Restless Ventures of Nadia Khodasevich Léger
Window to ParisNadia Khodasevich was born in 1904 in Belarus into a poor family. Nadia had seven or eight brothers and sisters (various data available). Rural life, the need to work from an early age… It could seem that there should not be any thoughts about art, but Nadia thought about it all the time. She loved to paint. When the First World War began, the family moved to the Russian town of Belev. After the revolution, the Palace of Arts was opened there, and thirteen-year-old Nadya enrolled in an art circle. Two years later, she left her family and went to study in Smolensk. There she entered Svomas, Free State Art Workshops.
The Free Workshops teachers taught artists of revolutionary trends. For two years, Nadia Khodasevich studied with the Suprematists, and met Kazimir Malevich himself.
Nadia Khodasevich at the age of 16. Photo Source
It was a classic misalliance. A girl from a poor family ended up in a rich bourgeois house. Although, there were plenty of flies in the ointment — her mother-in-law neglected her. But all this was not important, because she didn’t forget the dream of Paris. Nadia persuaded her husband to go to France, and in 1924, having settled in a good Parisian boarding house, they began their studies at the Academy of Contemporary Art under Fernand Léger himself.
Runaway brideFernand Léger, like Nadia Khodasevich, came from a simple family. His father raised livestock. However, Fernand’s mother didn’t object her son’s hobby for drawing, but there was no talk of the artistic craft. At the age of 16, Fernand Léger became an apprentice to an architect, then worked as a draughtsman. It would seem a respectable business, a stable income, but the young man went in for painting. He went to study at the School of Decorative Arts, then at a private art academy. Early works by Léger speak of his passion for the work of the Impressionists, but very soon he was imbued with the ideas of Cubism. Beginning in 1910, Fernand Léger became an active participant in the Salons of the Independent, successfully worked and even created his own kind of Cubism, Tubism (the basis of the artist’s works were cylindrical shapes).
Verdun. Trench diggers. Fernand Léger. 1916
When World War I broke out, Fernand Léger was mobilized and served in the engineering troops for two years. In September 1916, during a gas attack near Verdun, he was seriously poisoned and spent more than a year in hospitals, and eventually left military service. All this time, his romance with Jeanne Lohy continued in letters, and on 1 December 1919, they got married.
Next to LégerThe relationship between the young spouses soon began to deteriorate. Nadia was carried away by the ideas of Léger, but Stanisław did not like studying at the academy. Quarrels began. Once Nadia successfully sold her student work, and a scandal broke out in the house: Grabowski was offended by the fact that his wife was more successful than him.
That was all she was. She left her parental home almost as a child. Without money and connections, she rushed to Warsaw. She didn’t know French, but she went to Paris. She cooked and cleaned at the boarding house, but at the same time, she painted pictures and scribbled articles for her magazine. Nadia was not a beauty, she could not boast of noble features, but her energy, vitality and charm would be enough for ten. And it is not at all surprising that soon a new man appeared next to her — Georges Boquier, an official of the Parisian post office. Upon learning that Boquier was fond of drawing, Nadia invited him to the Léger Academy.
By that time, Fernand Léger himself appreciated the energy and talent of Nadia. He offered Nadia a position at the academy and made her his assistant.
Self-Portrait. Nadia Khodasevich. 1941. The Source
When World War II began, Georges Boquier joined the army, and Léger and his wife left for the United States. Fernand Léger called Nadia with him, but she refused. She remained in occupied France and lived on the brink of arrest, because she joined the Communist Party in 1932. And not only lived, but established contact with the Resistance fighters, provided them with information, spread leaflets. Escaping surveillance, she cut her black braid and dyed her hair blonde. When France was liberated, Nadia Khodasevich joined the Union of Soviet Patriots and set up an auction to raise funds for former Soviet prisoners of war. For the auction, she gave her works and canvases by Léger, involved Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, Henri Matisse to participate. The auction was a success, with over three million francs raised.
So, when does a study remain a mere drill, and when can we call it an artwork in its own right, full of life and having artistic value? Read more
He was seventy. Fleeing from loneliness, he began to spend more and more time with Nadia. She supported him, helped in everything. A little more than a year passed, and on 21 February 1952, Fernand and Nadia got married.
Having inherited all the fortune and work of her husband, Nadia Léger decided, first of all, to adequately present his art to descendants. A month before his death, the artist purchased a small house in Biot in the south of France. At this place, Nadia created the Fernand Léger Museum. A specially designed building houses his canvases, sculptures, tapestries, and stained-glass windows. She opened another small museum in Normandy, in her husband’s homeland. And then she left for her own homeland.
Nadia in the USSRIn 1959, forty years after leaving for Warsaw, Nadia Khodasevich-Léger came to the Soviet Union. The thaw has already begun there, however, Nadia had to work hard to melt the ice in the relationship. Fernand Léger did paint workers and turn to industrial motives, and Nadia herself painted pictures on the "Peace to the World" theme, however their works were so far from the socialist realist canons! On the one hand, both Nadia and Fernand Léger were communists, she participated in the Resistance and was friends with the leaders of the French Communist Party. But this partisan and communist flaunted her expensive fur coats!
Thanks to her efforts, La Gioconda and an exhibition of Picasso’s works were brought to the USSR.
Nadia was in close contact with Yekaterina Furtseva, took care of the Soviet delegations in France, was friends with Soviet writers, actors and directors. Literary evidence of this friendship is Sergei Dovlatov’s story, The Jacket of Fernand Léger, about the widow of the Soviet actor Nikolai Cherkasov who met Nadia in Paris, and she gave the young writer a corduroy jacket that once belonged to the maître.
Thus, the "cultural exchange" between the USSR and France was largely the work of Nadia Léger in those years. At the same time, she managed to argue with the same Furtseva, declaring that the socialist
- Suprematism. Nadia Léger. ColourAlong with monotypy, lithography belongs to the group of flat printing techniques, but this is where their similarities seem to end. Lithography appeared in 1796 or 1798, thanks to Johann Alois Senefelder, a typographer from Munich. Initially, they took an imprint from a drawing on a stone slab, usually limestone, which gave the name for the method (ancient Greek λίθος “stone” + γράφω “I write, draw”). Nowadays, instead of lithographic stone, zinc or aluminum plates are used, which are easier to process. Read moreon paper. 1972—1973. A. S. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Moscow
- Suprematism. Nadia Léger. Silk-screen printing on paper, c. 1969. A. S. Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts. Moscow
Another gift of hers can be seen by everyone in Dubna near Moscow. There, in one of the local squares,
She died on 7 November 1982 in Grasse. The tombstone of her grave is decorated with her