Under Communism this book could not have existed. Today the work of the Russian modern art pioneers it discusses is devoutly memorialised. Yet the change is still recent enough to make it easy to understand the warm critical reception Vitebsk (which largely concerns the period 1917–22) received in Russia and Israel in 2001, and the ‘wonderful letters’ the author was sent by descendants of those mentioned. Now, translated and updated, it enters the art-historical mainstream.
In the years immediately following the Russian Revolution, the provincial city of Vitebsk was briefly one of the world’s artistic hotspots. Sudden change was nothing new in its 1,000-year history: a western location, equidistant from St Petersburg and Moscow, ensured its geopolitical importance as a vital trade link with Europe