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Petrovich Shterenberg

Russia • 1881−1948

Biography and information

In 1907—1917, David Shterenberg lived in Vienna and Paris, where he studied at the Academy of Arts and the Vitti Academy. The artist was head of the Fine Arts Department of the People’s Commissariat for Education (1918—1920). One of the organizers and chairman of the OST art association (1925—1930), he taught at the State Free Art Studios, Vkhutemas, Vkhutein in Moscow (1920—1930). Being an active supporter of Western modernist trends, Shterenberg approached the tasks of rethinking the artistic heritage in the context of a new revolutionary reality quite unilaterally. Shterenberg’s work is characterized by a sharpened expressiveness of images, laconic composition, clarity and generality of drawing, the emphasized planar construction of space. In 1906, he studied at art studios in Odesa. In the same year he left for Vienna, and soon to Paris, where he studied at the School of Fine Arts, and then at the Vitti Academy under the guidance of A. Marten, K. Van Dongen and E. Anglada. He lived in Paris until 1917, in the artist colony of La Ruche (The Hive). His creative aspirations were close to the representatives of the Parisian school (A. Modigliani, C. Sutin and others). His own style took its shape by 1916. After the February Revolution, he returned to Russia, where he immediately became actively involved in the implementation of the new cultural policy. They appointed him Commissar for Arts in Petrograd, and after his moving to Moscow in 1918, Head of the Fine Arts Department of the People’s Commissariat for Education (until 1920).
After his early moderate avant-garde experiments, he developed a special type of flat still life, sometimes decorative or dramatic (Herrings, 1917—1918, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). As an administrator, he actively supported the futuristic “left”, while at the same time he defended the enduring value of easel art. He acted as a portraitist and artist of symbolically generalized figured composition; he expressed the tragic breaks of time (Old Man, 1925—1926; Aniska, 1926; both works — ibid.). Over the years, his expressionism became more intimate and lyrically contemplative (Grasses painting cycle, 1929; a series of children’s picture books 1930—1931; still lifes and landscapes of the 1930—1940s). In his paintings, etchings and woodcuts of those years, the artist appeared to be one of the founders of the secluded “quiet art”, opposing the official thematic” social mandate. In 1925, he took part in the International Exhibition of Contemporary Decorative and Industrial Arts in Paris, where he headed the “Russian section”.
His lyrical contemplation gained special psychological power in his Biblical Subjects series (1947—1948), where Shterenberg, referring mainly to the Crucifixion and related themes, sought to revive (in unsteady colour visions) the non-confessional religious art in the mood of Ge. He worked a lot as a teacher, at the Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops — the Higher Artistic and Technical Institute (Vkhutemas— Vkhutein) (1920—1930).