Click on photos to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Zinaida Serebriakova

At Breakfast, 1914, Zinaida Serebriakova depicting three of her four children,
Alexander, Evgenyi, and Tatiana.
Until the past hundred years or so, it has been difficult to reference women artists whose work stands up well next to their male counterparts. Of course there are many reasons for this, most having to do with social restriction foisted upon women having to do with education, prudery, tradition, stereotypes, and a dozen other lesser factors. However with the coming of the 20th-century, for better or worse, many of these limitations began to wither away. Still, their meager numbers since then tell a story of the great difficulty as women have striven to gain the same recognition as men in the art world, and the still greater challenges as to their success in the general world at large. We might start with Mary Cassatt and run through a list of every major female artists in the interim, ending with Jenny Saville and Tracey Emin, yet still not come close to the number of male artists who attained exceptional recognition during that time. But, with each nation's list of women artists there has to be a "first." Yet many who seem to know art would have great difficulty in "naming names" where women are concerned. Nowhere would this be more the case than in the almost totally male dominated world of Russian art. Fine, let me put forth a name that should be at the head of any such list of female Russian artists--Zinaida Serebriakova.
Zinaida Serebriakova self-portraits, ca. 1915 (left) and 1909 (right).
She was a very beautiful woman.
The Bather,1911, Zinaida Serebriakova
Okay, it's not an easy name to remember. Forget the name for a moment, forget she was a women, even, just look at her work. It would be patronizing to say she "painted like a man," but not knowing her gender, we'd not be likely to consider the fact that she wasn't a man. In fact, all you'd have to do is count the number of female nudes in her life's work to quickly dismiss any preconceived notion having to do with her gender. I was amazed. She painted far more female nudes (left) than any female artist I've ever encountered. And lest you question her sexual preference, keep in mind she was married for fourteen years, bore four children, three of whom can be see having breakfast (top). Her youngest, Catherine, is seen depicted in Katya in the Kitchen (below) from 1923, juxtaposed next to a 2005 photo of her seen among her mother's paintings in Paris.

Katya in the Kitchen, (left) 1923, Zinaida Serebriakova.
Catherine Serebriakova among her mother's works in Paris, 2005 (right).
Boys in sailor's striped vests,
1919, Zinaida Serebriakova
Zinaida Lanceray was born in 1884 to a well-to-do artistic family living in Kharkov (eastern) Ukraine. Her father, Yevgeny Lanceray was a sculptor, her grandfather, Nicholas Benois, was a famous architect, her uncle, Alexandre Benois, a famous painter. Her mother and sister were talented amateur artists while her brother, Nicolay, like his uncle, became an architect. Another brother, Yevgeny Lanceray, was a master of monumental painting and graphic art during the Soviet era. After graduating from "gymnasium" (high school) around 1900, Zinaida attended a women's art school from 1901 to 1905 while also finding time to study in Italy and Paris for a year. In 1905 Zinaida Lanceray married Boris Serebriakova (below), using her married name from that point on in signing her work. The Boys in Sailor's Striped Vests, (left) from 1919 are probably her teenage sons.

Portrait of Boris Serebriakova, 1908, Zinaida Serebriakova
Portrait of her son Alexander,
1925, Zinaida Serebriakova
Had in not been for the political and social upheavals of the Russian Revolution starting in 1917, the family might have, as they say, "lived happily ever after." However, two years later, Boris Serebriakova died of typhus while imprisoned by the Bolsheviks. Left a widow with four children, an ailing mother, and no income other than her art, the family came close to starvation. Serebriakova's most tragic painting, House of Cards (below), from this period depicts her four orphaned children. After a time, Serebriakova found work at the Kharkov Archaeological Museum, where she made pencil drawings of the exhibits. A year later, she was allowed to move her family to her grandfather’s apartment in Petrograd. There she was able to employ her talents with the state theater. Her older daughter, Tatiana, took up ballet to help support the family.

House of Cards, (early 1920s), Zinaida Serebriakova, her four children
with the symbolic figure of her dead husband in the foreground.
Portrait of a Ballerina Muriel Belmondo,
1962, Zinaida Serebriakova
It wasn't until 1924 that their situation improved much. In that year, Serebriakova received a mural commission in Paris, allowing her to leave the Soviet Union, though it meant leaving her children behind. Upon completion of the mural, she found she could not return to Russia. Eventually, she was able to arrange passage for her two youngest children to join her in Paris. It would be another thirty-six years before she would again see the two older ones. During her years in Paris, Serebriakova was successful to such a degree she was able to travel to Morocco and other areas of northern Africa where she painted numerous scenes (below) of Arab women in their ethnic clothing (and without it). It wasn't until 1966, that some two-hundred of her paintings were finally exhibited in Kiev, Leningrad, Moscow, and other Soviet cities. She was often compared favorably to Renoir and Botticelli. Her last dated painting, Portrait of a Ballerina, Muriel Belmondo (left) is from 1962. She died in Paris, in 1967, undoubtedly the most important woman artist to come from Russia during the entire 20th-century.

The Market in Pont L`Abbe, 1934, Zinaida Serebriakova
Shopping Cart with Sardines, 1930, Zinaida Serebriakova,
not one of her more appetizing efforts.


No comments:

Post a Comment