Alexander Tyshler Heritage (Room 305)

Alexander Grigoryevich Tyshler (1898–1980) was one of the leading Russian artists of the twentieth century. After his death, his widow Flora Syrkina, an art historian and author of numerous articles on theatrical design, presented the Museum of Private Collections with 150 of his works. This donation was particularly fitting, as Alexander Tyshler was closely linked to the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. He held a one-man show at the museum in 1966. In 1998, the Department of Private Collections celebrated the hundredth anniversary of the artist’s birth with a monographic retrospective.

The collection of Alexander Tyshler’s works embraces virtually every period in the artist’s career and all forms in which he worked – painting, graphic art, theatrical design and wooden sculpture. Thirty of his works are on permanent exhibition – twenty paintings and ten wooden sculptures. The show of drawings, watercolours and theatrical designs is constantly updated.

Alexander Tyshler was born in Melitopole in the Ukraine. His father was a cabinet-maker. After graduating from the Kiev School of Art in 1917, he attended the studio of Alexandra Exter in Kiev. Exter’s studio was a haunt of many talented people, who later made an important contribution to the cultural life of the nation. Nadezhda Mandelstam and Lyubov Kozintseva studied there. Tyshler met Victor Shklovsky, Ilya Ehrenburg and Osip Mandelstam at the studio.

Alexander Tyshler fought for the Reds in the Russian Civil War (1919–20). His wartime experiences formed the basis of the Nestor Makhno series (1920s–30s). The graphic composition Makhnovschina (1927) depicts a naked woman tied to a raging bull. It is difficult to say whether this was a real event or simply an image of a cruel and senseless period in Russian history. Makhnovschina is not so much a document of the time as a metaphor for people’s states of mind during the Civil War. Tyshler’s painting Makhno in a Hammock (1932) addresses the same theme. The artist returned to the theme in 1935, when he combined tragedy with farce in his illustrations to Eduard Bagritsky’s poem The Lay of Opanas.

The Museum of Private Collections owns two particularly interesting works drawn in the 1920s. One is called Radio Octobering (1925). The word octobering reflects the attempts of the new Soviet government to replace the traditional custom of christening babies with a new, ideological ceremony. The title of this work thus refers to the christening or birth of the radio. The loudspeakers to the left of the composition represent the radio, while the flags in the sky convey the idea of a festive occasion. The subject, however, is merely an excuse to depict a crowd of men, women, children and acrobats – a multi-headed, multi-eyed and multi-legged mass. There is nothing joyful about this rabble; on the contrary, they evoke a somewhat sinister impression. Tyshler retained vivid childhood memories of fun fairs and national fêtes. One such recollection of a throng of revellers appears to have induced the sense of gloom and alarm in this large pen drawing.

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife with Hair Pins (1926) is one of Alexander Tyshler’s finest pencil drawings. This work combines a realistic reproduction of life – a portrait of the artist’s first wife Anastasia Stepanovna Grozdova – and such fantastic details as enormous hair pins floating above the sitter’s head. Russian art historian Yury Molok regarded this work as one of the finest graphic portraits of the twentieth century. Tyshler made a similar version entitled Portrait of Anastasia Stepanovna with Birds in her Hair (1926, private collection).

In 1921, Alexander Tyshler joined the Projectionist group. The other members were Solomon Nikritin, Kliment Redko, Sergei Luchishkin and Alexander Labas. Projectionist Theatre (1922) was their first joint work, intended to not only reflect reality, but also to create a new language of plastic movements – a body language. This was one of the artist’s first contacts with the theatrical.

Tyshler later worked as a theatrical designer in many different towns, combining psychological and decorative elements in his various works. In the 1930s, he was the principal designer of the Romany Gypsy Theatre. Between 1941 and 1949, he held the same post at the Jewish Theatre in Moscow. The master’s sets and costumes for more than one hundred shows are now part of the history of Soviet theatrical art. His designs are on permanent exhibition at the Museum of Private Collections.

Painting constitutes the heart of the show of works from the Alexander Tyshler heritage. The earliest picture is Colour-Dynamic Tension (1924). A non-objective composition of bright, intersecting, coloured lines on a dark background, this is one of several surviving works from the Colour and Form in Space cycle. Colour-Formal Construction of Red (1922, Tret. Gal.) also belongs to this series. Such paintings represent the short period when Tyshler dabbled in non-objective art (1920–24). Fifty years later, in the late 1970s, he made several repetitions of these early abstract canvases.

Alexander Tyshler abandoned his experiments in abstract art in the mid-1920s. His paintings and drawings acquired objectivity. In 1925, he joined the Society of Easel Artists and contributed to their exhibitions. Such canvases as Parade and Lyrical Cycle are excellent examples of Tyshler’s art of the 1920s. The artist had a tendency to work in cycles, creating several versions of paintings and drawings on the one theme. In 1928, he produced a series of works under the common heading of Lyrical Cycle. The central element in these compositions was a chaise longue, which turned into a magical object – a basket capable of holding people and animals. Four works from the Lyrical Cycle (one from the Tretyakov Gallery) were shown at the hundredth anniversary exhibition.

Over the course of fifty years, Alexander Tyshler sometimes returned to several themes. There are eight known works from the Neighbours of my Childhood cycle (1920s–67). The artist grew up in a large courtyard inhabited by various craftsmen. He later confessed that the yard and its inhabitants played an important role in his life and work: “I still live out the memories of my childhood and youth.” Neighbours of my Childhood incarnates the artist’s recollections of these days. The static poses of the men and women in the painting now in the Museum of Private Collections recall an old photograph. Their individual features are virtually erased. The artist achieves the special texture by intersecting the diagonal brushstrokes.

In the mid-1940s, Alexander Tyshler painted a series of still-lifes and portraits conveying an harmonious relationship between man and objects. From the 1940s onwards, one of his favourite images was a female portrait. In many works, the woman’s head develops into a high structure similar to a hat or a cage. These constructions are sometimes multi-tiered; in other works, they are simpler. Their origin is possibly linked to the image of the chaise longue or basket in the Lyrical Cycle, which also symbolised the private space of the heroine. Birthday (1973) is a popular subject – the portrait of a woman in flat headwear with candles. There are at least two other earlier versions of this work, dating from the early 1960s (both belong to private collections).

Tyshler’s art is full of poetic metaphors, symbols and allegories. The images reflect his rich artistic imagination and sense of romanticism. In the 1950s, the artist took up wooden sculpture, creating fairytale images of dryads, nymphs and maidens from branches found in the forest. Although he sometimes painted the wood, he usually preserved its natural colour and texture.

Alexander Tyshler was always extremely individual. It is difficult to classify his oeuvre to any one trend or movement. He was one of the few artists who did not adhere to Socialist Realism. Officially working for the theatre from the late 1930s onwards, he hardly ever showed his works in public. Only in the 1960s, during the Khruschev Thaw, could he openly engage in creativity and exhibit his works in Moscow.

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