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Library Gallery highlights Russian-born artist

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Born on his family’s estate in 1868, the young nobleman was trained in the classics, studied under Russia’s finest 19th-century painters at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, and carried out postgraduate studies at the Academie Julian in Paris. His life revolved around the vibrant artistic world of late-Romanov Russia.

This idyllic artistic life did not last, however. The outbreak of World War I meant that Djeneeff was called into active duty as a cavalry reservist. In mid-1916, Djeneeff came to America as a shell inspector for the Russian government. He was forced to remain in this country for the rest of his life. Stranded in America by the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, Djeneeff faced daunting obstacles. Not only were the artist and his work unknown to an American audience, Djeneeff did not speak English and was unfamiliar with the complex art world of his new host country.

From Djeneeffs exile in America during the Bolshevik Revolution until his death in 1955, he created a body of work much of which can be described as a nostalgic look at the Russia of his youth, vivid depictions from Slavic folk tales, and scenes from Russian history. Paintings produced during his residence at the prestigious MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire also form a part of “A Russian Odyssey,” as do designs for important American commissions.

Ivan Alexeyevich Djeneeff never recreated the environment of his youthful past in a new and foreign world, but clung, instead, to his beliefs throughout exile, surviving the trauma of dislocation. Over time he succeeded in adjusting to his new home and life in America.

“A Russian Odyssey” includes works painted in Russia in the early 20th century. It also contains sketches completed during Djeneeff’s career as a Russian officer during World War I and works dating from his assignment as a weapons inspector in the United States.

The Queens Library Gallery is located in the Central Library, 89-11 Merrick Boulevard, Jamaica.

The Gallery is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on weekdays, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. Call the Queens Library Gallery at 718-990-8665 or go to www.queenslibrary.org/gallery. Admission is free.

Updated 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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