Author(s): Elena Polenova; Netta Peacock
Towards the end of the 19th century, the English art journalist Netta Peacock travelled to Russia where she met Elena Polenova, the artist and younger sister of the famous artist Vasily Polenov. As one of her artistic projects, Elena collected the traditional folk tales she heard from peasants in local villages, and also illustrated them. The two women became great friends and Netta asked if she could translate the tales and publish them in England. Elena gave her twelve watercolour paintings, as well as a cover design painted on an exercise book. By 1916 everything was prepared for publication, but although the original manuscript and a number of engravers' proofs have survived, the book, presumably because of War shortages, was never published. A few years ago, thanks to the research of Louise Hardiman, a doctoral student at the University of Cambridge, the original illustrations and stories were rediscovered, still in the possession of Netta Peacock's descendants. Now, almost 100 years later, they are finally being published in a beautifully designed children's book edited by Hardiman in collaboration with Fontanka and supported by Natalya Polenova, the great-granddaughter of Elena, who is custodian of the Polenovo State Museum Reserve in Russia.
Elena Polenova, sister of the landscape artist Vasily Polenov, was a leading figure in the Russian craft revival which began at the estate of Abramtsevo, just north of Moscow, in the 1890s. She took traditional folk patterns and developed them into fashionable designs for handmade wooden furniture which was produced by rural people and sold in Moscow boutiques. She was also a talented watercolorist, textile designer and illustrator of children s fairy-tales. She died in 1898 aged 48 of a brain tumour. Netta Peacock, an English journalist, got to know Polenova shortly before her death and translated several of the fairy-tales."