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.)

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Yusupov Palace on the Moika 3

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 crown 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.

yus2424. (Having come up the stairs from the lower floor) We immediately encounter the Gobelin guest room. From the inner windows, you can still see the stairs.

yus2525. Between the wooden interiors, large Gobelin tapestries from the 18th and 19th centuries hang on the wall.

yus2626. The tapestries depict traditional hunting scenes.

yus2727. Between the Gobelins, the walls are carved with the finest works. You might go nuts trying to wipe the dust off them.

yus2828. The next room is a boudoir with a striking ceiling of stretched fabric.

yus2929. Before the bedroom is one more small room.

yus3030. The bedroom door has a lovely lock.

yus3131. The ceremonial bedroom.

yus3232. In fact, this was not meant to be slept in. It was one of the many reception room.

yus33 33. Colourful floor lamps.

(To be continued.)

Kliment Red’ko

Uprising. (1924-25). (© Pavel Otdel’nov on Flickr)

On March 14, 1935, Kliment Red’ko (1897-1956) – who at the time had been living for several years in France and was getting ready to return home – wrote in his diary: “Wrote a draft statement for the consul. Decided to get out of Paris in three months. I have given eight years to France. All these years have gone by, and yet it seems that the ninth spring of 1935 is no different from the first spring of 1927. To Moscow now! To my own! To the motherland!” In the land of the Soviets, the reality was considerably different from when the avant-gardist had headed out to the main foundry of the art of the time. And though his most famous work remained the controversial ‘Uprising’, and he thought of himself as an artist of the new system, he could in no way be considered a political artist. Who was he?

He began in the icon painting workshops of the Kiev Monastery of the Caves (although at first he had to learn to decorate porcelain) and he culminated in an art studio on the Timiryazevka, and it can be said that his life executed a full circle. Lunacharsky helped him go to Paris (perhaps to save his life), and when he returned home, he was accused of formalism, for which he was expelled from the Moscow Union of Artists in 1948, although he had only joined them three years earlier.

In the middle of his life, a year after the death of Lenin, Red’ko completed his masterwork, ‘Uprising’. Not that he was a one-hit wonder, but it is this work that consistently epitomises him. Red’ko first thought to call it ‘RCP’, then changed its name to ‘Revolution’, and finally ended up with ‘Uprising’.

Before it arrived at the Tretyakov Gallery, the painting was in the collection of George Costakis, who (according to Irina Lebedeva, the director of the Gallery) had written in 1977: ‘The picture of the century, the greatest work of revolutionary Russia. George Costakis, Moscow, April 14, 1977.’ Lebedeva said that today’s audience apparently saw the picture for the first time in 1987’s exhibition ‘Art and Revolution’, since when the work has never been removed from the permanent displays.

Like many of the avant-garde, Red’ko embraced the revolution. Like many others, he too believed that the new era expected from artists new creations in art, modelling, and explanations of life, all incorporating technological innovations. In fact, his ‘Uprising’, despite Lenin’s admiration, is thought by some to be a picture of tragedy; the painting hearkens to old iconography despite the rebellion having subjugated the old systems; there is the leader within the great red diamond, reminiscent of the icon of the Saviour in Majesty; except that on the sides we have Trotsky (who, in 1926, would call the new leader the ‘gravedigger of the revolution’), Krupskaya, Lunacharsky; Stalin is not in the front rank, but only appears in the second row. Red’ko risked much, and who knows what would have happened to him had he not moved in 1927 to Paris.

It is possible to ignore church iconography in ‘Uprising’, even allowing for the fact it was painted not as an icon; still, as an emblem of revolution, constructed to the rhythm of a march, with the geometry of perpendiculars and diagonals, with dynamic rays and vectors that cut through the red-black city, the houses that resemble prisons. Red’ko interested himself in questions of energy, and its  implementation as light, design as an expression of form, and consciously or not ‘Uprising’ came out full of contradictions. Welcoming the revolution, it reveals its dark side.

Red’ko’s art is a strange admixture, resulting from the icon studies in the Monastery of the Caves, and training under Arkady Rylov and Nicholas Roerich in the Society for the Encouragement of Art, and the studies under Alexandra Exter, and Vasily Kandinsky, between Kiev, Kharkov, St. Petersburg and Moscow. Red’ko started and eventually returned to fairly traditional realist works – pastoral landscapes of the 1910s and 1940s, or the completely pedestrian later portraits such as ‘Girl with gas mask’ in 1941 (granted, however, that her sad reverie didn’t quite satisfy the requirements of Socialist Realism) – these bracket his artistic career. His French works – Auvergne peasants as filled with languid lyricism as his melancholy landscapes. In these, his palette becomes softer, but experiments with form that occupied hi in the 1920s and remained his main preoccupation, came to naught. No wonder the artist wrote that his first French spring was like the last one.

Morning on the farm. (1933).

Morning on the farm. (1933).

It turns out that Red’ko’s most active period was the first half of the 1920s. Although the avant-garde, under the innovations of Malevich and Kandinsky, had produced its advances earlier in the century, in the 1910s, the heated pulse of revolution had propelled it into the next decade. Red’ko, of course, didn’t completely ignore Malevich, pondering whether Suprematism would fit into his own style; yet, he created one work in that vein, the Circle of 1921-1922.

Light and shadow in symmetry. (1922).

Light and shadow in symmetry. (1922).

A circle intersected by a square and above them, two wedges bumping into each other as a static sign. Perhaps this lacked the assertiveness of Malevich’s circle and square, and their motive power of their geometry; the wedges, perhaps, were not quite like the red ones that had beaten the white in Lissitzky’s work. Red’ko himself seemed to be more interested in the spatial appearance of the image. In his Suprematist efforts, even if there were dynamic diagonal elements, they didn’t strive to fly apart as in Malevich; rather, they behave as a collective, an emblem which would later become the ‘Uprising’.

In 1921, along with Solomon Nikritin, Alexander Labas and Alexander Tyshler, he formed a group known as Electro-organism (based on a theory declared by Red’ko in 1922); in 1924, they renamed themselves as ‘Method’. Electro-organism – in keeping with the spirit of the times and not without the influence of his teacher, Kandinsky – on the one hand explores the sensitivity of art to scientific discovery, and on the other, investigates the psychological impact that the painter translates across the painting. Red’ko called energy the ‘future culture of life’: ‘the artist’, he said, ‘needs to reinforce the new concepts of realism through artistically explored facts. The first graphic element of design is the line. The second is colour, and then, gravity and image.’ He added that ‘light was the highest representation of matter.’ And to replace Electro-organism, he came up with Luminism, which again is a response to the 1910s and the Rayonism of Mikhail Larionov.

Midnight sun (Northern lights). (1925).

Midnight sun (Northern lights). (1925).

The colour of light and the brightness of colour – the artist captured the energy of both in ‘Uprising’, combining geometric construction with realistic figures. Meanwhile, he explored light in his northern landscapes, where the aurora reminded him of electric flashes (‘Northern Lights’, 1925). Alternatively, he used the same expression of energy in works such as ‘Dynamite’, in which he came close to abstraction. (Funnily enough, Natalia Goncharova pondering the concept of energy in the spirit of the times had already spoken of the language of abstraction in 1913. However, it is unclear if her ‘Void’ depicts a force of destruction or construction that transformed the uneven puddle of colour into something novel.)

Void, by Natalia Goncharova. (1913).

Void, by Natalia Goncharova. (1913).

Red’ko was dissatisfied with the discoveries of the Futurists; in ‘Factory’ (1922), the vertical pipe mixed with diagonal rails, the distant blended with the nearby. The same year, he painted ‘Husband and wife’ as though through the same geometric filter. His 1924 ‘Composition 1’ could be said to connect to the second Russian avant-garde and Vladimir Yankilevsky, in which biomorphic forms ironically inform a mechanistic interpretation. (What the devil does all this mean?!)

Kliment Red’ko’s investigations continued between the early 1920s and his departure for Paris (under the aegis of the People’s Commissariat for Enlightenment, who included him in their list of the most serious and talented young artists). In Paris, he was able to communicate with Pablo Picasso, but it’s quite clear that the discussion had little influence on his own art. Rather, France and the Italian cities he had been through didn’t provide a new impulse to his art, but appeared to create a sort of implicit antidote to the impending Socialist Realism.

Parisienne. (1931).

Parisienne. (1931).

Motherhood. (1937).

Motherhood. (1937).

Red’ko painted realistic motifs but not in a socialist manner. For example, his strange ‘Motherhood’ of 1937 depicts a statue of a Red Army soldier on the windowsill behind a feeding mother, and is not really following the norms of the regime. However, he did a portrait of Stalin in 1938-1940 for the All-Union Agricultural Exhibition; though we should point out that Pavel Filonov, who can hardly be accused of flirting with the regime, also had painted a similar portrait, and in both cases, it is a distanced image of head of the leader appearing without any motivation.

Portrait of Stalin. (1940).

Portrait of Stalin. (1940).

[This is a really vague translation of Daria Kurdyukova’s article on Kliment Red’ko in Colta.ru, March 13, 2014.]

Nonconformists 1

Nonconformists, or unofficial Soviet art was an often paradoxical mirror onto the spiritual, psychological and social situation of the Soviet Union between 1960-80. Here’s a brief set of examples of the genre, taken from Diletant.ru, September 15.

Man with watch glass, by Alexander Kharitonov. (1962).

Vladimir Nabokov, by Otari Kandaurov. (1975).

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, by Otari Kandaurov. (1973).

Roses and thistles, by Valentina Kropivnitskaya. (1981).

Heart of Christ, by Ernst Neizvestny. (1973-75).

Don Quixote, by Vladimir Ovchinnikov. (1979).

Violin in a cemetery, by Oskar Rabin. (1969).

Adam and Eve, by Vasily Sitnikov. (1967).

Red egg, by Ülo Sooster. (1964).

Guardian angel, by Vladimir Titov. (1992).

Memorial service, by Boris Sveshnikov. (1966).

1812, Part 18

Here is a set of paintings, etchings, cartoons, describing the enormity of Napoleon’s defeat and the horror of his army’s retreat from the Russian campaign.

Napoleon orders the execution of partisans, by Alexander Apsit.

Napoleon orders the execution of partisans, by Alexander Apsit.

Execution, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Execution, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Let us pass! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Let us pass! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Denis Davydov, the partisan, by Alexander Apsit.

Denis Davydov, the partisan, by Alexander Apsit.

The captured French, by Illarion Pryanishnikov.(1873).

The captured French, by Illarion Pryanishnikov.(1873).

Stragglers, by Alexander Apsit.

Stragglers, by Alexander Apsit.

Hussar in the snow, by Wojciech Kossak.

Hussar in the snow, by Wojciech Kossak.

A retreating Frenchman, by Casimir Pulaski.

A retreating Frenchman, by Casimir Pulaski.

Retreat from Russia, by Théodore Géricault.

Retreat from Russia, by Théodore Géricault.

Retreat of the French from Moscow, by Yanuarii Sukhodolsky.

Retreat of the French from Moscow, by Januarius Sukhodolsky.

Two French hussars, by Wojciech Kossak.

Two French hussars, by Wojciech Kossak.

Return, by Jerzy Kossak.

Return, by Jerzy Kossak.

Deep in thought, 1812, by Wojciech Kossak.

Deep in thought, 1812, by Wojciech Kossak.

The flight of the French with families from Russia, by Bogdan Willewalde.

The flight of the French with families from Russia, by Bogdan Willewalde.

Making dinner ready, by Alexander Apsit.

Making dinner ready, by Alexander Apsit.

A hard road, by Jan Chełmiński.

A hard road, by Jan Chełmiński.

On the road, by Jan Chełmiński.

On the road, by Jan Chełmiński.

Retreat from Smolensk, by Adolph Northen.

Retreat from Smolensk, by Adolph Northen.

Retreat of Napoleon from Russia, by Jerzy Kossak.

Retreat of Napoleon from Russia, by Jerzy Kossak.

 

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

1812, Part 17

Napoleon’s hopes to make an effective stand at Smolensk were dashed. There was little by way of provision nor any warmth at all for his suffering army. His troops were too demoralised to fight off the advancing Russians, so on November 14, 1812, he ordered yet another retreat, this time through the town of Krasnoi on the Orsha.

The French moved out in five echelons and soon lost sight of each other. The Russians attacked each column separately in a series of pitched battles that lasted several days.

Kutuzov before the Preobrazhensky regiment with the captured French banners, by Andrei Nikolayev.

Kutuzov before the Preobrazhensky regiment with the captured French banners, by Andrei Nikolayev.

Marshal Ney's soldiers driven into the woods, by Adolphe Yvon.

Marshal Ney’s soldiers driven into the woods, by Adolphe Yvon.

Batte of Krasnoy, 17 November 1812, by Peter von Hess.

Batte of Krasnoy, 17 November 1812, by Peter von Hess.

Battle of Krasnoy, by Jean-Antoine-Simeon Fort

Battle of Krasnoy, by Jean-Antoine-Simeon Fort

Ney's breakthrough at the Battle of Losmine, 18 November 1812, by Peter von Hess.

Ney’s breakthrough at the Battle of Losmine, 18 November 1812, by Peter von Hess.

Bayonets! Hurrah! Hurrah! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Bayonets! Hurrah! Hurrah! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Cossacks harass the retreating French, by Auguste-Joseph Desarnod

Cossacks harass the retreating French, by Auguste-Joseph Desarnod

Battle of Krasnoy, by Nikolai Kolupayev

Battle of Krasnoy, by Nikolai Kolupayev

Colonel Nikitin's troops advance at the Battle of Krasnoy, 1812, by Mikhail Mikeshin

Colonel Nikitin’s troops advance at the Battle of Krasnoy, 1812, by Mikhail Mikeshin

Although the French were severely outnumbered, Kutuzov didn’t send in overwhelming force to crush them. Still, the French losses were severe: over twenty thousand men, banners, Napoleon’s office train, baggage wagons of senior officers. Marshal Ney, who had been the last to leave Smolensk, refused the Russian general Miloradovich’s request to him to surrender. Marshals do not surrender, Ney declared, and there can be negotiations under fire. Ney took the Russian emissary prisoner, and the man spent twenty-six days in the company of the French. Despite several opportunities to escape, he did not violate his parole. It was clearly an age where savagery mingled with the honour among gentlemen.

A large part of Ney’s forces were taken prisoner. He himself was like a man possessed in his determination to get to the river. Advance through the forest! There is no road? Proceed without a road! Get to the Dnieper and cross the Dnieper! The river is not frozen through yet? It will freeze over. March!

While crossing the Dnieper, Ney lost more soldiers who fell into the cracks into the ice and drowned, but he managed to escape the Russians. Of his corps, barely three thousand managed to rejoin the rest of the Grand Army. Ney’s regiment was practically annihilated, yet to the demoralised French, the news of his arrival was as sweet as victory.

Although not one of the French echelons laid down their arms, the Grand Army was now effectively in utter collapse.

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

1812, Part 16

On November 9, 1812, Napoleon arrived at Smolensk. The vanguard of his army turned up the next day. Constantly harried by Cossacks and partisans, the corps under Eugene Beauharnais trickled into Smolensk two days later. The rearguard under Marshal Ney was even later. The Grand Army had diminished by half. Napoleon began to plot his defensive strategy against the advancing Russians.

Colour Guard, by Wojciech Kossak.

Colour Guard, by Wojciech Kossak.

Night bivouac of the Grand Army, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

Night bivouac of the Grand Army, by Vasily Vereshchagin.

On the road: Retreat, escape! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

On the road: Retreat, escape! by Vasily Vereshchagin.

French retreat from Russia, by Alexander Chagadayev.

French retreat from Russia, by Alexander Chagadayev.

After a 20-day march, the troops finally arrived in Smolensk. The city, where only six weeks ago, our troops were victorious today welcomed us with empty walls. Hope magically redoubled our efforts to get to this place of promised rest. But our illusions soon collapsed! The army found in Smolensk neither food nor clothing, nor even homes to take refuge from the cold. The last remnants of military order and discipline disappeared: each thought only of himself and sought a means to extend their unhappy existence. Gun carriages that were dragged here with so much effort were chopped up. Some of the guns were thrown into the Dnieper to save the horses from overwork, thus saving another part of the artillery. Only one who has shared the harsh military vicissitudes of fate is able to understand the piercing pain of the gunner forced to give up his guns.

While Kutuzov approached Smolensk, his advance announced by the ever increasing noise of artillery, Napoleon began to distribute awards of valour to his dispirited troops for their heroic achievements earlier in the war…

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

1812, Part 14

On October 25, 1812, in the village of Gorodnya, north of Maloyaroslavets, Napoleon sat thinking in a humble cottage. Should he continue as planned earlier to Kaluga, or should he retreat?

Council of War at Gorodnya, by Alexander Averyanov.

Napoleon sat half the night listening to reports. The Russians were spoiling for a fight the next day, while the French wanted to avoid it. The French generals were in no mind to go to Kaluga either.

Napoleon at Gorodnya, by Alexander Averyanov.

At dawn, Napoleon set out on a reconnaissance mission with some of his generals, accompanied by a small force of cavalry. Unexpectedly, they were fallen upon by a brace of Cossacks, who quickly surrounded the Emperor and his generals. The French were saved by the mist. Napoleon didn’t lose his cool and was able to fight off the Russians, and proceed with his reconnaissance.

At Gorodnya, by Alexander Averyanov.

Cossack action at Gorodnya, by A. Safonov.

Kutuzov was a worried man. Why weren’t the French attacking? Perhaps they were sneaking off to Kaluga? He ordered his irregular cavalry to head off a possible French venture to Kaluga on the Medyn road.

A skirmish between the irregular Russian cavalry and a small detachment of French ensued. Later that evening, Napoleon ordered his Grand Army to retreat via Borovsk, Verey, Mozhaisk, and onwards on the Smolensk road.

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]

Lives of the Artists IX

Marc and Ida Chagall. (1946). © Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire, USA

Jackie Wullschlager writes:

By 1950, Picasso and Matisse’s relations were, according to one observer, “roughly those of one crowned head with another”, but neither could be friends on anything like equal terms with anyone else. In Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s, Chagall had given them and most other artists a wide berth; … It was characteristic of his instability, his mix of ambition and victim complex in the early 1950s, when he was emotionally vulnerable, that he now took up residence between Picasso and Matisse only to smart with anxiety and envy. Ida [his daughter, an acclaimed beauty and a bundle of energy], meanwhile, was busy seducing both old men. Chagall was at once jealous and proud that she had posed for a series of drawings by Matisse, while at a lunch with Picasso – a sumptuous Russian meal which she prepared herself – at Tériade’s, “she put on all her charm for Pablo, and told him how much his work meant to her … She was rather well set up, with curves everywhere, and she hung over Pablo almost adoringly,” according to Françoise Gilot. “By the time she was finished, Pablo was in the palm of her hand, and he began telling her how much he liked Chagall.”

From Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.

1812, Part 13

Napoleon’s army is struggling on its retreat. Its horses are dying, ill-fed and weakened. As the goods train falls apart, the rear-guard destroys wagons and armament to prevent it falling into Russian hands. On October 24, 1812, the army reaches Chirikovo where it leaves the old Kaluga road. The terrain is muddy after incessant rain, it is impossible to march any significant distance, and the losses of the army worsen day by day.

One unit is in the midst of ridding itself of armament when a passing gendarme accidentally drops his pistol. The sparks from it detonates the powder and the explosion kills several men. Many more are badly burned and perish over the next few days in hideous suffering.

On the road between Moscow and Kaluga, by C. W. Faber du Faur.

By October 24, Kutuzov has caught up with Napoleon’s vanguard near the town of Maloyaroslavets. The battle here is furious and the little town changes hands several times, and is almost completely destroyed.

Fighting at Maloyaroslavets, by Oleg Avakimyan

Offensive at Tarutino, by Alexander Chagadayev

Fighting at Maloyaroslavets, by Alexander Averyanov.

Battle of Maloyaroslavets, by Mykola Samokish

The battle eventually turns in the Russians’ favour. The French general Delzons who leads the vanguard and attacks the Russian positions is dead.

General Delzons at the battle of Maloyaroslavets, by Alexander Averyanov.

Thousands of men perish, but Kutuzov now commands the heights south of Little Yaroslavets, and can block the Grand Army’s path to Kaluga, where Napoleon hoped to replenish his food and supplies.</p

[Translated excerpts from КНИЖКА С КАРТИНКАМИ.]