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Russia • 1881−1944
Ilya Mashkov (29 (17) July 1881, village Mikhailovskaya, Khopersky District, Don’s Army Region (now Uryupinsky District of the Volgograd Region), Russia – 20 March 1944, Moscow, USSR) was a famous Russian and Soviet avant-garde painter, an active participant and one of the founders of the ”Jack of Diamonds” art association, a member of the “World of Art” association, a member of the Society of Moscow Artists, Honored Artist of the RSFSR (Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic).

Peculiar features Ilya Mashkov’s art: bright, rampant and “wild” passion marked his early works. Bright palette, thick daubs of paint, expressiveness, the use of pure color made his memorable still lifes quite “edible”. Socialist realism in his execution can now be considered postmodernism.

Famous paintings of Ilya Mashkov: "Self-portrait and a Portrait of Pyotr Konchalovsky", "Moscow’s Snack of Bread", "The Bathers".

Ilya Mashkov was clearly a kinesthetic*. How else would he bring such a tangible sensual, carnal principle into his images? Hands strive to reach for his crispy and fragrant "Bread". Amber juice seems to sprinkle from the ripe plums right in a second. The lemons in the painting make one’s mouth set on edge. And the bodies of his bathers are so hot heat that the painting can even warm a room.

It turns out that “this” can be learnt!
Mashkov was born in the village of Mikhailovskaya, now the Volgograd region in Russia. The family lived poorly, so Ilya’s continuous education was impossible: after three years of study at the parish school, he was sent “to the people”. He helped in the shops and, in his own words, fiercely hated it. The time when the boy could draw was his outlet. His first sketches were exclusively practical - he created shop signs and painted trading posters for shopkeepers.

Overall, young Ilya really liked working with his hands - perhaps this was where the piercing sensuality and kinaesthetics of his paintings came from: those paintings should not be looked at, but to be felt with one’s skin and taste and to be smelled.

One day, the teacher who taught Ilya art at the gymnasium, saw the paintings of the young Mashkov and asked him if he thought about studying painting. Ilya was unspeakably surprised: “But do they really learn this?” A whole world opened up for the beginning painter, as it turned out that he could seriously do what he really liked – to paint.

Having disclosed his aim, Ilya Mashkov resolutely turned in that direction. On 28 February 1989, he left the shop (he remembered this date for his whole life) and decided to devote all his time to prepare for the exams. In the same year he entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. His teachers were Korovin, Serov, Vasnetsov, Gorsky, and most importantly - the Tretyakov Gallery and the Rumyantsev Museum, where he spent all his spare time.

He studied well and in 1902 Ilya Mashkov was awarded the Sergei Tretyakov Prize. But the trouble was that although he found his recognition, money did not begin to flow at all. It is not known for sure whether it was his own decision or someone suggested this to him, but the fact was that in 1904 Ilya Mashkov left the art school and opened his own private art school, which kept on running until 1917. Mikhail LarionovNatalya Goncharova, Pyotr Konchalovsky were the teachers there. Mashkov actively collaborated with Konchalovsky, they were united both by proximity in art and friendly relations in life.

In 1905, Mashkov married for the first time (and he did not stop there) to a girl of Italian descent, Sofia Arentsvari.

"The Joy of the Savage"
It was in Mashkov’s studio where the “Knave of Diamonds” was born - one of the most famous avant-garde communities of those years. Things went well, and already in 1908 Mashkov traveled to Europe and got acquainted with new art movements in Germany, France, Spain, Austria, and England. And on his return, he decided to continue his own studying, for which he again went to the Moscow School of Painting for a course under Serov and Korovin. In parallel, Mashkov participated in exhibitions. Success came to him quickly, but with a touch of scandal.

Mashkov’s paintings are imbued with indomitable savagery, passion, and violent joy from the flesh of the things he depicted. Some art historians of those years described Mashkov’s paintings as follows: “one can feel the joy of the savage who can see all this for the first time.” His paintings are hyperbolized, exaggerated, they are too natural.

Mashkov kept on his studies even after he gained popularity. He tried not to restrict the freedom of his artistic vision by conforming the requirements of his teachers. In particular, it was only Korovin who understood Mashkov’s attempts to portray the female body in pure color (which he later did). While the majority members of "Knave of Diamonds" was clearly influenced by cubism, Mashkov definitely gravitated to the color rampant of Fauvism.
Answering the question what this “savage painter” is doing when he paints red, green, yellow bodies, Serov told that "he says, “I will bring everything to the real truth." Judging by the fact that soon on one of the sketches of Ilya Mashkov appeared a short mark "dropped out", he did bring it ...

Mashkov was grateful to Korovin for understanding and was upset by the break with Serov. But what a joy for him was the confession of the teacher after his expelling! Several paintings by Ilya Mashkov were exhibited at the Autumn Salon in Paris in 1910. The artist was very pleased to know that Serov and Matisse unanimously advised the famous collector Morozov to acquire Mashkov’s “Blue Plums”.

To portray what goes away ...
In addition to his “wild” ability to convey sensations on canvas, Mashkov had remarkable organizational abilities. He longed to organize, collect, make – now it is time to recall his desire to create with his hands. He was one of the founders of the ”Knave of Diamonds“, and later he became the secretary of the art association. In 1915 he was admitted to the "World of Art". In the same year Mashkov married again: his second wife was his student Elena Fedorova – you can see her in "Still Life with a Female Figure".

Like many other avant-garde artists, Mashkov enthusiastically accepted the Revolution. He was involved in the union of artists, was a member of numerous communities and organizations, taught painting at the Second Free State Workshops (which became the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture), and then - at the Higher Artistic and Technical Workshops.

Alongside with the turbulent organizational activity, he began to paint completely different works, the so-called "Mashkov’s museum still lifes." They were marked with decorativeness and abounded in porcelain and scarlet furniture. At the exhibition of the Association of the Artists of Revolutionary Russia (AARR) “Revolution, Life and Labor” in 1925, Mashkov exhibited his famous triptych “Moscow’s Snack”: “Bread”“Meat, poultry” and “Fruits”. The third and the last wife of Mashkov, the artist Maria Danilova, took part in the preparation of the objects for the “Breads” painting and baked some of the things herself. Looking back at the historical events, we understand that the country at that time was painfully departing from the attempts to create military communism and a really tough time was waiting ahead. And suddenly - such a luxury, such an abundance! Farewell to food?

It's not that Mashkov was a dissident - not at all. He fought for every letter and every title in the USSR and proudly quoted the abbreviations of the organizations in which he participated. So probably, Mashkov’s creativity went beyond his individual views. And incredibly bright, attractive and delicious dishes by Mashkov seem to anticipate their destiny - to turn from food into models for a long time.

The paintings were accepted, and everybody expected a masterpiece on a revolutionary subject from the artist. Mashkov traveled to Crimea, collected impressions, painted impressionist landscapes and portraits of workers and peasants, bathers and beaches. Portraits of Mashkov are not marked with psychologism, his people represent a cast of form and function. And they still expected revolutionary pictures from him.

Ilya Mashkov decided to go to his homeland, the Volgograd region, where he painted a series of peasant portraits and tried to teach art to peasant children. In his paintings from that period fresh-faced collective farmers are full of health, just look at them! Everything is in the best traditions of Mashkov’s still lifes. But today we know that in the 1930s a cruel famine was killing people in the Volga region ... Did the singer of flesh and sensuality paint again about the things that had already gone away?

Sudden postmodernism or programmatic Stalinism?
During the World War II Mashkov went to the Lefortovo hospital to paint the military, partisans and medical staff. He died a year before the end of the war.

Mashkov’s paintings which glorify Stalin’s power have a double bottom, though he seemed not to interpret this as such. The last “Soviet Breads” of the 1936, the era of repression was already beginning ... Did he finally fulfill the state commission to create a revolutionary artwork? The huge canvas with the emblem of the USSR in the center is made of baked bread – is it the Stalinist empire of bad taste or a clever metaphor of the attributes of the Soviet government one can eat?

And the apotheosis of Stalinism worship "Hello to the 17th Congress of the CPSU (B.)" can be classified nowadays as postmodernism, not brownnosing... Of course, the art riddles are especially good, because the clue can sometimes come up years after.

* Kinesthetic – one, who receiving information, perceiving the surrounding reality, seeks to translate everything into the language of bodily sensations, taste, touch and smell, trying to touch the interlocutor, even if he does not look at him.

Author: Alena Esaulova

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