Vera Rockline, or Rokhline, or Вера Николаевна Рохлина, was born Vera Schlesinger in Moscow, in 1896. There is very little information available on her anywhere (recall what Alexander Shlepyanov said about trying to locate her works), save for a couple of lines on Wikipedia and another couple here and there on an art site or two. And yet when her paintings were sold at auction for hundreds of thousands, she attracted the kind of attention that she didn’t receive during her life. For Vera, like many other gifted people, didn’t live long. She committed suicide in Paris in 1934.
But our search for fine art coming out of the Russias finds at least one thread connecting our last artist, Zinaida Serebriakova, to Vera Rockline. They knew each other in Paris. It’s not known if they were friends, but – and how pleased I am at this link – Zinaida modelled for Vera, and we are fortunate indeed that the painting survived.
What do we know of Vera? Her father was Russian, and her mother was French. She studied at the neo-impressionist art school of the famed Ilya Mashkov. Recall that Alexander Shlepyanov said that Mashkov’s widow once told him that Maskhov’s favourite student had been Vera Schlesinger.
Vera continued her studies in Kiev. In 1918, we find her apprenticeship at the studio of Alexandra Ekster. Her works from the time show the influence of cubism that her teacher specialised in, but in the view of experts, her paintings were more delicate than Ekster, and in her palette was redolent of Cezanne.
Still under the name of Schlesinger, between 1918 – 1919 Vera participated at the 24th Moscow exhibition of the Fellowship of Artists, at the 2nd exhibition of paintings of the professional union of artists (also in Moscow), and at an exhibition of Jewish artists and the fifth national exhibition of paintings ‘From Impressionism to Immaterialism”.
In 1918, Vera got married and lived with her husband till 1920 at Tiflis, Georgia. Who Mr Rokhlin was or what happened to him is unknown.
Around 1920, Vera left for France. She continued to sustain herself professionally as an artist in exile. At first, she stayed with her maternal relatives in Burgundy. In 1921, she moved to Paris. She lived in Montparnasse. Vera interacted very closely with the Russian community that abounded in that district.
The artistic work of Vera Rockline belongs in the so-called Paris School, an inter-generational community of artists that worked in the city between 1900-1960. While the term was coined by André Warnod in 1925, the artists themselves divided the school into three periods. The first, 1900-1920, was mainly powered by artists resident in Montparnasse. The next, 1920-1940, was dominated by the abstract arts. The last, 1940-1960, comprised the artists that protested the Vichy regime during the war, and included the major exhibition Twenty Young Artists in the French Tradition, organised by Jean Bazaine and others in 1941.
From 1922, Vera began exhibiting her works at the Salon d’Automne (in the Russian section from 1924), at the Salon des Indépendants and the Salon des Tuileries under the name Vera Rockline. She garnered considerable success and attention from the press and critics, and won several prizes. She was particularly cherished among the French intellectual circles: the journalist, writer, art critic and curator of the Museum du Petit Palais, Raymond Escholier called one of Rockline’s series of nude female images a symphony of flesh.
The female nude became a centrepiece of Rockline’s oeuvre, although she did paint portraits, landscapes and still lifes with flowers.
One of her admirers, the coutourier Paul Poiret helped Vera and promoted her work, introducing her to the art connoisseur and poet Charles Vildrac, and arranged a solo exhibition of her works at the latter’s private gallery in 1925. She continued to exhibit to great acclaim in numerous Paris galleries throughout the 1920s, including Galerie Bernheim, Galerie le Studio and Galerie Barreiro from 1930. [Quote from Art Inconnu.]
After going through the craze of Cubism and Impressionism in the early 1930s, Vera Rockline developed her own style, which, according to the authoritative art magazine L’Art et les Artistes was an artistic balance between Courbet and Renoir.
The art critic Marius-Ary Leblond named Vera Rockline sister of the great Venetians and Renoir, and a true lyrical talent. At the same time, critics noted the similarity between the female nudes of Vera and Zinaida Serebriakova, who at the time was also living in Paris. While it’s not known if the two artists were friends, they did move in the same circles, and Serebriakova, as I mentioned earlier, posed for Rockline.
In 1933, the artist became a member of the painters’ section of the Union of Russian art in France.
Critics wrote that the color palette in her nudes was reminiscent of Rubens, while their monumentality and chastity hearkened to the icons of her native country, Russia. In her later post-impressionist works Vera attempted to blend neo-impressionism and cubism, the favoured styles of her teachers, with thick brush strokes and clear colors.
When Vera Rockline committed suicide in 1934, Leblond eulogised her (one of the most painful losses to the Paris art scene this year) while Alexander Benois praised her uncommon talent. A memorial exhibition of her work was held in 1934 at the Salon d’Automne and the Salon des Tuileries, as well as Modern Women Painters at the Musée du Montparnasse in the following year.
While she had been popular among the expatriate Russian community in Paris throughout her short life, not much attention came to her paintings after her demise, despite her extensive and passionate body of work. For years, she was more or less forgotten, with only an occasional display (a retrospective in 1975, and another one at the Galerie Makassar in 1991), until an exhibition of women’s art titled Elles de Montparnasse in 2000 in Paris suddenly attracted serious attention. Since then, her work has rocketed in value and price, which, given the lavish amounts of money the wealthy of Russia have been spending on their country’s artistic heritage, is not surprising at all.
(Mostly translated from Parashutov’s blog.)