Zinaida SEREBRIAKOVA — one of the first Russian women who entered the history of painting
Disclaimer: The information provided in this episode comes from multiple sources and is not my scientific studies or discoveries. All authors and sources are credited at the end of this article. Thank you!
Welcome to HerArt podcast, a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. In our third episode, we will talk about Zinaida SEREBRIAKOVA — one of the first Russian women who entered the history of painting. My name is Nata Andreev and I am going to tell you seven curious facts about the artist that depicted very carefully and accurately the imperial Russian countryside, celebrating the complexion of both people and land.
Curious Fact #1
Zinaida Yevgenyevna Serebriakova was born on the Neskuchnoye estate in modern-day Kharkiv, Ukraine, into the Benois-Lanceray dynasty of artists. When Serebriakova was barely two years old, her father died of tuberculosis. The family moved from Neskuchnoye to the apartment of her maternal grandfather, Nikolas Benois, an imperial Russian architect in St. Petersburg. Her creativity flourished mostly at home. Her grandfather’s apartment neighbored the famous Mariinsky Theatre and Serebriakova learned music and performance from her family and their social circle. The estate in Neskuchnoye, which you can literally translate as “not boring”, boasted endless forests, fields, and meadows that would inspire her early work. The art produced here was an ode to daily rituals and hardworking women, both enchanting and powerful in their simplicity.
Curious Fact #2
She was accepted into the Princess Tenisheva Art School in St Petersburg at the age of 17, where she became a protégé of the noted realist painter Ilya Repin. Her studies were interrupted when her mother took her to Italy for eight months where she haunted the galleries studying the Renaissance masters. Back in St Petersburg, she commenced studying at the studio of Osip Braz who encouraged his students to copy portraits displayed at the city’s Hermitage gallery.
Curious Fact #3
It was out in those same fields during her 21st summer at Neskuchnoye that she fell in love with her first cousin, Boris Serebriakov, a railway engineer also spending his summer in the country. After a swift courtship, the couple sought and won family approval for marriage despite their being related, but it took a massive donation to convince the Russian Orthodox Church to marry the cousins in September 1905.
Curious Fact #4
At the outbreak of the October Revolution in 1917, Serebriakova was at her family estate of Neskuchnoye, and suddenly her whole life changed. In 1919 her husband Boris died of typhus contracted in Bolshevik jails. She was left without any income, responsible for her four children and her sick mother. All the reserves of Neskuchnoye had been plundered, so the family suffered from hunger. She had to give up oil painting in favor of the less expensive techniques of charcoal and pencil.
Curious Fact #5
She did not want to switch to the futurist style popular in the art of the early Soviet period, nor paint portraits of commissars, but she found some work at the Kharkiv Archaeological Museum, where she made pencil drawings of the exhibits. In December 1920 she moved to her grandfather’s apartment in Petrograd. After the October Revolution, inhabitants of private apartments were forced to share them with additional inhabitants, but Serebriakova was lucky — she was quartered with artists from the Moscow Art Theatre. Thus, Serebriakova’s work during this period was centered on theatre life.
Curious Fact #6
At the age of 40 years, old Zinaida went to Paris, having received a commission for a large decorative mural. On finishing this work, she intended to return to the Soviet Union, where her mother and the four children remained. However, she was not able to return, and although she was able to bring her younger children, Alexandre and Catherine, to Paris, she could not do the same for her two older children, Evgenyi and Tatiana, and did not see them again for many years. The Second World War brought more hardship. Shortly after the Nazis arrived in Paris in 1940 Serebriakova was threatened with arrest: her correspondence with the family she hadn’t seen in nearly two decades was classed as illegal communication with an enemy nation. To stay out of the prison she was forced to renounce her Soviet citizenship, extinguishing any hope she might have nurtured of ever returning home. It would be six years before she had any further contact with her children in Russia.
Curious Fact #7
Her works are not intended as photographs, but Zinaida’s vision and the manifestation of beauty. In 1966, when the artist was 82 years old, she was finally able to exhibit in the Soviet Union’s biggest cities like Moscow, Leningrad, and Kyiv, to great acclaim. Her albums sold millions, and she was compared to Botticelli and Renoir. However, although she sent about 200 of her works to be shown in the Soviet Union, the bulk of her work remains in France today. Serebriakova died in Paris at the age of 82. Zinaida is buried at the Russian cemetery at Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois.
Thank you so much for listening to the last episode of HerArt podcast — a project for art lovers, especially art created by women. I wanted to express my genuine appreciation for each and every one of you, that supported this project. It’s unfortunate that HerArt journey is coming to an end after three seasons, 34 episodes in English, 22 episodes in Romanian, and 6 interviews with local Moldovan artists. I will continue to celebrate all the women I featured during this time, so continue to follow more of what I do on Facebook and Instagram. This is the tenth episode I am recording during COVID-19. I hope everyone is safe and takes care of themselves and their loved ones. And don’t forget END SARS because BLACK LIVES MATTER!