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The 85th Anniversary of the First All-Belarusian Exhibition of 1925

The 85th Anniversary of the First All-Belarusian Exhibition of 1925

 

The exhibition was dedicated to the anniversary of the 1905 revolution and the 400th anniversary of the Belarusian book printing. It was opened on December 6 in the building of the Communist University on the University Street, 27 (now – Kirov Str., 21). More than 1000 art works were displayed here. The specimens of the Ancient art: the Cross of St. Euphrosyne of Polotsk, the copies of the Polotsk churches’ frescoes, books and publications, etc. were exhibited in the building of the Belarusian State Museum or BSM (the building of the Church and Archeological Museum, later on – the House of Arts).

Lev Alperovich. 1874–1913. Woman near the sea. 1905. Oil on canvas. 42,7х57,3

The 14 topics on the history of the struggle of the Belarusian people for their social independence were suggested in the addressing speech of the Institute of the Communist Party History under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the BSSR. The following topics were included into the speech: the Peasants’ Uprising of 1863 headed by Kastus Kalinovsky, the fight for the Soviet power, the Civil War, the liberation of Belarus by the Red Army, the unity of the Peoples of the USSR, the image of Vladimir Lenin, the struggle against the international capital and many others. The preparatory work was led by the Exhibition Committee, whose members include: the Head of the Artistic Section of the Institute of Belarusian Culture – Iosif Dyla, the Secretary of the Section – Nikolay Schekatikhin, the representative of the Union of Art Workers – Aaron Kastelyansky. The selection of the exhibits was organized by the Commission, comprising the representatives of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus, the Institute of History under the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus, the People’s Commissariat for Education, the Vitebsk Art College, and the following artists – Mikhail Filippovich, Moisei Slepyan, Abraham Brazer, Nikolay Mikholap, and Maria Lebedeva.

Lev Alperovich. 1874–1913. Portrait of a girl. The 1910s. Charcoal on paper. 35,5х27,5

There was a complex issue: on which categories the exhibits should have been selected? The Expert Commission had decided at the end: promiscuity, a lack of common vision and close programme activity is not a minus, but a plus in this case (“Sovetskaya Belorussia”, 1925, 9.12). The articles, written by Ivan Tsvikevich, Nikolay Schekatikhin, Nikolay Kasperovich, Aaron Kastelyansky, Iosif Dyla, Vladislav Lastovsky, Ivan Gavris, Ivan Furman, Pyotr Darkevich, Sander Palees, Elena Aladova and etc., had appeared in the press.

Arcady Astapovich. 1896–1941. Street in the village. The 1920s. Pencil, watercolour, Indian ink and pen on paper. 26,5х20,5

The speech made by a statesman – I. Tsvikevich – in the pages of the “Art Tribunes” (№ 3): “Artists! Set yourselves to the work of the exhibition’s preparation, which will identify your skills and will show your creativity to the people of Belarus” – was one of the first speeches.

Abraham Brazer. 1892–1942. Portrait of Yury Pen. 1921. Oil on canvas. 55х41,5

The project prepared by Nikolay Schekatikhin: “From the results of the All-Belarusian Exhibition” (“Our Native Land”, 1926, № 2–3), which raised the question of the further development of the Belarusian Fine Arts – can be characterized as super professional one. The author had been emphasizing the characteristic feature of the exhibition – “local history trend” in the two following directions: Belarusian and Jewish ones. The types of artistic images – of a city, rural landscapes; the types – Belarusian and Jewish ones; the portraits of politics and workers of culture; the motives of daily routine and working life; the stylization of the Belarusian Folk and Ancient art, the history of Belarus and the revolutionary movement as well were marked by the author.

Abraham Brazer. 1892–1942. Head of a Jewish boy. The 1920s. Indian ink and pen on paper. 19х17

The theme of historic significance had taken its own shape in the portraits of Francysk Skaryna in the art works by Abraham Brazer, A. Kastelyansky, and Jacob Kruger. The second historical theme – “Kastus Kalinovsky” – is represented in the art works by Alexander Grube, J. Kruger, and Valentin Volkov. “Local history” motives and folk types were being developed in the art works of the students of the Vitebsk Art College, where Mikhail Ende was the Head of the Picture’s Studio. N. Schekatikhin himself was giving the following separate art characteristics: “M. Filippovich is almost the only one artist at the exhibition, whose art works do not possess any non-Belarusian motives and whose creative work is saturated with great interest and sincere love for his native country. This is one of the most interesting and valuable events in our contemporary National art, which gives us a hope for its further great and permanent flourishing”. Local history portraits can be found in the art works by A. Brazer (Y. Kupala and Y. Kolas); the Jewish types – in the art works by Meyer Axelrod, A. Kastelyansky, and Yury (Yudel) Pen.

Gabriel Vieir. 1890–1964. Young artist. 1923. Oil on fibreboard. 49,9х48,3

The researcher had been noticing a large number of the art exhibits on the themes of landscape and types, which were considered to be “the most fundamental disadvantages” by the author. And, in connection with such circumstances he had exclaimed: “Be closer to real life with its real interests!”

Valentine Volkov. 1881–1964. Velizh. 1923. Pencil and gouache on paper. 22х32,5

N. Kasperovich had identified the most typical in the article “Local History in the Contemporary Graphic Arts” (“Our Land”, 1926, № 12): “It is quite natural, that both the marks of nationwide motives and local architecture, or monuments (“Column of 1812” by Efim Minin, “The Church of Anton” by Solomon Yudovin); local types (S. Yudovin, E. Minin, Pavel Gutkovsky; a local landscape – E. Minin, Anatoly Tychina, S. Yudovin and many others) are being reflected at our graphic artists’ works. The creators were presented with the task: “to give a sensitive response to the social life and realm; to participate in the new cultural development with the help of not only art but social work as well”.

Gennady Zmudzinsky. 1897–1938. Album of the drawings dedicated to the events of Imperialistic War I. The German cavalry, being followed up with the fire of our machine guns. 1916. Watercolour and Indian ink on paper. 27,5х55

In his article – “Ways of development of the Visual Art of the BSSR” (“Uzvyshsha”, 1929, № 3) – A. Kastelyansky had reasonably concluded: “The systematic activities of the Belarusian artists in the direction of the exhibitions’ organization, the creative associations’ foundation etc. had started beginning from 1925.” The article contains the following statements at the end of it: “... we should firmly say that with the help of the high artistic culture we will be able of taking course up to the rise of the artistic visual arts. First of all we have to win both the provincialism of our art and our audience as well”. These words can be regarded as a key for opening up new perspectives in the Belarusian art of the second half of the 1920s. A. Kastelyansky had also noted the strong sides in the creative activity of M. Filippovich in the sense of “art proficiency” as well as the art works of “an energetic and ambitious painter and decorator” – Ivan Akhremchik, and the art works by Vyacheslav Rutsai, “who was persistently studying the problems of color and decorative shape”. That was A. Kastelyansky who had named Mikhail Gorshman’s graphic list – “Jewish Wedding” – “a specific shift in the modern lithography”, as well as the topics of the Jewish towns and boroughs in the compositional art plan, and he had marked the art works by Yakov Taits, “who takes the themes and motives from the Jewish village”. He liked the following graphic artists such as S. Yudovin and E. Minin: “The most outstanding among all the graphic artists of the BSSR – Yudovin and Minin – had introduced lots of originality into the art of the BSSR”.

Vladimir Kudrevich. 1884–1957. Morning of Spring. 1924. Oil on canvas. 101х79,5

But new times – the 1930s, which became history as the “fight against National Democrats”, against formalism, and hostile bourgeois influences, had been coming. On the pages of his book – “Visual Art of the BSSR” (1932) – A. Kastelyansky offers a different, hostile image of that First Exhibition: “It is significant that the National Democrats have considered that it was necessary to demonstrate at the exhibition the Ancient Belarusian Art, consisting in the icons of the so-called Belarusian painting and style”. The author distinguishes “kulak restorative tendencies of the National Democracy”, and proclaims Kastus Kalinovsky a “hero of the Polish gentry”. He states that the majority of the artists “have been showing the nationalistic tendencies at their art works, recognizing the Belarusian Church, the Bible of Skaryna, the Slutsk sashes, and etc”. The art works by E. Minin, Roman Semashkevich, P. Darkevich and many others were paid special attention, and they came in the field of views of the art historians and critics, who came to be known as “vulgar sociology”. A. Kastelyansky was commenting it like that: “In the engravings by Minin – “Cycle of War”– the influence of an expressionist red German group is being sensed, and there is also a danger of “remarkizm” (or a narrow view of a war) (LіM, 1932, № 24, 15.12). “Among the artists of the BSSR there were class-hostile performances, such as the experiments of the Vitebsk artist Minin during the Fifth Belarusian Exhibition in the ex-libris for the Vitebsk Museum, which has a bright idealization of the nobility’s past in Belarus” (LіM, 1933, 6:11). The author does not hold himself aloof from self-criticism: “These influences of the Bourgeois art are being manifested, in particular, even in my own creative practice” (LіM, 1932, 3.04). The Vitebsk researcher – Arkady Podlipsky – the author of the article “One ex-libris – and the whole life” explores the attitude of the former Director of the Vitebsk Art College – Vitaly Volsky – to the creative activity of Minin (“Narodnaye Slova”, 2007, 3.04). There is still one more question left: who has incited these talented creators to these talented artists, who have been well-known in the art as well as social circles? In particular, Minin – a member of the associations of local history and bibliophiles, the Belarusian Union of Artists, the Commission for the History of Art of the Institute of Belarusian Culture.

Maria Lebedeva. 1895–1942. Ex-libris for A. Makarova. 1925. Relief etching on paper. 6,9х5,5

This year A. Kastelyansky would have turned 120 years old. He was an active worker of culture of the Belarusian art in the sphere of the exhibitions’ organization and in the area of the art groups’ foundation. His picturesque canvases and paintings, being typically titled for an artist of the Jewish nationality: the sketches from the series “Campus”, “Jewish Farmer”, “Boy with a Goat”, and “Portrait of an Artist” – were shown at the First Exhibition. His canvases – “Synagogue in Narovlya”, “Seamstress”, and “Pioneers” – are being stored at the collection of NAM RB. Alongside with such artists as – E. Minin, R. Semashkevich, the brothers Pyotr and Khristofor (Christopher) Darkevich’s, Ivan Gavris; the art historians – N. Schekatikhin, N. Kasperovich, I. Dyla, I. Tsvikevich, and also his friend – Izzi Harik – were repressed in 1937. A. Kastelyansky had not been already aware of this because he passed away in 1934.

Unknown artist. The Belarusian Art College. Man with a clarion. 1925. Watercolour and gouache on cardboard. 72х42

A bulk of structural determinations, which still have an extraordinary scientific appeal, had become the measures of the First All-Belarusian Exhibition’s success. First of all it was the catalogue with the exposition’s content, divided between the three sections. The first section is art, drawing, sculpture; the second one – theater; the third one – visual arts.

Yury (Yudel) Pen. 1854–1937. Young Communist-Shoemaker. 1925. Oil on cardboard. 99х78

Perhaps, the process of the artistic heritage’s mastering had become one of the most important in the artistic life of the country of the 1920s; the artistic exhibits of all the three sections are the clear evidences of the above-mentioned fact. These are the sketches of the Slutsk sashes, folk costumes, peasant lifestyle and work. The album, entitled “Slutsk Sashes”, the authors of which were: M. Filippovich, M. Lebedeva, A. Tychina, – had become the result of the scientific and social activities of the artists. The creative activity of Jazep Drozdovich, on whose canvases one can see the images of the prominent figures of the history and the monuments of architecture, is a bright evidence of the First Exhibition’s historicity. M. Filippovich had defeated the Kupala Midsummer Holiday by his ethnographic fairy show. It comes from the natural sources of the folk culture, where both the metaphor and the freedom of form are being valued. The following samples of the Folk art – an ornament, or weaving (P. Gutkovsky), embroidery (A. Tychina), the stylized for Skaryna fonts (P. Gutkovsky, M. Lebedeva, and M. Ende) – were being fruitfully used. Lebedeva had been sketching the frescoes and murals of the Polotsk churches.

Mikhail Stanyuta. 1881–1974. Portrait of daughter. Sketch for portrait. 1923. Tempera on cardboard. 87,7х60,2

The well-known in the future creators and government officials, teachers, people’s artists – Zair Azgur, A. Grube, V. Volkov, Oskar Mariks, the honoured ones – J. Kruger, A. Brazer, Vladimir Kudrevich, Lev Leitman, Elena Aladova, and Vladimir Sukhoverkhov – had become the participants of the exhibition. The young creators, whose destinies in future existed in Finland (Alexander Ahola-Valo), in Moscow (M. Filippovich, R. Semashkevich, Alexander Bykhovsky, Ivan Gavris, M. Axelrod, M. Gorshman and other students of VHUTEMAS and the Academy of Fine Arts), in Leningrad (S. Yudovin, M. Lebedeva, Valery Dvorokovsky), on the west of Belarus (J. Drozdovich) – were going into their own “anchor”. The students of the Vitebsk Art College – Ales Puzynkevich, Nikolay Gusev, Alexander Bulychev, Valentin Dezhits and many others, were exhibiting their art works.

Anatoly Tychina. 1897–1986. Gomel. In the Park. 1923. Black watercolour and colourful Indian ink on paper. 14х20,5

The drawing of the First Exhibition is an excellent whiff of pure imagery. That was the drawing itself which alleged the possibilities of creating the synthesis of arts. The author of the following placard sheets such as “Alarm Bell” and “Leviathan” – Alexander Bykhovsky – were demonstrating the stylistic diversities of Modernism. His compositions had the form of intricate and complex designs composed from geometric shapes, where the author was widely using zoomorphic motives of the Jewish visual folklore. Arkady Astapovich was demonstrating the stylistic unity in his landscape sheets. The technique did not become a goal in itself for P. Gutkovsky; he was striving to convey an image-idea of such publications as “Maladnyak”, “Young Orators”, having based on the national themes, realities and values with the depiction of Skaryna, Francisk Bogushevich, and the Young Poets of the “Maladnyak”. Space theme – the major one of a linocut painter – A. Ahola-Valo –, where right in the interstellar space an artificial satellite is hovering over the Earth! And it has been depicted before its actual creation and launch into the orbit?!

Mikhail Filippovich. 1896–1947. During the Midsummer. Between the 1921–1922s. Oil on cardboard. 71х84

Thus, the foundations of the dialogue (which was contributing to the consolidation of the artistic forces, the identification of the artists’ skills and the cohesion on a single platform of ideas and creative styles for an active participation in the creation of a new society) were firmly laid out.

The 50 art works and exhibits of the First All-Belarusian Art Exhibition are being stored at the collection of NAM RB. The heritage is formed by the art work – “During the Midsummer” – by M. Filippovich, where an archaic Belarusian national holiday, or a ritual, having its prehistoric beginning, is reflected. “Portrait of Daughter” by Mikhail Stanyuta depicts a young actress, whose figure and mood convey a sense of awakening and great hope. The traditions of Impressionism, which have not previously received their creative testing in the Belarusian painting, are used in the famous landscape by V. Kudrevich – “Morning of Spring”. The portrait of Yury Pen, performed by A. Brazer, is a vivid evidence of the author’s interest in the personality of his contemporary, the Vitebsk artist and teacher. The master himself has been exhibited by a portrait of his student – Iosif Turzhansky – “From the Balcony”, and an easel painting – “Young Communist – Shoemaker”. The author of the narrative composition “While Reading” – Lev Alperovich – a student of Ilya Repin and a supporter of the principles of the art of the Itinerants (“Peredvizhniki” – painters of the 19th century Russian realist school) – had become famous as a singer of the Minskers’ routine and everyday life. The canvas – “On the Seashore” – now looks like a romantic landscape, which is being adorned with the figure of a young woman. The following drawings: “Portrait of a Young Man”, “Group Portrait” and “Portrait of an Unknown Woman” – were being exposed. Gabriel Vieira had inspired the image of a “Young Artist”, who was bending over a drawing. A. Tychina dedicated his art works, which consist of graphic forms and images, to the Gomel Park. P. Gutkovsky had recorded one of the most beautiful moments of nature – a thunderstorm in color – at his watercolor sheet “Threshing Floor”. A. Brazer was showing the portrait titled “Head of a Boy”, which was performed in the ink technique. V. Volkov was captured by a vision of the neighborhoods of Velizh with the Western Dvina in the foreground. A. Astapovich is represented as a singer of the landscape of different year seasons (“Morning”, “Winter Day”, “Old Cemetery”, and “Street in the Village”). The artist – Gennady Zmudinsky – had offered the ten images from the album about the events of the First Imperialist War. His art work – “The Crippled on the Roads” – performed in watercolors, is an inimitative illustration of the Belarusian people’s life on the roads of the War. A series of the graphic images of the Belarusian peasants, holding labor items and household utensils (a sickle, hooks, a jug, a horn, and folk instruments) were shown by the students of the Vitebsk Art College. The collection is supplemented with the sketches of weaving and embroidery art works. The teacher of the workshop – M. Lebedeva – had exposed the images as well as bookplates, one of which was devoted to her friend – Makarova.

Leading Scientific Employee of the Department of Modern Belarusian Art, Candidate of Arts – Lyudmila Nalivaiko