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The Nose

William Kentridge

Text and photos courtesy DKW

In December 2006 Jillian Ross, Master Printer of the David Krut Workshop (DKW), began her collaboration with William Kentridge on a series of prints that was to elaborate on Kentridge’s work on the Shostakovich opera The Nose, commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera, New York, to premiere in March 2010. Shostakovich’s opera is based on one of the most famous stories in Russian literature, Nikolai Gogol’s The Nose, published in 1867.

In William Kentridge Nose, published by David Krut Publishing in 2010, William Kentridge explains the story, and its relationship to the prints, as follows:

"In 1867, Nikolai Gogol published his short story The Nose. The story is about a middle-ranking Russian bureaucrat, Collegiate Assessor Kovalyov, who wakes one morning to find his nose missing. In its place is only a ‘pancake- smooth expanse’. The narrative follows Kovalyov’s attempts to locate and re-attach his nose. Anton Chekov described The Nose as the finest short story ever written.

Kovalyov wanders the streets of the city in search of his nose and eventually catches a glimpse of it entering a cathedral. He follows it inside and tries to reason with it and persuade it to return to him. But his nose is now a higher-ranking bureaucrat than he is and will have nothing to do with him. As The Nose goes its own way, Kovalyov is left to contemplate ‘that ridiculous blank space’ again.

This set of prints follows—or makes—the journey of the independent Nose."

The prints reflect on music, ballet, the history of Western art and the various fortunes of the Communist parties in South Africa and the Soviet Union.

In his interpretation of Gogol and Shostakovich, Kentridge has projected the story forward to the 1917 Russian Revolution and the Russian avant-garde, and then into the twentieth century to include allusions to Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. But he has also cast his eye back to consider some of the literary influences on Gogol such as Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy and even Cervantes’s Don Quixote. Drawing on these and other texts, including excerpts from Russian newspapers, clips from Russian films of the 1920s and 1930s, pages from Russian encyclopaedias, and parts of a transcript of a 1937 meeting of the Central Committee of the Russian Communist Party in which the theoretician Nikolai Bukharin is being interrogated, Kentridge created not only his opera production but several other works, including the Nose suite of etchings.

Nose is a suite of thirty prints, each measuring roughly 15 x 20 cm (5 x 8 in) and printed in an edition of 50. The prints explore a number of techniques but rely primarily on Kentridge’s strong drypoint marks, softened by sugarlift aquatint and punctuated, in several plates, by a strong Constructivist red. Each plate is engraved with a number signalling its place in the series.

Please note the following works are only available as part of the complete set of thirty prints: Nose 1,3,7,9,26,29 and 30.

Five subsequent prints were published, known informally in the workshop as the “Nose Extras” – El Lissitky, Mirror, Odalisque, Chaise-Longue, and Nose on a White Horse.


For various reasons, Kentridge did not consider these works a good fit for inclusion as part of the Nose suite of 30 etchings which, although each print is available individually, is designed to be understood as a single work in its own right. They were, nonetheless, well-loved by Kentridge and so they were published separately as stand-alone images.

Publisher. David Krut

Printed at. David Krut Workshop

Printers. Master Printer Jillian Ross

Mlungisi Khongisa

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