Dmitry Zhilinsky - The Artist's Inner Circle

Anna Dyakonitsyna

Article: 
CURRENT EXHIBITIONS
Magazine issue: 
#2 2017 (55)
Dmitry Zhilinsky. 1983
Dmitry Zhilinsky. 1983
Photograph by Igor Palmin

Dmitry Zhilinsky (1927-2015) is rightly considered a key figure in the history of Russian art. His unique artistic method emerged as a truly extraordinary reflection of its time and provided a new direction for the Soviet school of painting for decades to come. When, soon after he painted them in the mid-1960s, Zhilinsky first showed his "Group Portrait of Student Sculptors", "By the Sea. Family", and particularly "Gymnasts of the USSR", he was acclaimed as one of the principal innovators among Soviet artists of his time.

Viewers have noted many stunning elements to his art: the importance of colour, dynamic composition, monumental form, and conveying mass and volume through shapes and outlines. Most importantly, it became clear that Russian post-war art had produced an artist capable of translating the lofty style of the European Renaissance and the Russian icon-painting tradition into a contemporary artistic expression. These particular compositions determined Zhilinsky’s important place in Soviet art and gave direction to the further evolution of his method; today, they still remain instrumental to our understanding of his heritage.

The Tretyakov Gallery’s current Zhilinsky exhibition at Krymsky Val is not centered around his most famous works, but rather around those aspects of his art that illustrate its connection to “place and time”, the past and the present, and the lives of the people who surrounded him - in other words, his “inner circle”.

Understanding what made Zhilinsky the man and the artist that he was begins with the story of his family. The artist’s grandparents, Konstantin Zhilinsky and Nadezhda Nemchinova (the younger sister of the famous artist Valentin Serov) both studied under the distinguished educator Maria Bykova and other members of the commune she had established near Sochi. “Bykova would not let her students go to state-owned schools. As a highly educated society lady, a graduate of the Bestuzhev Courses [at the time, the most prominent higher education institution for women], she personally taught them literature, music, foreign languages, and the foundations of the natural sciences. The young members of the commune not only worked building houses, growing food and taking care of horses, but put on amateur theatre performances, literary and musical presentations.”[1] It was at this farmstead, near the village known as Volkovka,[2] that Zhilinsky’s father, his older brother and the artist himself were all born.[3]

The commune met a tragic end: “In 1929 they were declared kulaks [a loose Soviet term for a peasant who had more land than most and hired labourers, thus ‘hostile to the regime’, and to be eliminated] to make an example of them, a show trial was arranged, and my grandfather, father and uncle Kolya were arrested... The grand piano was thrown into the water, the library and the house were burned to the ground, my father and grandfather were sentenced to death by firing squad.

“Mother rushed to Moscow and rather quickly secured an order retracting the death sentence, which was telegraphed home. When she came back to Novorossiysk, she learned that my grandfather had been executed, but father and uncle were released.

“The commune was no more. Everyone left.”[4]

The Zhilinsky family moved to Apsheronskaya, a rural settlement in the Krasnodar Region, where they would experience further tragedy. In 1937, Dmitry’s father was again arrested; this time it proved impossible to secure his release from prison, and in 1938 he was executed. His surviving sons, Vasily and Dmitry, were now labelled sons of an “enemy of the people”. In 1943 Vasily was drafted into the army, and he was killed at the front the following year. There is no doubt that Dmitry Zhilinsky was deeply affected by these tragic events, as the vivid imagery of his future work would reveal. These painful losses made the young artist feel responsible for the lives of his loved ones and eventually shaped his strong ethical and moral worldview.

A new chapter in Zhilinsky’s life began when he moved to Moscow in 1944. Following the advice of his grandmother’s cousin Nina Simonovich-Yefimova and her husband Ivan Yefimov, Zhilinsky enrolled at the Moscow Institute for the Decorative and Applied Arts. The artist recalled: “For two years I worked with stained glass and facet-cutting. However, I was always drawn to painting.”[5] Thus, in 1946 Zhilinsky was granted a transfer to the second year course at the Moscow Art Institute (known from 1948 as the Surikov Institute).

Zhilinsky was undoubtedly lucky when it came to his teachers, as well as the whole unique artistic circle that shaped him both as an artist and as an individual. As a student at the Moscow Art Institute, he studied at the workshop led by Nikolai Chernyshov (Semyon Chuikov served as Chernyshov’s assistant), an extraordinarily cultured individual and a connoisseur of Old Russian art. Later on, Vasily Yakovlev became the head of the workshop, with Alexei Gritsay as his assistant. The important 20th century artist Pavel Korin led a weekly painting class. Zhilinsky remembered them all with profound gratitude.

It was not just his studies at the Institute, but rather Zhilinsky’s entire social circle that played such an extraordinary role in his evolution as an artist. He lived initially with the Yefimovs at their apartment next to Krasnye Vorota in the heart of Moscow. However, soon afterwards Zhilinsky moved to the House of Artists in Novogireyevo, which had been built by Lev Kardashov, Ivan Yefimov and Vladimir Favorsky immediately before the war. “I was a student at the Surikov [Moscow Art Institute], but my education really came from there,” Zhilinsky recalled late in life.[6] It would be hard to overestimate the impact of living alongside and working with such extraordinary artists as Ivan Yefimov, his wife Nina (who was also an indisputable authority for the young Zhilinsky), and Vladimir Favorsky. Zhilinsky later remembered: “I lived in the same house with Favorsky till he breathed his last breath, and to this day I often recall this wise man’s words.”[7] The young artist would always recall Favorsky’s theories of the visual arts and principles of composition: “He conceptualized time, form, and architecture. He was continuously observing artists as they constructed space. He favoured the Doric order, with columns marking the forefront and letting the viewer see up to a certain depth, while eventually bringing the focus back. This was exactly how he created his own compositions.”[8]

We can see Favorsky’s influences, both direct and indirect, in many of Zhilinsky’s compositions. Thus, the artist painted his “Morning” (1954) in accordance with the Doric order: with hanging drapes framing the figure of a woman breastfeeding her baby, this was a depiction of the artist’s wife Nina and his infant daughter Olga in their home in Novogireyevo. The shallow space in the painting is constrained by the wall and limited, “defined” by the details of the interior. This early painting positions Zhilinsky as an artist who is not content with a standard generic or everyday interpretation of the subject - clearly, he strives to create a work that is built around a well-conceived colour scheme, with light accents and sophisticated composition.

The artist’s wife Nina, who was the model for the painting, was a profoundly important influence in his life. From the moment they met as university students, she became his life-partner, muse, wife, and friend, the mother of his children and an uncompromising judge of his art. Both were remarkable and gifted individuals: he, the painter of a classical persuasion, and she, the highly expressive sculptor-draughtsman, complemented each other perfectly. Like her husband Dmitry, and other figures in their circle including Lavinia Bazhbeuk-Melikyan, Alexander Sukhanov, Dmitry Shakhovskoy and Illarion Golitsyn, Nina Zhilinskaya belonged to the new generation of young artists whose lives and work were linked to the “Red House” in Novogireyevo, the home of Vladimir Favorsky.

Zhilinsky’s full-length portrait of Nina (1958) is one of his best early works. The female figure is painted against a neutral, light grey wall; the floor on which she stands is also light-coloured. However, the living, stirring texture of the painting’s background creates an open and expansive space for the female figure; though life-size, the figure appears larger and more significant in this space. There is something about the woman in the portrait that reminds the viewer of a sculpture: the pose reveals the composition’s structural objective to distribute volume and mass, and define the supporting and supported elements. It is also a brilliant portrait of Nina, which catches both her physical likeness and her strong, decisive character.

Zhilinsky’s early works, dating back to the 1950s and early 1960s, present various directions of his artistic development as they are related to the Moscow School of Painting tradition and the principles of academic art. However, Zhilinsky’s ultimate creative accomplishments and the true emergence of his individual style came later, from the mid-1960s onwards.

In this respect, Zhilinsky’s “Group Portrait of Student Sculptors” (1964, Saratov Radishchev Museum of Art) has a special place in his oeuvre. The artist communicates his idea of modernity through a subject he knows intimately, namely creative work. Zhilinsky shows us a real sculpture workshop at Professor Tomsky’s studio at the Surikov Moscow Art Institute, where the students are working under the guidance of the sculptor Andrei Drevin: on the left, we see Vyacheslav Goryany and Vsevolod Nachapkin, while Dina Golovatskaya and Andrei Dillendorf are to the right. Zhilinsky conveys the sacred feeling of undivided attention to the creative process that dominates the workshop. The sharp images of all the “characters” in the painting become the building blocks of the whole composition.

As he learned from his remarkable teachers, reflected on the meaning of art, sorted through his own strong impressions from seeing the works of earlier masters, and contemplated his contemporaries, Zhilinsky must have been preparing for the quantitative leap that occurred in his art in the mid-1960s. From various artistic pursuits and experiments, which occasionally led in opposite directions, Zhilinsky came closer to creating a painterly method that was new in Soviet art.

This method manifested itself in “By the Sea. Family” (1964, Tretyakov Gallery) and “Gymnasts of the USSR” (1964-1965, Russian Museum). As fate would have it, these works were assigned to the two major museums of the Soviet Union, the Tretyakov Gallery and the Russian Museum. Even though the two compositions are quite different - the personal tone of the first one, depicting the artist’s own family by the sea, is poles apart from the arresting, representative group portrait of Soviet athletes - they nevertheless have something in common. The space of the canvas is almost flat, devoid of depth; planes are applied over one another. The conventional, precise outlines lose their tendency to create exaggerated, “forced” volume, so characteristic of Zhilinsky’s early work. The silhouette acquires special meaning, as it becomes the focus of plastic expression. Large areas of colour take on a defining role. The contrast between scarlet and blue-green, white and brown, red and black enhances the vibrant, resonant palette and sets apart pictorial layers of narrative. Colour becomes material, substantive, and reminds the viewer of the covering, protective function of paints in icon-painting.

This particular effect is tied to Zhilinsky’s interest in painting with tempera on gesso, a technique that dates back to the traditions of Byzantium and Old Russian art, and also in part to the European Old Masters. Oil on canvas, the medium that Zhilinsky learned at the Moscow Art Institute, was no longer producing the results he was looking for. Zhilinsky recalled: “Some time at the beginning of the 1960s my good friend Albert Papikyan gave me some tempera paints and said: ‘I think this is your medium.’”[9] “I have been painting with tempera since 1964. Almost all of my major works are tempera on gesso, painted on plywood panels; for small still-lifes, landscapes and portraits, I use hardboard.”[10] Zhilinsky’s fellow artists were instantly taken with his images and techniques. Pyotr Ossovsky wrote: “Zhilinsky believes that a painting can only become a work of art that influences the viewer if it is also masterfully executed as a ‘material object’... At the same time, he is one of the few artists for whom the choice of primer, paints and brushes does not get in the way of focusing on the very essence of his subject.”[11]

Zhilinsky’s paintings present the viewer with a very clear, detailed picture of the world. This meticulous attention to everything that exists in our universe, both small and large alike, is akin to the worldview of the Renaissance artists, especially those of the Northern Renaissance, even those of the Middle Ages. Just as the painting methods of past centuries did not aspire to produce photographically correct copies of life, Zhilinsky’s oeuvre is its new manifestation, a re-creation that was carried out according to the enduring laws of art.

In the 1960s Zhilinsky finally left behind the traditions of the Moscow School of Painting, with its emphasis on painting en plein air, sketching, and the importance of light and air in creating depth and space. The artist’s aim is not to capture a brief moment in time, but rather to show the perpetual flow of life, where the past and the present echo one another, and the events of today exist in equilibrium with eternal matters that are immanent in human history.

There is no doubt that Zhilinsky based “By the Sea. Family” on his family’s summer vacation: he painted his wife Nina and their two children in the foreground, with himself close by, a freshly caught fish hanging from his rod. Other figures in the background also look like people drawn from real life: the artist Nikolai Tereshchenko is recognizable as the man in the canoe, and the group of vacationers in the top left corner of the painting includes portraits of Zhilinsky’s fellow artists Gely Korzhev, Laviniya Bazhbeuk-Melikyan and Albert Papikyan below the main group. This masterful composition is full of vivid detail, and the combination of expressive portraits, with closely observed and well-captured poses, and the gestures and angles connected to swimming, plays an important role in the composition. At the same time, this is in no way a mere genre painting, but a symbolic rendering of a real-life scene.

At the core of Zhilinsky’s composition is the image of his wife Nina, the perfect embodiment of motherhood and femininity. The figures of her children and husband next to her complete the picture of a perfect family. The poses and gestures of the “main characters” in this painting play a very important role, evident in the mutual trust in the way the mother and daughter touch one another, Nina’s protective hand over her son’s head, and the little boy reaching for the fish that his father presents. The artist, the only person in the painting who looks straight out at the viewer, appears serious and resolute. His pose and intent gaze may be explained by the fact that an artist looks straight at himself in the mirror when painting a self-portrait; however, there is a certain detachment and reflection there, the indication of a 20th century worldview that penetrates through the classical form and imagery.

Zhilinsky’s triptych “New Lands” (1967, Tretyakov Gallery) is perhaps less famous than these other works. A member of the Tretyakov Gallery research staff9 recently undertook an original study of the work that revealed some new aspects of its interpretation, as well as anticipating the idea behind the current exhibition.[12]

In 1961 Zhilinsky, along with the artists Illarion Golitsyn and Aaron April, took a working trip to the “Virgin Lands”, the Tselina, the newly cultivated agricultural areas that were part of Soviet Union’s campaign to battle a severe agricultural crisis. It was then that Zhilinsky painted the first version (current location unknown) of the triptych. It seems as if the artist was not entirely satisfied with the painting “because when Dmitry Dmitrievich [Zhilinsky] began working on the triptych that would become part of the Tretyakov collection, he made some radical changes to the middle panel. In the new version, instead of the group of Virgin Lands workers, Zhilinsky painted people of his own circle, a very unorthodox take on the ‘heroes’ of the Virgin Lands Campaign. In the artist’s own words, the triptych was not a realistic depiction of his trip to the Virgin Lands, but rather its echo.”[13]

This triptych is a rare example of a work by Zhilinsky that is dedicated to a “contemporary subject”, something that was both in demand and popular in Soviet culture at that time. However, Zhilinsky’s unorthodox take on the subject of cultivating the Virgin Lands sets him apart as a truly original post-war artist.

Zhilinsky was recognized both as a notable figure among his fellow artists - those who entered the Soviet art scene in the 1960s at the time of Khrushchev’s “Thaw” - and one who stood out from that group. “I was never an artist of the ‘Severe Style’. I just lived at the same time as them,” Zhilinsky himself explained.[14]

Indeed, even though the theme of the “New Lands” triptych is similar to works by the “Severe Style” artists, the way Zhilinsky approaches it shows that he is a very different, traditional artist who is neither interested in current events, nor in a particular fact of life that is limited to a single moment in time.

It is not only the subject, but also the spatial composition within each of the three panels that pulls the triptych together. The artist paints the horizon high up on the side panels, which allows the narrative to unfold plane by plane. Zhilinsky’s method of rendering space on the flat surface of the painting is close to, though not identical with the principles of linear perspective. The two side panels of the triptych have not one but several points of convergence, reflecting its different narratives. This helps the artist fill the composition with multiple details, which in turn serve to tell his story at multiple levels. Far away, above the figures in the foreground, Zhilinsky paints scenes of everyday work, full of closely observed details, movements, poses, ethnic types and individual characters. In fact, this vivid, highly detailed background becomes an integral part of the total narrative.

The side panels, “Construction” and “In the New House”, balance out and complement one another by developing the common narrative of cultivating the new, virgin lands. The frame of the building under construction visible on the left panel of the triptych resonates with the right panel’s brand new interior of the house, with a family moving in.

The main panel of the triptych, titled “Celebration”, is the core of the entire composition. The figures of the people, sitting around a cloth spread on the ground for a simple meal, form a regular square. Zhilinsky uses reverse perspective to create space and make the flowering meadow expand all the way to the edges of the painting.

Zhilinsky uses portraits of his friends and family to create images of these “conquerors” of the Virgin Lands. From left to right, sitting down to eat in “Celebration”, are his uncle Sergei and cousin Alexander Zhilinsky; Chary, an artist from Turkmenistan, who was Zhilinsky’s student; a carpenter who worked for Lev Kardashov; the artist Ivan Sorokin, and behind him - a childhood friend of Zhilinsky’s mother. The artist Vasily Arlashin makes an appearance as one of the people in the background of “Construction”, while the members of the family moving into the new house in the right panel of the triptych also have real-life prototypes: the boy with a toy horse is Vasily, Zhilinsky’s son, while the woman next to him with a baby in her arms is a neighbour of the artist; the artist Bezotosny and Nina Zhilinskaya (the woman behind the balustrade) also make an appearance.

Including portraits of real people in his compositions helped the artist to introduce a new aspect into the Virgin Lands theme, something that was almost entirely absent in the work of other artists. Cultivating the “new lands” did not just mean physically transforming them into agricultural areas, but also creating a new cultural atmosphere, a sort of “cultural settlement”.

The triptych’s unique design echoes its images and composition. Zhilinsky personally made the frame that served, like an architectural structure, to bring all of its elements together. Eight plaster sculptures executed by Nina Zhilinskaya at her husband’s request became another important addition. The sculptured images evoked the Zhilinskys’ life at the “Red House” in Novogireyevo. Above and to the left of the middle panel is Nina’s self-portrait, with a figure that could be seen as her husband below it; above and to the right is a sculptural portrait of their friend and mentor Vladimir Favorsky, while the figure of Zhilinsky’s mother with her grandson Vasily is below that (his large-scale portrait is painted nearby, in the panel “In the New House”). On both sides of the triptych Nina Zhilinskaya placed small figures of doves, symbols of a happy union in marriage, and added insect and vegetation motifs between the portrait sculptures as an expression of joie de vivre.

Nina Zhilinskaya’s choice to include an image of Favorsky among the sculptures that accompanied the painting was not accidental - the role Favorsky played in the young couple’s professional growth was very important. It is unlikely that Zhilinsky would have created the innovative art that he did, had it not been for the knowledge and experience that such outstanding older masters had shared with him when he was young. In this respect, Zhilinsky is clearly the inheritor of traditions represented by Pavel Korin, Nikolai Chernyshov and Vladimir Favorsky, traditions that Soviet ideology had pushed to the sidelines of official cultural life.

Zhilinsky often shared his recollections of his mentors, and their images survive in his paintings. Indeed, his portraits of Yefimov and Favorsky stand out among his early works.

Zhilinsky thought about painting his mentor Nikolai Chernyshov for a number of years. “He drew numerous sketches as he sat listening to Chernyshov’s ideas about the great purpose of art being to enlighten and provide spiritual guidance to humanity. Chernyshov’s wife Antonina Alexandrovna, like a faithful guardian angel, was always present at those meetings.”[15] Thus, the idea to create a double portrait was born.

Visitors to the Tretyakov exhibition can see a pencil drawing of Chernyshov (1969, Tretyakov Gallery) executed in preparation for the first version of this painting (which is now at the Russian Museum). Zhilinsky drew Chernyshov with the head and outlines of the shoulder facing the viewer, in the same way that he would later paint him. “Nikolai Mikhailovich’s face is reminiscent of Old Russian frescoes and icons: a wide forehead, high cheekbones, sunken cheeks, a beard and snow white hair. (It always makes him very angry when someone compares him to a saint.) Once slender, over the years he has stooped and shrivelled a bit. Nevertheless, his love of life and art has not disappeared but is somehow focused in one eye - kind, gruff, and shrewd,” Zhilinsky recalled.[16]

The second version of Zhilinsky’s portrait of the Chernyshovs (1970, Tretyakov Gallery) is also displayed at the exhibition. This painting offers a different take on the subject: we see the couple not “sitting for a portrait” but walking in the autumn woods. They appear natural, “connected” to the space of the painting. Chernyshov is leaning on his walking stick; he holds his constant companion, a folio of drawings, in his left hand. We see a refined and spiritual individual - his icon-like countenance and sparkling, inspired gaze complete the image of this remarkable man. His wife is next to him, protective and caring, like a gardener tending to delicate plants. In the background we see the young generation of the Chernyshov clan: the couple’s daughters Yekaterina and Natalya, with son-inlaw Andrei Gorsky (himself an artist), are in the centre, grandson Kolya in front of them; daughter Polina is on the far right. This leisurely walk in the forest makes one think of the natural progress of life, of growing up and growing old, and of the younger generation inevitably replacing the older one. Flowering grasses, berries and big, strong trees may be seen as symbols of the fruits of knowledge that Chernyshov had shared with his students. Indeed, every detail in this painting contributes to the central idea of the double portrait.

In the 1970s Zhilinsky painted sophisticated compositions, small-scale portraits, and also larger works characterized by the same attention to nuance and detail that make up a complete work. One of Zhilinsky’s major accomplishments of that time was “Sunday” (1973, Tretyakov Gallery). The ideas of everlasting, thriving nature and the fullness of human life are at the core of this composition, which is full of details that show the glory and abundance of existence.

“The theme is a simple one: young girls are enjoying a leisurely day out in the forest. But look closer: the group is placed within a square, and the square, in its turn, exists against the background of a circle, a round elderberry bush... Now take a look at the corners - I have markers there as well. There is also a diagonal structure, from the girl doing a cartwheel to the screaming boy... It is hard for me to explain why I need this to be just so. It must be that I have some sort of an idea of how to organize the painting, and so I strive to achieve that,” Zhilinsky explained.[17]

Every “character” in this well-balanced, polyphonic composition can be traced to its inspiration in real life.[18] The group of young girls in the centre includes portraits of Mariam Sukhanova (in a red top), Olga Zhilinskaya (in a white dress; she is also the one doing a cartwheel in the foreground), Darya Shakhovskaya (standing with her back to the viewer, her arms raised), Katya Serova, the artist Valentin Serov’s granddaughter (in a yellow dress), Katya Fedorova (with dark hair), Anya Merkulova (with red hair), and Natasha Shakhovskaya (in burgundy trousers.) The girl in the lower right corner is based on Katya Golitsyna. All the others in the background are also based on real people: Vanya Golitsyn and Vasily Zhilinsky (in red) are peeking out from behind the elderberry bush. On the left, the artist Elena Korovai is sitting in a wicker chair, with Vanya Shakhovskoy standing behind her. Far away in the background, we can see Lyudmila Kardashova, with Adrian Yefimov and his wife Yekaterina. The group on the right includes Illarion Golitsyn, his wife Natalya, Lavinia Bazhbeuk-Melikyan, and possibly Nina Zhilinskaya (we can only guess from the outline of her body, as her face is not visible). The fact that this painting is really based on the concept of a portrait gives it an unexpected meaning - a group of people of different ages enjoying a leisurely day in the country is really a replication of the artist’s inner circle, his community of artistic individuals who were steeped in the traditions of the “Red House” in Novogireyevo.

The year 1973, in which Zhilinsky painted this work, was also the time when he and his family moved to their own house in Novobutakovo, which would remain their unique studio until the end of the 20th century. It was there that Zhilinsky painted major works such as “Man with a Killed Dog” (1976, collection of the artist’s family), “Adam and Eve” (1979, Museum Ludwig, Cologne), “Young Family” (1980, Tretyakov Gallery), the triptych “1937” (1987, Tretyakov Gallery), “God Is with Us (Dios con nosotros)” (1991, Russian Museum), and “Eternal Memory of the Artist” (1997, Institute of Russian Realist Art).

It was not only Moscow that held a special place in Zhilinsky’s world. Even though he had remained in the capital after finishing school there, he often visited his mother in Southern Russia. Life tested this strong woman time and time again - her husband arrested and executed during the political repressions of the late 1930s, and her older son killed in World War Two. With the passage of time, her connection with her younger son, the artist, grew stronger, so it was no accident that Zhilinsky’s portraits of his mother became some of his most vivid and poignant creations. The image of Zhilinsky’s mother reached its full impact for the first time in his painting “Under an Old Apple Tree” (1969, Russian Museum). Zhilinsky later painted her on many occasions, and we often find close-up images of her in his drawings: deep in thought, she is at peace in the natural flow of life. Next to her, in his “Winter in the South” (1977, Tretyakov Gallery), the artist contemplates his own place in the world.

Zhilinsky took a long time and endured considerable pain before he embarked on a very important artistic endeavour that spoke of a very tragic event in the life of his family - the arrest and execution of his father during Stalin’s repressions. He had prepared a panel and applied gesso, worked on sketches and studies for the composition he had conceived, but did not have the courage to start painting. The final impulse came when the Zhilinskys went to a private screening of “Repentance”, the 1984 film concerning the Stalinist repressions by the Georgian film director Tengiz Abuladze. When they came home, Nina, unable to speak after a stroke, pushed away Zhilinsky’s works that were covering the prepared panel, and gestured for him to start painting.

Working on the middle panel of the triptych he titled “1937” (1987, Tretyakov Gallery), Zhilinsky intentionally avoided any literal interpretation of the search of the family apartment and his father’s arrest. Indeed, he had not been there to see what happened. “I was ten years old, and running back home from school, I saw my father in an open carriage, with two men in military uniform flanking him. I thought it was wonderful - the men in uniform, the open carriage... The only thing that surprised me was that my father was wearing a fur hat and coat on a warm October day. And there was something else - there was an unexpected sadness in the way he waved to me.

“When I came home, I found my mother and grandmother in tears, my brother frightened and the apartment turned upside down - things thrown about, drawers open, books torn apart. It was the last time that I saw my father,” Zhilinsky remembered.[19]

As he worked on the painting, Zhilinsky aimed to combine historical accuracy with the scene’s symbolic meaning. His father, his arms outstretched, reminds the viewer of the Crucifixion. Colour is especially important: white is the symbol of purity and martyrdom, while red speaks of blood and sacrifice. The artist designed the frame to fit the painting’s message: like a black ribbon, it served as a symbol of mourning. Zhilinsky also wrote an inscription on the top of the frame: “Dedicated to the innocent victims of repressions and lawlessness”; in the bottom ledge of the frame, next to the date “1937”, the artist mounted a copy of his father’s certificate of posthumous rehabilitation.

When the painting was first exhibited at the All-Union Show in the Manege, it became clear that it stood out among the other works shown there both for its larger scale and for its gravity of subject. This was an important painting: it demanded a space of its own. As a result, Zhilinsky painted the two side panels depicting flower bouquets against the black background of mourning.

Dmitry Zhilinsky in his house in Novobutakovo working on his painting “Sviatoslav Richter Playing”. 1983
Dmitry Zhilinsky in his house in Novobutakovo working on his painting “Sviatoslav Richter Playing”. 1983
Photograph by Igor Palmin

By presenting Zhilinsky’s works from different eras of his career, the Tretyakov exhibition succeeds in showing his evolution as an artist, as well as the wide symbolic connotations and amazing combination of the universal and the specific in his work. Zhilinsky’s life is an example of faithful service to Art. The essential connection that he established with the great cultural traditions of the past opened up new possibilities for contemporary art, becoming a training ground for the young artists of today. Nevertheless, Zhilinsky’s heritage is unique, somehow unattainable. New eras may appear, and cultural landmarks move into the past, but the artist remains a constant, one valued by both the general public and the professional community of art historians, collectors and artists.

 

  1. “Dmitry Zhilinsky”. Album. Text by Viktoria Lebedeva. Moscow, 2001. Pp. 6, 8. Hereinafter - Zhilinsky.
  2. One of the first references to the village of Volkovka, which appears to be separate from Bykova’s commune in the valley of Western Dagomys, dates back to 1893. It is possible that Volkovka, as it grew in size and population, eventually absorbed the settlement.
  3. Zhilinsky listed his place of birth as the village of Volkovka in the Sochinsky region of Krasnodar province.
  4. Zhilinsky. P. 8.
  5. Ibid, p. 11.
  6. Transcripts of the author’s interview with Dmitry Zhilinsky, Autumn 2008.
  7. Zhilinsky. P. 13.
  8. Ibid.
  9. Konchin, Yevgraf. “My Generation: Stories of Artists”. Moscow, 2004. P. 42.
  10. “The Zhilinsky Family Home”. Exhibition catalogue. Moscow, 1997.
  11. Shashkina, Maria. “Dmitry Zhilinsky”. Moscow, 1989. P. 18.
  12. Smirnova, Yelizaveta. 'Dmitry Zhilinsky’s Triptych “New Lands”. Painting and Frame. Picture Frame as Art’. Research Conference Materials. Moscow, 2015. Pp. 217-224.
  13. Ibid. P. 218.
  14. Zhilinsky. P. 23.
  15. “Dmitry Zhilinsky”. Exhibition Catalogue. Text by Svetlana Kapyrina. Moscow, 2007. P. 60.
  16. Pavlov, Platon. “Dmitry Zhilinsky”. Leningrad, 1974. P. 57.
  17. Dmitry Zhilinsky. 'The Language of Painting’. In “Panorama Iskusstv” 77. Moscow, 1978. P. 162.
  18. The author would like to thank Dmitry Zhilinsky’s widow Venera Zhilinskaya for helping to identify the people whose portraits appear in the painting.
  19. Zhilinsky. P. 9.

Illustrations

Self-portrait. Student. 1946
Self-portrait. Student. 1946
Oil on cardboard. 52 × 37 cm. Collection of the artist’s family
Nina. 1958
Nina. 1958
Oil on canvas. 203 × 100 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Morning. 1954
Morning. 1954
Oil on canvas. 117 × 81.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964. Detail. Andrei Drevin
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964
Saratov Radishchev Museum of Art
Detail. Andrei Drevin
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964. Detail. Dina Golovatskaya
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964
Saratov Radishchev Museum of Art
Detail. Dina Golovatskaya
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964. Detail. Vyacheslav Goryany and Vsevolod Nachapkin
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964
Saratov Radishchev Museum of Art
Detail. Vyacheslav Goryany and Vsevolod Nachapkin
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964. Detail. Andrei Dillendorf
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964
Saratov Radishchev Museum of Art
Detail. Andrei Dillendorf
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964
Group Portrait of Student Sculptors. 1964
Saratov Radishchev Museum of Art
New Lands. 1967
New Lands. 1967
Triptych. Tempera on hardboard. 151 × 351.5 cm (framed). Tretyakov Gallery
Construction. Left panel of the “New Lands” triptych. 1967
Construction. Left panel of the “New Lands” triptych. 1967
Tempera on hardboard. 120 × 80 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Celebration. Central panel of the “New Lands” triptych. 1967
Celebration. Central panel of the “New Lands” triptych. 1967
Tempera on hardboard. 120 × 120 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
From left to right (anti-clockwise): the artist’s uncle Sergei and cousin Alexander Zhilinsky; Chary Amangeldyev, an artist from Turkmenistan; a carpenter who worked for Lev Kardashov; the artist Ivan Sorokin, and behind him – a childhood friend of Zhilinsky’s mother.
In the New House. Right panel of the “New Lands” triptych. 1967
In the New House. Right panel of the “New Lands” triptych. 1967
Tempera on hardboard. 120 × 80 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
By the Sea. Family. 1964
By the Sea. Family. 1964
Tempera on hardboard. 125 × 90 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Portrait of the Artist’s Son. 1964
Portrait of the Artist’s Son. 1964
Lead pencil on paper. 19.9 × 14 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
By the Sea. Family. 1964. Detail
By the Sea. Family. 1964
Tempera on hardboard. Tretyakov Gallery. Detail
By the Sea. Family. 1964. Detail. Dmitry Zhilinsky
By the Sea. Family. 1964
ГТГ. Detail. Dmitry Zhilinsky
By the Sea. Family. 1964. Detail. Olya Zhilinskaya
By the Sea. Family. 1964
ГТГ. Detail. Olya Zhilinskaya
By the Sea. Family. 1964. Detail. Vasya Zhilinsky
By the Sea. Family. 1964
ГТГ. Detail. Vasya Zhilinsky
By the Sea. Family. 1964. Detail. Nina Zhilinskaya
By the Sea. Family. 1964
ГТГ. Detail. Nina Zhilinskaya
Gymnasts of the USSR. 1964–1965
Gymnasts of the USSR. 1964–1965
Tempera on hardboard. 270 × 215 cm. Russian Museum
Portrait of Nikolai Chernyshov. 1969
Portrait of Nikolai Chernyshov. 1969
Lead pencil on paper. 61.6 × 42.8 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
The Chernyshov Family. 1969
The Chernyshov Family. 1970
Tempera on chipboard. 196 × 116.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Sunday. 1973
Sunday. 1973
Tempera on chipboard. 140 × 120 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Sunday. 1973. Detail
Sunday. 1973
Tempera on chipboard. Tretyakov Gallery. Detail.
Mariam Sukhanova, Olga Zhilinskaya, Katya Serova, Darya Shakhovskaya (with her back to the viewer)
Sunday. 1973. Detail. Katya Fyodorova, Anya Merkulova, Natasha Shakhovskaya
Sunday. 1973
Detail. Katya Fyodorova, Anya Merkulova, Natasha Shakhovskaya
Sunday. 1973. Detail. Katya Golitsyna
Sunday. 1973
Detail. Katya Golitsyna
Sunday. 1973. Detail. Vanya Golitsyn
Sunday. 1973
Detail. Vanya Golitsyn
Sunday. 1973. Detail. Vanya Shakhovskoy and Elena Korovai
Sunday. 1973
Detail. Vanya Shakhovskoy and Elena Korovai
Sunday. 1973. Detail. Vasya Zhilinsky
Sunday. 1973
Detail. Vasya Zhilinsky
Self-portrait. 1972
Self-portrait. 1972
Lead pencil on paper. 61 × 42.6 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Mother. 1977
Mother. 1977
Lead pencil on paper. 61.2 × 42.7 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Winter in the South. 1977
Winter in the South. 1977
Tempera on chipboard. 71 × 60 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Man with a Killed Dog. 1976
Man with a Killed Dog. 1976
Tempera on chipboard. 117.5 × 67.5 cm. Property of the artist’s family
Portrait of the Diplomat Vladimir Semyonov with His Wife and Daughter. 1978
Portrait of the Diplomat Vladimir Semyonov with His Wife and Daughter. 1978
Tempera on chipboard. 50.5 × 61 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Tanya Pavlova with a Guitar. 1975
Tanya Pavlova with a Guitar. 1975
Lead pencil on paper. 61.3 × 42.6 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Katya. 1983
Katya. 1983
Lead pencil on paper. 61.3 × 43 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Katya Golitsyna. 1982
Katya Golitsyna. 1982
Lead pencil on paper. 61.4 × 43.2 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
The Artist Alexander Sukhanov. 1984
The Artist Alexander Sukhanov. 1984
Lead pencil on paper. 61 × 42.2 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
1937. Triptych. 1987
1937. Triptych. 1987
Central panel of the triptych: Tempera on chipboard. Left and right panels of the triptych: Tempera on hardboard. Tretyakov Gallery
1937. Central panel of the triptych. 1987
1937. Central panel of the triptych. 1987
Tempera on chipboard. 200 × 173.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
1937.  Left panel of the triptych 1987
1937. Left panel of the triptych. 1987
Tempera on hardboard. 55.5 × 45.2 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
1937. Right panel of the triptych. 1987
1937. Right panel of the triptych. 1987
Tempera on hardboard. 55.5 × 45.2 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Portrait of the Artist Vladimir Favorsky. 1962
Portrait of the Artist Vladimir Favorsky. 1962
Oil on canvas. 205 × 120 cm. Volgograd Museum of Fine Arts (not shown at the current exhibition)
Good Morning! 2001
Good Morning! 2001
Oil on canvas. 100 × 80 cm. Private collection, Moscow

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