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Dmitrii V. Sarabianov: In Memoriam

posted by CAA — Aug 21, 2013

Alison Hilton is Wright Family Professor of Art History at Georgetown University in Washington, DC.

Dmitrii V. Sarabianov, a Russian art historian and a specialist on nineteenth- and twentieth-century art, died in Moscow on July 19, 2013. He was 89 years old. Sarabianov was one of the great art historians of his generation, those who began their scholarly careers during and following World War II.

Born on October 10, 1923, into the family of a Marxist philosopher, Sarabianov showed an early interest in the arts, especially poetry and music, as well as camping and athletics. Soon after he began his undergraduate studies in 1941, Germany invaded the Soviet Union. He joined the army to serve as a translator, was wounded twice, and received several medals for military merit. After the war Sarabianov completed his undergraduate work at Moscow State University and was admitted into the school’s graduate program in art history, earning his candidate’s degree in 1952.

In 1954 he began work at Moscow’s prestigious Institute of Art History, first as a senior researcher and later as deputy director. From 1966 to 1996 Sarabianov taught and served as the head of the Art History Department at Moscow State University. He earned his doctorate in 1971. (In Russia this signifies substantial scholarly achievement beyond the candidate’s degree; it is roughly equivalent to full professorship.) Sarabianov became a corresponding member of the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1987 and was elected to the rank of academician five years later.

Sarabianov was an inspiring teacher and mentor whose influence guided the careers of many Russian academics and museum scholars for several generations. Even for those who did not encounter him directly, Sarabianov’s publications—numbering more than 360 books and articles—set a standard for scholarship recognized both in Russia and abroad. Subjects of his monographs, many of them translated, include important nineteenth-century artists, among them Pavel Fedotov, Orest Kiprenskii, Aleksei Venetsianov, Ilya Repin, and Valentin Serov, as well as key figures in early-twentieth-century art such as Vasilii Kandinsky, Pavel Kuznetsov, Robert Falk, Liubov Popova, and Kazimir Malevich. What distinguishes Sarabianov’s work is the scope and originality of his interpretations of Russian art movements. He was among the first to write about Russian nineteenth-century painting in relation to European art, and he published a path-breaking study of international Art Nouveau in 1989. His book Russian Art: From Neoclassicism to the Avant Garde 1800–1917 (1990) is considered the fundamental text on the subject.

Sarabianov always took his civic responsibility as an academic very seriously. He spoke up at meetings, defended intellectual freedom, and voted on policy questions. In 2005, he and colleagues in Moscow’s major museums and other art institutions created the National Organization of Art Experts (NOEXI) to monitor and cope with the unprecedented demands of the chaotic art market in Russia and to establish means of ensuring professional credibility and trust.

Regarded by his peers, his former students, and his readers as a scholar of absolute integrity, Dmitrii Sarabianov will be missed most for his immense charm and kindness. He is survived by his wife, Elena Borisovna Murina, and his sons, Andrei and Vladimir Sarabianov.

Filed under: Obituaries