Lives of the Artists XXIX

Vera de Bosset, by Sergei Sudeikin.

Sergey Sudeikin, an artist who had been part of the Mir iskusstva circle and who in 1913 had designed sets and costumes for Diaghilev’s (not terribly successful) production of Florent Schmitt’s Tragédie de Salomé.

A colourful figure, Sudeikin had affairs with men and women alike. He was also the third husband of the actress Vera de Bosset, who was later to marry Stravinsky. The Sudeikins had an open marriage. The couple happily discussed Sergey’s lovers, and even welcomed some of them into their home. When Sudeikin met [Boris] Kochno in Paris and started an affair with him, Vera and Boris became good friends.

Sudeikin was keen to revive his old friendship with Diaghilev. He, of course, hoped for new commissions for the Ballets Russes, but even if they did not materialise it was crucial for any unknown Russian artist trying to establish himself in Paris to be on good terms with the impresario. Kochno offered a way of pleasing Diaghilev (whom Sudeikin always called ‘the monster’ when talking to his wife). So Sudeikin decided to make him a present of the boy.

Sjeng Scheijen, “Sergei Diaghilev: ballet, beauty and the beast“, excerpt in The Daily Telegraph.

Lives of the Artists XXVIII

In the 1930s, Russian-born sculptor Naum Gabo started experimenting with a thin, plastic material called celluloid. Previously used as film for photography or to make cheap jewelry, celluloid in Gabo’s hands became translucent geometric structures that were often suspended in mid-air. Art critic Herbert Read wrote that Gabo was using “new materials…[for] a new generation to create with them the monuments of a new civilization.” His pieces made their way into the top art collections in the world.

But by 1960, the plastic had begun to warp and crack. Gabo didn’t know it when he started using celluloid, but it is an extremely unstable and reactive material, and was infamous for catching fire in movie theaters. Despite conservators’ diligence to try to preserve his works, the plastic became too brittle and the sculptures collapsed. Gabo himself called many of them irreparable.

Alexandra Ossola, “How to Make Art That Withstands the Test of Time” in Nautilus, March 24, 2015.

An Obit or Two

Two Russian artists died recently. Georgy Kovenchuk (1933 – 2015) was a St Petersburg-based graphic designer, book illustrator and painter. He was popularly known as Gaga, and was a grandson of the futurist Nikolai Kulbin. Kovenchuk studied graphic art at the Academy of Art, was a member of the Union of Artists, and during Soviet times, was one of the authors of the Military Pencil, agitprop posters made by some of the best Leningrad artists of the 1960s. His first solo exhibition was in 1971 and closed down for ‘formalism’. In 1975, Kovenchuk’s illustrations to Mayakovsky’s Klop (The Bedbug) became a byword for the application of the traditions of the Russian avant-garde to book design. Censors banned the book and it wouldn’t have been released had it not been for the efforts of the likes of Lilya Brik and Valentin Pluchek. In 2013, the illustrations were republished by Timofei Markov in a separate silkscreen cover.

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Vladimir Ovchinnikov (1941 – 2015) was born in the province of Perm where his family had been evacuated from Leningrad. He was not trained as an artist, but worked as a scaffolder at the Hermitage museum, the Mariinsky theatre, where he decorated churches. In 1964, he organised an exhibition of five artists at the Rastrelliyev gallery of the Hermitage, which (besides him) included Mikhail Shemyakin, Galina Kravchenko, Oleg Lyagachev and Vladimir Uflyand. He became one of the earliest of the unofficial artists (the non-conformists) to be allowed official exhibition in Soviet times – in 1974 and 1975, his works were put up at the houses of culture. Here the Soviet citizen was able to see domestic contemporary art distinct from the officially affirmed socialist realism, and to see its development from abstraction to surrealism. Subsequently, Ovchinnikov became a member of the Academy of Contemporary Art at St Petersburg.

In front of the TV. (2000).

In front of the TV. (2000).

Angel at the telescope. (2007).

Angel at the telescope. (2007).

Ovchinnikov’s art is generally always figurative with an important role played by its subject. In the works of the 1970s, everyday scenes of Leningrad life dominate, in which are embedded subtle mythological or biblical referenes. In later works, the artist addresses himself to twentieth century literature, developing the theme of absurdity as a timeless reference of modern reality.

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Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 4

Q: With which museums did you have the most effective relationships while working on the Encyclopedia?

A: We worked with an enormous number of museums, but mainly with the Russian Museum, the Tretyakov, and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Thessaloniki, where the Costaki collection is; we received lots of slides. But in fact we collaborated with many regional museums, after all the avant-garde in 1919-20 had spread across all of Russia. There was an ideological programme to establish contemporary art museums. I’ve been working on the subject for many years and can say that nearly a thousand works were transported out of Moscow to provincial towns, wherever there were some sort of art schools. Kandinsky, Malevich and lesser artists were taken to around 40 towns. In later years, about 30% were lost, while the remainder were preserved in museums, and we obtained reproductions from them.

Q: In the beginning of the interview, you said you were thinking of publishing one volume. Now there will be three. I’ve held the first two in my hands, and they are pretty heavy, and more importantly expensive. Truly the Encyclopedia is a seminal work of exceptional importance, but who can buy it for 22 thousand rubles? Libraries?

A: Of course we’d like libraries to have these books. There is an idea to find money to make additional copies – for libraries and museums. With the majority of museums we have had agreements and we’ll give them copies. For them, our book is very important. Several collectors have also written to me, saying that the Encyclopedia has helped them understand some things, and find attributions for works in their collections.

Q: How is it so expensive? Because of the illustrations?

A: No, not just that. We paid honorariums to the authors and museums for the rights. The cost of all the work is not small.

Q: Can we expect that in the Non/fiction exhibition the books will be a bit cheaper?

A: Certainly. There will be the lowest price at which the books can be bought, and there will also be a student discount for those with student IDs. After all, we are humanitarians.

Q: The budget always affects the final result, whether it’s big or small. Did your funding change during your work?

A: The budget kept climbing all the time, and I’m very grateful to our sponsors who took care of all the costs and never argued with me. The number of authors kept rising; we also had a powerful editorial team: a literary editor, a producer, a proofreader. All of them read it. Though I still to this day find various errors in the final book. But as an old-time worker in the industry, I understand that these are unavoidable. In one place, the photographs of two women artists are mixed up. I hope that after the third volume comes out, we can make an online version of the Encyclopedia and a website dedicated to it.

Q: An electronic version can be expanded, broadened, and importantly – constantly updated. That is, in the future, do you plan to continue working on the text?

A: Of course, there is work for the future, but I don’t know for how far in the future. The site could go beyond the Encyclopedia, there could be articles on major artists, including Malevich and Kandinsky.

But first, the third volume needs to come out, which in fact is the most difficult. If in the first two books everything is clear – the alphabet and the last name determine the location of the artist, then in the last tome it’s not even clear what title to give to some articles. For example, everybody knows the (ГСХМ) State Independent Artists’ Studios, which were established under the Stroganov school and the Moscow school of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. These were transformed into a completely different status, new teachers appeared there who taught the avant-garde. These studios then expanded to a dozen and a half other towns – Tver, Novgorod, Vitebsk, and they were all called differently: ГСХМ, СГХМ, ГОСХУМ. In Soviet times, they loved abbreviations, but there was no uniformity among them. And how to bring them all into a single view, I still haven’t decided. The third volume will also contain articles on exhibitions, journals, publishers, or even about some artistic cafe. We’ll design it differently, with pictures not appearing stand-alone, but rather within the text. This will make the design more difficult, but there’s no alternative.

Q: Do you think that in the first two volumes you have been able to achieve a stylistic coherence, an encyclopedic uniformity?

A: We tried to do so, though there isn’t such a rigidity here as in other encyclopedias where everything is specified: write this way and no other. As our theme is art, not physics, not an exact science, we decided to allow our authors some freedom in language. One of our principles was to allow an authorial point of view. We welcomed this, and when it was missing, we had to add it ourselves. Rakitin and I wrote 150 articles each, and edited many others.

Q: What would you consider your greatest achievement in the Encyclopedia?

A: I think we have revived names that had been forgotten by everyone. This is the main thing. About famous artists, it’s always possible to find something, but about those who established the backdrop, there’s almost nothing. Malevich, for instance, had eighty students in Vitebsk, and we wrote articles about all for whom we were able to find some information. We found, maybe, twenty people. Of course, among his students were Chashnik and Suetin, but there were also complete unknowns – for example, the Finnish artist Ahola-Valio.

Undoubtedly, with the release of the Encyclopedia we also have plans to promote and popularise the Russian avant-garde, because it is not well-known in our country. Many artistic types like to brag, “I don’t like the avant-garde! Anyone can paint like that, anybody can paint the Black Square.” You understand that this is the favourite excuse of everyone who understands nothing about art. Well, be the first to paint it, then! Invent it! There is much for the Russian to be proud of; they only need to know more about the time.

Black suprematist square, by Kazimir Malevich. (1915).

Q: The avant-garde is such a diverse phenomenon, it has many different faces. You have combined them into one publication, and more importantly – showed the real faces of an enormous number of avant-garde artists. Did some general image develop?

A: When you leaf through the book, you see hundreds of people who perished tragically, because it was a terrible time, the Civil war, the terror… There was an incredibly talented artist, Semashkevich, who was executed in 1937, his paintings confiscated and lost somewhere in the Lubyanka. We found around ten works of art, and yet he had been extraordinarily prolific.

Many people died tragically, many abandoned the avant-garde because life forced them to: they couldn’t feed their families, they couldn’t survive solely on their art, they had to change job. But still they wouldn’t be part of the crowd, they were engaged in art because they loved it. It’s a slice of an entire era: everything that happened in the country in those years has been reflected in the art. And that’s why the multifaceted avant-garde is so striking. I think we were able to demonstrate it – and that’s also and important achievement of our Encyclopedia.

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 3

Q: Besides Malevich, who else has appeared for the first time in the pages of your publication?

A: We have examples of graphic artists hitherto unknown. About 10 to 15 works by unknown artists. Anna Zherebtsova, for example. Who here knows about Anna Zherebtsova? She was a Russian artist who lived in Paris. We only had a short biography, which I had dug up somewhere, and a single painting – and we published them.

Q: Ideally, each work must undergo a thorough examination for inclusion in this publication. Nevertheless, it is technically difficult to do so. Would you say you are responsible for every illustration published here? I ask you this question not as an art expert, but rather as a publisher, to whom in fact can be sent all sorts of pictures.

A: Indeed I should bear responsibility, and I have to say that I do bear it, although I cannot guarantee all 100%  of the material. This is because I received several items from authors in Ukraine, Belarus, and regional museums. Some articles I haven’t even seen in real life – I’ve only come across reproductions. And I hope that everything sent to me from museums is authentic. If not, is it possible to trust anybody? After all, if a museum sends you a slide, it means there is a guarantee, that is you can go to the museum and see the original. Rakitin and I regularly held meetings to decide which items to include and which not. And when our opinions coincided, which happened most of the time, we would agree to publish. If we had arguments, we wouldn’t.

Q: There are quite a lot of stories about suspicious works from the avant-garde. Is this is a real opportunity in the fight against counterfeiting?

A: To be honest, I don’t see any opportunity, and there are lots and lots of such stories. The most prominent event – Goncharova’s story, when in 2010 and 2011, there came out two books. The first was a monumental monograph Goncharova by the English art-historian Anthony Parton, a well-respected professor. I counted 70 suspicious works in it. I won’t say that these are counterfeits, but they are suspicious because until then they had not appeared anywhere. I can understand finding one or two pieces, as I did with Malevich, but 70? That’s suspicious. The following year, a catalog-raisonné of Goncharova came out in France – of all her works accomplished in Russia. There we counted 400 works which had suddenly appeared; nobody knew about these before and now there they were. How can one fight this? We conducted several interviews with the Tretyakov Gallery, discussed with journalists together with the famous collector [Pyotr] Aven. He collects Goncharova, and it was painful for him to see all this. The Tretyakovka got ready to write to the publisher that they had placed pictures from the Tretyakov along with suspicious works. This is the only way to fight, but to say for sure that these works were fakes, we can’t do that, we haven’t seen them. To do this, you need to examine each picture, conduct chemical tests, X-ray analyses. Who is going to do this? And will they be given the works to examine? No, of course, never.

Q: In your view, how do auction houses function as filters?

A: To a very small extent. Auction houses always state that they are not responsible for the work. This is their main principle. Of course, when a Goncharova is under the hammer, they take the opinion of experts, but there are also different experts. If the expertise is provided by the one who produced the catalogue, then the Goncharova would always be in order. But 400 works! This catalogue achieved the absurd. Goncharova has a Futuristic painting from 1913 – Cyclist – in which a cyclist pedals along a street. In a Futuristic manner, she depicted many legs, conveying in this way a sense of motion. All this is against a background of shops with signs Hats, Silk, and so on. This is very characteristic of her, and she had just one such work. In the catalogue-raisonné, there appears a cyclist who rides in the opposite direction, also against a background of shops, then a motorcyclist who travels first in one direction, then in the other, and then some other fellow on a scooter. Also against a backdrop of shops. And all these are Goncharova, you understand? Surprisingly, the catalogue, which should contain information about the origin of the works, exhibitions, previous owners, contains no such thing. It says ‘private collection’, and that’s it. But as far as I know, these were stopped, the works don’t appear at auctions, because there was a scandal, and a scandal always appears to work as a filter.

Cyclist, by Natalia Goncharova. (1913).

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Further reading:

  1. Sylvia Hochfield, “Protecting Goncharova’s Legacy“, ARTNews, January 7, 2011.
  2. Dr. Anthony Parton’s Response to the Tretiakov Gallery, June 2011.

Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 2

Photo: Global Expert and Service Team

Q: You worked with nearly 170 authors. Did you ever encounter a situation where for some artist or group of artists you were unable to find a specialist?

A: No, not really. The large number of authors came about organically, almost snowballing in the process. At first we planned only one volume, but then realised that we had to write about this and that, and so on. Some artists were recommended by the authors themselves. Let’s say Irina Arskaya from the Russian Museum was engaged with the Union of Youth; she herself suggested that I add a range of artists on whom she had information and photographs and examples of their work. Naturally I agreed, because I was unfamiliar with many of them. In this way, the Encyclopedia grew to three volumes, and we were soon forced to start excluding some of the ideas of our authors. In fact, there was no deficit of specialists in the researches, and I must add that the most valuable of them turned out to be attached to museums. It was also useful that our work coincided with the preparation of the general catalogue of the Tretyakov Gallery, which is now being readied for publication. We worked with some of the authors from the Tretyakov.

Q: You and your authors found a lot of archival material during your searches. Are there any obvious lacunae in the archives? Perhaps some periods of the avant-garde are sparsely covered, or because of emigration of the artists, a lot has been lost?

A: Certainly there are lacunae, and they mostly fall within the earlier period of the avant-garde, the pre-Revolutionary period, that is before 1917. Not even 1917, but rather before 1915. The avant-garde of that period was only forming, and in the background of everything else – the Wanderers, the Union of Russian Artists, symbolism, Vrubel, Repin, Serov – it appeared as a marginal activity. There is very little material on these marginal avant-gardists, and we need to seek it piecemeal. We know about many of the works of the time only because of publications in journals, such as Ogonyok, which came out from the beginning of the century. In them we might find portraits of the artists, and sometimes of their works. And then we discovered that the works themselves no longer exist: they disappeared in the Civil war, in the Revolution, or somewhere else. This is the most difficult period, because everything else is copiously documented, in the 1920s, things were more civilised. And when the avant-garde emerged from its sidelined position and transformed into an important, coherent style, then it began to leave a large amount of information and material.

Q: The Avant-Garde being one of the brightest periods of Russian art and firmly established in the world of art, often attracts speculation. There are regular discussions on the authenticity of a painting, and the appearance of ‘new’ works. Because of this, the selection of illustrative material and its expertise is paramount – on what basis did you choose the works that you wanted to show?

A: Of course, our main objective was to show the major works of an artist. To take Malevich: the goal was to show paintings from all his periods, from impressionism (he began as an impressionist) to realism. In his last years, he attempted to paint realistic portraits. In the middle of his journey was suprematism. Accordingly, we had to take a painting from each of his phases. The second objective – the paintings should still be in museums, which is why works from museum collections dominate in the book, nearly 80 or 90% of the total number of illustrations. From private collections come the remaining 10%, but these collections have been completely authenticated, with names and times. Therefore we have no irregular works, and we sometimes had to reject some works so that unnecessary questions would not be raised.

Q: Nevertheless, there are works presented in your Encyclopedia that have not been seen in major journals. Some works have appeared for the first time.

A: Yes, Malevich, for example.

Suprematism of the Spirit, by Malevich. (1919-20).

Q: You refer to the picture Suprematism of the Spirit (1919-1920) from a private collection?

A: Yes, this has been confirmed as a Malevich, in my opinion, by attributions by art historians, among whom are such famous specialists as Charlotte Douglas, who lives in America. She is the president of the New York Malevich society.

Q: Under the title of Suprematism of the Spirit, we are aware of other items, including paintings from the Khardzhiev collection which surfaced in 1997 and fell into the Khardzhiev-Chaga collection at the Stedelijk Museum separately from the main part of the collection. What is all that about?

A: That’s an entirely different matter. The theme Suprematism of the Spirit was very important to Malevich in the years 1919-20, when he was in Vitebsk. I think that this picture is from there, when he decided that painting was no longer necessary to him. At that moment he created suprematism, discovered the main thing in painting – white on white – and understood that painting was pretty much dead. He occupied himself with theory and created various forms, such as Suprematism of the Spirit, for his students. Malevich has several Suprematisms – one with Khardzhiev, the work in our Encyclopedia which was once published in German catalogues, and there even is a lithograph, it was produced in 1920 in the Unovis almanac. This almanac came out as a limited run, and only two or three copies have reached us in the shape of manuscripts, where printed texts were cut up with scissors and pasted into an album with large pages, in which appear colour reproductions. One example is stored at the Tretyakovka, while the others are in some private collections in France.

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant Garde 1

In the autumn of 2013, a seminal publication of art study came out – two volumes of the Encyclopedia of the Russian Avant-Garde, in which over a thousand artists connected with the great art movement are detailed. The editors, Andrei Sarabyanov and Vasily Rakitin, worked on it over ten years, with the contributions of around 170 authors.

The encyclopedia, published by Global Expert and Service Team, was premiered at the State Tretyakov Gallery, while a second presentation occurred at the International Non-Fiction Book Fair [in the Central House of Artists] in Moscow. Lenta.ru met Andrei Sarabyanov, director of the RA publishing house, before the events, and talked to him about the preparation of the encyclopedia, counterfeit art, and the issue of trust for museums. Sarabyanov explained why in the encyclopedia the second rank of artists is more important than Malevich, and why the avant-garde needs to be promoted.

Andrei Sarabyanov

Q: I have heard that you worked over ten years on the encyclopedia. Could you explain how much of the time was spent on its preparation, and what parts of the work were the most difficult, and most intensive?

A: All the work extended over considerable periods of time, because to gather the material – biographies of the artists, other participants, illustrations – the effort involved is, of course, long and hard. The history of the encyclopedia is nearly 25 years, but the work on this particular edition took 2-and-a-half years. Everything that had been gathered earlier had been gathered in an accidental fashion. Let’s say I’m researching some particular aspect of the avant-garde and I access the archives. There I might study one theme and find an interesting fact in the biography of some artist completely unconnected with my research, but I’d still copy it and photograph it. And this went on over many years. And since I often worked in the archives, I’d end up copying all sorts of material .

I could say the same about my colleague Vasily Ivanovich Rakitin, who also worked in the archives. In truth, we moved in different directions. He is older than me by about 10 years and had started on the Russian avant-garde earlier, even while a student. He was fortunate to make the acquaintance of Georgy Dionisovich Kostaki, whom he assisted in the creation of the famous avant-garde collection. Rakitin was key to the enterprise because, although young, he was already quite knowledgeable, while Kostaki at the time was still not as immersed in the Russian avant-garde. Rakitin would advise him where to go, to which relatives, guided him towards who owned which painting. Then Rakitin began to work in the archives especially those attached to private and family collections. I was occupied with the state archives, because by the time I began with art research, there were few works left in private collections. The avant-garde was already in state hands. And so we gathered our material, but each worked independently.

Vasily Rakitin.

Q: When you decided upon an encyclopedia, was the format immediately apparent – that there was such a wide scope across time and geography for the Russian avant-garde?

A: Ten years ago, we both had the idea in parallel that we needed to make such a book. The format, though, was not immediately apparent. Still, as we gathered material, the scope of the chronology and geography expanded, not because we desired it but because the material demanded it. It was clear that the avant-garde did not begin with the Blue Rose, but much earlier, and ended not in 1932, but much later, and its geography was wide – not just Russia, but the Caucasus and the Baltic.

Q: That is clear, but surely the inclusion of Matisse and Picasso in the text raises some questions?

A: I included them – and I say ‘I’ because it was indeed I who included them – because both of them had an immense impact on Russian art. Nobody else comes close. It may appear somewhat self-indulgent and somewhat arbitrary: here is the Russian avant-garde, and suddenly there are Picasso and Matisse; but note that their biographies are written from the perspective of their impact on the Russian avant-garde. This is not a biography of Matisse in its pure form; it is Matisse and Russian art; likewise, it’s not a biography of Picasso, there’s nothing in it about Guernica. We could even have included Braque in the encyclopedia. There’s another thing, though: we will publish a third volume which will have essays on Fauvism and Cezannism, and the influence of French art on the Russian, and these questions will be addressed more fully there. After the publication of the final book, the names of Picasso and Matisse won’t be thrown in accusation at us; it’s possible that their inclusion in the text will appear more correct than it does so now.

Q: During the writing of the essays, were the authors given any parameters to follow, in order to provide a uniform format to the biographies? What difficulties arose here?

A: There were lots of problems, but the main issue was to make the articles cohere with each other in terms of length. At first, obviously, we wanted the article on Malevich to occupy more space than some less famous artist. But it became clear that everybody knows everything about Malevich, there are hundreds of books and essays on him, while the ‘lighter-weight’ artists covered in the encyclopedia would be appearing in print almost for the first time. And then we understood that we had to do the opposite: maybe write less on Malevich than about some artist from the group ‘Union of  Youth’.

Q: It seemed to me at first that more could have been written about Goncharova. Then it became clear that the length of an article was not an indicator of the artist’s position in some hierarchy.

A: True, we could have written much more on Goncharova, but there’s already so much written on her, and for us it was more important to include material about those remaining unknown. When else would they be written about? And we had detailed stories based on archival materials on a great many artists. There is some dissonance in the length of biographies, but we attempted to establish a hierarchy by means of illustrations. We devoted a column and a half to Malevich’s pictures, and likewise for Goncharova and the other greats – but for the ‘light-weight’ artists we gathered fewer works. If the artist had one famous painting, we showed that; if she had three, then we showed three.

Q: Very good. But whom have you ‘revealed’ in your Encyclopedia? On which forgotten or little-known artist were you able to find information?

A: Sofia Baudouin de Courtenay, the daughter of a famous philologist of the time, was an absolute revelation. We knew of her, of course, but very little. Yulia Obolenskaya is also a discovery. In all there are about twenty new names.

[Translated loosely from Tatyana Yershova, «Мы вытащили имена, о которых все забыли»: Как искусство русского авангарда собрали в энциклопедию. Lenta.ru, Nov 28, 2013.]

Lives of the Artists XXVII

Further than others in the vegetarian department advanced the artist Ilya Repin. His staple diet was … hay. Hay! The painter argued that a broth of grass was the best way to keep healthy. Ivan Bunin once had to sneak away from Repin’s hospitality: “Repin meets me dressed in boots, fur coat, fur hat, with kisses, hugs, leads me to his studio, where it’s as frosty as in the front-yard, and says, ‘Here I’ll paint you in the morning, and then we’ll have breakfast as the Lord God commanded: grass, my dear fellow, grass! You’ll see how it cleans the body and soul, and you’ll soon abandon even the damned tobacco.’ I began to bow low, warmly thanking him, and muttered that I’d come back tomorrow, but now must immediately rush to the railway station – terribly urgent business in St. Petersburg. And once again embraced the master and ran with all speed to the station, and rushed to pantry, ordered vodka, and eagerly lit up…”

(Via Bolshoi Gorod.)

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.)