Over the centuries, printmaking in Russia is developed in parallel with the European one, under a great influence of political regimes and with specific characteristics. Since the 16th century, religious books are decorated with woodcuts, while Lubok has the same development with the popular printmaking of the rest of Europe, using subjects from religion, society and folk-literature. In the 19th century, it follows the development of techniques, from woodcutting to lithography. Intaglio printmaking appears in the era of Peter the Great, who at the beginning of the 18th century invites western artists to Saint Petersburg. Intaglio printmaking serves his objectives, especially with battle scenes, and especially portraits. With the Tsars who have succeeded him, the court scenes, portraits, views of palaces and magnificent buildings are multiplying. Enlightenment contributes to the printing of illustrated books, at least in the field of science. In the 19th century engraving declines, other than the illustration of books using steel engraving. On the other hand, lithography is adopted for landscapes, portraits and reproductions of Russian artists’ paintings. Editorial cartoons and scientific representations of antiquities are also part of the theme.
Just like in Western Europe, at the end of the 19th century etching comes back to life with printmakers-creators who combine it with other intaglio methods.
During the period of the Soviet Union, printmaking has its own place. Other than the monumental works of Soviet realism (sculptures and paintings), lithography is an effective mean to spread the ideology. However, the “small dimension” printmaking, known in Europe thanks to many exhibitions, follows its own path: on the one hand, cheap materials – wood and linoleum – dominate in printmaking, which acquires an excellent quality. Linocutting and woodcutting are often combined to create works with excellent tonal range. On the other hand, printmakers who have studied before or after the revolution freely create: some of them create scenes and landscapes glorifying the regime, others continue the tradition of genre painting (depicting aspects of everyday life) and above all they glorify the beauty of landscapes, both in nature and the buildings and their cities.
Wood engraving which is preferred for the illustration of literary books reaches a higher grade of expressiveness and skill.Vladimir Favorsky, who was also famous in Western Europe from the very first years of the 30s, illustrates significant works of both Russian and foreign literature – novels and tales, plays, poems, studies – for publications of works translated into Russian. For 40 years he creates without dogmatism, with realism and sensitivity and a trend towards classicism.
Modern printmakers, who have studied in Soviet Union or in the Russian Federation, share the same concerns and experimentations as any other printmaker in the rest of the world.