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#17 - JRL 7224
The Guardian (UK)
June 16, 2003
Tolstoy to watch over visit by Putin
Author joins kings and tsar in show from Russian archive
Maev Kennedy, Arts and heritage correspondent

The most startling photograph in Russia's vast state news agency archive dates from almost 40 years before the organisation was founded. The picture, one of the most prized images of the Russian Information Agency-Novosti, is a colour photograph of the author Leo Tolstoy wearing the peasant dress the aristocratic landowner had adopted.

The splendid portrait was taken at Tolstoy's country estate, Yasnaya Polyana, in 1908, about two years before his death. According to a note on the back of the picture, made by the photographer, Yevgeny Kassin, the image was not hand tinted but his own early experiment in colour photography.

Tolstoy will join the astronaut Yuri Gagarin, Britain's King George V and former US president Richard Nixon in an exhibition opening at the Guildhall in London to mark a banquet that will be given by the Corporation of London in honour of Russia's president, Vladimir Putin.

Despite the extent of the traffic between the two countries documented in the exhibition - one 1950s photograph, at the height of the cold war, shows the Royal Marines band, brass buttons gleaming, plumed helmets fluttering, marching across a football pitch before a match in Moscow - President Putin's banquet marks the first official state visit by Russia since 1874, when Tsar Alexander II dined at the Guildhall.

The banquet will be attended by Prince Michael of Kent - which will allow guests to study his astonishing resemblance to the cousins in a photograph from 1910 of the Tsar with George V and King Albert of Belgium.

Novosti was established in 1942, and many of its earliest photographs show the intimacy of the wartime allies, including Soviet and British soldiers at the Elbe in May 1945. The iron curtain soon came down, but the visits continued: Richard Nixon in Moscow in 1959; Yuri Gagarin, greeted like a pop star by hordes of screaming fans at Heathrow in 1961, three months after his historic orbit of the Earth.

The images were chosen by the agency's archivist, Ralph Gibson. In the sensation-packed year of 1991, as the Soviet Union fell apart, he became for a while the only member of staff in its London office. Soviet News, the newspaper which had become synonymous with Novosti, was abolished, but the picture and news agency survived with its archive of more than a million images. The older images, including engravings and Author joins kings and tsar in show from Russian archive prints, date back centuries; many were added to the collection after being acquired from local, municipal and academic archives.

The selected images include one of Margaret Thatcher as prime minister, in mink-lined camel coat, in Moscow, where her flesh-pressing walkabout, Mr Gibson maintains, is still remembered and spoken of with awe.

The photographs will be displayed around a big, ugly, chipboard crate, set within the splendour of the Guildhall art gallery.

The crate contains the white, marble, life-size statue of Lady Thatcher - beheaded by a protester but now restored - which is awaiting a decision on its final home.

Russia/Britain past and present, Guildhall art gallery, London, June 21 to July 6.

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