Saturday, December 31, 2011

PORTRAIT OF THE ARTIST IN TIMES OF CHANGE

You think you've got career problems?  Russian artist Zinaida Serebriakova launched her career just as the world was starting to unravel.

Self-portrait as a young art student

Zinaida turned 21 during the Russian Revolution of 1905 when widespread violence, poverty and political upheaval did little to help the art market.  Even bigger revolutions were just around the corner.  In 1905, a young patent clerk named Albert Einstein published the theories that would overturn centuries of scientific beliefs and transform our understanding of space and time.  That same year, Sigmund Freud published his revolutionary book describing how our "logical" behavior was really governed by subliminal compulsions and irrational urges.  As if to confirm that the Age of Reason was truly dead, hostile nations were already spiraling toward World War I. 

It was in this unpromising environment that Zinaida set out in search of beauty.
Zinaida brushing her hair in the mirror

During her lifetime search, Zinaida painted a remarkable series of self-portraits.

Newly married at age 22
Age 27, by candle light
Modeling a scarf
Age 30: a mother
In art as in politics, the old rules were coming apart like wet tissue paper.  Zinaida had been trained traditionally by the great Russian illustrator Repin but now artists such as Picasso and Matisse were pursuing what Hilton Kramer called "a netherworld of strange gods and violent emotions."  Soon the futurist painters would add their own fiery polemic:
What is the use of looking behind?... Time and Space died yesterday.... We want to glorify war — the only cure for the world — militarism, patriotism, the destructive gesture of the anarchists, the beautiful ideas which kill, and contempt for woman....We want to demolish museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism....
Despite all this, Zinaida steadfastly continued to pursue her own notion of beauty, lovingly painting the human body in a representational style.

During times of disintegration, revolutionaries, priests and utopian ideologues compete to fill the vacuum (usually causing widespread misery for the innocents caught in the crossfire).

Zinaida fell in love with a young engineering student but the church barred their marriage due to questions about the young man's faith. The couple got around the church's objections, married and had children shortly before politics intervened in the form of the February Revolution of 1917. Violence returned again that same year with the October Revolution, when Zinaida's lifelong home on the grounds of the Neskuchnoye estate was burned and its food supply plundered.  The new Bolshevik government rejected democracy in favor of a "dictatorship of the proletariat" and threw many people in jail, including Zinaida's husband.  There he contracted typhus.  He was released shortly before he died in 1919.

In the words of Leon Trotsky,
"You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you."
Zinaida was left with no money, four hungry children and a sick mother.




She managed to feed her family by drawing pencil illustrations for the Kharkov Anthropological Museum.


Then in 1924 she learned of an art job in Paris. Zinaida left Russia temporarily only to find when her project was completed that hostile relations between the countries prevented her from returning to her family.  With the help of the red cross, the distraught mother was able to smuggle her two smallest children out of the country.  However, she remained separated from her two older children for over 30 years.

Zinaida felt relatively safe working in France until the Nazis invaded.  Then her  Russian citizenship was sure to get her arrested, so she became a French citizen.  All the while, she continued to draw and paint.
Age 54
Age 62
Age 71
Looking over this lifetime of self-portraits, I am struck by the persistence of Zinaida's smile, and the tenderness that seems to have outlasted the forces that buffeted her.

She resisted assignments painting Soviet generals and commissars and refused to become caught up in ideological painting of her day.  Instead, she turned again and again to the purity and tenderness of the naked human form.  Her daughter recalled:

The female nude was mother's favourite subject. While she was in Russia young peasant women would pose for her. In Paris her friends would come over to her studio, drink a cup of tea, then they would stay and pose for her. They were not the professional models that you might find in Montparnasse and maybe this is the reason why they are so natural and graceful.



Today on the cusp of 2012, we can already see the next crop of despots eager to impose their solutions.  They've had a century to refine Lenin's special math that justifies sacrificing individual human beings to achieve some glorious future for humankind.  By now, they have become positively glib at it.

But Zinaida's joyous pictures suggest that she viewed the math differently, from the side of the equation where the individual is everything.  Pink cheeks here and now outweighed any blueprint for a distant utopia. Her math seems to have helped her remain indomitable during the years when artists with a more intellectual approach reacted with cynicism and despair. If you ever meet a person with such an attitude, marry them quick.  It will be the best thing you can do for the quality of your day-to-day life.

I wish all of you a happy, healthy 2012.

80 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a testament to the spirit of the "art life" .

As I scrolled down the images I was dreading the last one would be a sepia photograph of Zinaida standing in the mud in front of a firing squad - glad to see that she lived a relatively long and productive life .

David , have you seen the documentary , The Cats of Mirikatani ? An incredibly
inspiring account of art and healing . Thanks for the gift of your writing .

Al McLuckie

1/01/2012 12:48 AM  
Blogger Sidharth Chaturvedi said...

Thanks so much for sharing these, David. There's so much soul in all them- the self portraits and the nudes. That they're stunningly painted is a given. But they all leave you with the feeling that you now know the person at a deep level, which is extremely rare, even in many old master pieces (in my opinion). Her picture at 71 stunned me when I scrolled down to it. It may well be one of my favorite self portraits.

1/01/2012 5:33 AM  
Anonymous pRiyA said...

My goodness, and WOW. This post is a great reminder to me to start the new year with the right attitude. The huge challenges this artist faced with such courage certainly puts niggling irritations I face with my clients in perspective.
Her beautiful work is amazing and inspiring.

1/01/2012 5:44 AM  
Blogger Tororo said...

This is the best, the most inspiring post for starting the year with! Thanks so very much for sharing such beautiful pictures and interesting story.
Happy 2012!

1/01/2012 6:01 AM  
Blogger keenast said...

"Pink cheeks here and now outweigh any distant utopian future."

Nothing to add...except thank you for this wonderful post.

1/01/2012 7:27 AM  
Blogger peacay said...

Happy thingydoodle maestro and all the best for the whatsie.
I love these self portraits. Although it's great to hear the background, many of these taken alone are pretty commanding/inspirational by themselves. Soul is right Sidharth.

1/01/2012 8:09 AM  
Blogger docnad said...

What a wonderful selection, David. It's sobering to know an artist I'd never heard of produced so many wonderful figurative works under conditions of such adversity. This is a real discovery!

Best wishes for 2012, David.

1/01/2012 10:08 AM  
Anonymous Richard Brehler said...

Your posts always bring me joy at the wonder of artistic expression; this, deep awe at the persistence of the human spirit. Thank you!

1/01/2012 10:36 AM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

Excellent artwork! I was just looking through some other art, and I thought, hmmm, maybe Mr. Apatoff would like this. It could make a good "beautiful picture" post. Take a look:

Theophile Steinlen:
http://images.zeno.org/Kunstwerke/I/big/72s133a.jpg

1/01/2012 12:06 PM  
Blogger Alison said...

Thank you for sharing. Quite pungent stuff.

1/01/2012 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

All your posts have something of value. Some are stunning. This is such a post.

--Bob Cosgrove

1/01/2012 3:57 PM  
Blogger Black Pete said...

"Her math seems to have helped her remain indomitable when artists with a more cerebral approach reacted with cynicism and despair. If you ever meet a person with such an attitude, marry them quick.
--I did, David. 27 years ago, Spacebo.

1/01/2012 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Lipov said...

Lovely post David. Best wishes for 2012 :)

1/01/2012 9:09 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

What a gratifying collection of responses to begin the new year!

I usually try not to write more than a few paragraphs because I know people come here for the pictures, not to hear me blab about philosophy or history. (That's why I come here too.)

This one went on way too long, but I am touched by those of you who stuck with it. Thanks for hanging in there, I appreciate your comments and I look forward to some robust exchanges in 2012!

1/01/2012 10:08 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Al McLuckie--I haven't seen the documentary but I will definitely check it out.

Sidharth Chaturvedi-- I'm glad you like them. If you look around on the internet you can find more of Zinaida's paintings, including a few nude self portraits and nudes of her young children. I found them quite striking, but decided not to include them to avoid unnecessary friction with the blogger police.

pRiyA-- I had the exact same reaction. We can make long lists of reasons why society ain't fair to illustrators but until somebody comes along and burns down your house and steals your food, it's hard to complain.

1/01/2012 10:15 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Tororo and Keenast-- Thanks for writing, I'm genuinely touched by your reactions.

Peacay-- Happy thingydoodle to you as well. I continue to get great pleasure from Bibliodyssey and I look forward to more of your posts in 2012.

docnad-- I know the feeling; I'm often surprised at the great talent that continues to tumble out of unexpected places.

1/01/2012 10:22 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

David,
Great post. There is a stylistic evolution evident in the works you've chosen here that is just fascinating.

1/02/2012 12:57 AM  
Blogger Bryan Tipton said...

Beautiful post. I was only familiar with her painting, "Zinaida brushing her hair in the mirror." I found it to be so engaging and wanted to know more. Thank you for expanding on this painting and exposing me to her other self portraits. The progression tells such a wonderful and honest story.

1/02/2012 2:05 AM  
Anonymous Leah said...

You've inspired my first comment ever...
Thankyou so much for this story. My life has had many, many trials.I left home when I was 13 due to my mother's drinking, suffered abuse in my 20's and had my beautiful baby boy die in my 30's; but despite, and maybe even because of these things I have always remained positive and turned my face to the light. A friend told me that he always knows I'll be alright because I'm an artist; I see beauty everywhere. And I agree. I worry that some artists strive to give gravity to their work in order for it to have value. In a world full of stark reminders of inequality and pain I personally turn to art to remind me of joy..for what else are we here for?
Thankyou again for sharing this lovely story, Leahx

1/02/2012 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

..Thank you David for another year of enlightening, educational posts.
Happy New Year To You!
D.H.

1/02/2012 10:15 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Richard Brehler-- Thanks for the kind comments, and I really enjoyed the photography on your blog.

T Arthur Smith-- Thanks for the image. I generally like the work of Theophile Steinlen, although I don't recognize this one. Is it by him?

Alison-- Thanks for writing.

Bob Cosgrove-- As I said above, I always assume I am going to lose people with these more long winded posts, so it is especially gratifying to hear your reaction to Zinaida's story.

1/03/2012 2:18 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Black Pete-- You're a fortunate man indeed.

Lipov-- Happy 2012 to you as well.

Etc, etc-- Agreed. You can see on her face the years and events gone by (and her corresponding growth). However, she clearly seems to have held onto her core more than many artists of her era.

1/03/2012 2:35 AM  
Blogger T Arthur Smith said...

Yes, it's Theophile. Here's the page for him:

http://www.zeno.org/Kunstwerke/A/Steinlen,+Theophile+Alexandre

1/03/2012 5:46 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

You can see on her face the years and events gone by (and her corresponding growth)

David,
What I meant was the earlier paintings have a more "expressive", Modigliani-esque quality, while later in her stylistic development she seems to have abandoned that quality for more carefully observed realism.

1/03/2012 9:36 AM  
Blogger AlbGlinka said...

Thank you for sharing this glorious work!!!

1/03/2012 8:17 PM  
Blogger Off the Coast of Utopia said...

Amazing post. Makes me wonder how many more Zinaidas are out there.

1/03/2012 10:00 PM  
Blogger Andrew Cave said...

She was a lovely drawer without doubt. However, those increasingly old self-portraits...71 years of age? She looks like she is barely 30. She seems to be (very) forgiving of recording time's chisel on her features.

Though if I had looked that good when young, perhaps I'd have been a little vain.

1/04/2012 1:30 AM  
Blogger Marie Alice said...

Every post you write amazes me. Thank you for sharing all this, I'm looking forward your next gems in 2012. A very happy new year to you.

1/04/2012 4:07 AM  
Blogger Kelly Borsheim said...

Well, no artist could ever have excuses for not following his / her passion! Thank you for this story and posting a timeline of one face throughout the years. Lovely.

1/04/2012 12:59 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

Happy New Year! One's gotta roll with them changes!

1/04/2012 1:46 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Bryan Tipton-- Yes, that painting of Zinaida brushing her hair is probably her best known picture; people loved it because it was a youthful, optimistic image that stood out in contrast to its gray, somber era. However, as the situation got worse and worse, Zinaida had no real opportunity to build her career. Many of her remaining paintings were excellent but obscure.

Leah-- Thank you for sharing your story. I'm sorry for the sadness you have known. I think you are right, an aesthetic sensibility about the world can you give you an equilibrium in trying times.

D.H.-- Thanks for reading!

T Arthur Smith-- I appreciate the reference and agree that Theophile is worthy of attention.

1/04/2012 5:36 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc-- I noticed that elongated Modigliani style right away, but I think it takes a very practiced eye to detect the other subtler distinctions you mention. I am guessing that after a while, it became difficult for Zinaida to monitor developments in the international art world. It was probably safer to hunker down in a fox hole and take care of her family.

AlbGlinka-- Thanks so much. I'm glad you share my reaction to these paintings.

Off The Coast of Utopia-- "Many a flower is born to blush unseen and waste its sweetness on the desert air."

Andrew Cave-- She was a cutie, no doubt. I don't find her 70 year old visage as impossible as you do. When people have her kind of radiant glow from within, it makes a big difference.

1/04/2012 6:17 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Marie Alice-- Wow, thank you, and a very happy new year to you as well.

Kelly Borsheim-- That's exactly my reaction. This was one of those posts where I am secretly chiding myself: when you look at the obstacles that Zinaida overcame and the price she paid to continue producing objects of beauty, who would have the audacity to claim they can't work without the right supporting conditions?

अर्जुन-- For a minute, I was afraid you were going to give us the predictable David Bowie song. You did not disappoint. Great dancing, especially that guy in the white pants. This must have been the era after the cowbell was invented, but before people started dancing the robot.

1/04/2012 6:42 PM  
Blogger Matthew Harwood said...

अर्जुन
I was Google spelunking and thought of you. Happy New Year.

1/04/2012 7:11 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

M.H., Fantastic!

Françoise Hardy's version of Celentano's Il ragazzo della via Gluck has long been a personal favorite.

The House Where I Grew Up

1966 (Paroles/Musique: - Marnay/Celentano/Beretta/Del Prete)

When I think about my memories
I can still see the house where I grew up
They take me back to lots of things
I see roses in a garden
There, where trees lived, now the city is there
And the house, the flowers which I loved so much, don't exist any more

They knew how to laugh, all my friends
they knew how to play my games
but everything comes to an end in this life
and I had to leave with tears in my eyes
my friends asked me why I was crying
to discover the world is better than to stay here
you will see all the things you can't see here
a whole city which sleeps through the night under the lights

when I left this place of my childhood
I knew already that I left my heart there
all my friends envied my luck
but I still think of their happiness
with no worries in the world, which made them laugh
and it seems like I heard myself say to them
I will return one day, a beautiful morning, amidst your laughter
yes, one day I'll take the next train so I can remember

Time passed and there I was
seeking in vain the house which I loved
where are the stones and where are the roses
all these things I held so dear
not a trace of them or my friends
other people, other houses had stolen their place
there, where the trees lived, now the city is there
and the house, where is the house where I grew up
I do not know where is my house, the house where I grew up
where is my house, which knows where is the house
my house, where is my house, which knows where is my house...

1/05/2012 8:23 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

She was a good artist, but I've got to side with Andrew Cave. Here's a photo taken less than a decade after her self portrait at 71. Apparently the years weren't as kind as her paintings! This idealization seems to show up in all of her work.

Give me artists like this guy or that guy, who celebrate beauty without sweeping its taboo creases and bulges under the carpet!

1/05/2012 1:33 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm-- putting aside the fact that Zinaida is no Rembrandt or even Zorn, I still think your comparison does not hold up well. It is no "taboo" for a guy to be wrinkled or fat. Look at the romantic leads of today's feature movies-- slobs such as Kevin James, Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill are cast as romantic leads teamed with beautiful, svelte young women. It would seem that men don't have to "sweep their creases and bulges under the carpet" but women do.

I should also add that I don't see more than ten years worth of difference between the painting and the photograph. It's all in the animation and illumnation of the face. For a 70 year old, she still looks like a hottie in my opinion.

1/05/2012 3:07 PM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

My point wasn't that she lacks those guys' technique, but their objectivity. Society may grant male painters more freedom to show their own age, but Zorn's and Rembrandt's self portraits still seem painfully frank, and social pressure doesn't seem to have curbed Kathe Kollwitz or Alice Neel the way it did Zinaida.

I'm surprised you see little difference between her photo and that self portrait (I see about four decades' worth), but even leaving aside her self portraits, her portraits of others always seem idealized, showing smoothly-complected cover-models in place of the common folk who probably sat for them. I admire her technique, but I wish she were a bit less 'Patrick Nagel.'

1/06/2012 7:39 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1/06/2012 10:14 AM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Flattering the sitter within boundaries is encouraged in many traditional portrait painting treatises, and I think this case is well within those boundaries. She may have fudged on the wrinkles, but I believe there is an unquestionable trend away from stylization and mannerism (the early 20th century brand) in her earlier work towards more objective and naturalistic observations in her later work

1/06/2012 10:16 AM  
Blogger Helga Pearson said...

I love her work! I can't believe how contemporary it looks considering when the artist lived and when these were painted. Stark realism as opposed to somewhat more flattering romanticism is relative and also a matter of taste. I believe we can see and appreciate both for what they are without diminishing the value of either.

1/07/2012 12:58 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm-- I think Kathe Kollwitz makes for a very interesting contrast. She was caught in the same tug of war between zealots (although she was tormented more by the Nazis, while Zinaida was tormented mostly by the communists). Unlike Zinaida, Kollwitz responded with social activism. She drew the suffering of the poor, revolutions and proletarian uprisings. Zinaida's response was apolitical and personal. She was focused only on the nude model in front of her.

Kollwitz etched the worries of the world on her face; she never smiled in her self-portraits, while Zinaida almost always did.

In some ways, we might be tempted to conclude Kollwitz was more admirable because she was so selfless and socially conscious. But remember she was a communist in an era when communists were rationalizing genocide in the fight against the Nazis. Kollwitz became a pacifist and quit the party, but principled ideologues are always the most susceptible to that "funny math" that justifies using any means to achieve your end. Zinaida would have none of it, and that can be admirable too.

One last thought on our different perceptions of the photograph of Zinaida. I once studied international law under a brilliant Russian scholar, a woman who was 70 years old and had written half a dozen books. She was so lively and animated and laughed so freely, when you were in the room with her you'd almost swear she was a teenage girl. Yet, photographs of her seemed to capture wrinkles I'd never noticed and made her look like death warmed over. It was a revelation to me in how to look at photographs.

Etc, etc. and Helga Pearson-- Agreed!

1/07/2012 9:22 AM  
Blogger Митрушова Таня said...

Зинаида Серябрекова моя любимая русская художница.Она жила не только в трудое время,но и растила четверых детей.Вот один русский сайт где можно посмотреть больше её картин http://www.bibliotekar.ru/k94-Serebryakova/

1/08/2012 8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. David, you have outdone yourself with this one.

Another artist I had no knowledge of before now, and you are right...it is amazing to see the passage of time through the self portraits (reminds me of the great "7 up" film series). And those nudes are beautiful...the one of the young girl, sprawled asleep on the bed is sublime.

How did you find out about her in the first place?

ken meyer jr

1/08/2012 11:43 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Митрушова Таня-- Спасибо вам большое за полезную информацию.

Ken Meyer Jr-- Thanks very much. I learned of Zinaida a few years ago from the cartoonist Leonard Starr (one of the most cultured, intelligent, literate people I have ever met). We were sitting in front of a crackling fire talking about Repin, Serov, Fechin and some other household name Russian artists, and Leonard (as is his wont) recommended a few lesser known Russian artists for me to consider. When I seemed receptive, he helpfully offered a few Russian writers and composers as well.

1/08/2012 10:53 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Leonard Starr (one of the most cultured, intelligent, literate people I have ever met)

David,
I realize you're a busy man, but I wish you would consider video recording for posterity some of the conversations with these fascinating people you encounter. Few of us move in the circles you do.

1/09/2012 11:23 AM  
Blogger kenmeyerjr said...

Yeah, what he said!

ken

1/09/2012 1:03 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Etc, etc and Ken Meyer Jr.-- I can't tell if you're serious about the "circles" I supposedly move in, but I wrote to Leonard Starr when I was ten and explained with great sincerity why I loved his drawings.

My view of these things is that regardless of whether you hear back, and regardless of whether anything ever comes of it, people who do work that you admire deserve to hear about it. If you tell them with no thought of reciprocity, you'd be surprised at the kind of relationships that might develop over the long term.

1/10/2012 12:30 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

""I can't tell if you're serious about the "circles" I supposedly move in""

D.A. you modest bastard!


re:Russian Composers

I like;

Stravinsky ~ Le sacre du printemps

Prokofiev ~ The battle on the Ice

Mussorgsky ~ Pictures at an Exhibition

Now, who did Leonard plug!

1/10/2012 1:47 PM  
Anonymous norm said...

Don't leave out Dmitri Dmitriyevich Shostakovich

1/10/2012 6:05 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Best post in a while I'll have to look this artist up on line.

1/10/2012 7:11 PM  
Blogger docnad said...

I agree with norm and with Anonymous, but a little bit I miss the cerebral food fight you usually host.

1/10/2012 8:14 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Rachmaninoff

1/10/2012 9:35 PM  
Blogger Dan Kent said...

This is the most inspiring post. I was in the hospital with my son on January 1st, and I read this post, and suddenly things weren't so bad. Now he is well, and we are safe, and I have found a new artist to love.

1/10/2012 9:43 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

hallo meiner lieber
Lange Zeit, machts nichts du weiss dass schoen. This art that you have posted for the beginning of the new year, so full of hope, optimism, tenderness, strength in the face of hardship and evil, and last but not least beauty...could not have been better chosen.
The woman and her work is awesome, as is your knowledge and tribute to her.
Gesundes neuer Jahr wünsche ich dir
B

1/11/2012 1:04 PM  
Blogger StimmeDesHerzens said...

On the the photograph of Zinaida at age 71-- Photographs can freeze the animation of the soul, but methinks this photograph radiates her kindness. No sign of the misery she endured in her life. Notice her scarf, full of little hearts...How old are you Jesse H., that you disparage such a beautiful photo?

1/11/2012 1:16 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

अर्जुन and others-- "who did Leonard plug?"

Leonard didn't plan on being quoted on the internet; we were just having an informal chat between friends, so I have probably already exceeded the bounds of discretion and good taste. Perhaps it is safe to say that he operates at a whole different level; he doesn't simply name "Mussorgsky," he talks about whether the Feodor Chaliapin rendition of Mussorgsky's Boris Godunov was as transformative as Deems Taylor claimed it to be.

This may be a good place for me to note one reason I am unimpressed with much of what has been labeled the "conceptual" school of illustration where, in the words of Steve Heller, "illustration evolved from what-you-see-is-what-you-get to conceptual because the issues and themes covered in magazines were becoming more complex, more critical...." According to Heller, history turned from "the slicker, more commercial narrative or decorative illustrators for whom style, rather than content, is of utmost importance" to "more abstract and symbolic illustrative solutions."

(Because I am not as sophisticated a thinker as Steve, I have labeled this the "I'm-so-smart-I-don't-have-to-draw well" school of illustration).

If the quality of this art is contingent upon the quality of its abstract thinking and editorial content, I have been underwhelmed by the intelligence and literacy of many of its proponents. On the other hand, some of those old, "slicker" guys with technical skills turned out to be far more cultured and literate and comfortable with abstract thinking than the illustrators who now sell their "intellectual" solutions. I have certainly never met one of the new breed who could hold a candle to Starr, who drew one of the "slicker," more illustrative comic strips around.

1/12/2012 9:49 AM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Docnad-- I am sure there will be plenty of cerebral food fights in 2012. When you come here, better bring your tarp.

Dan Kent-- I'm so glad your son is well. I've had a child in the hospital and there is nothing worse. I'm also glad Zinada's story was uplifting for you. I wish your whole family a happy, healthy 2012.

StimmeDesHerzens wrote: "How old are you Jesse H., that you disparage such a beautiful photo?"

I have to admit, I wondered the same thing. When I was a teenager there was nothing hotter than a teenage girl, and I wondered how anyone could find old, wrinkled people physically attractive. When I reached middle age, teenage girls began to look like unbaked cookie dough to me-- too simplistic and vapid, with none of the character and depth that made a woman attractive. They had tightly stretched skin, but so does a cocktail frank. I look back over my shoulder and wonder, "what on earth was I thinking?" Perhaps my evolving taste is just nature's way of maintaining equipoise.

Today I am still a long way away from Zinaida's advanced old age but I can already look at Jesse Hamm's photo of Zinaida and understand how it is possible to get there from here.

1/12/2012 10:21 AM  
Blogger Jesse Hamm said...

StimmeDesHerzens -- "Disparage her photo"? You misunderstand me completely. It was not her photo but her painting I criticized -- a painting that refuses to acknowledge the beauty of old age, "sweeping its taboo creases and bulges under the carpet." The above defenses of the beauty of old age only shame Zinaida's "(self-)flattering romanticism," to borrow Helga's phrase.

1/12/2012 12:46 PM  
Blogger अर्जुन said...

D.A., don't get your knickers in a twist, Starr's legacy isn't at stake based on what music he listens to! I just wanted to groove to something he recommended.

Norm, I'll have to listen to more.

etc, etc, That's the stuff.

1/12/2012 5:03 PM  
Blogger etc, etc said...

Elizabeth Valkenier's Valentin Serov: Portraits of Russia's Silver Age is a fascinating peek into Russian art and culture from the period (I'm recommending it for the narrative and not as a coffee table book).

1/12/2012 10:29 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Jesse Hamm-- Fair enough. I suppose there is a difficult line to draw between "self-flattering romanticism" on one hand and deviating from a photograph to (more accurately) capture the vitality and glow of a human spirit (as with the Russian scholar I mentioned).

There are lots of readers here with a passionate distaste for tracers of photographs because they think the artist's subjective vision contributes something. We may be seeing Zinaida's subjective vision here, but I don't fault her for it.

अर्जुन-- Knickers or not, I wouldn't be having many personal conversations with people if they thought they would be quoted the next day on the internet. Sorry-- I'm not trying to be evasive.

Etc, etc-- Thanks, I'll check it out (I do admire Serov). For a coffee table book on him, there was a very good book produced in Russia in 1987 but I can't read a word of it (including the name of the publisher).

1/13/2012 8:06 AM  
Blogger Casey Klahn said...

Tremendous blog!

1/13/2012 11:02 AM  
Anonymous norm said...

As for Shostakovich, I can't figure out how to link sound clips here, but check out his 7th and 8th symphonies. While both are about war...the 7th is patriotic (supposed to be about the siege of Leningrad) while the 8th was written after things went bad and is dark and harsh and a very different look at things.
I think comparing the two symphonies, both from the same composer, but from totally different points of view, is really interesting.

1/13/2012 1:17 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, I think I got that wrong...Russia was winning when the 8th was written, so it's dark mood was seen as anti-soviet ...and it was eventually banned.
So...I'm no great scholar of classical music or world events...but, it's still cool to compare the two...

1/13/2012 1:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(I'm not so hot at grammar either...."its" vs "it's"

1/13/2012 1:25 PM  
Anonymous Portrait Artists said...

You can give life to these pictures There's so much soul in all them- the self portraits and the nudes.This is a real discovery!thanks for sharing carry on.........

1/20/2012 12:15 AM  
Anonymous clippingimages said...

It's just beautiful, she looks nice at every stage, every age. very real!

clippingimages.com

1/22/2012 1:49 AM  
Blogger chris bennett said...

That's a beautiful post David. The tears you do not quite know the origin of are the profoundest tears. There was one in the courner of each eye as I read the last couple of sentences of that tender hearted, yet marvelously controlled writing of yours.

Thank you.

1/22/2012 4:45 AM  
Anonymous Regina Bulayevskaya said...

It is nice to be reintroduced to Zinaida Serebryakova after such a long time! Спасибо!!! I saw her works ones in early 80s when I still lived in Russia. Seeing Serebryava's works on your blog evoke a storm of feeling and thoughts in me, but I have to restrain my message into fewer words.
Serebryakova was not well known in Soviet Union. Now I understand why. After reading your blog, I looked up on Internet for more details about Serebryakova's life. Of course! She was coming from aristocratic family... If she would be dead by the time of the Great October Socialist Revolution of 1917, her paintings would be part of Russian classical heritage. Too bad, Zinaida! you were still alive and thriving. Communists didn't like refined girls like you. All those admirable qualities like gentility, honesty, intellectual honesty,grace and sense of honer gradually became archaic and over time practically vanished.
Zinaida, your smile means to me strength, victory, overcoming and preserving your moral values.

1/22/2012 3:33 PM  
Anonymous Regina Bulayevskaya said...

Говоря о русской аристократии... Хочу Вас удивить одной историей. В течение нескольких лет я была пациентом Вашего брата, доктора Апатова. Я конечно сразу обратила внимание на русские корни его фамилии.
Следуя лучшим образцам русской традиции, я не посмела задавать вопросы о его произхождении.
Я не люблю фамильярность и с трудом перехожу "на ты". В его манере держать себя и разговаривать есть
что-то необычное. Сдерженнность, деликатность, консервативность в одежде и речи. Моё воображение наделило его ореолом "русского аристократа в изгнании".
Когда Вы пишите о своём отце Вы используете слово "архаичнный". АРХАИЧНЫЙ! Лучше ни скажешь!
Очень ёмкое слово. Я вижу не всем это слово пришлось по душе. Для меня за этим словом стоят многие личные качества, которые увы сегодня не так часто встретишь. У вас, видимо, это семейное.
Нам нужно больше архаичных людей сегодня. Архаичный человек, где ты?

1/22/2012 7:43 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Casey Klahn-- Thanks for the comment, I appreciate it.

norm-- That's an interesting comparison between Shostakovich's 7th and 8th and it fits right in here. I'll have to check it out.

Portrait Artists and clippingimages-- many thanx.

1/23/2012 7:55 PM  
Blogger David Apatoff said...

Chris Bennett-- It always gladdens me when these facts touch others the way they touch me.

Regina Bulayevskaya-- Thank you for contributing a very interesting perspective on Zinaida. I could tell from the estate where she grew up that she was hardly a kulak, but I don't think she lived in the mansion itself, just on the grounds. It was in some ways a sheltered life, but obviously it left her with the strength of character (and as you say, the sense of honor and moral values) to prevail in times of great adversity.

I was especially intrigued by your second message.

1/23/2012 8:06 PM  
Anonymous Regina Bulayevskaya said...

Your blog almost as good for my brain as vitamin D that He recommended.
Regarding Zinaida. It was not only the wealth that irritated the Bolsheviks. The remains of the upper class, the ideology they were representing was a threat to the Red Republic. Not only that Communists didn't want people who think differently, they didn't want people who think, period! Zinaida was a grand daughter of the famous architect Nicholas Benois, chairman of the Society of Architects and member of the Russian Academy of Science. She was a daughter of Yevgeniy Nikolayevich Lanceray a very well known sculptor.Terrible resume...
Back in Russia I did not know her biography, she just didn't look to me like a Soviet artist. Her palette was too clean.I was right! She did study abroad.
Looking forward to continue our conversation.

1/24/2012 2:08 PM  
Anonymous Thomas L Goss said...

Thank you, what a lovely post, detailing the life of an artist. Do we evolve over our tiny stretch of time? I don't know, but there is an honesty to these self-portraits that is touching. And that is the key to art, opening our tender places for the world to see, regardless of how those tourniquets may fail to salve our cosmic wounds.

1/31/2012 11:07 AM  
Anonymous Portrait Painting said...

This is the best, the most inspiring post for starting the year with! Thank you for sharing.

2/13/2012 5:59 AM  
Blogger wentworth said...

wow this is awesome thanks! What really grabs me is how contemporary much of her work feels - the paintings would not be out of place in a gallery in 1970, and I think this is because she captures the psychology of herself - it is not just an academic view, as so many of that time had , or a style aping one of the Masters. And what a life. I don't think I will complain anymore!

2/15/2012 10:12 PM  
Anonymous Making Made said...

Absolutely stunning portraits! And the paintings at the end are amazing as well. Thanks you!

2/21/2012 11:34 PM  
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4/18/2012 7:01 AM  
Anonymous roberthunt said...

What a great, inspirational post! Thank you!

6/24/2012 11:51 AM  

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