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Author(s) of the publication: Yevgeniya SIDOROVA

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"I feel like a decent man only when I'm satisfied [with my work", wrote Robert Falk*. He was born "A in Moscow on October 27, 1886. Musically gifted, he was preparing to enter a conservatoire, but painting turned to be more attractive. Falk started to exhibit his first pictures in 1906, when he studied at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. Early period of his creative biography is associated with the Knave of Diamonds union (1910 - 1917), established by Russian avantgardists as a counter-balance to conservative traditions in art. They were greatly influenced by French painters Paul Cezanne, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse.

In 1920, Falk started work at the VKhUTEMAS (High Artistic and Technical Workshops), which in 1926 was transformed into the VKhUTEIN (High Artistic and Technical Institute). Here the forty-year old painter became the Dean of the Painting Faculty. In 1928 he left for France to study classical artistic heritage. But when his studies were over, Falk refused to go back as he realized that he would not be able to work and live quietly in the atmosphere of intolerance, existing in the USSR at that time. Falk stayed in France for ten years: he returned to the USSR in 1937, shortly before the World War II.

He was never recognized by official Soviet art. In the last period of his life, he was not allowed to exhibit his paintings. He lived a hard life, but a lot of young painters were eager to become his students. Falk was on friendly terms with intelligent and gifted people: writer Ilya Erenburg, musicians Svyatoslav Richter and Genrich Neigaus, art historian Alexander Gabrichevsky, literary critic Boris Shklovsky, actor and producer Solomon Mikhoels, and many others. Thus, Richter wrote that "Falk never changed his views, he was totally absorbed by art, and defeated time and space..."

Falk's paintings evoke deep feelings in the people's hearts; his name is closely connected with the history of the Russian painting of the 20th century. That is why there are so many publications describing peculiarities of the personality of the artist. Not so long ago art historian and writer Vera Chaikovskaya, an expert in Falk's creative work, touched on an extremely interesting issue, which she qualified as the most mysterious paradox of the painter's life. What is she talking about?

We read in Erenburg's memoirs: "When you look at the paintings of some elderly artists, you unwittingly with sadness remember freshness, purity, and brightness of their springtime. Falk always surprised by his striving forward-until his death. He once said that Corot created his best work at the age of seventy six..." Probably, the artist was captivated by the idea of "young" senility. When in evacuation in Samarkand (1941 - 1943), he delivered a lecture devoted to Paris art and referred to the seventy-year-old Pierre Bonnard as the youngest among prominent French artists. The works of a later period reveal light "acceptance of life", which was


* Robert Rafailovich Falk (1886 - 1958) - prominent Russian artist, whose works are exhibited at the State Tretyakov Gallery, State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (Moscow), State Russian Museum (St. Petersburg), and other national and foreign art galleries. - Ed.

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rather unexpected for the uneasy atmosphere and difficult conditions of life in the USSR in the 1950s.

Chaikovskaya compares works of that period and earlier ones. If the "mature" Master often used the red color he loved so much in his youth, symbolizing vivid feelings and "emotional fire" (The Dove and the Rose, 1952; Still-life with a Red Pot, 1955 - 1956), in the 1920 - 1930s his paintings are of an absolutely different color palette. For example, Three Trees (France, 1936) is painted in silver grey colors, denoting inner sadness and

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sincere pain. Falk identifies himself with portraits of the talented painters-emigrants Aron Minchin and Adolf Milman, lonely old men, who were seriously ill (The Loneliness), created in the early 1930s.

The artistic tastes of the middle-aged Falk had undergone slight changes: he grew fond of Rembrandt, whom he did not like when young.

Chaikovskaya notes that personal documents of an artist, life patterns, disclosing the situation from the inside, can tell us a lot about beginnings of his creative rise. That is why Falk was so interested in Van Gogh's letters addressed to his brother: "Every time I read them, I become greatly excited". But in his own correspondence addressed to his relatives, characterized by a childishly simple-hearted and frank style, he says practically nothing about his own "feelings". The most interesting is a letter to Raisa Idelson (the third wife of Robert Rafailovich, who had left Paris for the USSR long before the artist returned home): "The same warmth and sincerity in the eyes and the whole face - it's you, my dear" (a comparison with Rembrandt's sweet heart H. Stoffels). Painter's letters tell us a lot about his character, his creative efforts.

Chaikovskaya, the author of the book Three Faces of the Russian Art of the 20th Century: Robert Falk, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, Alexander Samokhvalov (M., "Iskusstvo - 20 vek", 2006) is justified to say: there are no truly intimate letters of the artist among those published by today.

But for the work, for the state of "singing eye", he needed a special emotional state akin to love, which he described through a line from the poem The Nymph by Yevgeny Baratynsky, the Russian poet of the first half of the 19th century: "And the fire ran through the veins". Though outwardly restrained, Robert Falk sometimes acted as a rugged and unpredictable person. Chaikovskaya believes that his first marriage to the artist Yelizaveta Potekhina can be cited as an example of such an action, which resulted in a break-off of relations with the parents and necessity to change the confession. Love dominated over everything. Angelina Shchepkina-Krotova, the last spouse of the Master, writes in her memoirs that this feeling was perceived by him as "high tragedy of ancient."

Concurrently with Falk, in the 1930s, in Paris there lived Marina Tsvetaeva, prominent Russian poetess. Chaikovskaya writes that they have much in common: romantic "creative fire", the contempt for the bourgeois style of living, homesickness. But Tsvetaeva wrote in her diary: "Paris has nothing to do with it, nor has the emigration - I felt the same in Moscow in the Revolution time. No one needs me, my fire, as no porridge can be cooked on it." Falk thought otherwise.

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In the last period of his life in Russia, the artist, together with poets Anna Akhmatova and Boris Pasternak, musicians Genrich Neigauz and Svyatoslav Richter, was among those few who opposed current political regime through their creative work. That is why he was in a great need of a strong emotional support. And obviously he found it in the native landscape, in near relations, in the first place, in Angelina Shchekin-Krotova, Yelizaveta Potekhina, Raisa ldelson, and in contacts with young students (A. Kogan, T. Selvinskaya), who left reminiscences about him.

Vera Chaikovskaya cites Falk's letter of 1952, when in summer or autumn he, together with Yelizaveta Potekhina and two students, was going to paint a young girl from Moldova he had met earlier: "What a celestial bliss. Day by day the sky becomes darker and darker and colors-deeper. Beauty is around me!.. I think I'm getting better because my feelings become deeper". The rapture over life-that is the essence of these lines. And Vera Chaikovskaya, regretting there are no documents left which could help to understand the nature of the unquenchable constant youthful-ness of the artist, believes that his "fire" was nourished by love to a woman, not named yet. This theory is indirectly supported by the fact that one of the students, who knew Falk for the last 10 years of his life, burnt all letters addressed to her by the artist. Such a behavior can be qualified as a desire to keep everything in secret.

But for scientists the loss of any documents, which are somehow connected with the lives of such people, is a great loss. "Our knowledge of even relatively recent times is mainly determined by the state of sources", pointed out Natan Eidelman, an outstanding Russian historian of the 20th century. In his opinion, only hypotheses are sometimes able to "break the wall separating the known from the unknown..."

V. Chaikovskaya. Transformation of Fire. Chetovek, No. 6, 2006


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Yevgeniya SIDOROVA, THE SECRET OF ETERNAL YOUTHFULNESS // London: Libmonster (LIBMONSTER.COM). Updated: 29.09.2018. URL: https://libmonster.com/m/articles/view/THE-SECRET-OF-ETERNAL-YOUTHFULNESS (date of access: 20.04.2021).

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