From the Stacks: Nikolas Issaïev

Nikolas Issaïev (Nikolai Isaev) is a relatively unknown Russian illustrator and theater artist despite his many exhibitions in the 1920s and into the 1960s, as well as his prolific illustration work and associations with other Russian émigré artists in France, such as Jean Lebedev, V. Shukhaev, A. Iakovlev (all represented abundantly in the Walter Havighurst Special Collections), and the artist group Circle. Originally from around Odessa, he left Russia in 1920s and spent most of his life in France, like many Russian modernists. It was there that he studied under Shukhaev and Iakovlev. After his theater frescoes in Belgrade, his French works in the 1930s consisted of landscapes, still lives with fish and birds, and portraits. After World War II Issaïev’s style became freer, more figurative and used brighter, bolder colors. Because his later work was more decorative and stylized I believe that a set of his prints in our collection was done later in his career.

During World War II, which was not his first World War, he moved to the South of France and became active in the French Resistance. Together with his wife, he protected many guerrilla soldiers and officers. He was later awarded the Cross of the Volunteer Combatant of the Resistance. These actions, geographic location, and time period would put him very close to André de Saint-Rat, who fought in French Resistance and in whose collection I found several books illustrated by Issaïev. I haven’t been able to find a personal connection between them yet, but I hope to find their correspondence in the manuscripts or something that would connect the two men. In addition to the historical value of this relationship, this connection would provide a logical explanation for the provenance of our holdings. All of the illustrations in the four books we own are done in watercolor by hand, which would make this a slow and carefully executed process resulting in a limited number of copies produced. The fact that Issaïev donated several of his paintings during his lifetime makes me hope that perhaps the books we own were given to André de Saint-Rat as gifts. Another possibility is they were acquired at the Drouot auction 15 years after the artist’s death, where his entire remaining body of work was sold.

The books in the André de Saint-Rat Special Collections are not yet cataloged but are available for viewing upon request.


Masha Stepanova,
Head, Cataloging & Processing

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