Vladimir Lebedev


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(1891–1967), Russian artist and children's book illustrator. He was one of the foremost creators of the Soviet propaganda posters in the 1920s, and his books for children were closely connected with the constructivist and suprematist trends in early Soviet art. The common denominator for the avant-garde poster and the picture book for children was the striving to make both text and illustrations simple, concise, and catchy, with bright colors and clear-cut shapes. The first truly revolutionary work by Lebedev and a manifesto for his future production was his cubistic black-and-white illustrations for the Russian translation of Rudyard Kipling's The Elephant Child (1922). Together with Samuil Marshak, Lebedev created the first experimental Soviet picture books, in which word and image constituted an inseparable whole and a radically new visual language was created. In The Ice-Cream Man (1925; English trans., 1943), Yesterday and Today (1925), or The Circus (1925), the illustrations are deliberately naive, laconic, two- dimensional, combining geometrical figures into characters and objects, and the text is often integrated into the image. Other books in collaboration with Marshak—The Tale of the Stupid Mouse (1925), Baggage (1926), or Stripes and Whiskers (1930)—are more realistic in style and more conventional in layout, yet in them, too, the balance of sparse verbal narrative and the dynamic, expressive pictures are decisive. These books inspired a new generation of Danish children's illustrators after they were exhibited in Copenhagen in 1932. However, the official Soviet authorities' mistrust of nonrealistic art in combination with the lack of understanding for the text-image interaction in picture books account for the fact that Lebedev's modernistic picture books eventually disappeared from circulation and can today only be found as collectors' items or in occasional facsimile editions from the 1970s. Thus, they have never become a part of the living Russian children's literature tradition, and Marshak's narrative verses have frequently appeared with other illustrations than Lebedev's.

From The Oxford Encyclopedia of Children's Literature in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literature.

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