In 1870, the railway magnate Savva Mamontov and his wife Elizaveta acquired the Abramtsevo estate, former home of a literary circle in the 1830-1840s, situated 70 kilometres to the north east of Moscow. Prompted by Elizaveta, workshops were set up, and peasant artisans from the region were recruited to come and work in them. She thus became one of the principal protagonists in saving and re-evaluating the crafts of the kustary, and mujiks who spent the winter months making objects from wood, horn, bone, lace, etc.
At that time throughout northern and central Europe a movement existed devoted to preserving the traditions of popular art. The desire to save a traditional idiom went hand in hand with the desire to develop a new one, focusing on an honest and authentic style of interior decoration. The Abramtsevo enterprise was certainly one of the first manifestations of this new awareness.
This small wall cupboard is a good example of the work produced by the Abramtsevo workshops, as much in its method of construction - a simple assembly of panels - as in its choice of wood and its treatment - white wood, stained and then waxed - or in its bas-relief decoration. A sprinkling of stars, a male personification of the sun and a female one of the moon are all references to the cosmic rhythm.
The natural world is represented by a bestiary – birds and fish – and flowers, treated in a naïve and very geometric way. There is an interesting detail in the crown formed from the profiles of two horses. They are very evocative of the architectural, wooden carvings on animal themes that decorated the balconies and roofs of the isbas.