Russia • 1883−1941
Not everybody agreed with the postulate “an artist should be hungry” at any time. But the most mysterious representative of Russian avant-garde, an art theorist Pavel Filonov, came into line with that statement. He did not take money from his students, did not sell his paintings on principle, he was called the “obsessed enemy of the working class”, and he considered himself a communist. Filonov thought of his purpose to be the following: “humanity should not enter the future with such an attitude as it has today". It’s hard to say whether humanity succeeded, but Filonov tried his best. That’s for sure.

Filonov’s universities

It was hard to imagine a painter with better origin than Pavel Filinov in the Soviet Union.
Just three years before the birth of his son, Filonov’s father was a nameless peasant. He became Filonov, when he moved to Moscow, where he served as a coachman. His mother worked as a laundress. The family had six children. Parents died early, and the elder sister and her husband, a Moscow merchant, took care of everyone in the family. As a child, Pavel was engaged in choreography, and made great progress. But the relatives noticed that the boy was an excellent painter which determined his future. At the age of 15, the young man was sent to St. Petersburg to study at painting workshops. And from a young age, he made a quite good amount of money – his paintings and decorative artworks considered to be a true success. At the same time, he attended The Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, and then - Dmitriev-Kavkazsky’s private studio.

What novice artist did not aspire to be accepted at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts? Filonov, wasn’t the exception, he entered the famous institution three times, until he was finally taken as a free-listener. He spent two years there, and after that, he and the Academy “broke up”, mutually dissatisfied with each other. He did not like the manner of teaching, limited by strict boundaries, and the Academy itself. Once, Filonov portrayed the human figure so that his veins and muscles were visible, everyone could feel the flow of blood. “Yes, he tore the skin from the model!”, - the teacher was indignant.

A researcher of Filonov’s work, Lyudmila Pravoverova, was sure that at the end of the last year of studying, in 1910, something happened to Filonov that determined his path for good, but biographers could not put their finger on what actually happened. A significant change in the content of his works spoke volumes in favor of that version. Back in 1907, those were lyrical studies. In 1910, echoes of the searches that would lead to analytical art were noticeable, and, in 1911, the artist’s style was already clearly visible.

Contemporaries recalled that Filonov’s character suddenly changed - from an outgoing and diligent young man, he turned into a closed one, completely wrapped up in his thoughts.

Rightly believing that one won’t recognize the world through the windows of any studio, even the most wonderful studio in the world, Filonov traveled by ferry along the Volga, visited Jerusalem, he had been to France and Italy. Some of his students later said that he almost “walked” from Petersburg to Rome, which was not true. The point was that he didn’t have money for the whole trip, and from time to time he worked part time - either as a painter, or as an artist, he even embroidered or chopped wood. Upon his returning to Petersburg, Filonov sat down and painted “At the window,” as he said himself. Everything he needed to see, he had already seen.

Analytical art of Pavel Filonov

The official date of birth of analytical art could be considered the release of the manifesto “Sdelannye Kartiny” (“Made Paintings”) in 1914. Filonov set out the main perspectives and prospects of his field in the manifesto. That was, first and foremost, a movement from particular to general, as well as multidimensionality. One day, explaining what analytical art was, Filonov gave an example: he drew a corner of the house, there was a horse with a cart next to it. He explained that outside the canvas there was the door to the store, from which a woman came out with purchases and saw a horse. With those words the artist painted a horse’s head right on the tail of the first version of the horse. The same horse was seen by people from the window of a house, by a sparrow, a fly, and a cabman. And the horse could see something a well. All that should have been transferred to the canvas!

Pavel Filonov turned out to be quite far from both academicians and avant-garde artists as he believed that both of those were busy working with “dead nature”. He thought that internal metamorphoses occurring with the subject should have been depicted instead.

“The obsessed enemy of the people”

The artist Filonov clearly took the side of the Bolsheviks and almost made a career as a revolutionary, but he quickly got tired of the game of power. He took part in the first post-revolutionary free exhibition of artists, filled with a variety of different styles, in the Winter Palace, where he presented 23 paintings from the cycle “Universal Shift in the Flowering of the World”. In 1919, due to the patronage of the artist Pavel Mansurov, who was the commandant of the House of Writers, Filonov received an accommodation - a room in which there were two windows, a bed, a table, chairs and some bookshelves.

In the 1920s, he tried to get along with the new government as he considered himself a communist to the core and was sure that his art was necessary for the people. He even headed the Department of General Ideology at the State Institute of Artistic Culture and organized the Workshop of Analytical Art. Filonov had a bit of a temper though, he considered compromises to be inappropriate, and he was not opened to discussions at all.

Filonov ignored Lunacharsky’s request for a series of realistic paintings glorifying the happiness of socialist labor. And even when he painted in socialist-realism style, those artworks weren’t perceived great. However, he also did not accept other commissions, he painted exclusively what he considered necessary, and he did not take money from students for studying. Occasionally, Filonov received a pension as “an academic researcher of the third category.”

By the end of the decade, “the clouds had significantly thickened”. “Izosvoloch”, as Filonov said about the court painters, intensified. In 1929, a personal exhibition of Pavel Filonov in The State Russian Museum was about to open. An exposition had already been prepared, booklets had been printed, but the exhibition was banned, and the Leningrad Union of Artists launched a campaign to “exterminate Filonov’s artworks”.

He was called a madman and a hypnotist. Filonov was really looking through you, and his eyes had an unbelievable cherry color.

“I have so much tenderness for you as I have for my daughter ...”

I’m smarter than you, and I found a good wife. Your husband is no match for my wife!” - wrote Pavel Filonov to his only one. He met the love of his life at the age of 38. She was 59. Ekaterina Serebryakova (nee Tetelman) asked Filonov to paint a posthumous portrait of her husband, Esper Serebryakov, an employee of the Historical and Revolutionary Archive.

Filonov put his wife on a pedestal; his letters to her were full of genuine adoration. He said: “... I have so much tenderness for you, as I have for my daughter.” He called his beloved one his daughter, and himself - Panka. Ekaterina Serebryakova received a good pension for her husband and special rations, while Filonov was mendicant. He did not want to hear about living at her expense. And when he rarely took money from his “daughter”, he returned everything exclusively and scrupulously.

In 1929, an American artist Helena Huntington-Hooker came to study under Filonov. She was 23 years old at that time. They practiced six weeks twice a day. Ekaterina was very jealous and suffered a lot, although Panka laughed: “I can cheat on you as much as Lenin can do it to democracy”. But the “daughter” was sure that Filonov and his student’s relationship had become intimate. Unable to put up with that, she went to the sanatorium, from where she wrote a letter to Filonov with an offer to part ways. He came to her the very next day. “So you wanted to leave me!?”, - he was indignant.

Suffering greatly from the fact that he could not spoil his “daughter” with gifts, Filonov did much more for his beloved one – he gave her three years of life. In 1939, Ekaterina Serebryakova suffered a stroke; she fell right on the street, from where an ambulance took her to the hospital. The next day, Filonov took her home holding in his arms, where he looked after her and nursed her. He slept sitting, he did not leave his “daughter” for a minute.

He could not imagine life without his wife so much that he had passed away before she did. Filonov was one of the first victims of the blockade - his body had not been given enough food throughout his whole life, therefore, there were no reserves to hold out. Having made sure that he did everything he could in terms of his wife’s health, he then guarded the paintings. Filonov spent all nights in the attic, fearing that a random shell could damage his artworks. His “daughter” outlived her Panka by several months. Filonov’s sister later gave away about four hundred works, which had been stored in basements for a long time, to The State Russian Museum. And so it happened that in such unmerciful homeland for Filonov, there appeared almost the complete collection of his “Made paintings.”

Virtual gallery of paintings in Arthive offers you to get acquainted with the biography and artworks of the master.

Author: Alena Esaulova
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