Collection of Illustrations
The collection originated at the same time as the bulk of Museum's stock; in the early 20th century pictures on paper or canvas were no less significant to ethnographers than were objects of material culture. The Museum's annual financial accounts of those years show that illustrative materials were systematically acquired from various sources. They were received as donations, brought back from expeditions, and bought from artists and collectors. The collection was considerably augmented in the 1920s with ethnographic drawings made by artists specially employed for that purpose. In subsequent years, the growth of the collection slackened off.
In the first two decades of the Museum's existence, the most valuable acquisitions were the graphic series The Types of the Caucasus People by K. Kavtaradze, the Museum artist since 1912, and sketches of churches and cemeteries made by the artist V. Plotnikov during the 1907 expedition to the Arkhangelsk Gubernia. During the same period the Museum bought some copies of ancient Georgian church frescoes found by A. Eisner in 1898—99. The Museum also prides itself on the 96 paintngs on silk showing various ethnic types, made by an anonymous artist for the book Description of All Peoples Inhabiting Russian State by I.-G. Georghi, published in the 1770.
In the 1920s—30s, the Museum increased its illustration stock with materials either brought from expeditions or transferred from other institutions. The most substantial input came from the expeditions of the 1920s: the Upper Volga ethnographic expedition (1921-25), the Karelian ethnological expedition (1926—28), and the Northern Caucasus expedition organized in collaboration with the Institute of the History of Material Culture and the Committee for Studying the Ethnic Composition of the Russian Populace. The materials obtained were mainly ethnographic drawings, in which the artists recorded characteristic cultural features peculiar to the people studied by the ethnographers. During the Upper Volga and Karelian expeditions, the drawings were chiefly the responsibility of A. Kolobayev, with part of the Upper Volga expedition drawings made by M. Artamonov, who later became an architect and Director of the State Hermitage Museum. The pictures show houses with outbuildings typical of the Russians and Karelians, their utensils and means of transportation. The illustrative material of the Northern Caucasus expedition headed by A. Miller shows workmen's tools, buildings, furniture and utensils. A large amount of material entered the Museum from other institutions. For instance, a large collection of drawings and watercolours made during the Pinega-Mezen Region expedition headed by K. Romanov in 1927 were received in 1931 from the State Institute of Art History. It gives an insight into the decorative art of the Russian population of that region. The pictures show the ornaments of printing boards, the painted patterns on spinning wheels, and the types of beds, rollers, stoves, and embroidery patterns. In the 1930s the Museum acquired a series of watercolours as well as portraits of the most efficient factory workers and collective-farmers, specifically for the then current displays. In post-war years the illustration collection was considerably enlarged with the exhibits transferred from the State Museum of the Peoples of the USSR. That stock included remarkable pictures of the costumes of Western Slavs made in 1786 by an anonymous artist; lithographs showing scenes of Southern Slavs' life, presumably dating from the middle of the 19th century. The Central Asia collection was augmented with watercolours by V. Plotnikov made in the 1860s and depicting dwellings, clothes and ornaments of Central Asian peoples. The largest batch of materials pertains to the peoples of Siberia and the Far East. Highly impressive is the album of drawings by B. Vasilyev brought from the Tungus expedition of 1927 and devoted to the Orochi mode of life.
The Museum of the Peoples of the USSR supplied fascinating so-called flowers and birds on silk, and genre scenes and vegetable compositions painted on rice paper, apparently by Chinese artists.
The collection also includes some printed matter, such as newspaper and magazine clippings dating from the late 19th to the 20th century. Those came from I. Tiumenev's collection giving a broad perspective on the multi-ethnic Russian Empire. Although it includes a number of remarkable drawings and paintings, the Museum's illustration collection cannot rival the material relic stock in terms of value and representative quality. Illustrations generally serve as supplementary evidence rather than a major resource for an in-depth studv of the Eurasian peoples' traditional culture.