Soviet Toys

This is a film by the avant-garde Russian film-maker Dziga Vertov, the pseudonym of David Kaufman (1896-1954). Titled Советские игрушки, it was the first Soviet animation. It came out in 1924, the year of Lenin’s death.

Dziga Vertov was among the first cartoonists in film history. Among the animations that came out in the 1920s, the majority were severe, grey, political works – almost entirely of propaganda. This is not the sort of thing you would show your children. The protagonist – a middle-man grown rich on the New Economic Policy and therefore reviled by the proletariat – eats an enormous feast, then consumes a barrel wine. The motion of the wine into his mouth is indistinguishable from vomit. He then collapses onto the floor, unable to get up. A woman appears, dances and jumps into his stomach. There is a mockery of religion, the dead church represented by an orthodox prelate and a live church represented by a provincial parson. The churches fight each other for the attention of the bourgeoisie. A worker appears,  attempts to cut up with scissors the bloated class enemy, merges with a peasant into a Janus-like figure that takes his ill-gotten money to found a national bank. At the end, the Red Army executes all the priests and bourgeoisie, hanging a noblewoman by her skirt and the rest by their necks. The workers and peasants climb upwards. Everything then turns into a Christmas tree.

Bizarre stuff.

Lives of the Artists XXVI

Bronze, stone, 24 х 15 х 13 см

Paolo Trubetzkoy (1866-1938) was the illegitimate son of a Russian diplomat. He was famed for his sculpture and rapid Impressionistic sketches. He was known also for his vegetarianism.

He once created a sculpture of a man swallowing meat cutlets, beneath which he put up a placard: Contrary to the laws of nature. The satirist and editor Vlas Doroshevich ridiculed Troubetzkoy’s aggressive evangelism: “He is expected to talk about art. He talks about vegetarianism. He is the apostle of vegetarianism. His household is vegetarian. His servants are vegetarians. And he even made his dogs vegetarians!” Indeed, Troubetzkoy had imported from Siberia a couple of unusual dogs – the neighbors mistook them for tame wolfcubs – and put the animals on a plant-based diet. But one day he saw the cook feed them bones with meat. The “vegetarians”, of course, pounced upon the forbidden fruit with obvious pleasure, no doubt to his dismay.

Ekaterina Serebriakova – Obituary

Katya in blue by the fir tree. A wonderful painting of this name, from the brush of the legendary Zinaida Serebriakova, can be found in the Pushkin Museum. On it is depicted a little girl with bright deep and big eyes. This is Ekaterina Serebriakova, Zinaida’s daughter, her right-hand woman, and the preserver of her artistic heritage. A superb graphic artist, painter and interior decorator, Ekaterina died on August 26, 2014, in her apartment on Montparnasse. She was in the 102nd year of her life.

The world of Russian culture has had an immeasurable loss, said the Russian ambassador to France, Alexander Orlov. The ambassador is indubitably correct – and not just because owing to Ekaterina’s efforts, her mother’s legacy was preserved. Zinaida was one of the greats of Russian art, one of the first women to write her name in bright letters in its history. Ekaterina herself was an extraordinary talent – with pleasure she painted watercolours of landscapes and still lifes, and (in modern parlance) undertook grand design projects in wealthy suburban mansions. However, she never shouted out her talent. For most of her life, she remained in the shadow of her mother and her brother Alexander. Only last year did Ekaterina Serebriakova dare to exhibit her work to the judgment of the public.

Ekaterina’s work was first displayed in her centennial year. The Tretyakov Gallery exhibited it as part of “Zinaida Serebriakova. The Paris Period. Alexander and Ekaterina Serebriakova. From the collection of the Fondation Serebriakoff.” It was possible to assess her individual style, in which, nevertheless, one could trace the creative tradition of her mother and her great-uncle, Alexandre Benois. Further, in the Pushkin Museum there was a presentation of the first book dedicated to her – besides reproductions of her paintings, there were memoirs of contemporaries, archival material, articles of research and critique. And, in the Russian ambassador’s residence in Paris was held her first personal exhibition. These developments did not go unnoticed in the world of culture. The fate of Zinaida Serebriakova was perceived thereafter somewhat differently: it was evident that behind the great artist there had always been a guardian angel – her daughter. In Paris, Ekaterina had taken care of all the housework, providing her mother with the opportunity to work.

Ekaterina Serebriakova’s funeral would be held at the Russian cemetery in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois.

(Loosely translated from the article titled Скончалась Екатерина Серебрякова by Maria Moskvicheva, August 26, 2014.)

Alexei Yavlensky – German Artist, Russian Emigre

That is how the Great Soviet Encyclopedia introduced this artist of world significance. Certainly, the artistic career of Yavlensky is associated with Germany. But he received German citizenship only at the age of 70. And he’s buried in Wiesbaden in the Russian Orthodox cemetery. Therefore his oeuvre may be rightly said to illustrate the history of art both in Russia and in Germany.

In Russia

Alexei Georgevich Yavlensky (Alexej von Jawlensky) was born in 1864 in Torzhok (Tver oblast) in a family connected to the Rastopchin counts. The boy was expected to take up a military career: upon finishing cadet school he studied at the Moscow military academy and graduated as a lieutenant in the Grenadiers. But since his teens Alexei had been interested in art; receiving a special dispensation (which was necessary for officers) he joined the St Petersburg Academy of Art where he attended classes taught by Ilya Repin.

In the academy, Yavlensky became acquainted with Marianna Veryovkina (1860-1938), a daughter of an army commander. She was four years older than Alexei and had already established herself as an artist, but recognising Yavlensky’s extraordinary gifts, abandoned the art to become his ‘common-law’ wife, and devoted herself entirely to the development of her husband’s talents.

A Wonderful and Joyous Time of Work

In 1896, Alexei and Marianna (who had become financially independent owing to a rich bequest from her father’s estate) moved to Munich, the German Athens. With them went 11-year old Yelena Neznakomova, Marianna’s ward.

Yavlensky joined the famous atelier of Anton Aschbe. At the time, there were many Russians who would attain later fame: Grabar, Dobuzhinsky, Bilibin, Kardovsky, Kandinsky, … Kandinsky got acquainted with Yavlensky there, which was the beginning of a long friendship and collaboration.

Schokko with Wide-Brimmed Hat. (1910).

Veryovkina and Yavlensky travelled extensively, immersing themselves in European culture. The young artist was enraptured by all forms of modern art – impressionism, constructivism, cubism. Acquaintance with Henri Matisse and his work inspired Yavlensky’s creation of colour paintings, for which he earned the nickname ‘Russian fauvist’. This passion changed expressionism, into which the artist brought his individuality. His main interest was the ‘life of colour’. One of the most characteristic works of the period is Schokko with Wide-Brimmed Hat.

In 2008, this painting was sold for £8.4 million at Sotheby’s.

Off and on, Yavlensky would return to Russia to exhibit his works. But his artistic and organisational activities remained associated with Munich. In 1909, with Kandinsky he created the “New Art Association. Munich.” which included artists from different movements, who were, however, united in their typical rebellious spirit and protest against traditional art. Next, Blue Rider (Der Blaue Reiter) appeared, established together with Kandinsky and the German painter Franz Marc.

Girl with red ribbon. (1911).

Girl with red ribbon. (1911).

Girl, folding hands. (1909).

Girl, folding hands. (1909).

In 1910, Kandinsky came up with his first abstract creations. Although Yavlensky’s remained close to his friend’s artistic investigations, he never completely took up abstractionism in the full sense of the term. Munich was a happy period in his life: he painted and exhibited copiously, his works sold successfully. The Yavlensky-Veryovkina house was frequented by friends and visitors. In Murnau, where Kandinsky and Yavlensky were neighbours, their association was particularly close. The artist Gabrielle Münter, Kandinsky’s intimate, wrote in her diary: ‘a wonderful, joyous time of work with constant discussion of art with the inspirational Gisellists.’ (Gisellists was a term originating from the name of the street that Yavlensky lived on in Munich).

Other Moods – Other Art

With the beginning of the first world war, everything changed. Kandinsky returned to Russia. Franz Marc joined the army and soon after died. In August 1914, Yavlensky moved to Switzerland with his family, to St Prex – near Lausanne – on the shores of Lake Geneva. The sharp change in fate oppressed the artist – his works became filled with symbols and simplified forms. This is reflected in his famous ‘Variations on the theme of Landscapes’ of the period.

Everything changed again when he became acquainted with the 25-year-old Belgian artist Emmy Scheyer (1889-1945). Having encountered his canvases at an exhibition, she had been so taken up with them that she sought out the artist, saw his other works, and as a result decided to abandon her art and to devote herself entire to Yavlensky and to promote his work. Such was the amazing impact of this man and his works on women! This friendship (or was it love?) determined the artist’s fate. He was unwilling and unable to sell his paintings or to engage in discussions with exhibitors. Emmy took all this upon herself in the capacity of his private secretary.

Self-portrait. (1912).

In 1917, the artist began the series Mystical Heads. In the beginning, these were stylised portraits of Scheyer, which then gradually transformed into ‘heads’ – abstract images without similarity to any prototype.

Life in the small town burdened Yavlensky, and the family moved to Zurich. But his health suffered, and on the advice of doctors, they moved to the south of Switzerland, to Ascona on the shores of Lake Maggiore. The years spent here were considered by Yavlensky as ‘the most interesting in his life’. He worked intensively, creating one series after another. These were ‘Abstract (or constructive) heads’, then ‘Holy faces’. The faces were ascetic, stern, filled with spirituality – limned only with colour lines and ink patterns. ‘I realised that the artist must express himself through colour and form, … whatever is in him is from God.’

Wiesbaden

By 1921, there had been many changes in Yavlensky’s private life. His platonic relationship with Marianna turned into an affair with Marianna’s ward Yelena, who, at the age of 17, gave birth to his son, Andrei. Officially, he was considered Yavlensky’s nephew. Yavlensky, however, wanted to marry Yelena and legitimise his son. Marianna was against this, and so after thirty years of life together, she and Yavlensky separated. She remained in Ascona, where she lived another seventeen years till her death. She was buried there. In the town museum, several of her works are exhibited. Yavlensky moved to Wiesbaden with Yelena, now his wife, where they lived for twenty years until his own demise.

The First Green in Spring. (1915).

The First Green in Spring. (1915).

In 1924, Yavlensky and Kandinsky created the ‘Blue Four‘ (Die Blaue Vier), an association including Paul Klee and L. Feininger. Scheyer now organised exhibitions and sales of the works of the group in Germany and the USA.

In 1927, fate sent another guardian angel. This time it was Lisa Kümmel (1897-1944), a painter, a master of applied arts and a designer. One of his friends from later life wrote about this friendship (or was it again love?): ‘This woman was with him every day. She took care of his correspondence, created a catalogue of his oeuvre, wrote his memoirs… Kümmel selflessly sacrificed herself for the sake of the man and his work.’ Yelena didn’t understand her husband’s quests. ‘All the time he draws these idiotic crosses,’ she said.

At this time, he became friends with another admirer of his talent. The name of this artist and sculptor was Hanna Bekker vom Rath. She set up the Association of Friends of the Art of Alexei Yavlensky, the purpose of which was to provide material aid to the artist. Members of the association paid monthly dues which allowed them at the end of the year to obtain one of his paintings. A large part of the collections went to the support of Yavlensky’s family. (In the preparation of this essay, we visited Wiesbaden museum again. Not a few works of the artist are on permanent loan from the collection of vom Rath.)

His last years were the most important for the artist’s career. In his personal life, there were terrible events. The nazi regime confiscated his works, relegating them as ‘degenerate art’, and prohibited him from participating in exhibitions. Ironically, Yavlensky received German citizenship in 1934, having waited four years for it.

Meditations. (1934).

Illnesses progressed. His eyesight worsened. He suffered from acute arthritis. The artist could not use his right hand, so he guided the brush with his left. Nevertheless, despite no expectations of exhibiting his works, he continued to paint. It is said he worked in ecstasy, with tears in his eyes. ‘My work – this is my prayer, my passionate prayer, expressed through paint.’ Friends called him Ivan Karamazov, and experts consider him one of the prominent representatives of modern religious art. His last series, created in 1934-1935, was called ‘Meditations‘ and conveys the tragic state of his soul. The image has become stark in contrast, grim. This is a combination of planes crossed with vertical and horizontal strokes. Out of the black background emerges a stylised face, a cross. Critics consider ‘Meditations’ the acme of Yavlensky’s oeuvre, unparalleled in the art of the 20th century.

Memory

Yavlensky died on March 15, 1941 at the age of 76. He is buried in the Russian orthodox cemetery of Wiesbaden. The gravestone is a white marble cross on which appear the words ‘Thy will be done’. Below appear the names and dates of Alexei and Yelena Yavlensky.

Yavlensky’s archive is in the Swiss town of Locarno. His granddaughters Lucia and Angelika arranged and published a four volume catalogue of the great painter’s artistic inheritance in 1990.

Yavlensky’s paintings adumbrate museums in Europe and the US; numerous researches have been performed on his work. At long last even his countrymen saw his works: an exhibition at the Russian Museum was held in 2000.

One of the greatest collections of his works is at the Wiesbaden museum. Besides the permanent collection, there are also special exhibitions devoted to the artist. In October 2011, an exhibition titled ‘Light – abstraction – series’ opened at the museum.

In Wiesbaden too an art prize in Yavlensky’s name has been set up; a local high school is named after him; there is a street – Jawlenskystraße; and a memorial tablet appears on the wall of the house he lived in (Beethovenstrasse 9).

[Loosely translated from the Neue Zeiten article by Ilya Dubinsky, October 2011.]

Avant-Garde Outing Continued Again

(Text below is from the St Petersburg Gallery’s exhibition notes for Russian Revolution in Art, Russian Avant-Garde: 1910 – 1932, running in London till September 20, 2014.)

Vyacheslav Levkievsky’s painting Tramway was displayed in the 1914 exhibition N°4, a show that (Mikhail) Larionov described as uniting artists that were ‘not in any way related to each other apart from their youth, their forward-looking vision and their problem-solving approach in the realm of painting while nevertheless being like-minded in their thoughts and feelings’.

Woman with guitar.

Woman with mandolin, by Vladimir Burliuk. (1913).

Vyacheslav Levkievsky.

Tramway, by Vyacheslav Levkievsky. (1914).

Self-portrait, by Yuri Annenkov. (1960).

Self-portrait, by Yuri Annenkov. (1960).

Sketch for the painting "Battle", by Aristarkh Lentulov. (1913).

Sketch for the painting “Battle”, by Aristarkh Lentulov. (1913).

Three designs of book cover "Evreinov, Kamensky, Lentulov", by Aristarkh Lentulov. (1914).

Three designs of book cover “Evreinov, Kamensky, Lentulov”, by Aristarkh Lentulov. (1914).

The Fool's Ball, by Jean Pougni. (1915-16)

The Fool’s Ball, by Jean Pougni. (1915-16)

Design, by Gustav Klutsis. (1922).

Design, by Gustav Klutsis. (1922).

Sun, by Mikhail Matyushin. (1921).

Sun, by Mikhail Matyushin. (1921).

Avant-Garde Outing Continued

Russian Revolution in Art, Russian Avant-Garde: 1910 – 1932, runs in London till September 20, 2014 at the St Petersburg Gallery.

Marché au Minho, by Sonia Delaunay. (1916).

Marché au Minho, by Sonia Delaunay. (1916).

The Bridge 1, by Natalia Goncharova. (1916).

The Bridge 1, by Natalia Goncharova. (1916).

Vladimir Baranoff-Rosine.

Vladimir Baranoff-Rosine.

Spatial force construction, by Liubov Popova. (1921-22).

Spatial force construction, by Liubov Popova. (1921-22).

Floating: Suprematist forms, by Ilya Chashnik. (1922-23).

Floating: Suprematist forms, by Ilya Chashnik. (1922-23).

Study for cup and saucer, by Vasily Kandinsky. (1920-21).

Study for cup and saucer, by Vasily Kandinsky. (1920-21).

Study for cup and saucer, by Vasily Kandinsky. (1920-21).

Study for cup and saucer, by Vasily Kandinsky. (1920-21).

Architectonic Suprematism, by David Yakerson. (1920).

Architectonic Suprematism, by David Yakerson. (1920).

Avant-Garde Outing

The same day I saw the Popkov exhibition at Somerset House, I also nipped into the St Petersburg Gallery where there was a display of Russian avant-garde works. I took a few a pictures with my Moto G, and as you can see, the picture quality isn’t great.

The curators of this show (Russian Revolution in Art, Russian Avant-Garde: 1910 – 1932) focused on a major dichotomy of the modernist period – figurative vs non-figurative art. While artists, joined up in a multitude of movements, claimed that art was separate from the real world, they continued to investigate abstraction and rhythm, and created new colour and plastic compositions.

The exhibition has more than sixty pieces: paintings, drawings, craft and sculptures. There are suprematists and constructivists, ceramicists and non-objectivists. There is a St Petersburg circle, a Malevich circle, a Moscow circle. There even is a set of Kandinskys before that worthy legged it to Germany. The exhibition continues to September 20, 2014, so if you’re in London, do take a look.

Rayonist composition, by Alexander Bogomazov. (1914).

Rayonist composition, by Alexander Bogomazov. (1914).

Women in interior, by Sonia Delaunay. (1923).

Women in interior, by Sonia Delaunay. (1923).

Self-portrait, design for the exhibition catalogue's cover, by Sonia Delaunay. (1916).

Self-portrait, design for the exhibition catalogue’s cover, by Sonia Delaunay. (1916).

Rhythm, by Vladimir Baranov-Rossine

Rhythm, by Vladimir Baranov-Rossine

Rooftops, by Marie Vassilieff. (1915).

Rooftops, by Marie Vassilieff. (1915).

The Night Rider, by David Burliuk. (1911).

The Night Rider, by David Burliuk. (1911).

Design for cover of Exhibition Catalogue 5x5=25, by Liubov Popova. (1921).

Design for cover of Exhibition Catalogue 5×5=25, by Liubov Popova. (1921).

Construction ordinate according to different points of view, by Alexandra Exter. (1922-23).

Construction ordinate according to different points of view, by Alexandra Ekster. (1922-23).

Circles in a suprematist cross, by Ilya Chashnik. (1926).

Circles in a suprematist cross, by Ilya Chashnik. (1926).

Colour lines in vertical motion, by Ilya Chashnik. (1923-25)

Colour lines in vertical motion, by Ilya Chashnik. (1923-25)

Art Roundup – August 2014

Despite the disapproval over recent Russian activities, the Year of Russia in the UK continues apace. So if you’re in London there is much to check out. But we might as well see what’s happening elsewhere.

  1. In Jersey City, NJ, the Museum of Russian Art looks like a worthwhile visit. Their next exhibition is not till October, but check out their collections.
  2. The Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Art holds an exhibition of works by young Kyrgyz women artists. It runs from August 28 to September 19, 2014.
  3. Moscow’s Institute of Russian Realist Art has an exhibition titled Welcome: European drawings by Anatoly Kokorin (1908-87). It runs till October 26, 2014.

A short list this time. But I must mention that I managed to miss a lecture on Lazar Khidekel at the Pushkin House a few days ago. Now all I can hope is that the planned exhibitions of his works will appear next year at GRAD Gallery, as they said they were going to.

Dovlatov

I read Sergei Dovlatov’s Pushkin Hills, a brilliant, acerbic, ironic and deeply heartfelt novel, and was struck by the references to famous people and – especially – artists in it. I thought it might be an idea to create a post comprising works by the artists mentioned and possibly portraits of the people, and – even better, if I can find any – portraits of the people by those artists. So here goes:

Pavel Shchegolev (1877-1931, Pushkin expert) by E. Kiseleva. (1911)

Pavel Shchegolev (1877-1931, Pushkin expert) by E. Kiseleva. (1911)

General Mellor-Zakomelsky (1725-90) by George Dawe.

General Mellor-Zakomelsky (1725-90) by George Dawe.

Alexander Benois (1870-1960, artist and critic), by Leon Bakst. (1898)

Portrait of the poet Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) by Lydia Charlemagne. (1955).

Portrait of the poet Sergei Yesenin (1895-1925) by Lydia Charlemagne. (1955).

Pushkin on his deathbed, by Fyodor Bruni.

Pushkin on his deathbed, by Fyodor Bruni.

Portrait of a Woman, by Ivan Kramskoy. (1883).

Alexander von Benckendorff (1782-1844, Russian general and censor) by George Dawe.

Sketch of his nanny, Arina Seryakova, in youth and old age, by Pushkin.

Demon of Metromania, or Wilhelm Küchelbecker writes poetry, by A. Illichevsky. (1815).

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin, by Orest Kiprensky. (1827).

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin, by Orest Kiprensky. (1827).

Portrait of Alexei Remizov (1877-1957, symbolist writer), by Boris Kustodiyev. (1907).

Portrait of Maria Tsvetaeva (1892-1941, poet), by Magda Nachman. (1915)

Portrait of Maria Tsvetaeva (1892-1941, poet), by Magda Nachman. (1915)

Yusupov Palace on the Moika 6

Yusupov Palace on the Moika is an indispensable item on any tourist program in St. Petersburg. There are almost thirty rooms with dazzling interiors, the finest furniture from different eras, a showcase of the lives of the pre-revolutionary Russian bourgeoisie. The palace was begun in 1770 for Count Andrei Shuvalov, but first wooden mansions for the princess Praskovya (niece of Peter I) were built on the site soon after the founding of the city. Five generations of the Yusupovs lived in the palace from 1830 to 1917. It was the jewel in the necklace of 57 palaces owned by the Yusupov clan. Rasputin was murdered in the basement of the palace in 1916. From 1925, the palace has served as a cultural centre for educators.

This has been translated from Deletant’s article Музей роскоши.

54. The Antonio Vighi hall has a large portrait of Zinaida Yusupova.

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58. A magnificent painted ceiling in the hall.

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59. Heavy bronze chandelier.

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60. Two doors out of the Coronation corridor lead into the same room – the Oak lounge.

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61. The walls are decorated with medieval wood ornamentation.

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62. Dutch ceramic.

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63. The centrepiece of the hall is a Venetian dining table; its legs are particularly impressive.

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64-66. We proceed to the theatre via the Museum corridor.

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67. The theatre seats 176 guests. The count’s own box is at the upper level.

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68. Ceiling decoration.

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69. Curtain.

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70.  The great gilt theatre is a superb place to end our visit.

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