Falk’s exhibition opens with nudity that infuriated Khrushchev

The Tretyakov Gallery wasted no time during the forced lockdown, the end of which is still in question. The exit from the museum isolation, scheduled for January 16, seems to be postponed for another week. Museum workers still do not understand when they will be allowed to open, but they are ready even today. Thus, three large-scale exhibitions were gathered on Krymsky Val, and a retrospective of one of the leaders of the Jack of Diamonds, the legendary painter Robert Falk, promises to be the main hit. The exhibition includes about 200 of the artist’s best works from 19 museum collections, including foreign ones, and 24 private collections. This is the first retrospective of such a scale, which allows us to trace how the master’s creative method has changed over half a century of active work. Already mounted, but not yet open exhibition, looked at the correspondent. “MK”.

Jack of Diamonds comes out

Despite the great interest in the figure of Robert Falk, his works were only once shown in the State Museum in volume, and that was a long time ago: in the early 1990s at the Russian Museum. However, the painter’s small exhibitions are held regularly: for example, last summer in the gallery “Our Artists” took place the project “Robert Falk. A special case “. Many of the works shown there are now included in the Tretyakov retrospective of the painter, but in addition to them, the museum has managed to collect many beautiful canvases that have never been in Moscow before. Among them are works from the collection of the National Gallery of Armenia, which were difficult to deliver to Moscow due to the pandemic. The best of the best was taken to the exhibition from all over the country and neighboring countries – from more than a thousand works, a couple of hundred were selected.

The retrospective opens with a scandalous nudity: a painting that took part in the exhibition for the 30th anniversary of the Moscow Union of Artists in 1962, which Nikita Khrushchev desperately scolded. “This is a perversion, this is not normal!” – shouted the secretary general in the “Manege”, pointing to the painting of Falk. After this scandalous story, an ironic version of the scene in the artist’s painting appeared: “What kind of daub?” – asks the secretary general. “This is ״ Nude ״ Falka,” they answer him. “Naked Valka? Who would want to climb such a Valka ?! ”. However, this anecdote reflects the general tone rather than literally quotes the critical statements of the leader of the USSR. Nevertheless, the story of Falk’s Nude entered the annals of history, like the entire scandalous exhibition at the Manege, which became the catalyst for subsequent attacks on artists and writers, devastating exhibitions and the emergence of non-conformist art, the underground.

Nude in a chair. 1922-23Photo: Maria Moskvicheva

The picture, with which Falk’s retrospective begins and which caused a violent reaction from Khrushchev, is called Nude in the Chair. It was painted in the winter of 1922-23 with the famous model Stanislava Osipovich, who posed for Serov, Konenkov and Deineko. Not a single generation of Russian painters grew up on it. Osipovich posed all her life and did not even get married, considering her model profession paramount. So she died – on the podium, dozing off during the session and already dead, fell from her chair. Falk wrote the already middle-aged Osipovich in the cold workshops of VKHUTEMAS and, according to the recollections of university students, she posed naked near a potbelly stove, so one side of her was fried and the other turned blue from the cold. So the artist, depicting her nakedness in dark bluish-green colors, was truthful. In this portrait, the painter already departs from his cubist style of the 1910s, returning to the aesthetics of the old masters, although he still retains the features of this direction.

Nude. Crimea. 1916 g.Photo: Maria Moskvicheva

In another work of the master, also shown at the scandalous exhibition in the Manege, there is more cubism. “Nude. Crimea “was written in 1916, at the zenith of his Diamonds period. A number of sources indicate that the secretary general burst into criticism when he saw her, and not naked Osipovich (at the exhibition in the Tretyakov Gallery, we find her in the third section). There is more sex and innovation in this picture: model Lyubov Popeska is painted in juicy yellow, red and orange colors, her body is folded from planes, the woman holds her breasts and radiates passion. This is not surprising: there was a stormy romance between the model and the artist. So Falk almost left his wife Elizaveta Pospelova, but Popeska was not going to divorce her military husband, and the relationship soon came to naught. But the masterpiece remained. So Khrushchev, asking the question “are they married or not?”, Looked at the root of the relationship. However, this fact does not negate the genius and power of the nude portrait.

Rubbing his cousin.Photo: Maria Moskvicheva

Falk’s exhibition takes us along the complex biography of the author along a picturesque route. At the beginning we find his early work in the Impressionist style. In the 1900-1910s, like any novice artist, he was looking for himself, trying different styles and scales. There is, for example, a portrait of his first wife Elizaveta Pospelova, painted in the year of their wedding – in 1909. Liza resembles a girl from Borisov-Musatov’s paintings – her modest gaze is fixed on the floor, her head is slightly tilted, pastel colors are pale pink and poor blue. Next to him is a self-portrait of the artist, similar in tonality to Gauguin: he writes himself point-blank, tanned, full of energy, against the background of bright yellow rooftops. This contrast is the essence of the relationship between Pospelova and Falk, a girl from an impoverished noble family and an assertive young man with Jewish roots … Next to them is another portrait of the period of the search, depicting the artist’s cousin Lyalya. His manner here is rather closer to Renoir …

Portrait of Liza and self-portrait. 1909.Photo: Maria Moskvicheva

In a word, a whole story can be told about each picture at the exhibition – aesthetic and biographical. And yet the main thing is that all Falk is here. His early impressionism. The paintings that visited the Jack of Diamonds exhibition, which made a stunning sensation in 1910 and became the first avant-garde exhibition in the country (then Falk experienced fame and recognition). A period of returning to more classical painting, when the artist turns to the old masters and feels the crisis of art. It was then that he was experiencing his first divorce – with Liza Pospelova – and even ended up in a hospital for the mentally ill. There are also his theatrical sketches, made during the period when he was already married to Kira Alekseeva, daughter of Konstantin Stanislavsky. Finally, his French period: he was in Paris on a long business trip – from 1928 to 1937. There, the artist is even more captured by the passion for Cezanne, who had the greatest influence on him. After that, he returned to his homeland and was evacuated to Central Asia, where surprisingly light and poignant works were written. And the final part of the exhibition is the Moscow period, when the artist was forgotten for many years.

At this time, socialist realism, ideological art dominated art, and the avant-garde was banned and criticized for its “formalism”. The painter’s art was included in the “black lists” – museums could not buy his paintings. After 1953, Falk became for many young authors a kind of symbol of a bygone great era, a bridge between progressive art of the early 20th century and the post-Stalinist thaw … Despite the fact that his style was changing, Falk always remained Falk – his paintings are easy to recognize, to see the philosophical depth in them , a combination of innovative forms and subtle light characteristic of such masters as Rembrandt and Vermeer … This exhibition is definitely a milestone in the posthumous biography of the artist. Must see.