[Album of Eight Drawings 1885-1886]. [With] Siberia and the Exile System.

FROST George Albert.; KENNAN George (1891.)


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Small folio. Eight original pencil drawings by Frost (each approximately 360 by 250 mm), individually mounted on single leaves. With an ALS (with envelope) and accompanying poem (a few verses from James Russell Lowell's The Present Crisis) by Kennan, all mounted on the first leaf of the album. Modern half black morocco with charcoal moiré cloth boards, gilt lettering to spine and black morocco label on front board. Drawings c.1885-1886; ms. material

The first edition of Kennan’s remarkable exposé of the Russian penal system, with eight original drawings by his fellow traveller, the artist George Albert Frost.

Both Kennan and Frost first travelled to Siberia in their early twenties, working on the highly ambitious Russian-American telegraph project, which was cancelled in 1867. Despite the hardships of that experience Kennan was eager to further explore the Russian Empire and spent the second half of 1870 in the Caucasus, where he witnessed many incidents of savagery; all the while maintaining his faith in Russia’s ability to eventually civilise such isolated regions.

This stance led him to return to Russia in August-September 1884, with the initial aim of disproving accounts of the unfair treatment of supposed revolutionaries and dissidents in the penal system. His pro-Russian views no doubt helped secure a letter from Assistant Minister of Foreign Affairs Alexander G. Vlangali, supporting his endeavour.

With the backing of The Century Magazine Kennan and Frost (employed to visually document the journey) set sail in early May 1885. On the 31st of that month they left St. Petersburg, beginning a journey of over eight thousand miles, which took them through Western Siberia, the Altai Mountains, Tomsk, Krasonyarsk, Irkutsk and then on toward the prison sites of Chita, Nerchinsk and Kara katorga.

It was in those prisons that the two men uncovered endemic overcrowding, lack of medical care, physical abuse and, as a result of those factors, alarming death rates. Interviews with political prisoners revealed the scale and severity of state repression, with many of the interviewees being entirely unlike the fanatics Kennan first expected to find. With each new revelation, Kennan’s original bearing turned toward a damning view of what was revealed to be an unfair and brutal system. As time went on, they were exposed to the increasing suspicion of the police; a pressure that took its toll on Frost who developed acute paranoia and went home several months before Kennan in April 1886.

Their findings first appeared as individual articles in The Century Magazine in 1887, before being published together in the first edition of 1891. Heavily illustrated, the book features numerous drawings by Frost; some sketched from life, and others made later, drawn from the considerable number of photographs taken on the fifteen-month journey.

The eight drawings in our album concern the border towns and settlements near Kyakhta (a Russian town on the Mongolia-Russia border). Four document Miamatchin (or Maimachen, modern Altanbulak, Mongolia), a historical trading post between the Russian and Chinese Empires — two beautiful street scenes and two detailed drawings of a private house (belonging to an “Argenti”). The other four are portraits: a woman in national Mongolian costume, a “Siberian millionare [sic]”, a “Beggar” and a sensitive sketch of the enigmatic “Fanny Moranis. Cheeta. Who gave the Embroidered Russian shirt to G. A. Frost”.

Stock Code: 210731

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