewage and the City: Filth, Smell, and Representations of Urban Life in Moscow, 1770-1880”, Russian Review vol. 67, n° 2, 2008, p. 243-274; Matthew P. Romaniello and Tricia Starks, Russian History through the Senses: From 1700 to the Present, London, Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.

11 Aimée Boutin, City of Noise: Sound and Nineteenth-Century Paris, Urbana, University of Illinois Press, 2015, p. 4.

12 See, for instance, Daniel E. Bender, “Sensing Labor: The Stinking Working-Class after the Cultural Turn”, in Donna T. Haverty-Stacke and Daniel J. Walkowitz (dir.), Rethinking U.S. Labor History: Essays on the Working-Class Experience 1756-2009, London, Bloomsbury, 2010, p. 243-265; Julia C. Frankenbach, “Sensing Disorder: Sensory History and Future Directions for Working-Class and Urban Environmental Scholarship”, Labour/Le Travail, vol78, 2016, p. 281-300; Mark M. Smith, How Race is Made: Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses, Chapel Hill, University of North Carolina Press, 2006; Erica Fretwell, Sensory Experiments: Psychophysics, Race, and the Aesthetics of Feeling, Durham, NC, Duke University Press, 2020; Sachi Sekimoto and Christopher Brown, Race and the Senses: The Felt Politics of Racial Embodiment, London, Routledge, 2020.

13 Laura Gowing, Common Bodies: Women, Touch and Power in Seventeenth-Century England, New Haven, CT, London, Yale University Press, 2003; Christina Bradstreet, “’Wicked with Roses’: Floral Femininity and the Erotics of Scent”, Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide vol. 6, n° 1, 2007, p. 20-37; Constance Classen, “The Scented Womb and the Seminal Eye: Embodying Gender Codes through the Senses”, in The Color of Angels: Cosmology, Gender and the Aesthetic Imagination, London, Routledge, 2007, p. 63-85; Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One, Carolyn Burke and Catherine Porter (trans.), Ithaca, Cornell University Press, 1985, p. 26.

14 Mary Lynn Stewart, For Health and Beauty: Physical Culture for Frenchwomen, 1880s-1930s, Baltimore; London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001; Caroline Daley, Leisure and Pleasure: Reshaping and Revealing the New Zealand Body 1900-1960, Auckland, Auckland University Press, 2003); Alain Corbin, “The Great Century of Linen”, in Time, Desire, and Horror: Towards a History of the Senses, translated by Jean Birrell, Cambridge, Polity Press, 1995, p. 13-38; Cheryl Krueger, “The Scent Trail of ‘Une Charogne’”, French Forum vol. 38, n° 1-2, 2013, p. 51-68; Angela Loxham, “Handling the Stock: Women, Fabric and Tactility in Nineteenth-Century, English Shops”, presented at the Social History Society conference 2015, winner of the postgraduate paper prize. Published online at https://socialhistory.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/05/SHS-postgraduate-paper-prize-winner-2015.pdf, 19 May 2015, p. 1-5.

15 Mark D. Steinberg, “Russian History through the Senses: From 1700 to the Present. Edited by Matthew P. Romaniello and Tricia Starks [Review]”, Journal of Social History, vol. 52, n° 2, 2018, p. 540-542, here p. 541.

16 Fretwell, Sensory Experiments, op. cit., p. 5.

17 Paul Cohen, History in Three Keys: The Boxers as Events, Experience, and Myth, New York, Columbia University Press, 1997, p. 60.

18 Aimée Boutin, City of Noise, op. cit., p. 3.

19 This ambivalence surrounding the role of the body in creating knowledge has a long history: as Pamela H. Smith notes, from the late seventeenth century, philosophers “were unsettled by the involvement of the body in cognition” (Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan: Art and Experience in the Scientific Revolution, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2004, p. 20.)

20 Mark M. Smith, “Producing Sense, Consuming Sense, Making Sense: Perils and Prospects for Sensory History”, Journal of Social History vol. 40, n° 4, 2007, p. 841-858. Smith has written extensively on the methodological facet of sensory history. See Mark M. Smith, “Making Sense of Social History”, Journal of Social History vol. 37, n° 1, 2003, p. 165-186; Id., “Still Coming to ‘Our’ Senses: An Introduction”, The Journal of American History vol. 95, n° 2, 2008, p. 378-380; and Id., A Sensory History Manifesto, University Park, Penn State University Press, 2021.

21 Mark M. Smith, “Producing Sense, Consuming Sense, Making Sense”, op. cit., p. 849.

22 Pamela H. Smith, The Body of the Artisan, op. cit., p. 6.

23 Sven Dupré et al. (dir.), Reconstruction, Replication and Re-Enactment in the Humanities and Social Sciences, Amsterdam, Amsterdam University Press, 2020, p. 9.

24 See Hjalmar Fors, Lawrence M. Principe, and Otto Sibum, “From the Library to the Laboratory and Back Again: Experiment as a Tool for Historians of Science”, Ambrix, vol. 63, n° 2, 2016, p. 85-97; Sven Dupré and Christoph Lüthy (dir.), Silent Messengers: The Circulation of Material Objects of Knowledge in the Early Modern Low Countries, Berlin, Lit Verlag, 2011; Inger Leemans et al., “Whiffstory: Using Multidisciplinary Methods to Represent the Olfactory Past”, The American Historical Review vol. 127, n° 2, 2022, p. 849-879, and other publications emerging from the Odeuropa project and network, at https://odeuropa.eu/. The frequency of multi-authored publications or edited volumes in this field is testament to the interdisciplinary insights of this research.

25 Sven Dupré et al., Reconstruction, Replication and Re-Enactment, op. cit., p. 22.

26 Otto Sibum, “Science and the Knowing Body: Making Sense of Embodied Knowledge in Scientific Experiment”, in Dupré et al., Reconstruction, Replication and Re-Enactment, op. cit., p. 275-293, here p. 282.

27 Michelle Tusan, “Inventing the New Woman: Print Culture and Identity Politics during the Fin-de-Siecle”, Victorian Periodicals Review vol. 31, n° 2, 1998, p. 169-182, here p. 173; Mary Louise Roberts, Disruptive Acts: The New Woman in Fin-de-siècle France, Chicago, London, University of Chicago Press, 2002; Patricia Tilburg, “‘Sa Coquetterie Tue la Faim’: Garment Workers, Lunch Reform, and the Parisian Midinette, 1896-1933’, French Historical Studies, vol. 38, n° 2, 2015, p. 281-309. For the Russian context specifically, see Barbara Alpern Engel, Between the Fields and the City: Women, Work, and Family in Russia, 1861-1914, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1994.

28 Collin G. Pooley and Sian Pooley, “Constructing a Suburban Identity: Youth, Femininity and Modernity in late Victorian Merseyside”, Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 36, n° 4, 2010, p. 402-410 here p. 403.

29 Erika Rappaport, Shopping for Pleasure: Women in the Making of London’s West End, Princeton, NJ; Chichester, Princeton University Press, 2001, p. 30, 74-107; Masha Belenky, “From Transit to Transitoire: The Omnibus and Modernity”, Nineteenth-century French Studies vol35, n° 2, 2007, p. 408-423; and Id., “Transitory Tales: Writing the Omnibus in Nineteenth-Century Paris”, Dix-Neuf vol. 16, n° 3, 2012, p. 283-303.

30 The notion of separate spheres has come under considerable scrutiny in more recent scholarship. See, for instance, Kathryn Gleadle, “Revisiting Family Fortunes: Reflections on the Twentieth Anniversary of the Publication of L. Davidoff & C. Hall (1987) Family Fortunes: Men and Women of the English Middle Class, 1780-1850 (London: Hutchinson)”, Women’s History Review, vol. 16, n° 5, 2007, p. 773-782; and Susie Steinbach, “Can We still Use ‘Separate Spheres’? British History 25 Years After Family Fortunes”, History Compass, vol. 10, n° 11, 2012, p. 826-837.

31 James H. Johnson, Listening in Paris: A Cultural History, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995, p. 18 and 9; Ellis, “Who Cares if you Listen? Researching Audience Behaviors in Nineteenth-Century Paris” in Christian Thorau and Hansjakob Ziemer (dir.), The Oxford Handbook of Music Listening in the 19th and 20th Centuries, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2019, p. 38.

32 Ruth Iskin, “The Pan-European flâneuse in Fin-de-Siècle Posters: Advertising Modern Women in the City”, Nineteenth-century contexts, vol. 25, n° 4, 2003, p. 333-356; Hilary Radner, Shopping Around: Feminine Culture and the Pursuit of Pleasure, New York and London, Routledge, 1995; Lisa Tiersten, Marianne in the Market: Envisioning Consumer Society in Fin-de-Siècle France, Berkeley; London, University of California Press, 2001.

33 Masha Belenky, “From Transit to Transitoire…”, op. cit.; Id., “Transitory Tales…”, op. cit.

34 Yuri Tsivian, Early Cinema in Russia and its Cultural Reception, edited by Richard Taylor, translated by Alan Bodger, London, Routledge, 2013; Leo Charney and Vanessa R. Schwartz (dir.), Cinema and the Invention of Modern Life, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1995.

35 Mary Lynn Stewart describes how this was sold to women as a great opportunity to care for their bodies and to take time for themselves in ways which predict today’s commercial rhetoric of “selfcare” in Mary Lynn Stewart, For Health and Beauty: Physical Culture for Frenchwomen, 1880s-1930s, Baltimore, London, Johns Hopkins University Press, 2001, p. 66-67. The cultural insistence that the desirable woman should disguise any effort she has put into her appearance parallels the Renaissance notion of sprezzatura, or “studied effortlessness”, except in this context, it is the woman herself who is both artwork and artist. See Paolo d’Angelo, Sprezzatura: Concealing the Effort of Art from Aristotle to Duchamp, New York, Columbia University Press, 2018.

36 Michelle DenBeste, “NOT Finding Women in the Archives: The Case of Evgeniia Serebrennikova, Pioneering Woman Physician in Late Nineteenth-Century Russia”, Aspasia, vol. 10, 2016, p. 1-17.

37 With the exception of Alison Hilton’s excellent but brief exposition of her life and works, “Zinaida Serebriakova”, Woman’s Art Journal, vol. 3, n° 2, 1982, p. 32-35.

38 See, for instance, John E. Bowlt, “Women of Genius”, in John E. Bowlt and Matthew Drutt (dir.), Amazons of the Avant-Garde. Alexandra Exter, Natalia Goncharova, Liubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Varvara Stepanova, and Nadezhda Udaltsova, New York: Guggenheim Museum Publications, 2000, p. 24-26; Miuda Yablonskaia, Women Artists of Russia’s New Age, 1900-1935, New York, Rizzoli, 1990.

39 Most recently, Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, Zinaida Serebriakova: 1884-1967, Moscow, Izdatel’stvo “Iskusstvo – XXI vek”, 2006; E. V. Efremova, Zinaida Serebriakova, Moscow, Art-Rodnik, 2006; Soviet examples include A. Savinov, Zinaida Evgenievna Serebriakova, Leningrad, 1973 and V. Lapshin, Zinaida Evgenievna Serebriakova, Moscow, 1969, both of whom were art critics and had known Serebriakova personally.

40 John E. Bowlt, Moscow and St Petersburg in Russia’s Silver Age, London, Thames & Hudson, 2008, p. 92.

41 Leif Runefelt, “The corset and the mirror. Fashion and domesticity in Swedish advertisements and fashion magazines, 1870-1914”, History of Retailing and Consumption, vol. 5, n° 2, 2019, p. 169-193; Véronique Lochert, “‘Regarder hardiment et avec plaisir’ ou ‘détourner les yeux’? Les dangers du théâtre pour les spectatrices (France-Angleterre, xvie-xviie siècles)”, Littératures Classiques, vol. 99, n° 2, 2019, p. 93-105; Margaret Cohen and Christopher Prendergast (dir.), Spectacles of Realism: Body, Gender, Genre, Minneapolis, University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

42 Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 33.

43 Alexander Benois, “Vystavka ‘Soiuza’’, Rech’, 13 March 1910. The section pertaining to Serebriakova is reprinted in V. P. Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida Serebriakova: Pis’ma. Sovremenniki o khydozhnitse, Moscow, Izobrazitel’noe Iskusstvo, 1987, p. 245-246.

44 Ibid.

45 Mark D. Steinberg, Petersburg Fin de Siècle, New Haven and London, Yale University Press, 2011, p. 63.

46 S. P. Zavarikhin and R. A. Faltinskii, Kapital i arkhitektura: Istoriia arkhitektury i stroitel’stva bankovskikh zdanii v Rossii , St Petersburg: Stroiizdat SPb, 1999, p. 386. See also Karl Bulla’s photograph, “Interior view of ‘Passazh’, first illuminated by electric light”, dated between 1900 and 1903, in the collection of Tsentral’nyi gosudarstvennyi arkhiv kinofotofonodokumentov Sankt-Peterburga, Central State Archive of Documentary Films, Photographs, and Sound Recordings of St. Petersburg, document E 539. Also available online at https://russiainphoto.ru/photos/21406/.

47 Abby Schrader, “Market Pleasures and Prostitution in St. Petersburg”, in Matthew P. Romaniello and Tricia Starks, op. cit, p. 67-94; Mark D. Steinberg, Petersburg Fin de Siècle, op. cit., p. 63-64, 76, 108, 186.

48 Ibid., p. 108

49 Iulii L. Elets, Poval’noe bezumie: K sverzheniiu iga mod, St Petersburg, 1914; Christine Ruane, “Clothes Shopping in Imperial Russia: The Development of a Consumer Culture”, Journal of Social History, vol. 28, n° 4, 1995, p. 765-782.

50 Karl Schlögel, The Scent of Empires: Chanel № 5 and Red Moscow, op. cit., p. 31-32.

51 Ibid., p. 32.

52 Ibid., p. 9.

53 Ibid., p. 37.

54 There had been an earlier publication by the same name, edited and published by Aleksandra Nikolaevna Peshkova-Toliverova from 1899-1900; see Rochelle Ruthchild, “Feminist Publications and Publishers in St. Petersburg 1899-1917”, The Soviet and Post-Soviet Review, vol. 33, n° 1, 2006, p. 27-48.

55 Rachel Mesch has analysed women’s magazines which occupied a similar position in the French market, and how these publications balanced traditionally “feminine” content with a growing interest in women’s social emancipation. (Rachel Mesch, Having It All in the Belle Epoque: How French Women’s Magazines Invented the Modern Woman, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2013).

56 Laura Mulvey, “Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema”, Screen, vol. 16, n° 3, 1975, p. 6-18 here p. 11.

57 Joey Soloway, “The Female Gaze”, Toronto International Film Festival: Master Class address, 11 September 2016. Available online at https://www.toppleproductions.com/tiff-master-class-the-female-gaze/. Soloway is speaking in the context of twenty-first century film, however, their insights are also applicable to women’s looking in the earlier twentieth century.

58 Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, op. cit., p. 22; Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 32.

59 Z. E. Serebriakova to A. N. Savinov, Paris, 22(?) June 1966. Reproduced in Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida Serebriakova: Pis’ma. Sovremenniki o khydozhnitse, op. cit., p. 208-209.

60 Evgenii and Aleksandr were born in 1906 and 1907 respectively. Tat’iana and Ekaterina followed in 1912 and 1913. See Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 35.

61 Z. E. Serebriakova to A. N. Savinov, Paris, 22(?) June 1966. Reproduced in Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida Serebriakova: Pis’ma. Sovremenniki o khydozhnitse, p. 208-209. Also quoted in Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, op. cit., p. 22.

62 Ibid., p. 209.

63 Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 33.

64 Ibid.

65 Rosalind P. Blakesley, “Women and the Visual Arts”, in Wendy Rosslyn and Alessandra Tosi (dir.), Women in Nineteenth-Century Russia: Lives and Culture, Cambridge, Open Book Publishers, 2012, p. 91-117.

66 Ibid., p. 107.

67 Ibid.

68 Z. E. Serebriakova to A. N. Savinov, Paris, november 1957. Reproduced in Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida Serebriakova: Pis’ma. Sovremenniki o khydozhnitse, op. cit., p. 204.

69 Ibid.

70 Ibid.

71 Ibid.

72 Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity”, in Norma Broude and Mary D. Garrard (dir.), The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, New York and London, Routledge, 2018, p. 245-268, here p. 246. See also, Griselda Pollock, Vision and Difference: Feminism, Femininity and Histories of Art, 3rd ed., London, Routledge, 2003.

73 Ethan Pollock, Without the Banya We Would Perish: A History of the Russian Bathhouse, New York, NY, Oxford University Press, 2019, p. 116.

74 Griselda Pollock, “Modernity and the Spaces of Femininity”, in The Expanding Discourse: Feminism and Art History, op. cit., p. 246.

75 Vasilisa Nikitichna Dudchenko, as quoted in V. P. Kniazeva (dir.), Zinaida Serebriakova: Pis’ma. Sovremenniki o khydozhnitse, Moscow: Izobrazitel’noe Iskusstvo, 1987, p. 229. Dudchenko’s original memoirs were recorded by her daughter M. A. Bocharova in 1970.

76 Ibid.

77 Ibid.

78 Ethan Pollock, op. cit., p. 117.

79 Ibid., p. 116.

80 Nancy Condee, “The Second Fantasy Mother, or All Baths Are Women’s Baths”, in Helena Goscilo and Beth Holmgren (dir.), Russia – Women – Culture, Bloomington, Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1996, p. 3-30, here p. 11.

81 Ibid., p. 9.

82 Ethan Pollock, op. cit., p. 117.

83 Alison L. Hilton, op. cit., p. 34.

84 Ibid.

85 Much has been written about the particular importance of female artists to the arts and crafts movement, and the salience of the movement in revolutionary Russia. See, for example, Wendy Salmond, Arts and Crafts in Late Imperial Russia: Reviving the Kustar Art Industries, 1870-1917, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press, 1996; Alison Hilton, “Domestic Crafts and Creative Freedom: Russian Women’s Art”, in Goscilo and Holmgren (dir.), Russia – Women – Culture, op. cit., p. 347-376; and Hanna Chuchvaha, “Quiet Feminists: Women Collectors, Exhibitors, and Patrons of Embroidery, Lace, and Needlework in Late Imperial Russia (1860-1918)”, West 86th vol. 27, n° 1, 2020, p. 45-72. Serebriakova had begun her formal artistic training against the backdrop of this cultural moment, at the school founded by Princess Maria Tenisheva, the patron of the renowned Talashkino estate; see Hilton, “Zinaida Serebriakova”, op. cit., p. 32.

86 Olga Petri, “At the bathhouse: municipal reform and the bathing commons in late imperial St. Petersburg”, Journal of Historical Geography, vol. 51, 2016, p. 40-51.

87 Many of the streets on Vasilievskii Island run parallel to one another and are numbered rather than named. The first line is on the east side, and there are a total of 29 lines.

88 Catriona Kelly, St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past, New Haven, Yale University Press, 2016, p. 353.

89 “Pitertransport”, “Istoriia tramvainogo marshruta 7”, 2022, available online at https://pitertransport.com/maps/hist.php?id=36.

90 Catriona Kelly, op. cit., p. 353. See also, F. E. Enakiev, Zadachi Preobrazovaniia S.-Peterburga, St Petersburg, 1912, p. 51.

91 “Novaia Moda”, Zhenskoe Delo, № 7-8, 1, 14, 1911, p. 34.

92 V. P. Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 147, 272.

93 Vasilisa Nikitichna Dudchenko, as quoted in Ibid., p. 230.

94 See letters from Zinaida Serebriakova to various members of her family and circle of friends, reproduced in Kniazeva, p. 30, 61-63, 65, 96, 98, 99, 107, 128, 130, 173.

95 Tatiana Borisovna Serebriakova, ‘Reminiscences’, reproduced in Kniazeva, p. 239-244, here p. 241.

96 Zinaida Serebriakova, Mostik v Gatchine. Karpin prud. (The Bridge at Gatchina. Karpin pond.), 1923. In private collection.

97 Galina Illarionovna Teslenko, “Recollections of the Artist”, reproduced in Kniazaeva, op. cit., p. 232-238, here p. 233. A portrait of Teslenko, sketched by Serebriakova in 1921, survives: see Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 135.

98 Galina Teslenko, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 233.

99 Alla Aleksandrovna Rusakova, op. cit., p. 115.

100 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.

101 Galina Teslenko, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 236.

102 Zinaida Serebriakova to Galina Teslenko, Petrograd, 18 november 1922, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 82.

103 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.

104 Ibid.

105 Zinaida Serebriakova to Galina Teslenko, Petrograd, 18 November 1922, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 82.

106 The Mariinsky was known as the State Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet (Gosudarstvennyi akademicheskii teatr opery i baleta) from 1920 to 1924, and as the Kirov Theatre from 1935 to 1992. See Catriona Kelly, St Petersburg: Shadows of the Past, p. 209.

107 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.

108 Scholars have debated Degas’ attitude towards women, and particularly to the working-class women he so often depicted in his work. See, for instance, Norma Broude, “Degas ‘Misogyny’”, Art Bulletin vol. 59, n° 1, 1977, p. 95-107; Carol Armstrong, “Edgar Degas and the Representations of the Female Body”, in Susan Rubin Suleiman (dir.), The Female Body in Western Culture: Contemporary Perspectives, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press, 1985, p. 223-242; Eunice Lipton, Looking into Degas: Uneasy Images of Women and Modern Life, Berkeley, University of California Press, 1986; Richard Kendall, Dealing with Degas: Representations of Women and the Politics of Vision, London: Pandora, 1992; Susan Tenneriello, “Behind the Scenes: Art Work and the Laboring Body in the Dance Images of Degas”, Dance Chronicle vol. 38, n° 1, p. 27-54.

109 Tatiana Serebriakova, “Reminiscences”, reproduced in Kniazeva, op. cit., p. 239-244, here p. 241.

110 Ibid.

111 Ibid., p. 241-242.

112 Rosalind P. Blakesley, “Women and the Visual Arts”, op. cit., p. 92.

113 On the haptic appeal of the visual arts, see Lynda Nead, “The Layering of Pleasure: Women, Fashionable Dress and Visual Culture in the mid-Nineteenth Century”, Nineteenth-Century Contexts vol. 35, n° 5, 2013, p. 489-509.

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Sasha Rasmussen, « Gendered Sensation in the works of Zinaida Serebriakova »Arts et Savoirs [En ligne], 20 | 2023, mis en ligne le 20 décembre 2023, consulté le 17 juin 2024. URL : http://0-journals-openedition-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/aes/6078 ; DOI : https://0-doi-org.catalogue.libraries.london.ac.uk/10.4000/aes.6078

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University of Auckland (Aotearoa New Zealand)

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