Russian Art & Soviet Nonconformist Art

Unidentified Artist

Paintings | Sculpture | Works on Paper | Decorative Arts

The Zimmerli’s Russian and Soviet nonconformist art holdings contain over 22,000 objects and provide a unique overview from the fourteenth century to the present.

The Imperial era of Russian art is represented through George Riabov’s 1990 donation. This part of the collection spans styles and subjects that represent Russia’s diverse artistic heritage, genres, and visual cultures. The Zimmerli holds the largest collection in the world of Soviet nonconformist art, based on a donation from Norton and Nancy Dodge in 1991. Over 20,000 works by more than 1,000 artists reveal a culture that defied the politically imposed conventions of Socialist Realism. All media are represented, including paintings on canvas and panel, sculpture, assemblage, installations, works on paper, photography, video, artists’ books and other self-published texts called samizdat. This encyclopedic array of nonconformist art extends from about 1956 to 1986, from the beginning of Khrushchev’s cultural “thaw” to the advent of Gorbachev’s glasnost and perestroika. Work created during the Gorbachev era (through 1991) is also represented. In addition to art made in Russia, the collection includes many examples of nonconformist art produced in the Soviet republics: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan. A recent generous gift by Claude and Nina Gruen extends the Zimmerli Russian art holdings to post-perestroika work produced since 1986. Many of these artworks were made by former Soviet artists now living in the diaspora.


Russian Orthodox icons introduce viewers to ancient Russian art. Created in wood, metal, or stone, icons contain a fixed iconography, the earliest example is a carved stone icon depicting the Protecting Veil of the Mother of God, from the fourteenth century. Eighteenth- and nineteenth-century portraits show individuals of varying social status, painted in the academic styles that Russia adopted during the era of Peter the Great. Several important paintings by members of the Itinerants, or Wanderers group, concentrate on the realistic representation of life from the mid-nineteenth-century on, among them works by Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky and Nikolai Dubovskoi. Landscape paintings also dominate; exemplary scenes are a winter landscape by Konstantin Kryzhitsky and a forest view by S. Platonov. The early twentieth century is represented by Russian painters who adapted a restrained modernism, from Dmitrii Stelletsky to Nicholas Roerich and Boris Grigoriev. 

The Zimmerli’s Soviet nonconformist art extensively documents the careers of such first-generation unofficial artists as Oskar Rabin, Lydia Masterkova, and Vladimir Nemukhin. Many others are also represented in depth, often with more than 50 works, including pioneering abstract artists Mikhail Kulakov, Leonid Borisov, Evgenii Mikhnov-Voitenko, Evgenii Rukhin, and Eduard Shteinberg. Another dimension of this history is represented by Sots Art, so-named in 1972 by the artistic duo Komar and Melamid. The Zimmerli contains works of historical significance by these artists, as well as important works by Grisha Bruskin, Alexander Kosolapov, Boris Orlov, and Rostislav Lebedev. Another highlight is the museum’s extensive holdings of Moscow Conceptual art, which range from documentation of early performances by Collective Actions (1976–present) to installations by Ilya Kabakov and Viktor Pivovarov, as well as a full re-creation of an AptArt, or apartment art, exhibition created by Nikita Alekseev, Sergei Anufriev, and others.


The Imperial era is represented by an important bronze sculpture (ca. 1880) by Evgenii Lansere depicting in superb detail a Cossack couple on a horse. Other important works are Mephistopheles (1880) by Mark Antokolsky, a portrait bust of Leo Tolstoy (1899) by Pavel Troubetskoy, and Vladimir Stenberg’s impressive constructivist sculpture of the early twentieth century. Within the Soviet nonconformist holdings, early trends toward expressionism and abstraction are seen in the sculptures of Ernst Neizvestny and Vadim Sidur. Sots Art and Conceptual works are represented in diverse forms and media.

Works on Paper

A majority of the Russian and Soviet nonconformist holdings are works on paper (16,700). An important group of maps show the historical growth and changes of national and internal borders. A significant collection of nineteenth-century lubki, the popular folk prints of Russia, reflects the moral, religious, literary, and other social concerns and interests of the Russian people. An important focus of the Imperial and early Soviet periods is theater, opera, and ballet stage set and costume designs by major Russian artists of the early and mid-twentieth century. Designs by Leon Bakst, Alexandre Benois, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, and Natalia Goncharova for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes (1909–1990) are strengths. Constructivist stage sets include those by Alexandra Exter; surrealist-inspired designs by Pavel Tchelitchew and Eugene Berman also stand out. A large group of propaganda posters and broadsides by leading artists such as Dmitri Moor and Viktor Demi extend from the pre- to post-revolutionary periods. Posters for movies and the theater include the well-known but anonymous poster for Sergei Eisenstein’s film October.  

Postwar nonconformist works on paper are wide-ranging, with individual artists often represented by full series and portfolios of prints and drawings. There are extensive concentrations of works on paper by such major artists as Valentina Kropivnitskaia, Vladimir Nemukhin, Erik Bulatov, Francisco Infante-Arana, and Raul Meel. Important albums by Ilya Kabakov, Viktor Pivovarov, and the group Medical Hermeneutics are represented in their entirety.

Soviet photography is represented by more than 3,500 pieces, from art photography such as work by Aleksander Slyusarev to documentation of artists’ installations, such as the Rooms series by Irina Nakhova, conceptual photography by Boris Mikhailov, and street shots documenting life of Soviet people by Farit Gubaev and Alexander Lapin. The collection also contains major works from the 1920s and 1930s by avant-garde masters Aleksander Rodchenko and Arkadii Shaikhet.

Artist-designed books and book covers are well represented within the collection, including a number of important works by such artists as Kazimir Malevich and El Lissitsky. Important Zimmerli holdings of children’s books are illustrated by Vladimir Lebedev, Evgenia Evenbach, and Mikhail Tsekhanovsky. 

Decorative Arts

Noteworthy Russian and Soviet decorative art objects held by the Zimmerli are hand-painted ceramic plates from the early Soviet era, with imagery ranging from Suprematist abstraction to Communist propaganda.

European Art

Pierre Bonnard (French 1867-1947)

Paintings | Sculpture | Works on Paper | Decorative Arts

The Zimmerli’s collection of European art in all media ranges in date from the Renaissance to the present and totals close to 10,000 objects, with its primary strength in French nineteenth-century works on paper, notably prints and rare books. Strongly represented subjects include portraits and caricatures, landscapes, and popular entertainments. Also among the European holdings is a renowned collection of Japonisme, late nineteenth-century works by European artists inspired by Japanese art and aesthetics. 


The collection of approximately 250 European paintings includes characteristic examples from the Italian Renaissance, seventeenth-century Italian and Dutch works, and eighteenth-century works from England and France. Notable among the nineteenth-century paintings are Claude Monet’s rare portrait of his father (1865) and several small landscapes by such seminal painters as John Constable, Gustave Courbet, and Theodore Rousseau. Portuguese Still-Life (1914), an important painting by Sonia Delaunay, and Profile (ca. 1955) by Jean Arp are two significant twentieth-century European paintings in the collection. 


Focused on nineteenth-century French works, the collection of European sculpture is anchored by the only complete set in the United States of Honoré Daumier’s Celebrities of the Juste Milieu terra cotta busts (1832-1835) that caricature some of the most prominent government officials of the day. Other important French sculptures include Auguste Rodin’s Fleeting Love, which relates to his masterwork The Gates of Hell, and François Rude’s Head of the Gaul, based on his sculpture for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. The museum also has a small group of ancient Greek and Roman sculptures among its holdings.

Works on Paper

Of the 10,000 works of European art in the collection, 8,000 are works on paper, and of this number, 5,300 items are nineteenth-century French. The extensive collection of European works on paper includes significant prints by Northern European masters from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, notably Albrecht Dürer and Rembrandt. Significant works by Giovanni Battista Piranesi and William Hogarth are highlights of the eighteenth-century holdings. Nineteenth-century French prints and drawings comprise the greatest part of the European collection. The Zimmerli’s collection of late nineteenth-century color lithographic posters is one of the best in the United States.

Japonisme is significantly represented among the European prints and drawings, with extensive holdings by artists including Félix Buhot, Henri Guérard, and Henri Rivière. The collection also includes a selection of Japanese ukiyo-e color woodcut prints and some 250 Meiji-era photographs (1868–1912) that provides context for the European works influenced by Japan. Watercolors by Eugène Delacroix, Paul Signac, and J.M.W. Turner, and pastels by Henri-Gabriel Ibels are among the highlights of the drawings collection. The collection of twentieth-century prints includes works by Raoul Dufy, Sonia Delaunay, and Fernand Léger. Photography is represented by a small group of works by Eugène Atget, rare works by Henri Rivière, and vintage prints related to the Eiffel Tower and the great expositions in Paris of 1889 and 1900.

The Zimmerli owns more than 3,000 rare books and journals focused on the period between 1875 and 1914 in Paris. Landmarks of book illustration in the collection include the first French edition of Goethe’s Faust (1828) with lithographs by Eugène Delacroix, Edouard Manet’s illustrations for Stephane Mallarme’s first translation into French of Edgar Allen Poe’s The Raven (Le Corbeau, 1875), and Eugène Grasset’s Quatre Fils d’Aymon (Four Sons of Aymon, 1883). A major resource for primary material on Montmartre, Parisian popular culture, and Japonisme during the fin de siècle, the collection features complete or near-complete runs of the most important journals of the period. A finding aid is available here. Also among the significant holdings is Le Mur, a unique “journal” of original drawings and writings created by the artists who frequented the Cabaret des Quat’z’Arts.


Decorative Arts

The European decorative arts collection features ceramic, glass, and metal objects from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries related to the Art Nouveau movement. Notable works include a table lamp (ca. 1920) by Emile Gallé and a grotesque ceramic head (ca. 1892) by Jean Carriès. The large ceramic figure La Japonaise (1867) by Théodore Deck is among the collection’s important examples of French and English stoneware inspired by Japanese ceramics or decorated with Japanese motifs.

American Art

Dorothy Dehner

Paintings | Sculpture | Works on Paper | Decorative Arts

The Zimmerli's American art collection, numbering more than 16,500 objects, includes paintings, sculpture, works on paper (prints, drawings, and photographs), and decorative arts. The earliest paintings in the Zimmerli’s collection date to the late eighteenth century, when the United States and Rutgers University—then called Queen’s College—were in their infancy. Reflecting America’s rich artistic and cultural heritage, the museum showcases examples of portraiture, landscape, still life, narrative art, and abstraction. Modern and contemporary styles represented in the collection include precisionism, surrealism, abstract expressionism, geometric abstraction, pop and op art, Fluxus, photo realism, and minimalism, as well as works that explore social and political issues. Work by women artists is a distinguishing aspect of the Zimmerli’s American holdings and signals Rutgers’ pioneering role in women’s studies.


Notable among the museum’s early portraits are a pastel by James Sharples of George Washington (ca. 1797) and a painting by Ezra Ames portraying Simeon de Witt (1804), mapmaker and surveyor to General Washington during the Revolutionary War and a 1776 Rutgers graduate. Several other early portraits represent individuals associated with Rutgers and New Jersey, including distinctive portraits of women by Mary Jane Peale, Charles C. Ingham, Eastman Johnson, and John Vanderlyn, Jr. Important nineteenth-century landscape artists are represented in the collection. Among the highlights are works by Albert Bierstadt and John Frederick Kensett. Highlights of the early twentieth century include paintings by Henry Ossawa Tanner, landscapes by Milton Avery and Arthur Dove, still lifes by Dorothy Dehner and Marsden Hartley, and urban scenes by George Ault, Marjorie Ryerson, and Charles Sheeler. The collection also includes a strong representation of work by artists associated with American surrealism and mid-twentieth-century abstraction. 


The sculpture collection includes both figurative and abstract works ranging from large scale figural groupings to small scale examples. Thomas Ball’s neoclassical marble bust of Margaret Van Nest (1870), granddaughter of former Rutgers trustee Abraham Van Nest, for whom the university’s Van Nest Hall is named, is among the important nineteenth-century examples. The work of George Segal, a twentieth-century master and an alumnus of Rutgers, is a strength of the museum’s collection. Significant sculptures by Segal include plaster reliefs, painted figures in environments, and multifigural installations. Significant abstract sculptures in the collection include works by Louise Nevelson, Alan Saret, Ruth Vollmer, and a monumental site-specific installation by Herbert Ferber.  

Works on Paper

Of the 16,500 American works in the collection, 14,600 are works on paper, including 8,000 prints and 5,800 drawings, with the remainder being photographs and artist’s books. Nineteenth-century print holdings feature wood engravings by Winslow Homer, drypoints by Mary Cassatt, and etchings and lithographs by James A. McNeill Whistler. The majority of American prints date to the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Exceptional color woodcuts include those by Arthur Wesley Dow, Helen Hyde, and Blanche Lazzell. Prints created from the 1920s through the 1940s, including many examples of social realism, are a particular strength. Artists represented in depth include Jolán Gross-Bettelheim, George “Pop” Hart, Childe Hassam, Martin Lewis, and Raphael Soyer. The collection has many innovative prints made after 1960, including those by Michael Mazur, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rauschenberg, Ed Ruscha, Joan Snyder, Andy Warhol, and June Wayne.

To document late twentieth-century American printmaking and the vital collaboration between artists and master printers, the Zimmerli established the Rutgers Archives of Printmaking Studios (RAPS) in 1983. For nearly 30 years, the museum has acquired examples of the creative and technical aspects of the printmaking process. Print studios represented in depth are the Brodsky Center for Innovative Editions at Rutgers and Derrière L’Étoile Studios in New York. Also represented are over 15 other presses from New York City, as well as from around the United States. Zimmerli’s RAPS holdings include prints by Richard Bosman, April Gornik, Donald Judd, Jeff Koons, Barbara Kruger, Robert Longo, Faith Ringgold, Tom Wesselmann, and many others.

Among the Zimmerli’s 5,800 American drawings, there are 2,400 twentieth-century original illustrations for children’s literature, as well as preparatory materials to document the book making process. More than 100 illustrators—many with New Jersey associations—are represented, including Frank Asch, Roger Duvoisin, Maginel Wright Enright, Lois Lenski, Jean and Mou-sien Tseng, and Lynd Ward.

The museum’s growing photography collection features photographs by Berenice Abbott, Larry Clark, Larry Fink, Philippe Halsman, Ray K. Metzker, Barbara Morgan, Cindy Sherman, Aaron Siskind, Edward Steichen, and 104 Polaroid portraits by Andy Warhol. Contemporary photography-based prints by Ann Hamilton, Glenn Ligon, Catherine Opie, and Carrie Mae Weems, among others, present a compelling microcosm of America’s current art scene.

The Zimmerli also has several contemporary artist illustrated books by Judy Rifka, Donald Sultan, Richard Tuttle, and others.

Decorative Arts

The Zimmerli has a small number of American decorative art objects. Most significant among them are a group of art nouveau lamps by Louis Comfort Tiffany and a window designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the J.J. Walser House in Chicago (ca. 1903).


Collection Overview

The Zimmerli Art Museum was founded in 1966 as the Rutgers University Art Gallery to celebrate the university’s bicentennial. The gallery was expanded in 1983 and renamed the Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum in honor of the mother of Ralph and Alan Voorhees, the major benefactors for the museum’s expansion.  

Today, the museum’s permanent collection totals more than 60,000 works in a wide range of media and includes a survey of Western art from the fifteenth century to the present. The Zimmerli has particularly strong holdings in: