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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

A retrospection of comic postcards

On the eve of April 1 the exhibit “Funny Rassvet, or Kyiv-style humor,” which showcases collection postcards dated early 20th century, was launched in the Museum of Kyiv History
15 April, 2014 - 10:40
“Is it for need or for beauty that women wear a watch on the chest under the very heart?” – “Let at least something beat where nothing beats!”

Over seven years collector Serhii Surnin has been gathering postcards of the Rassvet Publishing House, which were printed in 1911 through 1913. Each of them reproduced in a live and grotesque manner some spicy scene or image: the postcards were made as a caricature on some topic, mainly dedicated to philistinism and Kyiv studentship. The visitors will have an opportunity to see 152 postcards to 127 plots, as well as a research book, which tells in detail what Kyiv was like 100 years ago. Modern Kyivites will take interest in seeing the past of their city and the long-gone time through the prism of humor.

Walking along the exposition and leafing through the catalog, the visitors will take interest in learning that between 1904 and 1916 the publishing house Rassvet headed by art expert and editor Solomon Abramov (1884-1957) issued over 1,200 name titles of postcards. The very comic feature of the postcards was a result of the joint work of the publisher with the artist Volodymyr Kadulin.

Here we can see typical everyday scenes: moving to a new flat, a gallant date, having one’s hair done at a barber’s shop, and students’ carouse. All typical peculiarities of fashion and tastes of those years are depicted by the artist in a sharp caricature style, which enables us to look at everyday life with a smile. Along with that it would be wrong to ascribe the series of postcards to merely entertaining category, for today these plots play a historic-documentary role, helping historians and lovers of the antique to make a kind of an excursion to the past.

An exasperated creditor: “Choose one of the two: give me money!”

In an interview the owner of the collection said that the first series of postcards with philistine humor consisted of 80 cards, the second (dedicated to character types of students) – 47. On the whole, the publishing house published 127 plots. A great role was played by the fact that the publishing house prepared as well the catalogs of its postcards, where every card had a number, apart from the title. As a result of the research of the catalog, collector Surnin made sure that he had gathered everything, although it was a hard thing to do.

Looking at the humoristic postcards, the visitors fully realize that even a small thing – a postcard – can become a subject of art and will be interesting for a historian, a museumgoer, or simply a curious schoolboy. The topics highlighted by the publishing house Rassvet have not become outdated; they continue to affect the audience, like a hundred years ago. Brutal satire of some character types is successfully mellowed by slightly veiled hint-smile in other postcard motifs.

“You’ve again failed to correct a ‘D’!” – “Oh mum, you can easily correct an ‘F’ for a ‘B,’ but you can’t possibly correct a ‘D’ at all!”

An employee of the museum, Svitlana Hlavak commented on the current project as follows: “Making retrospections of Kyiv past aimed at making today’s visitors, especially young generation, familiar with the history of their native city is a long-time tradition of the Museum of Kyiv History. Apart from solving educational tasks, we cooperated with enthusiasm with antiquaries and collectors, private persons who work with the museum on this kind of projects. Today, in this difficult and tragic period for all of us, we have launched the exposition ‘Funny Rassvet,’ hoping to present the Kyivites with a bit of humor, encourage them, and help them set their mood for positive.”

In fact, the museum has coped with the task: few if any visitors will leave the exhibit indifferent. Lovers of the antiquity will be pleased to plunge into the special charm of Kyiv atmosphere a few years before the revolution of 1917. For today’s students it will be funny and maybe even useful to look at caricatures of their fellows, physicists, and philologists. Women with an active stand will find close the postcards dedicated to the topic of emancipation, and lovers will smile at the funny couples in the collection samples. Maybe, someone will get fond of deltiology and start collecting the postcards of 2014, so that in 100 years the descendants saw today’s Kyiv on them.

By Olena SHAPIRO, art expert. Illustrations courtesy of the press center of the Museum of Kyiv History