Yuri Annenkov (1889–1974) was a painter, graphic artist, stage and cinema designer, man of letters and public figure. He was born on 11 July in Petropavlovsk, Russia. The Annenkovs family had many friends and acquaintances among Russian cultural elite, mostly from Saint-Petersburg.
In 1908 Yuri entered Saint-Petersburg University Law Department, the same year starting to attend S. M. Zeidensberg art studio (Marc Chagall was his fellow-student there). In 1909 he was refused to enter the Imperial Academy of Arts (probably, for political reasons). Since autumn 1909 he studied in Ya. F. Tsionglinsky. At that time he painted in realistic manner with impressionistic elements.
In 1911 he followed his teacher’s advice and went to Paris to improve his skills and to learn new art trends. He took to France his elder sister and younger brother, and they also lived in Bretagne, where the artist worked at biological station drawing sea flora and fauna.
In Paris, he rented a workshop together with S. Balabanov, made his living by working as a model, studied various graphic techniques, attended art studios and made many friends among famous French artists and Russian émigré bohemia. Annenkov claims he had first exhibited his pictures in Salon des Artistes Indépendants in spring 1913.
In 1913 the artist came back to Petrograd, where N. N. Yevreinov invited him to work as a designer in his “Krivoye Zerkalo” (Distorting Mirror) theatre, and Annenkov became there designer-in-chief since 1914. He also undertook stage design projects for other theatres in Petrograd and Moscow. The artist was the one to introduce expressionism into the Russian stage. As a graphic artist, Yuri Annenkov in 1910-ies worked for a great number of Russian art journals (Satirikon, Argus, Vesna, Solntse Rossii etc). He made a lot of friendly jest portraits of contemporary artists, literati, composers and other cultural figures.
Before the revolution in 1917, he had painted a number of paintings: “Adam and Eve” (1913–1918), “Yellow Mourning” (1914, was lost), “Bretagne” (1916), “Bathers” (1918) and others.
During the Soviet period, the artist was also prolific and enjoyed success working as stage designer, illustrating books and journals. He also created cubofuturistic paintings and devised abstract compositions. He kept on making portraits of people of art. His portrait style was a special kind of art deco, a combination of academic drawing with sharp grotesque and avant-garde elements.
In 1924 he and his wife got a permit to visit Venice biennale, where his works were exhibited. The couple visited Venice and then toured through Italy to Paris. Annenkov felt at home in the art circles of the city, joined group exhibitions of Russian artists in Paris, Brussels and Prague. In 1929 he decided to stay in Paris for good.
There he worked as a stage designer, mostly with Russian theatre companies. In 1925, together with F. F. Komissarjevsky, he organized theatre cabaret «Arc en ciel», which soon turned into Actor House for Russian emigrants. He designed more than 60 plays, ballets and operas.
He also eagerly worked as book artist – he mage illustrations for a great number of books, such as L. Durtain «Crime a San-Francisco» (1927), E. D’Astier «Passage d’une Americaine» (1927), Ivan Goll «Die Eurokokke» (1928), L. Cheronnet «Extra-Muros» (1929), P. Bost «Le Cirque et le Music-Hall».
After 1934, the artist took to cinema design (totally, he designed more than 50 films). One of them was famous “L’Eternel retour” (1943) starring Jean Marais: the script was written by Jean Cocteau on Tristan and Isolde legend – the style of main characters of the film, devised by Yuri Annenkov, became the fashion trend.
When Yuri Annenkov learnt about persecution of famous writers in USSR, his political views became anti-Soviet.
In 1945–1949 the artist lived mostly in Rome, for most of his films of that period were shot in Italy.
In 1950-1960-ies Yuri Annenkov regularly took part in memorial and anniversary meetings of Russian emigrants, he shared his memories of famous Russian figures over the radio. In 1965 he was present in Oxford at the ceremony of awarding Anna Akhmatova the title of Doctor honoris causa, and welcomed her in his Paris workshop.
Yuri Annenkov died in Paris on 12 July 1974.
July 11, 1889
July 12, 1974