Orla Muff

Orla Muff, “Nana”, 1934, Oil on Canvas, 45.1 x 55.3 cm, Private Collection

Born in April of 1903 in Copenhagen, Orla Andreas Heinrik Jacobsen was a Danish painter and illustrator. From 1917 to 1921, he received his formal art education at the Copenhagen Technical School under Carl Lund, the leading theatrical artist of the time. In 1917, he adopted a change in name to Orla Muff. 

In 1918, Muff was awarded a distinguished seat at the Day’s Drawing Concourse, an event held by Children’s Aid, and had his first drawing printed on a postcard. In the same year he drew one hundred different illustrations depicting gnomes for a series of postcards, which was released in large editions several times. Muff’s illustrations for the early postcards were signed with an intertwined O and J standing for Orla Jacobsen. He continued to design postcards until the late 1960s; these later works were signed with Orla Muff.

After his studies with Carl Lund, Orla Muff began a period of travel through Europe where he studied in Sweden, Holland, France and Germany. He achieved acclaim early in his career as a designer of elaborate Art Deco styled sets for prominent European revues and theatrical productions. Included among these designs were sets for performances at Copenhagen’s Folk Theater, Austrian-born theatrical producer Max Reinhardt’s Theater in Berlin, and Norway’s Mayol Theater in Oslo. 

In addition to his set designs, Muff began easel painting in the early 1930s; he created portraits, figurative works, and abstract paintings. His work is characterized by a refined sophistication and a predominantly light-toned color scale. Muff’s abstract compositions, executed in the styles of the Art Deco and Cubist movements, often contain mythologically inspired figures set in largely monochromatic backgrounds. 

Painted in his early thirties, Orla Muff’s 1934 “Nana” is an Art Deco derived, Expressionist oil portrait of a young, high-spirited woman, shown smoking a cigarette and set against a mottled turquoise background. Muff’s use of strong lighting effects produced a dramatic and psychologically penetrating portrait of this young woman.

During the course of his career, Orla Muff exhibited successfully in many European exhibitions and was the recipient of juried awards and prizes. Among his notable works are “Leda and the Swan” exhibited in 1940; the 1940 oil on canvas “Tropical Jungle Women”; a 1947 series of wooden sculptural figures based on Hans Christian Anderson’s fairy tales;  a 1957 series of illustrations from the Bible for use in films; and posters, costume designs, and theater decorations executed in 1921 and 1922  for performances of Anderson’s tales at the Mayol Theater in Oslo. 

Orla Muff died in the city of Copenhagen in December of 1984. A small collection of personal correspondence from Orla Muff to Dr. Raymond Piper, as well as a photo of the artist and photos of Muff’s artwork, can be found in the Special Collections of the University of West Georgia.

Notes: An extensive collection of Orla Muff’s illustrated postcards can be found at the Danish Postcard Artists site located at: https://www.piaper.dk/postkortkunstnere/Postkortkunstnere/Orla_Muff/Orla_Muff.htm   

A collection of fifty-five images of Orla Muff’s music sheet covers is located at the online Illustrated Sheet Music site: https://www.imagesmusicales.be/search/illustrator/Muff/11874/ShowImages/80/Submit/

Top Insert Image: Photographer Unknown, “Orla Muff”, Date Unknown, Collection of the Royal Danish Library, Copenhagen

Second Insert Image: Orla Muff, Music Sheet Cover for “Smaragden”, Composer Einar Cronhammer, 1923

Third Insert Image: Orla Muff, Music Sheet Cover for “Han är Söt och Rar”, Composer Harald Mortensen, 1925

Bottom Insert Image: Orla Muff, Music Sheet Cover for “Femina”, Composer Sven Rüno, 1923

Audrey Avinoff

Audrey Avinoff, Images from “The Fall of Atlantis” Series

In February of 1884, Andrey Avinoff was born to a wealthy Russian family in the town of Tulchyn, located in the western portion of Ukraine near the border of Moldova. Educated by private tutors on the family estate in the Ukraine, he was trained as a lawyer and diplomat at the University of Moscow, and became a gentlemen-in-waiting to the last tsar. A multi-faceted figure in the tradition of Da Vinci, Avinoff was equally at home in the worlds of art and science, spoke seven languages and read ten more, established an entomological library of seven-thousand volumes, and was an expert of Russian icons, Persian miniatures, and other esoteric subjects.

In his twenties, Avinoff inherited a bachelor uncle’s fortune and, pursuing his entomological interests, financed forty-two butterfly collecting expeditions between 1904 and 1914, including one to western Tibet in 1912. He eventually established himself as one of the world’s greatest butterfly collectors, with an initial collection of approximately eighty-thousand specimens, most of which came from central Asia. This collection was later impounded by the Bolsheviks during the Revolution and is now housed in the Zoological Museum in St. Petersburg. 

Due to his training in law and diplomacy, Audrey Avinoff was chosen by the Kerensky government of Russia to tundertake a purchasing mission in New York. Taking only one volume from his vast library, he left with his sister,  portrait painter Elizabeth Shoumatoff, on the last train out of St. Petersburg before the Revolution. When they arrived in New York several months later, the Russia they knew no longer existed. Avinoff decided to settle in Pittsburgh where, as a gay man, he lived a generally secluded upper-class life in the thriving city’s strongly elitist society.

After a brief career as a commercial artist, where he produced Art Deco advertising including work for Colgate toothpaste and Parliament cigarettes, Audrey Avinoff became an assistant curator of entomology in 1926 at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh, under the directorship of William Rolland. Within a year, he became the director of the museum, a position he held until his retirement in 1946. During the 1930s, Avinoff, along with his nephew Nicholas Shoumanoff, made six trips to Jamaica, where he collected fourteen-thousand specimens of the island’s moths and butterflies. Returning home, he established a second entomological library and a three-thousand volumn library on Russian Decorative Art, which Avinoff bestowed to his nephew in his will. 

Following a decline in his health during the latter part of his life, Audrey Avinoff moved to New York and resumed his interest in painting. A talented artist since his early years, he worked in a variety of mediums, including pencil, ink, watercolor, and oil paints. Avinoff  produced over his lifetime an impressive number of extraordinary detailed watercolors, mostly of flowers and butterflies, which were scientifically accurate, but often phantasmagorical and mystical in style. Besides still-lifes and landscapes, he  also produced paintings with themes of religious, sexual or apocalyptic nature. 

Avinoff’s most known work is his “The Fall of Atlantis” series, which illustrated George V. Golokhvastoff’s two hundred-fifty page poem of the same name. The series consists of twenty three illustrations, done in black and white chalk with pencil and watercolor, some of which are heightened with body white. The work exemplifies the Art Deco style, which was popular in the 1930s, and incorporates a young male figure of mystical imagery. Published in 1938 as a limited edition and presented in two matching gray cloth drop-back boxes, the set also contained a self-portrait of Audrey Avinoff, done in pencil and initialed. 

Audrey Avinoff was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Science from the University of Pittsburgh and was a member of the Entomological Society of America, having joined in 1939. Among Avinoff’s close friends were the Russian poet and novelist Vladmir Nabokov, author of “Speak, Memory” and “Lolita”, and biologist and sex researcher Alfred Kinsey, both of whom were also interested in entomology. Audrey Avinoff died in July of 1949 at the age of sixty-five. 

Besides his work published in numerous science and botanical publications, Audrey Avinoff’s work is housed in the collections of the Audrey Avinoff Foundation, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University, and the Carnegie Museum of Art, as well as in many private collections.