"I always looked at him as if at the sun". About the memoirs of the artist’s widow

Yulia Didenko

Article: 
ROBERT FALK (1886 - 1958)
Magazine issue: 
#4 2020 (69)

The memoir section of this issue dedicated to Robert Falk opens with the publication of three pieces written by the artist’s widow, Angelina Shchekin-Krotova (1910-1992), whose name is inextricably linked with Falk’s in the history of Russian culture. Shchekin-Krotova was descended from the nobility and, by profession, was a German language teacher and translator. She first met the artist shortly after his return from Paris in 1939. From that moment onwards, their fates became entwined. For almost 20 years, Shchekin-Krotova was the person closest to Falk, his friend, like-minded soul, and helper. After his death, she remained uncompromisingly faithful to his memory. In her declining years, Shchekin-Krotova writes, “I think back over all the difficult conversations of more recent times, his final years, and only now do I understand that Falk instilled the idea in me that I should bear his posthumous fate. He entrusted it to me, even demanded that I shoulder the burden of his life, preserving the traces of it.”[1]

In the late 1950s, Shchekin-Krotova began processing the works that remained in Falk’s studio and his extensive archive. In 30 years of incredibly dynamic and painstaking work, she managed to systematise Falk’s heritage, compiling a working version of a catalogue raisonne and becoming effectively both curator and researcher of his creative legacy. In addition, she was able to organise a number of solo exhibitions in various cities in the USSR and wrote articles and memories of the artist, only a handful of which were published during her lifetime.

Constantly working to draw attention to his paintings, there is no doubt that Shchekin-Krotova quickened the arrival of “Falk’s time”, when his work, which had been so stubbornly ignored by the authorities right up until the mid 1960s, could finally be discovered and recognised for its true worth. According to art critic Vera Shalabayeva[2], who knew Angelina personally, the artist’s widow “carried the most incredible feeling of responsibility. She understood who Falk was, that his time had not yet come, and she paved the way for the future. While she was still alive, she managed to distribute his entire legacy. When she died, she had her favourite of all Falk’s paintings “Still Life with Garlic”[3] hanging on the wall, but she had with immense thought and care found homes for everything [else]. As a result, Falk’s paintings are evenly distributed among the large museums of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities, and even among small towns. Indeed, one may find Falk everywhere”.[4]

It is important to stress that Shchekin-Krotova played a huge role in the artist’s fate not just in the years after his passing, but in life. “Falk remained a good artist to the very end only thanks to Angelina Vasilievna, because she worked to earn a living: she was a German language teacher and took on a large number of classes so that he would not be dependent on commissions or anything else, so that he would be free of all the fuss and nonsense that went on back then, and could remain true to himself as an artist,” Shalabayeva observes.[5]

Despite the inevitable difficulties of a marriage lasting 20 years, Shchekin-Krotova retained feelings of reverence and devotion towards the artist until the very end. Reminiscing about her husband, she writes, “I don’t know exactly what kind of face Falk had; I always looked at him as if at the sun, blinded by his light, kindness and love. Perhaps it expressed a thoughtfulness and concentration, sometimes grief, but most often a childlike kindness and surprise. <...> He knew how to enjoy life in its simplest manifestations: a landscape, a cloud in the sky, jacket potatoes, the beautiful face of a woman.”[6]

Angelina was a wonderful storyteller (obviously, the experience of being an Intourist guide-interpreter gained in her youth served her well in later years) and was undoubtedly blessed with a literary gift. Her numerous texts - articles, interviews, memoirist essays, short and detailed commentaries to Falk’s paintings and drawings - are always fascinating to read, permeated with vivid detail and subtle observation. Were it not for these materials, we would have arrived at a less complete and perhaps more superficial knowledge of Falk’s work and would have very little conception of the artist as a person.

The collection of memories included here opens with a text by Shchekin-Krotova, which we have entitled “Robert Falk. ‘Meet My Kind of People’”. The text focuses on 20 of Falk’s key portraits. Portraiture was the artist’s favourite genre and Falk devoted himself to it, especially in the later period. Shchekin-Krotova gives a detailed description of the people portrayed in these works (the old French woman, writer Viktor Shklovsky, brilliant born-poet Ksenia Nekrasova) in one of the articles that constitute the Falk’s Models cycle, which was published in the almanac “Panorama of Arts” during Shchekin-Krotova’s lifetime.[7] The edited version included here is more condensed and laconic.

This text forms part of the artist’s widow’s extensive memoirs “Lyrical Commentaries on the Exhibition of Robert Rafailovich Falk”, which to this day have never been published in full[8]. The author intended the Commentaries to serve as a kind of guide to Falk’s paintings at a solo exhibition, which was to be held at the Russian Museum and the Tretyakov Gallery in 1991 (in fact, the exhibition only took place in February 1993 after Shchekin-Krotova’s death, and it was held in St. Petersburg, never reaching Moscow. The catalogue, in which “Lyrical Commentaries” would have appeared, never saw the light of day). This essay sums up Shchekin-Krotova’s efforts of many years in commenting on Falk’s works. When transferring a painting to a museum or archive, Shchekin-Krotova considered it her duty to pass on to the museum curator all she knew, the history of the work’s creation, the relationship between model and artist, and so on.

 

  1. Shchekin-Krotova A.V., “Commentaries to Paintings by R.R. Falk” Typescript. [1984-1985], Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 1. Unit 231. Sheet 41.
  2. Shalabayeva V.N. (19232014), Researcher at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts Graphics Department; leading specialist on the art of A.V. Shevchenko.
  3. The painting “Garlic” (1935), which Falk painted while in Paris, is now housed in the collection of A.V. Timofeev, nephew of A.V. Shchekin-Krotova. The work is being exhibited as part of the current Falk retrospective, Tretyakov Gallery.
  4. Shalabayeva V.N. From an unpublished conversation held on May 24, 2003. The audio recording is kept at the Oral History Department of the Academic Library at the Lomonosov Moscow State University (OHD AL MSU). Our thanks go to Dmitry Sporov, who recorded this conversation for the opportunity to cite the transcript of its fragments.
  5. (Ibid.)
  6. From a letter written by A.V. Shchekin-Krotova to I.G. Ehrenburg. [1962]. Draft // Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018, Opus 1. Unit 269. Sheet 2.
  7. Shchekin-Krotova A.V. “People and images: biographies and legends”; From the cycle Falk’s Models // Panorama of Arts. [Issue] 8. Moscow, 1985. Pp. 194-227.
  8. The text is typed from a manuscript held in a private archive. Several fragments were published previously in Shchekin- Krotova A.V. “My Falk”, Moscow, 2005; Sarabi- anov D.V., Didenko Yu.V. “Paintings by Robert Falk. Complete Catalogue of Works”. Moscow, 2006; Myasnitskaya 21: Crossroad of Destinies: Raisa Idelson, Robert Falk, Alek- sander Labas, Aleksander Rodchenko. Moscow. Gallery Artstory, 2016). A larger portion of “Lyrical Commentaries” was published for the first time in the album “Robert Falk” (Moscow, 2021) produced by the Tretyakov Gallery for the artist’s exhibition (2021).
  9. Draft letter to the chief curator of the Donetsk Art Museum [M.V. Tretyakova]. Mid 1980s. Autograph. Private archive, Moscow.

Ilustrations

Angelina Shchekin-Krotova by Robert Falk’s painting “Self-Portrait in Yellow” (1924). 1970s
Angelina Shchekin-Krotova by Robert Falk’s painting “Self-Portrait in Yellow” (1924). 1970s
Photograph. Private archive, Moscow
Robert Falk at the exhibition of his paintings at Sviatoslav Richter’s apartment. 1957
Robert Falk at the exhibition of his paintings at Sviatoslav Richter’s apartment. 1957
Photograph: Jerzy Kucharski. Archive of Jerzy Kucharski, Moscow
Angelina Shchekin-Krotova and Robert Falk. 1954. Novo-Bykovo
Angelina Shchekin-Krotova and Robert Falk. 1954. Novo-Bykovo
Photograph: Jerzy Kucharski. Archive of Jerzy Kucharski, Moscow
Robert Falk with his wife at the dacha of N.I. Strelchuk (1954). Novo-Bykovo
Robert Falk with his wife at the dacha of N.I. Strelchuk (1954). Novo-Bykovo
Photograph: Jerzy Kucharski. Archive of Jerzy Kucharski, Moscow

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