Russeries in the Construction of a European Exoticism

Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, Scène de la vie quotidienne en Russie [Scene from Russian Everyday Life], 1764, oil on canvas, 0.73 x 0.60 m.

Russeries, which were imagined by Jean-Baptiste Le Prince, were one of the last forms of artistic exoticism conceived in eighteenth century France. The artist went to Saint Petersburg in 1757, and was presented at the court of Elizabeth I of Russia (1741-1762), who entrusted him with official commissions. Over the course of six long years, the painter-engraver steeped himself in the “Russian” atmosphere, and captured local everyday scenes from real life, along with portraits of men and women of the people, offering a partially descriptive study of native populations. Upon his return to France in 1763, he used these works in various artistic domains. While his works won him a certain renown, the fortune of his work suffered when this fashion ran out of steam at the end of the century. Occasionally revived in the field of art objects, the posterity of russeries has been minor, although the ethnographic dimension of Jean-Baptiste Le Prince’s work, which was novel in the register of exoticism, foreshadowed the scientific research of the nineteenth century.