"The treetops reflect the sky". MEMORIES OF ROBERT FALK

Isai Zeitman

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

The painter Isai Mikhailovich Zeitman[1] (1899-1996) lived a very long life that spanned almost the entire 20th century. His artistic longevity is amazing: his first work, a painting titled “Oak”, is dated 1917, and the last, the watercolour “Farewell Brushstroke”, was created 79 years later, in the year of his death.

Isai Zeitman. Early 1950s
Isai Zeitman. Early 1950s
Photograph. Artist’s family archive, Moscow

A witness to the important artistic experiments of the past century, Zeitman was a good friend of the artists who began their career in the legendary group known as the “Knave of Diamonds” (or “Jack of Diamonds”, with Robert Falk, Aleksander Osmerkin, Aleksander Kuprin and so on), who, in turn, appreciated his works.

Zeitman’s talent as a painter was obvious in his schooldays, but the civil war and enlistment in the army blocked his path to art school. In the years 1934-1940, at the art studio of the All-Union Central Soviet of Trade Unions, he took painting classes with Konstantin Yuon, who, three decades before, had taught Robert Falk in the years of his “artistic childhood”[2].

Zeitman managed to combine his vocation with a professional career in the sciences. Having graduated from the Department of Physics and Mathe matics of Moscow State University, he taught physical optics at Bauman Moscow State Technical University for 25 years, and only after retirement could he finally devote himself to art.

The major part of Zeitman’s legacy is held by his family, but as the years go by, his works are attracting more and more attention from private galleries and museums. Five of his works are owned by the 20th Century Graphics department of the Tretyakov Gallery. His colourful watercolour landscapes, showing a distinctive individual style, are displayed at the Moscow Museum of Modern Art and Kaliningrad Museum of Fine Arts.

Zeitman told of his meeting with Falk in the memoirs he wrote in his declining years, when he was 94 years old. Clearly, his encounters with the master stuck in his memory forever. Somewhat abridged, extracts from his memoirs were published in an article by Valentina Byalik entitled “Once Upon a Time: A Group Portrait of Artists Against the Backdrop of an Epoch”[3]. Here, we present readers with the pages dedicated to Falk republished in full, accompanied by a new commentary. The text has been reconciled with the manuscript[4] and edited in accordance with modern rules of spelling and grammar while preserving the author’s style.

The sketches for a portrait of Isai Zeitman made by Falk in the 1950s, found in the collection of the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art during research for the present article, are published for the first time.

Yulia Didenko

 

  1. According to his birth certificate, Zeitman had a double first name: Isai Simon Mikhelevich Zeitman. The document is still kept by the artist’s family.
  2. From a letter from R.R. Falk to K.F. Yuon. November 4, 1945. Sofrino - Moscow // Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. F.3018. Vol.2. St. item 54.
  3. Russian Fine Art Magazine. 2006. No.4. P. 139-141.
  4. The manuscript is a big, thick graphpaper notebook with no title (the first phrase: “Every time I say that I was born in Alek- sandria, I hear: ‘That must be Egypt’.”). According to the artist’s relatives, the original manuscript is dated 1993. It is kept in the family archive.

Even though I was not a member of the Union[1], I kept in touch with many artists, and some of them were friends of mine. Let me tell you more about each of them.

ROBERT FALK. Portrait of I.M. Zeitman. 1950s
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of I.M. Zeitman. 1950s
Pen and ink on paper
© Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Published for the first time

Robert Rafailovich Falk. I used to visit him often, the more so because, from my window[2], I could see the famous Pertsov House[3] with the attic where his studio was[4]. So, there was little distance between us. I saw him for the first time at an exhibition at 11 Kuznetsky Most, before the war, when he arrived from Paris after living there for 10 years[5]. At the exhibition, there were some works by students of his, among them Rzheznikov[6] and Zevin[7].

It was not long before his personal exhibition at the House of Writers[8]. At first, we got to know each other through our works.

Robert Rafailovich came to see me, but my door was locked as I was at work at the institute. Through the glass door he could see my study titled “Kraskovo Window", which depicted a vase with some flowers. He liked the work and he told his wife, Angelina Vasilievna, about it.

He also visited me in Kraskovo[9] where I went in summer to sketch. I used to paint fast back then. I suppose that I had a lot in common with Soutine[10] in terms of character, as he also liked seeing the result as soon as possible. Robert Rafailovich told me that it was not about the number of works produced, but about reaching the heights of inner vision and psychological processes.

He liked Kraskovo, particularly the pattern of the trees. When I said that I loved painting them, especially the treetops, he asked me why. I did not know what to say. “Because," said Robert Rafailovich, “the treetops reflect the sky."

One day, I met Robert Rafailovich as he was coming from the Dresden Gallery exhibition[11]. I asked what he liked the most about it. He said that he liked the Sistine Madonna by Rafael. Then, he praised a portrait by £douard Manet: “That artist has eagle eyes," he said. “What does that mean?" “It means he could grasp the entire picture with one glance."

One day, when I was in the city during summer, I met Robert Rafailovich. He was coming from the museum[12]: “I promised myself not to go to the museum as it might prevent me from working, but I could not help it. Cezanne crushed me." I walked him home, and he showed me some of his new works. I used to visit the showings he organised with Angelina Vasilievna. Every artist needs spectators, he said. At those showings, he displayed both his old Paris works and his latest paintings. He would put his works on the easel one by one; the frames, I guess, were made for him by Aleksander Kuprin[13]. I felt sorry every time he had to put a painting away.

Robert Rafailovich was a good piano player (his first dream had been to be a musician). Angelina Vasilievna was a good singer. Thanks to her, I have been to several absolutely amazing concerts.

When Robert Rafaillovich fell ill, it was sudden. I came to visit him and found him in bed. “What happened to you?" “I was in Zagorsk[14]. I had to run after a train. Then, I came home and fell ill." “Did you see a doctor?" “You see, I grew up in a family of doctors and I know for sure that medicine is an art, not a science. A real artist is rare. That is why finding a worthwhile doctor is so hard."

When his exhibition was organised in Yermo- laevsky Alley (Moscow Regional Union of Artists), he could not come and visit it[15].

It was a beautiful May day[16]. I sent him a note to share my impressions of the exhibition. “You loved nature and it thanked you for that. Your exhibition fell on perfect weather." I never saw Robert Rafailovich again.

Not long before his death, he painted himself in a red fez, creating one of his best portraits[17]. He was buried at the German cemetery[18]. Many people came. At first, the coffin was brought to the Moscow Region Union of Artists[19]. One lady dressed in black was sobbing over the deceased. My wife[20] asked me to find out who she was. The painter Khazanov[21] told me that she was Belyakova, a painter[22]. I recollected a frosty winter day when we ran into Falk at a dairy shop[23]. He was strong and healthy then. He asked me to hold his bags; I tried but failed. However, he could carry his easel, canvas-stretcher and paints effortlessly. “Where are you going in such weather?" “You see, a lady came up to me at a meeting and said she used to be my student. ‘You were many and I was one', I answered. ‘No doubt you remember me, but I cannot remember all of you'. She said her last name was Belyakova. She invited me to go to Zagorsk for some sketching".

Aleksander Vasilievich Kuprin. I was introduced to him by Robert Falk. That was easy to do, as Alek- sander Vasilievich lived in the same Pertsov House and used to visit Robert Rafailovich often.

Aleksander Aleksandrovich Osmerkin. <... > The painting manner of Aleksander Aleksandrovich was dramatically different from Falk's. One day, I overheard his conversation with a young lady [sitting for him]: “Wait a little, I would not torture you like Falk. I paint much faster." Another time, he said: “Robert is a great artist, but I don't like plasterwork" (compared to him, Robert Rafailovich tended to use heavier textures and his painting was much more pastose). “But what plasterwork it is!" I objected.

<...> Veniamin Fyodorovich Kagan used to read lectures in non-Euclidean geometry[24]. He was a great expert in his subject. He edited the collected works of Lobachevsky. He was an inspiring lecturer, telling his students of the dramatic events that influenced the development of this branch of geometry. <...> Not long before his death, visiting the painter Falk, I ran into Veniamin Fyodorovich's assistant Marya Grig- oryevna Shestopal[25] and her husband Lopshitz[26] (a mathematician). They told me that Falk was going to paint a portrait of Veniamin Fyodorovich. But it never happened as Veniamin Fyodorovich passed away.<...>

[1993]

Preparation for re-publication and comments by Yulia Didenko

 

  1. Artists’ Union.
  2. Zeitman lived at 3, 2nd Obyden- sky Alley.
  3. That was the famous Pertsov House standing at the corner of Prechistenskaya Embankment and Soymonovsky Drive. Based on designs by the artist Sergey Malyutin, the house was built in 1907 with funds provided by the railway engineer Pyotr Pertsov. This Neo-Russian building was designed to be a tenement house for the creative community and the top floor housed artists’ studios for rent.
  4. The address of Falk’s studio and apartment was 1 Kursovoy Alley, Apartment 57. For more about the studio see: Shchekin- Krotova A.V. Pertsov House as Harbor of the “Quiet Jacks of Diamonds” / Yu.V. Didenko // Russian Fine Art Magazine. 2005. No. 2. P. 128 -137 (http://www.russiskusstvo.ru/journal/2-2005/a382/; http://avanage.ru/?p=1363). In English: Shchekin-Krotova A. Pertsov House as Harbor of the “Quiet Jacks of Diamonds” / Y. Didenko // Russian Fine Art Magazine. 2006. VI. P. 84-93.
  5. Falk returned to the USSR at the very end of 1937.
  6. Aron Iosifovich Rzheznikov (1898-1943) - painter, graphic artist.
  7. Lev Yakovlevich (Samsonovich) Zevin (1903-1942) - painter, set designer.
  8. A small solo exhibition of Falk’s work was held in spring 1939, in the ground-floor lobby of the Central House of Writers. It presented works created by Falk in France in the years 1928-1937.
  9. Kraskovo is a dacha village near the town of Lyubertsy in the Moscow Region.
  10. Chaime Soutine (1893-1943) - French artist born in Russia, representative of the Paris school.
  11. This refers to the exhibition of the Dresden Gallery paintings saved by Soviet troops and evacuated to the Soviet Union after the surrender of Germany. Before being sent to the GDR, the paintings were displayed at the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts from May 2 to August 25, 1955.
  12. This refers to the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts.
  13. Aleksander Vasilievich Kuprin (1880-1960) - an artist.
  14. Currently Sergiev Posad.
  15. Even though, at that time, Falk was already in hospital, he did manage to visit his exhibition once.
  16. The exhibition was held between May 17 and 27, 1958.
  17. That refers to "Self-Portrait in a Red Fez" (1957, Tretyakov Gallery).
  18. The author was mistaken. Falk was buried at Kalitnikovskoe Cemetery, sector 20.
  19. The humanist funeral was held on October 4, 1958, at the same exhibition hall of the Moscow Region Union of Artists (17 Yermolaevsky sidestreet) where, in the spring of that year, Falk’s solo exhibition had been held.
  20. Zeitman's wife - Genessa Davydovna Pekarskaya (1898-1964), a chemical engineer.
  21. Moisei Tevelevich Khazanov (1906-1980) - a painter, a student of R.R. Falk and A.V. Shevchenko.
  22. Alla Mikhailovna Belyakova (1914-2006, nee Kukol'-Yasno- polskaya) - watercolour artist; student of A.V. Fonvizin (19481955) and R.R. Falk (1954-1955).
  23. According to the painter’s grandson, L.M. Kabakov, the dairy shop mentioned used to stand at the corner of Met- rostrovskaya Street (currently Ostozhenka) and 1st Obydensky Alley in the 1950s.
  24. Veniamin Fyodorovich Kagan (1869-1953, Beniamin Falkovich) - mathematician, geometrician, Doctor of Physics and Mathematics, Professor of Moscow State University. That refers to his lectures at the Department of Physics and Mathematics of Moscow State University. Mentioned in "Fourth Prose" by Osip Mandelstam.
  25. M.G. Shestopal - a mathematician, worked with the academician O.Yu. Shmidt.
  26. Abram Mironovich Lopshitz (1897-1984).

Illustrations

A page from the Memoirs by Isai Zeitman [1993]. Autograph
A page from the Memoirs by Isai Zeitman [1993]. Autograph
Artist’s family archive, Moscow
Isai Zeitman at his dacha in Kraskovo. 1993
Isai Zeitman at his dacha in Kraskovo. 1993
Photo by V.M. Kabakov. Artist’s family archive, Moscow
A page from the Memoirs by Isai Zeitman [1993]. Autograph
A page from the Memoirs by Isai Zeitman [1993]. Autograph
Artist’s family archive, Moscow
ROBERT FALK. A Street in a Dacha Village. 1954
ROBERT FALK. A Street in a Dacha Village. 1954
Oil on canvas. 72 × 59.5 cm
Collection of the Mamontov family, Moscow
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of I.M. Zeitman. 1950s
ROBERT FALK. Portrait of I.M. Zeitman. 1950s
Pen and ink on paper
© Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. Published for the first time
ROBERT FALK. Autumn Paysage with Birch Tree. 1940s
ROBERT FALK. Autumn Paysage with Birch Tree. 1940s
Watercolours and white gouache on paper. 46.5 × 33.6 cm
Collection of the Mamontov family, Moscow. Published for the first time
ISAI ZEITMAN. Self-Portrait. 1929
ISAI ZEITMAN. Self-Portrait. 1929
Oil on canvas. 32 × 24 cm
Artist’s family collection, Moscow
ISAI ZEITMAN. On the Terrace. 1949
ISAI ZEITMAN. On the Terrace. 1949
Watercolour on paper. 29 × 40 cm
Artist’s family collection, Moscow
ISAI ZEITMAN. Pertsov House. 1963
ISAI ZEITMAN. Pertsov House. 1963
Watercolours on paper. 33 × 44.5 cm
Collection of Irina Stezhka, Moscow
ISAI ZEITMAN. At the Dacha. 1952
ISAI ZEITMAN. At the Dacha. 1952
Watercolours and white on paper. 51 × 56 cm
Artist’s family collection, Moscow. Published for the first time
ROBERT FALK. Bunch of Wildflowers. 1940s
ROBERT FALK. Bunch of Wildflowers. 1940s
Watercolour, gouache on paper. 42 × 52 cm
Private collection, Germany
ISAI ZEITMAN. By the Window. 1949
ISAI ZEITMAN. By the Window. 1949
Oil on canvas. 73 × 54 cm
Artist’s family collection, Moscow. Published for the first time
ROBERT FALK. Purple Bouquet. 1946
ROBERT FALK. Purple Bouquet. 1946
Oil on canvas. 68 × 80 cm
© Tretyakov Gallery

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