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Yurii Annenkov studied in Paris with Maurice Denis and Félix Vallotton from 1911 to 1912. On returning to Saint Petersburg he embarked on his artistic career as a set designer and portraitist.
Prominent among his experimental set designs are Gas by George Kaiser and Revolt of the Machines by Alexei Tolstoy. Unlike other Russian avant-garde artists, he never embraced Cubo-Futurism or Constructivism, though he enjoyed flowing relationships with Larionov, Rozanova and Tatlin, and was a member of the Union of Youth, an important Saint Petersburg cultural centre that organized exhibitions and published and sold books. Even so, the artist was not indifferent to the widespread trend towards industrial art and the supplanting of art by the precision of the machine, and many of his compositions therefore fall into the category of geometric abstraction.
Amiens Cathedral belongs to a set of abstract assemblages created between 1918 and 1921 in which Annenkov sought to combine tradition and avant-garde. In all the compositions in this series he inserted collages of images of the past into an abstract geometric construction, which has sometimes been interpreted as a double ironic play on nostalgia and revolution. In the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza composition, the artist inserts a postcard of Amiens’s famous Gothic cathedral into an abstract relief built from a collage of wood and various other materials. Annenkov has written in Cyrillic characters on the postcard “Souvenir of my marvellous trip. Yurii, 1912. Amiens.”