Art historian and curator Rosalind Blakesley has won the fifth annual Pushkin House Russian book prize for her title The Russian Canvas: Painting in Imperial Russia, 1757-1881, published by Yale.
The winning book charts the rise of Russian painting in the 18th and 19th centuries and its relationship with other European schools. It was selected by a panel of five judges from a shortlist of six "wonderfully diverse" contenders, on topics including palaces and prisons, painting and politics, Petersburg and the provinces.
Professor Simon Franklin, chairman of the judges, hailed Blakesley's book "a magnificent achievement", praising its range, depth and accessibility, and its production, containing over 250 illustrations.
"Rosalind Blakesley’s The Russian Canvas is a magnificent achievement," he said. "It weaves a wonderfully subtle and compelling story of the emergence of a national school of Russian painting. In its range, depth and accessibility it has no parallel in any language. Beautifully produced, with over 250 illustrations, it will surely remain not only the authoritative scholarly account of its subject for many years, but also a much-browsed presence on the shelves of anybody interested in the history of Russian art and culture.”
Blakesley is reader in Russian and European art at the University of Cambridge and a trustee of the National Portrait Gallery where she has curated numerous exhibitions. She said: "I'm thrilled. The Pushkin House Book Prize shines a spotlight on the complexity of Russia's culture, politics and history, and the rich ways in which people think and write about this. It is a great privilege to work on such a fascinating country, and to be the recipient of this year's award."
The judges, in agreement with Pushkin House, also have awarded a special subsidiary prize for the best Russian book in translation, to Teffi’s Memories from Moscow to the Black Sea, a memoir of a refugee from the Bolsheviks, translated into English for the first time by Robert Chandler, Irina Steinberg and Anne Marie Jackson, published by Pushkin Press.
Franklin said: "Witty, disarmingly modest and alive to the tragic contradictions of the Revolution unfolding around her, Teffi's Memories describes the collapse of a whole world. It makes for the perfect reading for this centenary year, particularly in this elegant and engaging new translation."
On behalf of the translators, Robert Chandler said: "This prize matters to us because it will bring more readers to Teffi, whose account of her experience as a refugee is, sadly, more relevant than ever to today’s world. We also hope it will encourage more translators to work together in the productive and enjoyable way that we have done. Our work is the fruit of collaboration between a huge number of people including at dozens of workshops including at Pushkin House and the annual translation summer school at City University.”
The prize's funders, Douglas Smith and Stephanie Ellis-Smith congratulated Blakesley on winning the prize, calling her book on Russian painting "both path-breaking and enthralling", able to offer Western readers "a world of discovery into this forgotten chapter of Russian art”.
Marc Polonsky of the Polonsky Foundation, also funders of the prize, said it made for an "outstanding" winner, demonstrating "the high calibre and diversity of contemporary writing about Russia".
Andrew Jack, chair of the prize advisory committee, added: "These are very worthy winners among a very strong list of books on a diverse range of subjects. All of them deserve a wide readership."