New section on the site and a thematic article on the Russian winter bear hunt

We are starting a new column “Thematic Articles” on the Museum site, where we plan to publish informative and edutainment content dedicated to the items stored in the Museum Collection.

On the spring eve, we present an article featuring one of the popular Russian traditions - winter bear hunt that existed in Russia since the ancient times. A small fragment of the article is cited below.
You can read full article here.

“… A bear hunt was set off in the winter end or early spring, when the bear lost two-thirds of its former strength from the slumber. The most ancient and dangerous method was often used - a bear hunt with a spear ending with an iron pike – the so-called “rogatina”.

A fearless hunter to took up into almost hand-to-hand fight with a beast. Of course, several hunters went hunting together. A spear that was thrust into the den waked up a bear. Hunters tried to shoot at the same moment when the predator’s head started protruding outwards. In case the shots were unsuccessful, one of the hunters held the beast with a spear (or a dog distracted the bear) while others reloaded their guns.

People hunted a bear with a single spear, which required great courage, dexterity and strength. In general, of all kinds of hunting, it was in the bear hunt that tested one’s courage, composure, restraint, determination, lightning-speedy reaction, dexterity, accuracy, adroitness and selflessness.

Scene of bear hunt often became a topic for various decorative and fine arts creative works.

One of the most exiting items, a diorama model, covered by glass, depicting a scene of a winter bear hunt performed following the watercolor by artist P.P. Sokolov "Hunting a bear with a spear”* is presented in the collection of the Museum.

A composition representing two huntsmen attacking a bear standing on the hind feet is in the foreground. One huntsman - with a rifle, another - with a spear. The hunting scene takes place in a snow-covered forest. Natural forms - trees, snow, a bear and the hunters - are figural, volumetric, made of diverse materials. The sky in the background is pictorial.

* Watercolor by P.P. Sokolov "Bear hunt with a spear” was created by the artist in the 1860s and 1870s. It was in the published in the Veldten album “Russian Hunters" in Petersburg in the 1870s. The lithographs from watercolors that are stored in the Russian museum were included in it. Since that time, the contemporaries of P.P. Sokolov have confirmed for him the glory of "the hunting scenes depicter". 1)

Petr Petrovich Sokolov (1821-1899) was the son of a famous watercolor artist of the early XIX century, Petr Fedorovich Sokolov (1787-1848) and the nephew of the painter Karl Bryullov (1799-1852). Petr Sokolov was recognized as a master of book illustration. He created two major cycles to the "The Hunter’s notes" by Ivan Turgenev and "The dead souls" by Nikolay Gogol. He painted portraits as well, depicted Russian nature and peasant life, as well as the everyday life of small gentry and hunting scenes. Watercolors with hunting scenes were successfully exhibited in Paris. A series of tapestries following the artist’s watercolors depicting various hunting scenes were manufectured in one of the French private tapestry workshops in 1870-1890-s.

Similar types of trellises were executed, as a rule, by special order and were intended to decorate a particular interior - a palace cabinet or a hunting salon. 2)

Probably, the described model was manufectured on a special order. Presumably, diorama manufacturing was especially popular in the XIX - early XX centuries. It was fine art field, addressed to the mass audience, in which the illusion of the reality of place and depicted events was achieved by the synthesis of organically interconnected artistic means.

Diorama, being an independent art filed, was in demand in the last third of the XIX century as an "auxiliary element" during the display of historical and ethnographic expositions in museums and international exhibitions. It was intended to facilitate the display of objects in full accordance with authentic historical situation, complemented by mannequins illustrating everyday life and traditional occupations. 3)

It is quite possible that the described diorama was performed for a certain event at the turn of the XIX-XX centuries with the aim to clearly demonstrate scenes of Russian hunting.

1) Ref.: Petr Petrovich Sokolov. [Album of reproductions] / [Comp. and aut. entry. articles by O. Podobedov]. - Moscow: Изогиз, 1959.

2) Ref.: https://www.boccara.com/ru/товар/sokolov-1881-275-x-165

3) Ref.: Matveeva P.A. World exhibitions as prototypes of ethnographic museums // Collection of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography LVIII. European cultural space in the collections of the MAE. - SPb.: Electronic Library of the Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography. Peter the Great Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Access mode: http://www. kunstkamera.ru/lib/rubrikator/08/08_03/978-5-88431-228-9/ © МАЭ РАН