History of modern and contemporary art in Belarus
My Acquaintance with Nikolai Seleshchuk…
AVANT-GUARD IS AGAIN COSTLY
VITEBSK’S SCHOOL

 
In this series of articles about the Belarusian history of fine arts we are going to explore the position of Belarusian art on a global cultural level and the connection between Belarusian artists of the present and rich cultural heritage left by their predecessors in the 20th century.
 
1. 1900-1930s. Belarusian art in between two regimes: czarism and Stalinism.
Belarusian land has given the world such names as Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Vital Tsvirka, Nikolay Seleschuk and others. The number of original creative ideas and the best artworks of Belarusian painters of the 20th century have composed a bright picture of the development of fine arts in Belarus - the country that always treated any creative experiments and the positive impact of neighboring cultures with respect and tolerance.

But nevertheless, Belarus still remains a virtual space of pan-European significance with not enough explored and revealed traditions of fine art and cultural heritage as a whole. The question – what is the location of Belarus? – is the result both of national and European dramatic prehistory.

If you ask me, it is not a chronological order of facts that is of the most importance to the history of Belarusian art, but the attempts of fresh and depoliticized comprehension of the information that satisfies current social and cultural situation in the world.

Unfortunately,  for a long period of time the development of Belarusian society hasn’t been based on its abundant history of fine arts. Even now young Belarusian artists know little about heritage of avant-garde experiments of 1920-30s and about the fate of unacknowledged artists who worked in the 1960-70s. At that time artists weren’t permitted to exhibit. A lot of names were excluded from books and university curricula because of Soviet regime’s policies.

Going back to the beginning of the 20th century we can observe that all the odds were in favor of Belarusian art and it started to participate in the European art experiments. To a greater or lesser extent they were realized in 1920s. Overall, the beginning of the last century was an important, erratic and contradictory period for art in Belarus. There was an intense competition between different creative philosophies. In spite of so-called “cultural program” of the Russian czarism (the main goal of which was to destroy any traces of Belarusian cultural authenticity) when the growth of the national arts was almost halted, Belarusian artists managed to follow the patterns of all-European aesthetic tendencies. And after 1905 the art life in Belarus resumed. A number of regional fine art centers like Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk and Grodno sprang up. Not to speak of Vilnia*, which remained Belarusian cultural capital and where some of the greatest writers and painters worked.

But not only visual art – the entire social and cultural atmosphere of that period was saturated with large-scale changes. This rebellious spirit infected young and talented artists who were searching for and who actually found new plastique, original figurative language, and who didn’t value obsolete traditions and trends much.

The distinct peculiarity of art life in Belarus in 1920s was that its Eastern regions grasped the ideas of Russian avant-garde and its Western part was still under the influence of secession and symbolism. The most plentiful results could be seen in constructivist architecture, painting, graphics and poster art. They all contributed to the foundation of Belarusian avant-garde in the 20th century. Actually, in 1920s painting “from nature” was taken as an anachronism against the dominant avant-garde background. Avant-garde consciously abandoned cultural memories of preceding epochs and was carried away with theosophical synthesis of different art schools and movements. It goes without saying that the 1920s was a period of formation of Belarusian contemporary fine art.

Alongside with such prominent avant-gardists as Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky, there was a group of excellent portraitists – Yahuda Pen, Nikolay Tarasikov, Yakov Kruger, Petr Sergievich, Michail Stanuta -- and all of them worked in Belarus. It was an ongoing process of crystallization of the contemporary art in Belarus … but it never came finished. This search for forms and methods of reflection of Belarusian ethnic character lingered on. But everything created by Belarusian artists has become our genuine pride.

In this series of articles about the Belarusian history of fine arts we are going to explore the position of Belarusian art on a global cultural level and the connection between Belarusian artists of the present and rich cultural heritage left by their predecessors in the 20th century.
 
1. 1900-1930s. Belarusian art in between two regimes: czarism and Stalinism.
Belarusian land has given the world such names as Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Chaim Soutine, Marc Chagall, Vital Tsvirka, Nikolay Seleschuk and others. The number of original creative ideas and the best artworks of Belarusian painters of the 20th century have composed a bright picture of the development of fine arts in Belarus - the country that always treated any creative experiments and the positive impact of neighboring cultures with respect and tolerance.

But nevertheless, Belarus still remains a virtual space of pan-European significance with not enough explored and revealed traditions of fine art and cultural heritage as a whole. The question – what is the location of Belarus? – is the result both of national and European dramatic prehistory.

If you ask me, it is not a chronological order of facts that is of the most importance to the history of Belarusian art, but the attempts of fresh and depoliticized comprehension of the information that satisfies current social and cultural situation in the world.

Unfortunately,  for a long period of time the development of Belarusian society hasn’t been based on its abundant history of fine arts. Even now young Belarusian artists know little about heritage of avant-garde experiments of 1920-30s and about the fate of unacknowledged artists who worked in the 1960-70s. At that time artists weren’t permitted to exhibit. A lot of names were excluded from books and university curricula because of Soviet regime’s policies.

Going back to the beginning of the 20th century we can observe that all the odds were in favor of Belarusian art and it started to participate in the European art experiments. To a greater or lesser extent they were realized in 1920s. Overall, the beginning of the last century was an important, erratic and contradictory period for art in Belarus. There was an intense competition between different creative philosophies. In spite of so-called “cultural program” of the Russian czarism (the main goal of which was to destroy any traces of Belarusian cultural authenticity) when the growth of the national arts was almost halted, Belarusian artists managed to follow the patterns of all-European aesthetic tendencies. And after 1905 the art life in Belarus resumed. A number of regional fine art centers like Vitebsk, Mogilev, Minsk and Grodno sprang up. Not to speak of Vilnia*, which remained Belarusian cultural capital and where some of the greatest writers and painters worked.

But not only visual art – the entire social and cultural atmosphere of that period was saturated with large-scale changes. This rebellious spirit infected young and talented artists who were searching for and who actually found new plastique, original figurative language, and who didn’t value obsolete traditions and trends much.

The distinct peculiarity of art life in Belarus in 1920s was that its Eastern regions grasped the ideas of Russian avant-garde and its Western part was still under the influence of secession and symbolism. The most plentiful results could be seen in constructivist architecture, painting, graphics and poster art. They all contributed to the foundation of Belarusian avant-garde in the 20th century. Actually, in 1920s painting “from nature” was taken as an anachronism against the dominant avant-garde background. Avant-garde consciously abandoned cultural memories of preceding epochs and was carried away with theosophical synthesis of different art schools and movements. It goes without saying that the 1920s was a period of formation of Belarusian contemporary fine art.

Alongside with such prominent avant-gardists as Kazimir Malevich, Marc Chagall and Wassily Kandinsky, there was a group of excellent portraitists – Yahuda Pen, Nikolay Tarasikov, Yakov Kruger, Petr Sergievich, Michail Stanuta -- and all of them worked in Belarus. It was an ongoing process of crystallization of the contemporary art in Belarus … but it never came finished. This search for forms and methods of reflection of Belarusian ethnic character lingered on. But everything created by Belarusian artists has become our genuine pride.
Sadly but the art development in Belarus continued only before late 1920s when the relative freedom of creativity existed. Huge achievements in art of that period weren’t recognized by the society. In 1930s the Soviet authorities suppressed any creativity and individualism in art. The artists who didn’t meet the dogmas of socialistic realism were labeled “enemies of the people” – they were banned from painting, exiled, jailed or murdered. But still Belarusian art survived…
 
*after the Soviets gave up Vilnia in 1940 to Lithuanian SSR the town was renamed Vilnius


The next part of the article is coming soon.

Mikhail Barazna,
It happened in 1993, during the third year of activity of the arts center “Zhilbel”. The center intensified its activity and held a great number of exhibitions. At that time we exhibited Belarusian underground and the center was gaining popularity. We got offers to organize personal exhibitions of famous “names”. Two factors contributed to the promotion of the center:

The first one is the location of the center, as it is situated in the very heart of Minsk, in Troitsky trinity. The history of this place goes back to the ancient times and Minsk sprang at this very place. A square chamber hall of average size with high ceiling absorbed the ancient energy and it felt during all exhibitions. The pictures evidently imbibed this energy and generously returned it to the audience. In general it is a God-blessed place. 

The second factor is a wonderful skillful team, all members of which work at the Arts enterprise. These people are fans of art and they devote the whole their lives to it.

At that time Nadezhda Petrovna Burmak worked at the center and before that she had run a shop at the Arts enterprise, to which belonged graphic artists and Nikolai was one of them… Nadezhda Petrovna knew the artists perfectly and treated them as if they had been her own children and they reciprocated for her kindness.

Nadezhda Petrovna and I were often visitors at artists’ studios for several years; we got acquainted with their works and picked up some of them for future exhibitions. So we decided to pay such a visit to Nikolai Seleshchuk’ studio and appointed a meeting in advance. I didn’t know Nikolai personally then, although I often saw him and his works at different exhibitions and “art parties”. Moreover, I was on friendly terms with some artists, whose creative work was closely connected with Nicolai’s activity, so closely connected that their influence on each other was obvious. These are Vladimir Savich, Georgi Skripnichenko, Vladimir Tovstik, Vladimir Schepelevich, and Sergey Pchelintsev. Something more than just friendship connects us with these wonderful artists and people. 

Nikolai and I mingled in the same society and knew a lot about each other, so we understood that sooner or later our ways would cross.

We met late summer, on the eve of autumn. The weather was nice, the sky was blue. It was Saturday, 11 o’clock in the morning. The door was opened by Nikolai, hospitable, cordial and friendly. We met like old friends, who hadn’t seen each other for ages and had a lot to share. No constraint and effort, the dialogue was easy and natural. We had tea with biscuits and talked about our plans, about past and future exhibitions, about success of “Zhilbel” and about relations between an artist and a gallery-keeper. And all these were said in the third person as if we didn’t want to touch upon the main subject, relations, as if we were afraid to broach this issue.

But the most important about all this was that I was absolutely astonished at the pictures, I saw that day. This feeling cannot be explained logically, it is at the level of perception, when you feel with your whole being the ideal harmonious combination of colour and form and you get the happy feeling of discovery, which was unknown before. Your intuition says that you hit the mark. This feeling is akin to that of a fish man who has hooked fish and draws it out of the water or to the feeling of a sniper who subconsciously knows that the blow went home, although the target hasn’t yet arrived or the feeling when you fall in love at first sight and forever.

However surprisingly it may seem, but this feeling is with me even today, for more than ten years already, I constantly deal and live with his works, which are in my collection and which are always with me in my house. His works neither weary nor disturb, but on the contrary they continue to amaze me with their perfection. I remembered several works on that day. One of them hung on the wall opposite to the window and the daylight accentuated its advantages. It was wonderful. It seems to me that the picture “In the Studio of the Artist of Dolls” had been hanging on the wall at his place for many years. At the lower part of the picture there was a portrait of my close friend artist Georgi Skripnichenko. After that we often were at my place and, while examining this picture, we tried to understand why he was depicted on this picture, easy recognizable and painted by Nikolai from memory; at first sight he had nothing to do with this subject.

I also remembered the picture “The Moment Which Became Yesterday”, which I saw for the first time then, as well as the picture “A Man with a Musical Instrument and a Woman with a Cock” (1996), which is now in my collection. The distinctive feature of these both pictures is that they impress the audience by the combination of colours, which are chosen with such amazing taste.  These works can pretend to be world masterpieces and at the same time they are soaked with national colouring, which can be confused with nothing and which is expressed with such great love.  This colouring can belong to the only place on the Earth, which lies between Russia and Poland and is called Belarus. I suppose this fine nuance in these pictures is available only for those people who grew up here and absorbed this culture. This is also typical of the third picture, which I remembered on that day, “The Day of Your Love”, which has been finished by Nickolai recently. And I also remembered the picture “Spring”, full of spring mood, snow melting and spring tide; and as usual there is a church in the distance. All this amazed me then and this impression doesn’t weak even now. As fate has willed, years later these pictures became the part of my own collection and I am thankful to the Lord for this.

To understand what happened then between us at Nikolai’s studio we should return a little into the past, when we together with Nadezhda Petrovna visited artists’ studios, got acquainted with artistic elite and simply met with artists in the search of new talents. The essence of these visits was in the fact that the better the Arts center worked the higher its achievements were, the higher the level of organized exhibitions was and the more doors of studios were opened for us. And we exercised our right to study carefully the creative work of modern artists.

One can visit studios, but don’t get the essence; it’s very important in this process that the artist would like to accept you and reveal himself. In the view of all this we formed our visit plans.

And at last the time has come to visit studios of “famous names”: Vladimir Savich and Georgi Skripnichenko. And since then these artists and I have been tied by close friendship, absolute confidence, mutual understanding and support. Gathering together, we often recollect with a smile the moments of our first meeting. The visits to the studios of Savich and Skripchenko happened almost simultaneously, with the interval of no more than three months between visits. We were received with special attention, warmth, cordiality, hospitality and they admitted our success, but to our suggestion to exhibit their works at “Zhilbel” the artists answered: “The time will come and we’ll exhibit, but you work for a while and show what you can”. Both artists answered the same, as if they had agreed. They gave us carte blanche, raised hopes and made terms – “to clear the bar” as sportsmen say. After that we always kept in touch, often talked (sometimes every day), spent holidays together, our families got close and we helped each other, but our relations were the continuation of that first talk, as it seemed to me.

Sometimes this phrase referred not to me, but to them: it became our principle “to clear the bar”. It was unnecessary to talk, it was enough to look at each other and smile as if saying - “you know it yourself, remember you told me”. And on that day we told with Nikolai about mutual relations, exhibitions and plans for the future. Leaving Nikolai’s studio, Nadezhda Petrovna asked: “Nikolai, do you want to hold your personal exhibition at “Zhilbel”?” And the answer was: “One day I will exhibit my works there, but you work now and show what you can”. So far I am grateful to my friends for this “bar” and the hope they gave me.

Some years have passed. We met by chance with Nikolai at exhibitions, presentations and at our friends’ birthday parties, but we never reverted to the talk about exhibition. There was the feeling that all our talks were the continuation of our first talk at the studio; some invisible link sprang between us. Since 1995 Nikolai has been at all our exhibitions and missed none.

I remember the opening of one exhibition at the Arts center “Zhilbel”, which included some performance. The light was switched off and the actors staged some piece to prepare the audience to perceive the art. The performance was over, the light dimmed up and Nikolai was by my side, his face was shining with a happy smile. He looked at me and as if continuing our old talk I pronounced: “Well, do we deserve it, Nikolai?” And he answered: “Deserve, Valeriy!”

After several days the three of us met: Nikolai and I proceeded to the discussion of the personal exhibition of Nikolai Seleshchuk at the Arts center “Zhilbel”. It was early September in 1996…

And now in 2007, since ten years, I hold an exhibition in New York with participation of Nikolai Seleshchuk’s works and I plan to organize his personal exhibition at the Museum of Modern Russian Arts in New Jersey. And I feel that the ties, established between us long time ago, are not broken.

Valeri Zhiltsov, a collector, the president of the board of directors of the Museum of Modern Russian Arts in Jersey City.

In the eighties of the last century, just as a forest fire which no one knows how flares up, interest in the Russian avant-guard has been rekindled all over the world except Russia. But in1992 in Moscow after the decades of silence (more correctly it would be to say harboring) a literary miscellany “Unknown Russian avant-guard” was published. In this book we can meet such names as Burluk, Goncharova, Candinsky, Larionova, Lentulov, Lisitsky, Malevich, Tatlin, Shagal … and Royac, Ephim Royac. The very man who in the world art press is called one of the leading masters of avant-guard. He was probably the last and the youngest in the glorious cohort of the beginners of a new art. It about him in the fortieth - fiftieth, having looked back, one spoke whisper: «If there is still someone who makes suprematism, it is Royac". In order to make suprematism, which its followers considered the highest form of abstract art (more precisely it is a combination of coloured geometrical figures, which turn out to an image and sometimes the picture is very expressive), so as to use suprematical elements at the Soviet time one had to display a considerable courage. In fact any kind of avant-guard art was prohibited, the avant-garde artists who have got on a note of vigilant "bodies", have been compelled to change abruptly their methods of work and work, not receding from the given line of the party. They hardly had time to do this… How many the most talented writers, artists, journalists have disappeared in torture chambers and camps – innumerably: Suetin, Yudin, Ermolaeva, Chashnic. Almost all of them were annihilated. Royac had to left from Petrograd. “Why you are in Moscow? Why did you hide?” he was asked. “But we were killed”, answered the artist in hushed tones and continued to work.

It is in blue tones brilliantly executed tempera. We can see difficultly climbing up city endowed with living suffering soul. And at the bottom of a hill there is an alarmed crowd, expecting something dejectedly. Persons are hardly traced, but characters and still fear and hopelessness are guessed in people. And suddenly it is an explosion: suprematically represented multi-colour column directs in heavens, scattering iridescent splinters of hopes? Confidence? Love? Optimism? The impudent moon only crookedly grins. The picture carries a charge of unknown power. It shakes. It is "The city of my childhood" of Royac, the picture convinces us: the artist is very much gifted, especial. Well and what about the main character? Certainly it is Vitebsk, his native city, whose name is identified with a word art, heart of «the Vitebsk Renaissance ", the beginning to which was School of drawing and painting of the artist Pen. Working on the materials about creative work of Ieguda Pen, and then of Marc Shagal, I found laconic, but causing sharp interest lines about Ephim Royac. In fact he also was "a nestling from the Pen’s nest", one of the late apprentices. The Pen’s school, famous to all Russia, has presented the world Shagal, Tsadkin, Lisitsky, Yudovin, has formed the group of fine artists, including those who became color and glory of the Russian avant-guard. Pen was named the great teacher of the great apprentices. “Your image is of a teacher of the exalted, so Shagal wrote to him. Exactly he when saw the child paintings of Royac, noted a talent, given to a Jewish boy by the God, and he became his first teacher, who taught him not only the technique of painting but also inculcated in him a taste for novelty, for search of nonstandard, nontraditional decisions and his own style, his own “Ego”.

“One blessed who his boat ties
to the stern of a big ship” 

It was Shagal who brought a young Royac t the Pen’s school, reformed by that time to the Practical Institution of Arts and later to the technical secondary school. Both teachers Pen and Shagal gave him the most important skill – to understand, feel and realize in his creative work his individuality and his own artistic expressiveness, which became apparent in most of the Royac’s works. Particular feature, spirituality and poetic manner of the artist’s works went back to his Vitebsk youth.

The great Goethe once said: "Let nobody thinks, that one can overcome the first impressions of youth ". And also influence of one's teachers and school. Just as in absolutely original painting of Shagal by some tenth sense we feel something given by Pan, as well as in works of Royac, in his plots, even in the manner of painting we see influence of creative credo and stylistics of his teachers.

“Childhood”: an enchanting boy fall asleep with a book, on its cover there is a suprematical picture as a destiny’s prophecy. And Shagal`s cock calls him: wake up, a great and difficult life waits for you.

“Mother”, she is always busy, taking trouble about the family. Behind there is the tailor's workshop of his father, the same at which Shagal once came to turn his suit and where he saw drawings of Ephim, painted on the oven.

Not once Royac painted his father and his workshop. Innokenty Smoktunovsky told that one of these splendid genre paintings helped him in his work on the role of a women's tailor. Once again we remember the words of Goethe “An artist doesn’t speak, he paints”. Indeed is it possible to speak about one’s childhood more expressive?

In 1989, almost in 60 years after the previous one, after the mother’s death a thematic exhibition “The apprentice of Malevich Ephim Royac” was hold at the Tret`yakov Gallery.

Yes, exactly Kazimir Malevich, the third and the most favourite teacher of Royac helped his final formation as an artist, and influence of Malevich on the creative work of Royac was maybe the most powerful. And it is not surprising. A strong personality of Malevich is well-known in the art of the 20th c. Importance of Malevich for painting and in particular for design lie first of all, in his art conceptions, in his colour decisions, in his creation as an artist and in his global theoretical regulations representing a grandiose system of ideas, became a basis of modern design and found expression in suprematic painting, and later in "a volumetric suprematism " of Malevich himself and of his apprentices.

It is not necessary to tell about Malevich's arrival to Vitebsk, about his conflict with Shagal. He began to head the Pen's former school with an energetic rectilinear rigidity, having subordinated the purposes and methods of teaching to his conceptions. Malevich transferred Royac to his workshop, becoming his teacher and friend for many years and having opened him the world of "Pointlessness", i.e. the world of images, space and consciousness. This world of Royac-completely not mystical, not created "from anything", but complete, rich, spiritually sated and besides quite concrete. The world of constructive art, new art which it was necessary to declare and to approve, the famous UNOVIS (approvers of a New Art – El Lisitsky, Chashnic, Suetin, Ermolaeva, Khidekel, Royac and other artists closely collaborating with Malevich) was established for this purpose. In 1922 all them moved to Petrograd, where they formed the core of GINKHUK (all these strange abbreviations at that time in twenties resounded as a music, were a song of those times) State Institute of Artistic Culture, which became the important part of the history of the avant-guard tendencies. Royac is the youngest, he studies and works at this university, and Malevich sheltered him in his flat and took care of him as father, being at the same time his strict and exigent teacher. Malevich was impatient and strict but on the other hand kind and responsive. Art was one but ardent passion which burned him. That art which he imagined. Royac wrote about his teacher: “The man came to the point where he turned art to a black square. It is a symbol, a symbol of art. Malevich had a distinct line: Cezanne, cubism, futurism, suprematism. The black squire is a great work”. Squire is a casemate of black loneliness and despair. Later Royac painted an amazing portray of Malevich which astonishes by its emotional tension and psychological reliability. The personality of Malevich is contradictory, compound: sharp intellect, a lost soul, cruelty and repressed suffer and reminiscence of his blue but rather black passion. The teacher painted against a background of crowd geometrical figures – his suprematical dream. This picture is named the best portray of Malevich.

Group photography of UNIVIS provoked heated debates in the circle of researchers of the Russian avant-guard: “Who is that young man near concentrated and sullen Malevich?”. And only many years later Royac was finally known. Other invaluable document kept in archive of the artist, - the photograph with stamp of GINKHUK and the personal signature of Malevich. One more hardly yellowed photograph on which we can see a young Ephim Royac - wonderful, full of expectation of happiness, good, clever face - and alongside him his young, charming wife, his only love for all life.

Not long before her death I chanced to speak with Faina Lvovna Kaplan-Royac, a widow of the artist. It was she who managed to gather, systematize and keep photographs and documents of her husband. His image, memory about him became her sacred thing. “We met in Moscow in 1929, and in a year we got married. I remember we had a room of course in a communal flat where we lived four together and Ephim worked on the edge of a table. And how he worked! He was a man of striking modesty and extreme decency. He was talented in both painting and architecture”.

And also he was talented in love. His “Lovers” fly above the earth Shagal like. It is just their wedding dance and overcrowded with happiness they came off the commonness. This picture is perceived as a charming love story. And surprisingly delicate singing suprematic collage is a musical accompaniment of this fly dance. In its colours we can see guitar and lute. And another collage where we can hear sounds of an orchestra: violins and violas painted not in cipher but by accurate lines and correct dabs. Maybe the artist itself or rather his collage portray can tell us the most secret. His face is covered under some suprematic images: convoluted, cut up pieces of paper, silver-gray spots and under them an arm painted in realistic manner symbolizes work, work, work which keep off the artist from easel. In this portray we see the unity of miscellaneous which became a core of the modern art.

But Royac not only a painter he is one of the most famous architects, who worked with such renowned architects as Lesitsky, brothers Vesnin, who appreciated hit creative variety flavored with suprematism and daring ideas. Among the majority of interesting Royac’s projects we can mention soviet pavilions at the international exhibitions in Paris and then in New-York. In my hands I hold the letter in which commissar of the soviet pavilion of the International Exhibition in New-York in 1939 informs Royac about rewarding him by the sign with emblem of the pavilion of the USSR “In memory of the active participation in constructing and artistic setting of the pavilion”. To be on the safe side Royac was not let go to America.

From the first days of war soldier Royac at the front. He is a participant of the Stalingrad battle and other bloody battles. Once he came back from reconnaissance when everybody were sure that he was killed. His friends rushed to him: “Royachoc you came back”. Eleven battle rewards and participation in the Victory Parade on the Red Squire is result of the war glory of the soldier and then sergeant Royac. And again he works at the architectural workshop of Vesnin. His projects were remarkable for novelty and freshness of his creative perception, completeness and lightness of forms and adherence to principles formed during the years of collaborating with Kazimir Malevich both in architecture and in painting which Royac did not ever give up.

It is a pity that publications about him were written and exhibitions of his works after multydecade interval were hold by the end of his life and after the day of his death.

The first woman who wrote about Royac already in 1980 was a journalist Larisa Zhadova, a wife of Constantine Simonov. The master had to give up work at that time because he failed eyesight, and so conversations of many days with Zhadova were very important for him.

Royac’s works adorned the stands of the Tret`yakov Gallery, the Russian Museum, the Museum of Mayakovsky, the Belarusian State Museum. The Russian avant-guard is again in favour it has finally been appreciated in the homeland as long ago all over the world, it is a part of the history of the Russian and World Art.

Architectural and picturesque spatial composition, suprematic collages of Royac took their place in the catalogue of the Sotheby Auction. And it is of particular interest that exactly in recent years, in the 21st c. prices for Royac’s works took a jump. But almost all his adult life his works were not exhibited and sold. It is a tragedy for an artist and for art. And now exhibitions are held in Moscow, Germany, France, where we can contemplate his graphics, painting, collages, original compositions, wonderful patterns of his gold-brown water-colours. And last his works are blue collages and amazing “The Rain” – city as if crucified on the cross. In these work one can conceive trying to find the sense of life, in-depth analysis of it, ascension of the artist above himself, above such works of the last years as “The Violin”, “The Smoker”. And now let’s give a glance at “The Portray of Roznova” an artist and a poet. The portray tells us everything about her: bountifulness, subtle intellect, scattered illusions, defencelessness in the face of time, interminable tiredness and reproach, foreknowledge of the early death. It is a masterpiece.

Margarita Shklyarevskaya

 

“I got to know about Pen when I was standing on a tram stop. I saw an inscription, in white and blue: “The artist Pen’s school”, at that moment when the tram crossed the Sobor Squire. “Oh! – I thought. – What cultured our Vitebsk is!”

M. Shagal “My life”

 

It is impossible to understand completely the history of the “Vitebsk’s school”, its peculiarities and poetic style without making an attempt to comprehend the personality of its founder - Ieguda Pen – as a peculiar historical and cultural phenomenon, typical for the Russian and Jewish intelligentsia of the end of the 19th century, but nevertheless still not studied and not described. 

Today Pen is famous almost exclusively as the first teacher of his famous apprentices – Osip Tsadkin, Lazar Lisitsky, Oscar Meschaninov, Abel Pun (Pfeffermann), Solomon Yudovin and primarily Mark Shagal, in other words of those few those course of life turned out successfully. The works of Pan itself and of “the great generation of the Jewish artists” taught by him still practically unknown even for experts. The artistic heritage of Pen is presented very fragmentary: at present time no more than 200 of his works are known. They are kept in the museums of Vitebsk and Minsk and make up only the small part of that what was created by the artist. Many of the Pen’s apprentices perished at the time of the catastrophe, some of them at the front, others in the Minsk’s ghetto, thirds at the blockade Leningrad, most of the works probably were irretrievably lost at the same time and few works, which remained intact become dusty and fall to ruin at the corners of provincial museums store-rooms. Early works of the Vitebsk`s period of such artists as Pen and Tsadkin are inaccessible or unknown.

A lot of facts of the biography of Pen are typical almost for all Jews artists of his generation in Russia. He was born into a poor, having many children family in a small town Novo-Alexandrovsk (today Zarasay in Lithuania) of Kovenskaya province on the 24th of May (5th of June) in 1854 and he early was left an orphan, he was only four years old when his father died. Shortly thereafter his mother sent him to heder (Jewish primary religious school for boys), and it was there where the boy’s talent for drawing became apparent. All his spare time he gave for drawing, he covered with drawings dropped capitals in books, rattles for Purim, made mizarkhs, by request he embellished with ornamental pattern the title-page of Pinkos of the local congregation. Along with this the young painter made portraits of inhabitants of the town, he drew generals and riding Cossacks and he gave preference to this kind of art. The Ieguda’ family did not maintain the passion of the boy, his mother desponded that something will come of her sun and left him on his own. Meanwhile a distant relative of the Pens – decorator, engaged in making of signboards, coloring of parquets and so on in Dvinsk (Daugacpils), located not far from Novo-Alexandrovsk became known of the talented boy. At the end of 1867 Ieguda went to Dvinsk and became an apprentice of the decorator.

One could say that Pen was in a sense fortunate, because as an apprentice of the master he worked “in his profession”. It was there where he gained some experience and with time the most important and difficult orders the master committed to him.

One day Pen met a student of the St Petersburg Academy of Arts Borukh Girshovich, who came for vocation. By the invention of Girshovich, Pen left for St Petersburg to take an examination to the Academy of Arts.

But at the beginning Pen went phut, he did not pass the entrance examination, but nevertheless he decided to stay at the capital, with intention to enter the Academy for the second time. Pen made such a decision in spite of the fact that as a Jew he was deprived of the “residence right”, and so he had to live illegally and to render permanently a “tribute” to yard-keepers, so that they didn`t denounce to the police. But on the other hand during the whole year Pen had opportunity to visit the Hermitage and to practice at the room of moulds of the Academy, improving the drawing and preparing for the exam. Girshovich and at that time quite enough famous Isaac Asknaziy helped him in the course of this year and in 1880 Pen became a student of the Academy of Arts.

At the beginning of 80s of the 19th c. among the students of the Academy of Arts there were quite a lot of Jews. Some of them . for example Il`ya Gintsburg (1859 -1939), Moisey Maymon, Maria Danton (1858-1932), in the course of time became very popular. As a rule authorities of the higher educational institutions in Russia treated with suspicion to Jew students, but on the other hand anti-Semitism was a widespread phenomenon in the student midst itself. All this compelled Jew students to keep together and even detached. At any case all they were acquainted with each other. With no trouble Pen became acquainted with students of the Academy and undoubtedly he was involved in the range of problems which disturbed at that time the Jewish artistic youth.

On completion of the life class in 1885 Pen was conferred a decoration with a silver medal. In October 1885 an examination took place, on which Pen presented his summer works and soon he was given a diploma of an off-grade artist.

Then Pen returned to Novo-Alexandrovsk, from which he went to Dvinsk and finally in Riga in search of earnings.

A real opportunity to open his own school, which would ensure for him a stable earning and normal conditions for creative work, was a key argument for Pen in favour of his leaving for Vitebsk. In the center of Vitebsk he was rendered a flat of several rooms, in one of them he organized a studio and in November 1897 he opened his School of Drawing and Painting.

During all his life Pen had been considering that he is a Jewish artist, and those around him took him exactly so. This self-feeling he transmitted to his apprentices and it is quite possible that Marc Shagal put it into words the most precisely: “If I were not a Jew (in the sense in which I understand this), I were not an artist or I were totally another artist”.

Seriousness with which Pen think about the pictured by him Jewish life, almost never transferred to a ceremonial sentimentality of an emancipated bourgeois, which we can observe in the “Pictures of everyday Jewish life” of M. Oppengame (1800-1886). Pen’s humour has nothing in common with caricature sarcasm of A. Levy (1843-1918), who painted in a series of lithographs the life of Jew of Eldas. In contrast to the other Jewish artists of the end of the 19th – the beginning of the 20th c., Pen’s image of a genre art is uncommon enough, although at first sight one can think that he reproduce the life of Jews so, as it was made by L. Kreystin (1868-1938) and I. Kaufman (1853-1921) in Austro-Hungary. Actually patterns of a strict, almost ethnographical documentalism, peculiar to these artists, one can see in the most well-known Pen’s painting “Divorce” (1907), and in “The old woman with a book” (“Za Taych-Khumesh”, 1900ies), and in “The Saturday meal” (1920ies) and some other works. Nevertheless it is only a seeming similarity: in his best works Pen is beyond the scope of a trivial description of life and sets himself much more deep task