Vera Yermolaeva

Born: 1893, Klyuchi (Saratov Province)
Died: 1937, Dolinka (Kazakhstan)

Painter, graphic artist, illustrator, theatrical designer, teacher. Born at the estate of Petrovskoe in the village of Klyuchi near Saratov (1893) in the family of hereditary nobleman and liberal landowner Mikhail Yermolaev (1847–1911) and Baroness Anna Unkovskaya von Ungern (1854–?). Named after Russian revolutionary Vera Figner (1852–1942), who was protected and employed as a rural doctor by her parents in the nearby village of Vyazmino (1878). Lost the use of her legs following an attack of polio or a horse-riding accident in childhood, leaving her a cripple all her life. Went to Innsbruck for treatment and attended schools in Paris, London and Lausanne (1902–03). Returned to Russia (1904) and moved with her family to St Petersburg (1905), where she attended the Princess Alexandra Obolenskaya Grammar School at 8 Baskov Lane (1906–11), graduating with a gold medal (1911). Inherited over a million roubles following the death of her father (1911). Studied at the Mikhail Bernstein School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture (1911–14) and the Institute of Archaeology (1914–17). Regularly travelled to Siberia to visit her elder brother Konstantin Yermolaev (1883–1919), who joined the Menshevik Party and was exiled to the Yermakov Iron Mines near Irkutsk (1912–17). Visited Paris (1914), where she studied works of Post-Impressionist and Cubist painting. Returned to Petrograd following the outbreak of the First World War (1914) and rented an apartment at 4 Baskov Lane (1914–18). Founded the Bloodless Murder group with Mikhail Le-Dantiu and Nikolai Lapshin (1915), illustrated the Assyro-Babylonian and Albanian issues of the Bloodless Murder magazine (1916) and helped to design the sets for a performance of Ilya Zdanevich’s transrational play Janko I, King of Albania at Mikhail Bernstein’s studio (1916). Founding member and secretary of Freedom to Art (1917), member of Art and Revolution (1917) and To the Revolution (1917). Headed the signboard subsection of the Museum of Petrograd (1918–19). Founded the Today cooperative of artists and writers (1918), which published limited-edition children’s books created from linocuts and popular prints (1918–21). Illustrated Walt Whitman’s poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! (1918) and Vladimir Mayakovsky’s play Mystery-Bouffe (1918). Taught at the Vitebsk School of Art (1919–22), where she invited Kazimir Malevich to head the painting department (1919) and replaced Marc Chagall as rector (1920). Lover of Kazimir Malevich (1920–23). Founding member of UNOVIS (1920), contributed to the UNOVIS No. 1 almanac (1920), elected secretary of the creative committee (1920–22). Decorated Vitebsk on May Day (1920) and the third anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution (1921). Designed the sets and costumes for Kazimir Malevich’s production of Alexei Kruchenykh’s Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun at the Latvian Club in Vitebsk (1920) and Nikolai Efros’s production of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poem War and Peace at the Latvian Club in Vitebsk (1921). Returned to Petrograd with Georgy Noskov, Anna Kagan and Mikhail Veksler (1922). Rented Apartment 2 at 13, 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island, where she hosted poor students and held Tuesdays attended by Mikhail Matiushin and Pavel Filonov (1922–34). Worked under Mikhail Veksler at the poster workshop of the Decorative Institute (1923). Taught painting in the private studio of Alexei Uspensky and invited to teach at the VKhUTEIN (1923). Joined the Institute of Artistic Culture in Petrograd (1923), where she studied Cubism in the theoretical and formal department (1923–24) and headed the laboratory of colour (1924–26). Collaborated with such children’s magazines as Sparrow (1923–25), New Robinson (1925), Hedgehog (1928–31) and Siskin (1932–33) and such publishing houses as Young Guard (1931–32), Uchpedgiz (1931–32) and Lenoblizdat (1934). Worked under Vladimir Lebedev at the department of children’s literature of the State Publishing House (1925–31), where she composed her own children’s books, including The Unfortunate Coachman (1928), Doggies (1929), Down the Nile (1930), Six Masks (1930) and Masks of Wild Animals (1930). Illustrated Nikolai Aseyev’s Top-Top-Top (1925) and Redneck (1927), Boris Zhitkov’s Who Will Win? (1927) and Dress Me (1928), Nikolai Zabolotsky’s The Good Boots (1928), Alexander Vvedensky’s Many Wild Animals (1928), The Fishermen (1929), Run, Jump (1930) and The Feat of Mochin the Pioneer (1931), Daniil Kharms’s Ivan Ivanych Samovar (1929), Yevgeny Schwartz’s The Train (1929), Nikolai Oleinikov’s The Geography Teacher (1930), fables of Ivan Krylov (1929–30) and the fairytales of Mikhail Saltykov-Schedrin (1931–32). Member of Sorabis (1925–34). Worked at the experimental laboratory for the study of modern art at the Institute of the History of the Arts (1927–30) and the experimental lithographic studio of the Union of Artists (1933–34). Member of the Group of Painterly-Plastic Realism, which met at her apartment on Vasilyevsky Island and Lev Yudin’s room in a wooden house on Shamshev Street on the Petrograd Side (1927–34). Collaborated with the OBERIU poets (from 1928) and helped Lev Yudin to design the poster advertising the Three Left Hours at the House of Printing in Leningrad (1928). Engraved the Whaleboat series of linocuts for the Red Baltic Sailor newspaper (1928). Painted series of works inspired by trips to the Barents Sea (1928), River Dnieper (1929) and the White Sea (1930), such cycles as Fiddlers (1933), Countryside (1933), Sportsmen (1933–34) and Boys (1933–34) and a series of experimental still-lifes (1934). Briefly arrested by the NKVD (1932). Lived and worked in Pudost near Gatchina (1932–33) and taught at the House of Artistic Education for Children of October and Vyborg Districts in Leningrad (1934). Created a series of independent illustrations to Miguel de Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote (1933–34), Lucretius’s poem De rerum natura (1934) and Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s poem Reineke Fuchs (1934). Arrested for her illustrations to Reineke Fuchs, which were regarded as a political satire on the local Communist Party leadership (1934). Sentenced to three years in a prison camp for anti-Soviet activities (1935). Served her sentence alongside Vladimir Sterligov and Pyotr Sokolov at the Karaganda Corrective Labour Camp in central Kazakhstan, where she worked as an artist and designed posters (1935–37). Sentenced by an NKVD troika to execution for counter-revolutionary connections (1937) and allegedly shot in the settlement of Dolinka (1937), although Vladimir Sterligov claimed that she was loaded onto a barge, which was deliberately sunk in the Aral Sea (1937). Posthumously rehabilitated (1989). Contributed to exhibitions (from 1920). Contributed to the exhibitions of UNOVIS in Vitebsk (1920, 1921) and Moscow (1921, 1922), Die erste russische Kunstausstellung in the Galerie Van Diemen at 21 Unter den Linden in Berlin (1922), Exhibition of Pictures of Petrograd Artists of All Directions at the Academy of Arts in Petrograd (1923), Grafiek en boekkunst uit de Sovjet-Unie at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam (1929), Artists of the RSFSR Over Fifteen Years in Leningrad in Leningrad (1932–33) and Moscow (1933–34), Woman in Socialist Construction at the Russian Museum in Leningrad (1934), Leningrad in the Representations of Contemporary Artists at the Museum of Construction and Municipal Management (former Anichkov Palace) in Leningrad (1934) and posthumous one-woman shows at the Union of Artists in Leningrad (1972), Russian Museum in St Petersburg (2008) and the Galeyev Gallery in Moscow (2009).

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