Pildid impeeriumi teenistuses: Richard Maacki Amuuri raamatu illustratsioonidest

Images in the service of empire: Illustrations from Richard Maack's "Trip to the Amur River" (1859)


  • Indrek Jääts Estonian National Museum


In 1855, the Siberian Department of the Imperial Russian Geographical
Society (SOIRGO) sent an expedition to the Amur River
under the leadership of Richard Maack. The Amur, hitherto almost
unknown to Europeans, was part of the Chinese Empire, and Russia
was in the process of occupying it. Thus, information was needed. The
man behind the operation was the Governor-General of East Siberia
(and SOIRGO curator) Nikolai Muravyov. Based on the results of the
expedition, Maack wrote a book, Путешествие на Амур (Trip to the
Amur River, 1859). This article focuses on the drawings, maps and
plans that accompanied the book.
The expedition led by Maack and the book published about it
were part of the academic and symbolic conquest of Amur. The main
message of the book was that Amur now belonged to Russia, its first
scientific explorer and civiliser of this remote and savage region. A
portfolio of illustrations and maps accompanying the book undoubtedly
helped to spread and amplify this message. These images were
re-used in several European publications.
The Amur expedition was not accompanied by a professional artist.
Maack had to draw the landscapes and ethnographic objects
himself. His travelling companion, Georg Gerstfeldt also made ethnographic
drawings. The maps were sketched by topographer Alexander
Sondhagen. The pictures accompanying the book were made by
the artist Karl Huhn from Maack’s drawings. The extent to which
he altered the original material is not known, as none of Maack`s
drawings have been found so far. Gerstfeldt’s drawings were probably
not used. Some of the drawings published were based on objects and
plant specimens brought back from the expedition, while others were
copied from Egor Meyer, an artist who travelled to Amur in parallel 

with Maack. It has not been possible to identify the author and origin
of each picture due to lack of information.
The addition of a luxurious and expensive portfolio of illustrations
to the book was the initiative of Stepan Solovyov, a patriotic tycoon
and philanthropist of the arts. The book and the portfolio cost him a
total of around 25,000 roubles. The Imperial Russian Geographical
Society and its Siberian branch did not have this kind of financial
resources. Without Solovyov’s support, Maack’s book would probably
have been published in a much cheaper form and without illustrations.
Its message, which, thanks to Solovyov’s generous help, would
have resounded across Europe, would have been much weaker and
more muted. The role played by private capital in promoting and advocating
Russian imperial expansion was therefore remarkable in
this case.
The title page of the portfolio is very impressive, one could say
triumphant, inspired by Russian imperialism and colonialism. This
is not so evident in the ethnographic drawings. The artists (Maack,
Meyer, Huhn) probably tried to depict the Amur peoples as truthfully
as possible, to be scientifically accurate. For a more in-depth analysis,
comparing Huhn’s images with their source material would be


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