Zinaida Serebriakova (1884-1967) was an extremely gifted Russian artist, whose work stood apart from any groups and movements of its time. Serebryakova's paintings are full of poetry, light, sensuality, and joy. She was the first Russian woman-artist whose name made it into history of world art and made a significant contribution into Russian art. Zinaida Serebriakova was a painter, graphic artist and master of monumental art. Worked in portrait, still life, landscape and nu genres. She is referred to as first female Russian painter of distinction.
Broad public recognition and fame came with her as a professional painter in 1910 when unknown by that time young artist Zinaida Serebriakova presented her self-portrait "At the Dressing-Table" at a large exhibition mounted by the Union of Russian Artists in Moscow. The painting was immediately purchased by the Tretyakov Gallery which became another sensation.
Zinaida Serebriakova was destined to become an artist. She was born in 1884 in the artistic family. Her father Yevgeni Aleksandrovich Lanceray was a famous sculptor, while her grandfather Nikolai Leontyevich Benois was an academician and chairman of Saint Petersburg Association of Architects, and the latter's son, Alexandre Nikolayevich Benois (Zinaida's "Uncle Shura") was an illustrious artist and the founder of the Mir Iskusstva art group.
He used to say that the kids in their family are born with the pencil. This is because all the members of the family were connected with art, which created the special atmosphere in the house where Zinaida grew up. She is known to be fond of and totally absorbed by poainting form the very early age.
In 1900 she graduated from a women's gymnasium, and entered the art school founded by Princess M. K. Tenisheva. She studied under Repin in 1901, and under portrait artist Braz between 1903 and 1905. Between 1902-1903 she spent time in Italy, and from 1905-1906 she studied at the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere in Paris.
She became Serebriakova by marrying Boris Serebriakov, a railroad student in1905, and later a railroad engineer. This was a happy marriage, the spouses had 4 children with.
Her life as an artist was also very fruitful and successful. She joined the Mir iskusstva movement in 1911, but stood out from the other members of the group because of her preference for popular themes and because of the harmony, plasticity and generalized nature of her paintings. In 1914-1917, Zinaida Serebriakova was in her prime. During these years she produced a series of pictures on the theme of Russian rural life, the work of the peasants and the Russian countryside which was so dear to her heart: Peasants (1914-1915, Russian Museum), Sleeping Peasant Girl (private collection). The most important of these works was Bleaching Cloth (1917, Tretyakov Gallery), which revealed Zinaida Serebriakova's striking talent as a monumental artist. The figures of the peasant women, portrayed against the background of the sky, gain majesty and power by virtue of the low horizon. When in 1916 Alexander Benois was commissioned to decorate the Kazan Railway Station (see) in Moscow, he invited Yevgeny Lanceray, Boris Kustodiev, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, and Zinaida Serebriakova to help him. Serebriakova took on the theme of the Orient: India, Japan, Turkey, and Siam are represented allegorically in the form of beautiful women. At the same time she began compositions on subjects from classical mythology, but these remained unfinished.
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. Her family estate where she was living was burnt down together with a huge library and a great number of drawings and canvasses. The family suffered from hunger. She had to give up oil painting in favour of the less expensive techniques of charcoal and pencil. This was the time of her most tragic painting, House of Cards, which depicts her four orphaned children.
In 1924 Serebriakova got an order for a large decorative panel and with the help of her uncle moved to Paris, leaving behind her children and mother in Saint Petersburg. Some time later she managed to take her son Sasha and daughter Katya across the border, but Zhenya and Tanya had to stay with their weakening granny in Russia.
Then exhibitions in France, Belgium, and England followed. Zinaida Serebriakova travelled a great deal. In 1928 and 1930 she travelled to Africa, visiting Morocco which resulted in series of paintings of Arab and African women in ethnic clothes. She also painted a cycle devoted to Breton fishermen. The creative success accompanied with constant tormenting sensations of separation of the family and home.
It was not until Khruschev's Thaw that the Soviet Government allowed her to resume contact with her family in the Soviet Union. In 1960, after 36 years of forced separation, her older daughter, Tatiana, was finally allowed to visit her. At this time, Tatiana was also working as an artist, painting scenery for the Moscow Art Theatre.
Serebriakova's triumph in Soviet Russia in 1956 surpassed the most glorious reminiscences of her youth - she was ranked among Boticelli and other great masters. The 80 year old artist was already unable to visit her motherland, yet she could finally feel the acknowledgment of her home country.
She passed away on September 1967 and was laid to rest in the Russian cemetery of San Genevieve de Bua. Following the artist's will an enormous collection of her works (over two hundred canvasses) was brought back to Russia.
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