Lives of the Artists XX

The illustrator Vera Ermolaeva, by E. Kovtun.

The illustrator Vera Ermolaeva, by E. Kovtun.

Vera Ermolaeva (Вера Ермолаева) (1893-1937) – book illustrator, graphic artist, Suprematist – was one of the powerhouses of the Russian avant-garde. Early in her artistic life, she was engaged in the preservation of the anonymous graphic art that dotted St Petersburg. Along with Nadezhda Liubavina and Nina Kogan, she managed to get many of these urban artworks preserved in the Petrograd City Museum. At the age of 26, she was invited to Vitebsk, that cultural hotspot where the likes of Chagall, Malevich, Pen, Falk all had flourished, to head up the school of Fine Arts. Chagall recalled her fondly as the ‘Gioconda of Vitebsk.’

A strikingly attractive woman, she was also crippled. From childhood she could only walk with a cane, and later crutches. There were two stories about the cause of her condition: … she was nearly killed after being thrown by a panicky horse; … she was frostbitten in Siberia where this young, independent woman had gone to visit her brother, an exiled Social-Revolutionary. Most likely, both circumstances contributed to her ailment. In the spring of 1917, after all political prisoners were amnestied, Ermolaeva’s brother returned from exile. However, during the apocalyptic hysteria and purges that followed Kirov’s murder, the existence of this Social Revolutionary sibling was already damning Vera Ermolaeva herself was arrested in 1934 and executed in 1937. 1


1. Aleksandra Shatskikh (2008), Vitebsk: The Life of Art, Yale University Press, pp. 39-40.

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