MEMORIES OF THE ARTIST: "The man behind the art"

Vera Prokhorova

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

Published here for the first time is a series of oral recollections of Falk by Vera Prokhorova, philologist and teacher (1918-2013), recorded by Dmitri Borisovich Sporov[1], who followed in the footsteps of his grandfather Viktor Duvakin. The recollections printed here represent a fragment of a conversation, in its entirety lasting for many hours, that took place on December 23, 2001, at the Prokhorova apartment on Sivtsev Vrazhek. The daughter of Ivan Prokhorov, owner of the Trekhgornaya Manufactura textile mill, and related on her mother’s side to the Guchkov and Botkin families, Prokhorova devoted her life to teaching English and worked for many years at the Maurice Thorez Moscow Institute of Foreign Languages (now the Moscow State Linguistic University).

Vera Prokhorova in her apartment in Moscow at Sivtsev Vrazhek. 2000s
Vera Prokhorova in her apartment in Moscow at Sivtsev Vrazhek. 2000s. Photograph
Vera Prokhorovaʼs archive, Moscow

In 1951, denounced by a friend who had visited her home, she was arrested and sentenced to 10 years in a labour camp. According to Prokhorova, at that time, her thoughts were first and foremost with those close to her. “The most important thing to me was to avoid mentioning any names, so that the chain of arrests would not go any further. It was not me they were interested in; they wanted Neuhaus, Richter and Falk”.[2] Prokhorova’s younger fellow prisoner Maya Ulanovskaya[3] recalled,[4] “With what exceptional humility and meekness she endured her incarceration! To me, she was like a Christian martyr, the embodiment of goodness. She strove to do good and people were always attracted to her, but she did not have the strength for everyone. It was the first time in my life that I had encountered that special phenomenon: kindness in principle, something beyond the capacity of the ordinary human being”.

The central section of the text published here - and perhaps the most poignant - is Prokhorova’s retelling of Falk’s story about how he was healed in his youth from a case of severe depression by the priest Aleksei Mechev. Being a religious person, Prokhorova was able to appreciate the tale of the “salvation miracle" by which she evidently was so deeply struck. Her testimony of this little-known case of the Elder Mechev’s prayer of intercession was included in more precise format in the text “The Life of the Famous Elder Known in the World as Archpriest Aleksei Mechev, Prepared for His Canonization and Compiled in the Church of Saint Nikolai on Klenniki” published in the year 2000.

These remarkably warm remembrances of Falk are especially valuable because they are deeply personal eyewitness accounts from a member of his inner circle. From 1937, and for many years afterwards, Prokhorova was a close friend of Sviatoslav Richter (she called him Svet in Russian, which means ‘light’), who, from 1945 onwards, was also friends with Falk, who in turn greatly appreciated the musician’s talent. In 1957, Richter arranged a small exhibition of Falk’s paintings in his apartment on Bryusov Lane (the 17 canvases were all chosen by Richter). He considered it his duty to help the artist, who had no opportunity to exhibit his works officially in the postwar years.

The recording of this conversation is stored at the Oral History Department, Moscow State University Academic Library. The transcript was kindly provided for exclusive publication on the pages of this journal by Dmitri Sporov, the head of the department, to whom we wish to express our sincere gratitude. This fragment of the longer conversation is presented in the form of a monologue and has been edited with occasional abbreviations.

Yulia Didenko

 

  1. Currently, six of seven recordings of his conversations with Vera Prokhorova are published on the website of the Oral History Fund: http://oralhistory.ru/members/prokhorova
  2. Cit.: https://eho-2013.livejournal.com/98618.html
  3. Maya Aleksandrovna Ulanovskaya (1932-2020), translator, publicist, author of memoirs, participant in the dissident movement in the USSR, daughter of former rezident of Soviet intelligence in the United States.
  4. Ulanovskaya N.M., Ulanovskaya M.A. Story of a Family. St.Petersburg, 2003. P. 242; Cit.: https://www.sakharov-center.ru/asfcd/auth/?t=page&num=1173

 

I met Falk at the home of Aleksandra Azarkh-Granovskaya' situated on the ninth floor of the VKHUTEMAS building on Myasnitskaya Street, where we gathered, my sister2, myself and a large group of other young people.

We were supremely interested in painting and poetry. We knew that Azarkh-Granovskaya was acquainted with Blok and was on very good terms with Mayakovsky and we were curious to know her opinion of them, just as we were enchanted that, to her, Chagall could be just someone from Vitebsk she happened to know. It was from Azarkh-Granovskaya that I first heard about Mayakovsky. She loved him very much, felt for him, and said that all his feigned rudeness, shouting and loutish behaviour was simply a way of protecting himself and that, underneath, he was a very vulnerable person with deep psychological issues. What particularly attracted us to Azarkh-Granovskaya, her circle and, to use an old-fashioned word, her salon, was that it represented a place of culture to which young people were drawn. Among them were my friends and others I knew from the institute. The group’s conver sations centred around the key themes of Azarkh-Grano- vskaya’s connection with the world of these artists as real people, people she saw, her views on their works and their worldview, which was something we often misunderstood. Not once in all the years I visited her was there a hint of malicious gossip: who was with whom, when, where and so on.

Robert Falk in Paris. 1930s
Robert Falk in Paris. 1930s. Photograph
Private archive, Moscow

Falk had a deep respect for Azarkh-Granovskaya. He said that she was a person of unbelievable courage[3] (it was true), she had great poise and was always trim and elegant with a touch of make-up. Her father, whom she resembles, was a very good doctor.[4] They said that she was the milkman’s daughter because she was totally unlike her sister Raisa Veniaminovna[5], who had a biblical type of beauty: raven-haired, with huge dark eyes. Raisa became Falk’s wife and, it has to be said, he truly loved her.

It was not just the young people who gathered at Azarkh-Granovskaya’s home. Richter[6] used to visit, too. He would pop in to see Aleksandra, whom he liked very much, and their appreciation for one another was mutual. The Osmerkins[7] were sometimes there, as was Rozhdestvensky[8], a Russophile who lived at the Pertsov House. Rozhdestvensky was the only person who insistently addressed Falk as ‘Roman’. “Roman, come here!" he would say. “Roman, do you remember when you..?" (They had studied together.) He never used the name Robert. It was always Roman. Why? I asked Falk about it later. “Robert Rafailovich, why ‘Roman’?" And he replied, “Because it’s my baptismal name." That was when he shared with me the tale that I shall recount later.

Falk was, to my mind, the kind of person whom one might fairly describe as wise, for he carried a certain wisdom. This was his outlook on life: when he was hounded, we tried to somehow encourage and comfort him (if one could describe it as such), but he did not need our encouragement at all. He was very philosophical about his circumstances. He would say, “Well, this is how things are and what of it?" And people would say, “But why don’t you refute this utter nonsense?" And he would reply, “What is the point? They write to you, for example, telling you that you have a long, fluffy tail. It’s absurd. Everyone can see that you do not have a long fluffy tail. But to refute the claim would be impossible. There’s no point". And his voice would be quite calm as he spoke. By that time, Falk was married to Angelina Shchekin-Krotova. She worked as a German language teacher. Angelina was his fourth wife and she was truly devoted to him. She clearly adored him and treasured his works. Falk painted her in various different forms. Many believed (including myself at times) that a number of his portraits romanticised Angelina. And when asked about it, Falk would always say, “This is how I see her".

Falk always spoke of painting with great love. There was not a drop of nationalism, classism or racism in him, not a drop. “When," he said, “they rushed to me after the revolution (Falk! Opinion had it that Falk was, if not the avant-garde, then the man who had accepted the revolution) and thought that I would start teaching them in the manner of ‘go on, out with the old’, the first thing I said to them was ‘You must study the works of Borovikovsky, Levitsky and Rokotov in the deepest possible manner’". (These were his favourite Russian artists. To Falk, they represented the ideal perception of life and he was simply pointing to their work as an example of wonderful painting. Falk recognised a kindred spirit in Vrubel. He adored Vrubel. He also admired Serov very much. He said he had a different approach than Repin. That much was clear. Even in his criticisms, he was thoughtful and benevolent). But they were so angry! Many of the students left, saying, “What?! Who?! They should have been chucked out long ago!"

Falk always expressed a kind of noble wisdom. He would respond calmly saying, “No. I think this is overdone, but everyone’s taste is different". He never did himself the indignity of praising work that did not appeal to him. If there was something he did not like, he would say, “Yes, interesting..." That is how he would put it, and then, “Although I work in an entirely different way..." even if the matter being discussed was something quite mundane.

Falk and I often walked home together. We walked along Myasnitskaya Street, past “our"9 KGB office, past the Grand Hotel[10] [the National], the House of Unions and then past the University, the Manezh and the Rumyantsev Museum. Falk went home to the Pertsov House[11], and I went back to where we lived on Nashchokinsky. We would talk as we walked. Despite his age, Falk was very athletic. Once, he showed me how to walk incredibly fast. “You see?" I would ask, “How do you do it, Robert Rafailovich?" And Falk would reply, “Your arms work like this and you take very small steps!" But he walked at such a speed that I, then still a girl, would run and laugh trying to keep up with him.

We were walking along and I spotted a poster of Bugrimova[12] (a lion tamer) shoving her head between a lion’s jaws. I stopped and cursed, “Bastard, torturing animals! It ought to bite off her head!" Falk stopped, listened and looked. I continued with my tirade: “Robert Rafailovich, is this kind of thing really necessary? These are the people I hate most - animal trainers, reprobates! Only scum and villains would do this; there’s nothing worse than torturing animals! Why should an animal as noble as the lion have to stand on a bloody ball! Only the lowest of the low could be involved in this kind of mockery!" Falk said, “I know her very well. Back in Kharkov[13], you know, [it was] an intelligent and cultured family, the father was a professor of archeology[14] or something; he had a great love for animals, they had animals since childhood and Irina [has a way] with animals." I said, “Robert Rafailovich, it turns out, they’re friends of yours!" That was Falk all over. There I was, cursing Bugrimova, but he did not interrupt me. His face remained totally calm while I was yelling away. “Robert Rafailovich, why did you let me show myself up like that?!"

There was another occasion that revealed his character. It was after I had returned from the camp. Richter adored Falk and considered him one of the best artists and a kindred spirit. Falk was very fond of him also. They played duets together at Falk’s home. Falk was very musical. Sviatoslav told me how pleasant it was to play with Falk on account of him being so musical. They were on the same wavelength, and Svet[15] learned from him, too. To some extent <...> Falk’s perception of nature and perception of man were very close to Sviatoslav’s own. In the end, he arranged an exhibition of Falk’s works in his apartment on Nezhdanova Street[16]. Richter was quite well known by then and so it was considered an elite event. It was decided that a very lavish meeting should be organised with representatives of culture, to which important people could be invited, so that, afterwards, Falk could be put on a fitting pedestal. But Richter, a very subtle man with colossal powers of intuition, said, “First, you need to find out what Falk wants". It was thought that Ilya Ehren- burg should open the exhibition and that there should be other big names present. And Svet said, “Go and see Robert Rafailovich, just find out what he really wants. We’ll arrange things as he wants them." So, I went to see Falk and said, “Robert Rafailovich, they want to hold a lavish opening of the exhibition". He replied, “What do you mean, lavish? No..." He had never had one before. “Oh, no, I don’t want that! Lavish?! Whatever for?! Ehrenburg you say - no!" Falk knew Ehrenburg very well. He was a bit of a fake in some ways. He spoke at Falk’s funeral, praising him, but never once gave Falk any assistance while he was alive. “No," Falk said, “That’s not for me at all". Falk never judged him, he just said, “No, that won’t be necessary... What would I like? For the doors to be open to any one and everyone who wishes to come along; for there to be a lot of young people and to have music playing." That was Falk for you. Richter organised the exhibition exactly as Falk wanted, much to the displeasure of some others in his circle, who were thinking, “You just have to make a magnificent show out of all this".

I remember another occasion, which also revealed Falk to be a gentleman, completely indifferent to honours and awards. It was just as Pasternak once put it:

’Your creation is not a medal,
Rewards are given by the state,
You are hemp-line moaning in block-and-fall,
Spray in the rigging.’

And so, Falk was “spray in the rigging" (a block- and-fall, they tell me, is a kind of fastening by which rigging is tied). So, he said, “your creation is not a medal". I use the word “wise" in relation to Falk because he was never given to passionate, emotional outbursts. He could express indignation if someone, God forbid, should hurt an animal, for example, but in all his assessments of people and life, he had an amazing desire to penetrate to the very essence of things, to show compassion and understanding, to be human, and to avoid ever making a hasty judgement or drawing a false conclusion. And despite his dire financial situation, he showed complete and calm indifference to everything material.

After “Naked Valka"[17], came another wave: several officials high up in the ministry came to see Falk’s pictures. I think Semyonov[18] was among them. In short, someone who understood and sympathised with Falk and who wanted to help improve his lot had arranged for him the kind of commission that visits an artist’s workshop in order to select the paintings that most closely reflect the spirit of the era and, in that way, set him straight’. The important officials were sitting there, viewing Falk’s paintings. I had come to see Shchekin-Krotova to pass on a message from Richter. Falk did not have a telephone in the attic (there was one downstairs in the corridor, but it was not convenient to call him via that phone). I said, “Svet is asking whether Robert Rafailovich such and such..." She said, “Go in, he’s showing his work". I said, “No, Angelina Vasilievna, I couldn’t". “Wait a moment then, I’ll ask Robie[19]". And she went in. Falk said, “Come in, come in ..." and, in a whisper to me, “Say that my presence is requested on a very important matter and that I must come instantly and urgently. Make sure you do!" I said, “With pleasure!" Angelina said, “They’ve been here for more than an hour and they do not understand a thing. Robert is sick and tired of it all". So, I entered the studio. “Excuse me please, Robert Rafailovich, you must come, now! Richter is asking for you right now on a matter of great urgency. It is very important, he is asking for you..." Falk said, “Of course, my apologies..." The others glared, but stood up, nonetheless. Sitting in the corner was a timid, very modest, even poor-looking man with grey hair and he too made to leave. But Falk turned to him and said, “Please stay, stay". The others left casting malicious glances and even appearing to grumble. Then Falk said, “Now we can look at the paintings". It turned out that the man was Prince Golitsyn[20], my friend - well, not really a friend, more a childhood acquaintance. We both lived in Tsaritsyno[21]; he had been in exile and had starved and froze. Falk did his best to help him. He said, “To you, I will show my paintings!" And then, Falk showed Vasya and me (if I am not mistaken, his name was Vasya), Prince Golitsyn (he too was an artist, but suffered from mental illness) his paintings for an hour or more. He talked about life in Paris and about the fate of each character (he was a wonderful storyteller): an old woman who had worked all her life, a drunkard, a beautiful young woman in a hat. Their fates took shape before us and we sat watching, completely mesmerised. Then Falk said, “So, Gelya, what do we have?" Angelina replied jokingly, “We have what we have." We had croutons with tea. It was a wonderful evening and I remember Falk saying to Golitsyn, “Always come and see us and we’ll look at the paintings and we’ll see if we can do anything for you". And then he talked to Sviatoslav about Golitsyn and they managed to help him, found him a flat, got something signed. That’s the kind of person Falk was.

In the lead-up to the canonisation of the priest Alexei Mechev,[22] when they were collecting facts about his life, my student, the beautiful Natasha Kolokova (a brilliant student, now mother to Anthony) wrote down a story[23] I shared with her concerning Falk and Mechev — a most telling incident.

Here, I wish to recount an episode that played a huge role in Falk’s life. It is possible that we would never have seen Falk, the person he was, the artist he was with such immense range, had it not been for this incident. It is perhaps as a result of this life-changing event that the artist discovered a different manner of perceiving the world. The episode took place when Falk was still a young artist. He had graduated brilliantly from his studies and his paintings already enjoyed a certain level of success. Falk had fairly wealthy parents. They were of Jewish origin and, although not fanatically religious, they had certain religious views on life. However, they never imposed their views on their son. Falk told me that he received a completely secular education, that some of his relatives interfered with his artistic activities and others did not, but that it was never a major family conflict. Falk travelled a lot and saw the most beautiful cities in Italy and their museums.[24] Everything seemed to be going well for the young artist except for the fact that, at a very young age[25], Falk suddenly began to experience a sense of repulsion for life, which at first manifested as apathy. He became indifferent to everything, and then indifference became oppressive melancholy. He said he felt as if his whole body was locked within a shell of ice, that pressed in on him, on his heart and, most importantly, on his mind, and did not ever leave him. No matter what his parents did, no matter what treatment Falk received for his terrible depression (at first, they tried to distract and entertain him), his malaise became so serious that, he said, he stopped leaving the house at all. He abandoned painting altogether! He just could not bring himself to work! He said, “I only wanted one thing, to lie down longing for it all to end. I could only think of death." Falk did not suffer suicidal thoughts. I would have remembered if he had told me that, but he described his condition as “completely fettered, to the point that I just lay there facing the wall. Nothing could interest me".

Then, Falk’s old nanny said to him, “We must go to Father Alexei, to Maroseyka" (Falk’s nanny was a believer, a Russian. “My faithful old nanny" was how Falk referred to her). Falk responded, “How can I possibly go? I am not a believer! I am not godless, like those who preach atheism, but I have no real faith. How can I visit a priest, an Orthodox priest at that? I am a Jew". And she said, “Let’s go". Falk continued, “I refused at first, but, later, as my condition was worsening and becoming even more painful, I agreed. My nanny took me to see the priest.

We arrived, and she left me there and said, ‘I have talked to the priest about you.’ ‘Yes, he’ll read a prayer over me and that will be that’, I said. ‘No, he won’t. Trust him’. The door opened and there was a short elderly man, who said in a very friendly voice, ‘Ah, it’s you! Come in, artist, come in, come in!’ Falk said, “I went into this very cozy, tidy room. There was a samovar on the table, a kettle, some homemade buns, biscuits and little cheesecakes. ‘Let’s drink some tea together’, the priest said. There was a woman there, too. It was a very domestic set up. I sat down, the priest poured me a cup, we started drinking our tea and he said, ‘Here, have some jam". It was all very comfortable and Falk enjoyed drinking a cup of tea for the first time in ages. Then the priest said to him, “You are an artist, what joy! You can depict God’s world and show it to us. We can look, but we cannot paint it! What a gift God has given you! What a wonderful thing! And what do you paint?" And Falk said, “I suddenly found myself wanting to talk to him. And so I began to speak. I started telling him where I had been and I talked all evening.

I only stopped when I suddenly realised how late it was. He listened. Then, he made the sign of the cross over me and said, ‘How wonderful!’ And I said, ‘Father, may I come and visit you again?’ ‘Yes, of course, come and see me!

Come, come!            Robert Rafailovich," I asked, “did he not pray over you, then?" “No, he just listened". And so Falk started visiting the priest. “And every time I visited him," Falk said, “it was always the same, a conversation as if we were at home. We talked and I so wanted to tell him everything! I told him about everything and he always understood. I told him about my painting, about my life, about other artists, and I felt better and better..."

I said, “Robert Rafailovich, what do you mean better?" And he replied, “You know (also quoting him), I had the feeling that the icy shell that had bound me preventing me from breathing, living, and thinking, melted. It melted gradually, until finally it melted away, and I felt fine again." I said, “And what happened after that?" (I cannot say for certain whether it was two months afterwards, but I think it was the summer period.) “And then they began to offer me the opportunity to go abroad. How was I to confess this to the priest? I said, ‘Father, they are offering me the opportunity to travel.’ He said, ‘Excellent! Excellent. Yes, travel! You have my blessing.’ ‘And what about my visits to you?’ I asked him. And he said, ‘You don’t need to come any more. You are well again. All is well’. Can you imagine?! He made the sign of the cross over me, prayed and that was it". Not a word about baptism, not a word! And Falk right as rain!

I was so interested in the healing side of it then, that I asked, “Robert Rafailovich, how do you explain the effect he had on you? What was it?" Falk replied, “You know, it was all down to extraordinary kindness! He radiated a kindness, compassion and love that enveloped me. It so
wrapped itself around me that I felt as if all the negativity was leaving me, melting, melting away". So, it was about a human being, the kind they call holy, the kind endowed with unbelievable understanding, kindness and love for others. Falk said, “I cannot imagine Father Alexei would ever judge a person, no, never. I can only see him as that same embodiment of loving kindness. That was how he healed me. And whatever the difficult moments in my life", (Falk would have been referring to times when he learned that Raisa Veniaminovna had got married, the death of his parents, the wave of persecutions, the death of his son from his first marriage in the war, when he suffered with terrible grief)," the depression never came back." And, indeed, I never once saw Falk seriously depressed.

Falk said, “If it were not for that cross, I might not have lived. You see, I was gifted this life, because, by that time, I was no longer alive. But you won’t know what that feels like." I said, “Well, thank God, perhaps not to that extent." “I felt such an icy coldness and horror at the thought of life and everything. I did not think about hanging myself, no, I just so wanted it to end, the awful, relentless cold that froze out all interest and love for my close ones and for art, for everything. If it were not for Father Alexei, I don’t think I would have survived, because my condition was getting worse; I had stopped moving. He saved my life. He healed me". Those were Falk’s precise words: “Father Alexei healed me with his kindness. That is how I understand the holy." There are many accounts of healing by the laying-on of hands and prayer, but Father Alexei did not do any of that. He said, “I will always pray for you, we will pray ..." But he did not try to involve Falk in this. He did not even speak with him about baptism.

Falk told me about it and I became intensely interested in how it had all happened. “How? He spoke, he did not pray over me, no, no. He just blessed me, made the sign of the cross, and read a short prayer. We spoke together, ‘Lord, God, I give thanks for your healing...’ words like that. It was all God’s doing ..." When Falk said, “Thank you, Father!" (i.e. it was your doing) the priest replied, “It is God’s will, nothing to do with me..." And he said that, when the priest spoke, there was such humility in his voice, “This is God’s will, not mine." “But you saved me!" Falk insisted. “No, no, none of that..." Falk said that it was Father Alexei who had saved him. I do not know whether Falk spoke of this to anyone else, but others must have known about it back then, because the artist Rozhdestvensky always called him Roman, his baptismal name, and his first wife called him Roman, too, no doubt as a result of the incident26. I did not know the priest’s surname, nor did Falk, as far as I understood. “Father Alexei," Falk told me, “the priest at Maroseyka."

December 23, 2001

The conversation was moderated and recorded by Dmitri Sporov; transcription and typesetting by Maria Finogeeva; review against the phonodocument by Marina Radzishevskaya; preparation of the text, publication and comments by Yulia Didenko

 

  1. A.V. Azarkh-Granovskaya (nee Idelson, 1892-1980), actress, wife of theatre director A.M. Granovsky, sister of artist R.V. Idelson (student and third wife of Robert Rafailovich Falk). See ed.: Azarkh-Granovskaya A.V. “Memories. Conversations with V.D. Duvakin”. Moscow, 2001.
  2. Lyubov Yurievna Viskovskaya (1921-2006), daughter of L.N.Viskovskaya (nee Guchkova) and Yu. Viskovsky, V.I.Prokhoro- va's cousin through her mother.
  3. In 1935, returning home from the theatre, Aleksandra Veni aminovna fell under the wheels of a tram and suffered a severe leg injury. Despite subsequent amputation and disability, she continued to work and taught drama, and later headed the drama department at the Jewish Theatre Studio at GOSET.
  4. Veniamin Ivanovich Idelson (1851-1933), graduate of the Medical Faculty of the University of Berlin.
  5. R.V. Idelson (1894-1972), artist, poet, student and third wife of Robert Falk (1922-1929).
  6. Sviatoslav Teofilovich Richter (1915-1997), pianist, artist, friend of Robert Falk.
  7. Osmerkin, Aeksander Aleksandrovich (18921953), artist. First wife: E.K. Galperina (19031987), pop artist; second wife: N.G. Navrotskaya (from 1945). (1913-1999), architect.
  8. Rozhdestvensky Vasily Vasilievich (1884-1963), artist, member of the “Jack of Diamonds” group.
  9. In August 1951, Vera Prokhorova was denounced, arrested and sentenced under Article 58 to 10 years in a labour camp. She spent five years in a camp for political prisoners (Ozerlag, Krasnoyarsk Krai). She was released on August 18, 1956.
  10. Hotel “National”.
  11. From 1939, and to the end of his life, Falk lived in the famous Pertsov House on Prechistenskaya (Kropotkinskaya) Embankment at address Ap. 57, 1 Kursovoy Lane.
  12. Irina Nikolaevna Bugrimova (1910-2001), circus artist, lion tamer (1946-1976). “Robert Rafailovich was very fond of the circus. He said that it was an artform in which it was impossible to lie or be insincere, and that one paid for mistakes with one’s life. Of course, he was referring to acrobats working beneath the dome, the riders and lion tamers. “It requires the utmost skill, hard, persistent work and tremendous training of willpower”. Falk regretted that other types of spectacle allow one to cheat, deceive oneself and the viewer, work sluggishly without the tension of the will, essential for a performance to have the appearance of freedom and ease. Theatre and cinema often annoyed him. He was very demanding of musical performers, too. He dreamed of painting a circus scene, but became so carried away by the visual spectacle that he could not concentrate on his work (sketches, studies). The sketch “Circus Tamer” (1939, graphite pencil on paper, 280 * 200 cm, Russian Archive of Literature and Art) may have been made from the famous tiger tamer Bugrimova, whom Falk met through Yumashev and wished to paint. She made a ‘monumental’ impression on him (‘monumental’ was Falk’s favourite word).” (Shchekin-Krotova A.V. List (with comments) “Selected for donation to Central Archive of Literature and Art of the USSR by the artist's widow”. November 27, 1984. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 1. Item 230. Sheet 95).
  13. Falk’s trip to Kharkov took place in 1944 at the invitation of Andrei Yumashev, who was “recalled from the front to test new aircraft designs. The tests took place near Kharkov, and Yumashev and his family temporarily settled in Kharkov, where he invited Falk to live with him, desiring that the artist would paint a picture on a military theme.” (A.V. Shchekin- Krotova. Comments to Falk’s drawings of 1940-1950s. Private archive, Moscow.).
  14. I.N. Bugrimova’s father was a professor of veterinary medicine. Her mother was a noblewoman by birth.
  15. Vera Ivanovna referred to Sviatoslav Richter as Svet.
  16. The “home” exhibition of Falk’s works held at Sviatoslav Richter’s apartment on Bryusov Lane (Nezhdanova Street 1962-1994) and consisting of 17 paintings of the pianist’s choice took place in April-May 1957, one year prior to the artist’s death.
  17. Factual error. Robert Falk’s painting “Nude in an Armchair” (1922, Tretyakov Gallery), which received the “folk” title “Naked Valka”, was shown at the exhibition “30 Years of the Moscow Union of Artists” held at the Manege in 1962, four years after the artist’s death. Most likely, the visit to Falk’s workshop referred to here took place in 1957 (because, in 1956, Prokhorova was still in the labour camp and, by 1958, Falk was already seriously ill).
  18. Vladimir Semyonovich Semyonov (1911-1992), diplomat, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs for the USSR (1955-1978), art collector. His impressive collection contains a number of works by Robert Falk.
  19. Robert Falk was called “Robie” at home.
  20. Factual error. Referring to Vasily Pavlovich Sheremetev (1922-1989), artist, son of Count Pavel Sergeevich Sheremetev and Princess Praskovya Vasilyevna Obolenskaya, direct descendant of Peter the Great’s field marshal Boris Petrovich Sheremetev. In 1922-1928, he lived at the family’s Ostafyevo estate, where his father was head of the museum; from 1929 to 1960 (before the war, with his parents), he lived in Naprudnaya Tower at the Novodevichy Convent. In 1951-1957, he worked in a group of graphic designers under the direction of P.D. Korin on mosaics for the Metro stations Komso- molskaya and Kievskaya.
  21. The Obolenskys, sisters of Vasily Sheremetev’s mother, lived at Tsaritsyno. After the death of his wife in the dungeons of the NKVD in 1942, when Vasily was at the front, his father Pavel (died at Tsaritsyno in 1943) moved to Tsaritsyno to join them.
  22. Alexei Alekseevich Mechev (Righteous St. Alexis of Moscow; 1859-1923), clergyman, famous Moscow archpriest of the early 20th century. Glorified as a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church in the year 2000.
  23. Prokhorova V.I. Elder Archpriest Alexei Mechev// Moscow Journal №8 August 2000. Online: http://mosjour.ru/2017061885/
  24. In the spring of 1911, Falk travelled to Italy on funds from the first sale of his painting from the “Jack of Diamonds” exhibition. “Since the amount was modest, I made almost the entire route in Italy on foot <...> But this had its advantages: I saw Italy not through the eyes of a tourist from the window of a hotel or a car, but by looking into this wonderful country, so to speak, through the back door, seeing into its inner life, hidden from prying eyes. In this manner, I travelled around the following cities: Assisi, Rome, Orvieto, Pisa, Siena, Florence, Ravenna, Ferrara, Padua, Venice, Verona, Vicenza, Parma, Mantua and Milan. <...> There was not enough money to travel to southern Italy. <...> I walked endlessly along the streets of Venice, along the canals. I didn’t even want to go to into the museums <...> the city itself was a museum of beauty, a magnificent monument, one still living, unfading, breathing.” (cit. Robert Falk. “Conversations About Art. Letters. Memories of his Contemporaries”. Moscow. 1981. P. 15. corrected according to the manuscript: From a Letter by Robert Falk addressed to Jean Caim. 1956. Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Fund 3018. Opus 1. Item 145. Sheet. 15-16).
  25. Evidently refers to 1919-1920, when Falk was undergoing treatment at a neuropsychiatric clinic in Pokrovsky-Stresh- nevo. It was during this difficult period of his life that the artist created his masterpiece painting “Red Furniture” (1920, Tretyakov Gallery).
  26. The memoirist is mistaken in considering Falk’s baptism to be a consequence of the artist’s communication with the Moscow archpriest. According to historical documents, Falk had been baptised a decade prior to the events described, in 1909. In the journal “Moskovskie tserk- ovnye vedomosti”, under the heading “On the adoption of Orthodoxy by Old Believer M.M. Gerolskaya and the baptism of the Jew R.R. Falk at the Moscow Intercession Community of Sisters of Mercy”, it was reported: “On the 3rd day of this April [1909], at the community [Sisters of Mercy], the church <...> priest Father Nikolai [Ivanovich Sokolov] <...> enlightened through H[oly] Baptism and chrismation Robert Rafailovich Falk, student of the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture of the Moscow Art Society, named in Holy Baptism Roman.” (“Moscow Church Gazette”. 1909. №16. P. 319; Cit. Pravoslavie. “Moscow in the early 20th Century: Collection of documents and materials”. Moscow. 2001. P. 341).

Illustrations

Ivan Nikolayevich (1890-1927) and Nadezhda Nikolayevna (née Guchkova, 1889-1945) Prokhorov with their children Vera and Nikolai (1921-1942). Tsaritsyno. February 1921
Ivan Nikolayevich (1890-1927) and Nadezhda Nikolayevna (née Guchkova, 1889-1945) Prokhorov with their children Vera and Nikolai (1921-1942). Tsaritsyno. February 1921
Photograph. Vera Prokhorovaʼs archive, Moscow
Nadezhda Prokhorova with Nikolai and Vera Zvenigorod. 1929
Nadezhda Prokhorova with Nikolai and Vera Zvenigorod. 1929
Photograph. Vera Prokhorovaʼs archive, Moscow
Robert Falk in Paris. 1929. Photograph
Robert Falk in Paris. 1929. Photograph
From the archive of Kirilla Baranovskaya-Falk, the artistʼs daughter, Moscow
ROBERT FALK. Gelya in a Striped Hood. 1944
ROBERT FALK. Gelya in a Striped Hood. 1944
Gouache, watercolour on paper. 61 × 45 cm
© Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of A.V. Azarkh-Granovskaya. 1926
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of A.V. Azarkh-Granovskaya. 1926
Oil on canvas. 61 × 49 cm
Inna Bazhenova collection. Moscow
Angelina Shchekin-Krotova. 1970s
Angelina Shchekin-Krotova. 1970s. Photograph
Private archive, Moscow
ROBERT FALK. In a White Shawl (A.V. Shchekin-Krotova). 1945
ROBERT FALK. In a White Shawl (A.V. Shchekin-Krotova). 1945
Sketch for the painting of the same name (1946-1947) from the Russian Museum Collection. White gouache, watercolour, lead pencil on paper. 64.5 × 46.2 cm
© Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of Sviatoslav Richter. 1945
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of Sviatoslav Richter. 1945
Sketch for an unfulfilled portrait. Pencil, pastel, watercolour on paper. 68 × 54 cm
© Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts
Robert Falk at the exhibition of his paintings held in the apartment of Sviatoslav Richter. 1957
Robert Falk at the exhibition of his paintings held in the apartment of Sviatoslav Richter. 1957
Photo: Jerzy Kucharski. Jerzy Kucharski Archive, Moscow
ROBERT FALK. Circus Tamer (Irina Bugrimova?). 1939
ROBERT FALK. Circus Tamer (Irina Bugrimova?). 1939
Sketch. Lead pencil on paper. 28 × 20 cm
© Russian State Archive of Literature and Art, Moscow. Published here for the first time
Vasily Pavlovich Sheremetev. 1980s
Vasily Pavlovich Sheremetev. 1980s. Photograph
Archpriest Alexei Mechev. 1910 – early 1920s
Archpriest Alexei Mechev. 1910 – early 1920s. Photograph
Robert Falk in Berlin. 1930s. Detail
Robert Falk in Berlin. 1930s. Photograph
Private archive, Moscow
Detail
ROBERT FALK. Twilight on the Seine. 1930s
ROBERT FALK. Twilight on the Seine. 1930s
Watercolour, gouache on paper on cardboard. 39.5 × 48 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery

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