The Art of Leo Tolstoy: See His Drawings in the War & Peace Manuscript & Other Literary Texts

War and Peace sketch

Like all great writ­ers, Leo Tol­stoy has inspired a great many visu­al adap­ta­tions of his work, of vary­ing degrees of qual­i­ty. Just this past month, the Vol­gograd Fine Arts Muse­um in Rus­sia held an exhi­bi­tion of “92 graph­ic works from the col­lec­tion of the Yas­naya Polyana Estate-Muse­um,” the author’s coun­try estate and birth­place. Each work of art “recre­ates immor­tal images of the char­ac­ters, recon­structs the his­toric epoch, and reflects the dynam­ics” of his mas­ter­pieces Anna Karen­i­na and War and Peace, as well as his short sto­ries for chil­dren.

ABC sketch

Trav­el to Moscow, how­ev­er, to the Leo Tol­stoy State Muse­um, and you’ll find Tolstoy’s own visu­al art, which he sketched both on the very man­u­script pages of those nov­els and sto­ries and in the note­books that inspired them. At the top of the post, see a man­u­script page of War and Peace with the fig­ures of a boy and a well-dressed woman drawn very faint­ly into the text. Direct­ly above, see a sketch for his ABC book, a primer he cre­at­ed for his peas­ant schools at Yas­naya Polyana.

Jules Verne sketch

Tol­stoy didn’t only illus­trate his own work; he also made some sketch­es of his con­tem­po­rary Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days—see one above—which he read in French with his chil­dren. These few draw­ings may seem like lit­tle more than doo­dles, but Tol­stoy in fact had a very fine hand, as you can see in the two sketch­es below from note­books he kept dur­ing his time in the Cau­cusus. It was then, while serv­ing in the army, that Tol­stoy began writ­ing, and the note­books he kept would even­tu­al­ly inspire his 1863 nov­el, The Cos­sacks.

Old Man sketch

These draw­ings are so well ren­dered they make me think Tol­stoy could have become a visu­al artist as well as a great writer. But per­haps the exact­ing nov­el­ist was too harsh a crit­ic to allow him­self to pur­sue that course. Over forty years after mak­ing these draw­ings, Tol­stoy pub­lished his thoughts on art in essay called What is Art?. In it, the great Russ­ian writer cre­ates what Gary R. Jahn in The Jour­nal of Aes­thet­ics and Art Crit­i­cism admits are some “unrea­son­ably nar­row, exclu­sive” cri­te­ria for defin­ing art.

Old Man 2 sketch

Tol­stoy also pro­pounds some­thing akin to a meme the­o­ry, which he calls a qual­i­ty of “infec­tious­ness.” Art, he writes, is “a human activ­i­ty con­sist­ing in this, that one man con­scious­ly, by means of cer­tain exter­nal signs, hands on to oth­ers feel­ings he has lived through, and that oth­er peo­ple are infect­ed by these feel­ings and also expe­ri­ence them.” At the cru­cial­ly for­ma­tive peri­od when these draw­ings were made, Tol­stoy obvi­ous­ly decid­ed he could best “infect” oth­ers through writ­ing. That same year, he pub­lished the first part of his auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal tril­o­gy, Child­hood, under a pseu­do­nym, fol­lowed quick­ly by Boy­hood. By the time he retired from the army in 1856 and left the Cau­cusus for St. Peters­burg, he was already a lit­er­ary celebri­ty. See more of Tolstoy’s draw­ings from his Cau­cusus note­books here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leo Tol­stoy Cre­ates a List of the 50+ Books That Influ­enced Him Most (1891)

Rare Record­ing: Leo Tol­stoy Reads From His Last Major Work in Four Lan­guages, 1909

Fyo­dor Dos­to­evsky Draws Elab­o­rate Doo­dles In His Man­u­scripts

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

The Draw­ings of Jean-Paul Sartre

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.