Art and Faith

Friday, 11 December 2009

Zinaida Serebryakova: An Artist of Charm and Simplicity

At the Toilette (Zinaida Serebyakova, 1909)

Zinaida Serebryakova was the first Russian woman to become famous in the history of world art. 12 December marks the 125th anniversary of the birth of this famous artist, whose work has recently become one of the more expensive offerings in international auctions.

In 1910, a then-unknown Zinaida Serebryakova presented in Moscow a number of works, amongst which the self-portrait in oils entitled At the Toilette caused a furore. The painting depicted a happy young woman brushing her hair before a mirror. Outside the window, it was winter, but, in the room, amongst the whimsical trinkets, perfume, and candles, it was warm and festive… Professionals were amazed at the originality of the composition. Serebryakova was able to convey a person’s gaze looking at herself in the mirror so accurately that it occurred to none of the audience that there was, in fact, no mirror shown on the canvas. After the exhibition, the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow acquired the painting, where it caused another sensation!

At Breakfast (Zinaida Serebyakova, 1914)

Today, according to art historian Lydia Iovleva of the Tretyakov Gallery, the largest museums in the world are proud of the fact that the works of Zinaida Serebryakova are in their collections. She said, “As time passes, her art just seems to gain in significance. Moreover, of course, everyone knows how the prices of her works have soared at international auctions. We know that there is a wonderful collection of Serebryakova items in France, and that there is an idea to organise, on the basis of this collection, a Museum of Russian Art in Paris”.

She was destined to become an artist because she the bloodlines of two of the best-known artistic families of Russia, Benois and Lanceray. Her uncle, Aleksandr Benois, the leading light of the “World of Art” («Мир искусства») school, joked that in their family everybody was born with a pencil in their hands. Indeed, as a child, Zinaida spent hours drawing flowers and animals, easily mastered watercolour, affecting adults with the purity and brightness of tone in her childish sketches.

Serebryakova was her name in marriage. Boris Serebryakov, a railway engineer, won the heart of Zinaida Lanceray, and even though complexity surrounded the wedding, for Zinaida was Catholic, still, a happy marriage took place. For her, her family was of paramount importance, and the couple had four children. The 1917 Revolution rudely interrupted the prosperous life of the Serebyakovs. The estate of Neskuchnoye near the southern city of Kharkov, where she spent her happiest years, was burned to the ground during the fighting. In 1919, Boris Serebryakov died from typhoid fever, Zinaida was left alone with her children, and sometimes she had nothing to feed them. She decided to go to France in order to earn a living for herself and her family. That was in 1924, she felt that she was leaving for only a short while, but, it turned out to be forever. With the help of the Red Cross, she managed to smuggle out only two of her children, and, up to the beginning of World War II, she kept Soviet citizenship, hoping for a reunion with her other two children, who remained in Russia. However, during the occupation of France by Hitler, Serebryakova had to choose between a French passport and the Nazi death camps, and she lost her link with her homeland for many years.

Two Peasant Girls (Zinaida Serebyakova, 1915)

Today, the creativity of Serebyakova is manifest and much studied. Albums, monographs, and the correspondence of the artist are now in print. However, much of her work remains unpublished, there are many paintings and drawings “scattered” in private collections, and every year brings news. For example, a couple of years ago, there was a first showing in Russia of a series of six allegorical panels, which Serebryakova painted more than 70 years ago for the villa of one of her French admirers. For a long time, the heirs of her patron had one of her monumental works as a “secret”. Yevgeni Petrov, a curator at the Russian Museum in St Petersburg, said, “Serebryakova as a monumentalist generally has an open style. Even so, these works confirm her excellent skill in such a complex genre of painting as the ‘nude’. In Russia, all ‘nude’ genre paintings were, probably, restricted to salon works by the Academy of Arts. However, in the Russian milieu, realistic painting of that sort was quite rare. In this sense, Serebryakova was a unique artist”.

Zinaida Serebryakova, unlike so many of her contemporaries, always drew from life. A sublime portrayer of the real, she was interested only in what she could really see, eschewing experiments with art forms and means. She was quite comfortable with the traditions and experience of the old masters, amongst whom she particularly acknowledged the Frenchman Antoine Watteau and the Russian artist Andrei Venetsianov.

Fame at home returned to Serebryakova even in the Soviet era, in 1960, during the ideological “thaw”, when there were improved relations with France. Fortunately, she lived until this time, although, due to old age, she was unable to attend exhibitions of her work in Moscow and Leningrad (St Petersburg), and the fact that these showings took place cheered her immensely. Zinaida Serebryakova died in Paris in 1967 and her burial was according to the Russian Orthodox rite at the Russian cemetery in Sainte Geneviève-des-Bois.

11 December 2009

Tatiana Zavyalova

Voice of Russia World Service

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Pyotr Brazhanov. A Portrait of Admiral St Fyodor Ushakov. 1912

A Portrait of Admiral St Fyodor Ushakov (Pyotr Brazhanov, 1912)

Admiral St Fyodor Ushakov (1744-1817) was one of the most illustrious Russian naval commanders of all time. He was not only a daring fighting sea-dog, he was a competent administrator and a serious Orthodox Christian. The port facilities in Sevastopol and Kherson were originally built by him, and he worked on the establishment of the towns surrounding the naval bases. Admiral Ushakov never lost a battle, but, that is not why he was canonised. He took good care of his officers and sailors, and he ended his life in one of the monasteries of the Church (he never became a monk, but, he lived in a monastery and led a pious lay life).

He was canonised in 2000, and is the patron saint of the navy and of the Dalnaya Aviatsiya (“Long-range Aviation”, the strategic bomber force).

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Meet the Artist: Konstantin Alekseyevich Vasiliev

A Self-Portrait

Konstantin Vasiliev



Born: 3 September 1942, Maikop, Adygeya (Cherkess) Autonomous Oblast

Died: 29 October 1976, Vasilyevo, Tatar Autonomous SSR

This Russian artist left a creative heritage of more than 400 works, both paintings and drawings. His range of works included portraits, landscapes, realistic compositions, Russian epics, mythological scenes, and battle paintings. He was born in 1942 in Maikop, in the southwest of Russia. His mother was Klavdia Shishkina and his father Aleksei Vasiliev was an engineer. Konstantin Alekseyevich had two younger sisters, Lyudmilla and Valya. In August 1942, the Nazis occupied Maikop, and his father fought as a partisan until February 1943, when the city was liberated and he could return home. In 1946, the family moved to Kazan, and, from 1949, he lived in the village of Vasilyevo, which was near the city of Kazan.

From a very young age, Vasiliev’s parents noticed that their son had great artistic talent. Therefore, they did their utmost to see that he received the education necessary to develop this gift. Between 1954 and 1957, he studied at an art boarding school in Moscow, and he became familiar with the aesthetic traditions of his Motherland. In the mid-1950s, the school changed its orientation and it became more ridden with communist ideology. Vasiliev wasn’t comfortable with the conditions placed on his artistic output by the school; he didn’t care for Socialist Realism at all.  Therefore, he decided to move his studies to the Kazan Artistic School (1957-61). His teachers were P. Speransky, V. Timofeyev, and N. Sokolsky, all of whom were exponents of the school of Classical Russian Realism that would form the stylistic foundation of Vasiliev’s œuvre.

Vasiliev finished his studies with distinction, graduating from the faculty of theatre and stage scenery with distinction. His graduation project was a presentation of a series of sketches for the scenery and stage settings for a production of the musical drama Snegurochka by Aleksandr Ostrovsky, set to the music of Pyotr Chaikovsky. However, just when he had finished his studies, his father died of a heart attack. After graduation, he received a recommendation to work in the theatre in Menzelinsk, but, he did not get the job. Then, he worked as a teacher of art and drawing in a local secondary school and as a layout artist/graphic designer in a factory. The creative legacy of Vasiliev is extensive, comprising paintings, drawings, studies, illustrations, and sketches for the painting of a church in Omsk. In the early 1960s, his work began to take on influences from surrealism and even abstract expressionism. In the late 1960s, his abandoned artistic formalism and turned to a more mannered realism.

Vasiliev turned for inspiration from Russian folklore sources, to Russian songs, epics, fairy tales, Scandinavian and Irish sagas, and the poetry of the Edda. He produced works with motifs drawn from mythology, the Slavic and Scandinavian epics, and the Second Great Patriotic War (World War II on the Russian front). He didn’t neglect portraiture and landscape work. In addition, he created graphic cycles of great composers (1961-62) and on the Wagnerian operatic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen (1970s).

Vasiliev participated in many exhibitions, such as “The Artist-Satirists of Kazan” (Moscow, 1963) and other shows in Zelenodolsk and Kazan (1968-76). Many posthumous exhibitions of his work took place throughout Russia, Bulgaria, Yugoslavia, and Spain in the 1980s and 90s. A memorial museum was opened in the village of Vasilyevo in 1996, a special gallery was dedicated in Kazan (1996), and a special museum dedicated to his work was opened in Moscow in Lianozovksy Park (1998). Also, his cycle of World War II paintings received the M. Dzhailiya Award of the Tatar ASSR Komsomol in 1988.

Konstantin Alekseyevich perished tragically with a friend when they were hit by a passing train at a railway crossing on 29 October 1976. He was buried in his home village, which was renamed in his honour. His grave is in a birch grove, where he greatly loved to climb in the trees when he was a youngster. A minor planet, 3930 Vasiliev, discovered by Soviet astronomer Lyudmilla Zhuravlyova in 1982, is named after him.,_%D0%9A%D0%BE%D0%BD%D1%81%D1%82%D0%B0%D0%BD%D1%82%D0%B8%D0%BD_%D0%90%D0%BB%D0%B5%D0%BA%D1%81%D0%B5%D0%B5%D0%B2%D0%B8%D1%87 (in Russian) (in English) (in Spanish)

Editor’s Note:

The Wikipedia English article is only a stub, so, I translated the fuller material found in the Spanish and Russian editions and I conflated it all together into a coherent whole. Vasiliev is like Norman Rockwell. One either loves his work for its immediacy or one vilifies him as a “mere illustrator”. I’m of the former persuasion, as you can no doubt guess. His early death was a real tragedy for the art world… what could he have created?

Friday, 7 November 2008

Nikolai Yaroshenko. A Portrait of the Painter Ivan Kramskoi. 1874

Filed under: 19th century,biography,fine art,human study,portrait,Russian — 01varvara @ 00.00

A Portrait of the Painter Ivan Kramskoi

Nikolai Yaroshenko


Of course, we have seen a slew of works by Kramskoi (1837-87) lately. He was one of the founders and leading lights of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers), the first truly Russian national “school of art”. It stressed the depiction of ordinary life and ordinary people engaged in their usual activities. Needless to say, if a portrait commission came their way, it was snatched up, and the resulting works were normally very true-to-life. Kramskoi’s most vibrant works were his touching and dignified paintings of the peasantry. If I were to name his three most powerful works, they are Christ in the Desert (1872), Unconsolable Grief (1884), and A Portrait of a Woman (1883). The last two are found below, the first painting is found above this post (it is considered his masterwork, it deserves to stand alone).

So, here is one of the greats of our Russian art world, little-known, if at all, in the West. I chose this portrait by Yaroshenko as it shows Kramskoi at work in his better “go to meetin’ grubbies” (you know what I mean, Bill!).

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