Table of contents:
- Turning the pages of a heroic biography
- Attack of the Dead
- Crutches. Easel. Avant-garde
- Art that has become the meaning of life
- P. S. Katerina (Katarzyna) Kobro - (1898-1951)
Video: As a half-blind, one-armed hero of the First World War, he became a world famous artist: avant-garde artist Vladislav Strzheminsky
2023 Author: Richard Flannagan | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 05:58
He was born on Belarusian soil, called himself Russian, and entered the history of art as a Pole. Half blind, one-armed and without a leg, he became a famous avant-garde painter of the first half of the last century. The obsessed dreamer of the world revolution, he was also ruined by it, lived an incredible life, full of heroism and suffering. Today in our publication is the story of the life of an extraordinary person who went through the meat grinder of the First World War, endured incredible physical pain, lived and worked in poverty, persecuted by the regime. Nevertheless, he was not broken by any twists and turns of fate and made the whole world talk about himself. Meet the avant-garde artist Vladislav Strzheminsky.
If you try to understand the belonging of this outstanding artist to the three states that claim his creative heritage, then we can only note that although he is a Pole by origin and has lived in Poland for almost half of his life, this painter is considered a representative of national art in Belarus as well. where he was born and raised. His work is also seen as part of the Russian avant-garde. It was for Russia that he fought in the First World War, and for her he almost gave up his head.
Vladislav began his first steps in adulthood on the fronts of the First World War. And it so happened that until his death he fought for something, someone wanted to defeat. His enemies were not only the external enemies of his homeland, but also trench lice, his own mutilation, wife Ekaterina Kobro, zealous officials from culture and politics, poverty …
Turning the pages of a heroic biography
Vladislav Maximilianovich Strzheminsky was born at the end of 1893 on the territory of the Russian Empire, in the city of Minsk. He came from a Polish gentry family. The boy's father at one time rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Russian army and hoped that his son would also make a brilliant military career. Therefore, he assigned his eleven-year-old son to the Moscow Cadet Corps named after Alexander II. After studying in the corps for seven years, the young man went to St. Petersburg and entered the engineering school.
Strzeminsky's graduation from the university almost coincided with the beginning of the First World War. As soon as the 21-year-old engineer second lieutenant arrived in the summer of 1914 at the place of distribution in the border town of Osovets (the territory of modern Poland), hostilities began. For those who know history, this fortress is one of the symbols of the heroism and unity of the Russian people. But, unfortunately, this name practically does not say anything to the absolute majority. But it was Russian soldiers who performed a real miracle in this town more than a hundred years ago. For a whole year, they held back the offensive of the many thousands of German army with small forces. The fortress was repeatedly bombed, stormed and gassed. It was at this terrible time that Vladislav Strzheminsky found himself here, whose military service was filled with heroic moments.
Attack of the Dead
After an unsuccessful six-month siege, the German command, in despair, took a very decisive step: on the night of July 24, 1915, the Germans used a mixture of chlorine and bromine. When inhaled, this mixture entered into a chemical reaction with liquid on the mucous membranes - in the mouth, throat, bronchi and lungs - and turned into hydrochloric acid, which corrodes the respiratory system. It hurt both eyes and sweaty skin. Half of the Russian soldiers of the defenders of the fortress died almost instantly. The rest, wrapping their faces in wet rags, rushed into a mad counterattack, which would later be called the "attack of the dead." Second Lieutenant Vladimir Kotlinsky, who led this attack, was mortally wounded, and the command passed to Second Lieutenant Vladislav Strzheminsky. He became not just an ordinary participant in this event, but also directly led this crazy counterattack of the defenders of the fortress, who swallowed sprayed poisonous chlorine, against the German positions.
The sight of the counterattack, according to eyewitnesses, was terrifying. The wet cloth did little to protect the Russian soldiers. She was corroded by the acid formed as a result of the reaction and she fell off in shreds from the faces that were bleeding. Blood was pouring from their mouths and eyes, but the soldiers stubbornly ran forward, firing, stabbing with bayonets, thrashing with rifle butts. Each of them was sure that he would inevitably die, and the more fiercely he was eager to fight. The "Dead" defended Osovets, but not many were lucky enough to survive. Lieutenant Strzheminsky was among the lucky ones.
Less than a month after this terrible event, the young second lieutenant was noted for another heroic deed: the efforts of the Strzheminsky platoon destroyed a railway bridge, which was of great strategic importance. And soon a decree will be signed on awarding the hero with the Order of St. George of the 4th degree.
After the heroic service in Osovets, there were trenches in Pershay and a grenade burst … According to one version, this explosion was accidental: a grenade fell out of the hands of a stumbling colleague in the trench during a bombing raid. According to other sources, one of the German mortar shells hit the trench where Strzheminsky's platoon was hiding. But, be that as it may, it was this explosion that divided Vladislav's life in fact into two halves - before and after. The life of a brave officer "before" will forever remain in the trenches near Pershay, and the life of a tireless revolutionary artist will begin in a Moscow hospital. And for the sake of saving this life, Strzheminsky had his right leg and part of his left arm amputated, his right eye was forever blind …
Crutches. Easel. Avant-garde
The political upheaval of 1917, 23-year-old Strzeminski meets with an invalid in a hospital bed. Months of persistent treatment, and all attempts to attach prostheses to amputated limbs are unsuccessful. The young organism refuses to accept foreign objects. The former second lieutenant is tormented by phantom pains in amputated limbs. And for life there is only one way to move around - crutches. It seemed that the young man's life was over. But evil fate unexpectedly showed mercy to him. She sent HIM - HER. Katerina (Katarzhina) Kobro is the daughter of Nikolai von Kobro, a wealthy shipowner from Russian Germans. They met at the Moscow officers' hospital, where Katya came to serve as a volunteer nurse after graduating from high school.
Warm and tender feelings between them did not appear immediately, but Vladislav was immensely grateful to nurse Katenka, who paid him much more attention than other wounded. Once he told her about a happy childhood in his home with a beautiful park and garden. She, in turn, told Strzeminsky about her passion for avant-garde art and showed her drawings. Vladislav, while still a student at a military school, visited museums and galleries in St. Petersburg with interest and had some idea of the history and forms of fine art, but, of course, then he did not even suspect that he would ever come across him so close.
And now, having been discharged from the hospital, and unable to move around without crutches, he began to visit museums and galleries in Moscow with great interest. He was especially impressed by the paintings of Ivan Morozov and Sergei Shchukin. For the first time he saw contemporary French painting - from impressionism to cubism. He became deeply interested in the advanced avant-garde movements. People who were in an atmosphere of general revolutionary breakdown of the period when the air needed the invasion of the new into all aspects of life and, of course, into art. Involved in the idea of this new, Vladislav goes to study painting in art and technical workshops, an educational art institution created by the Bolsheviks after the 1917 revolution in Moscow. By the way, VKHUTEMAS was created on the basis of the former Moscow art workshops.
There he soon met Marc Chagall and became closely friends with another famous artist of Polish origin - Kazimir Malevich, the founder of Suprematism, and became his student. At the beginning of the creative path, the novice avant-garde artist followed the master, but then he began to search for his own path in art, which eventually resulted in the creation of his own artistic style - unism.
Art that has become the meaning of life
It was in VKHUTEMAS that our hero again had a chance to meet his Katenka. Soon they will get married, and the story of their painful joint wanderings between painting and sculpture, between Smolensk and Lodz will begin … and a fairly famous sculptor. After graduation, the Strzheminsky couple moved to Smolensk, where Vladislav became the head of the avant-garde art association, the creator of which was Malevich.
Strzheminsky's activity was stormy: he taught, was engaged in painting, graphics and architecture, participated in the activities of several art groups, which is called promoting "new art" to the masses. The meaning of life was given to Strzheminsky by his love for Catherine and a passion for painting. She, in turn, largely shared her husband's approach to art, and they mutually inspired each other.
It is also worth noting that the first years after the revolution, the Soviet government welcomed avant-garde art, it was promoted almost everywhere. The avant-garde artists themselves firmly believed that art can change the fate of mankind, create a new world in which there will be no more wars, no suffering, no sorrow.
However, by 1920, the leader of the revolution, Vladimir Lenin, began to vehemently criticize the avant-garde, saying that artists should be masters cementing society. In response to the words of the leader, many abandoned painting and sculpture for photography, costume design and ceramics. But many adherents of the avant-garde, including Strezhmiinsky, did not succumb to the dictates. Mass emigration of the creative elite to Paris began. And since in Soviet Russia, after the revolutionary outburst of avant-garde art, by 1922 there was already a breath of specific censorship "frosts", the artist and his wife also illegally moved abroad. True, they settled in Poland in the small town of Lodz. In order to get to Paris, Strzeminski had no money, no connections, no captivating charm, but only crutches and pain, as well as a fierce willpower, driving not only him as a person, but also an artist.
It was there in Lodz that Vladislav began to develop a theory of his own style, in which the artist strove to abandon the "multiplicity of forms" and achieve maximum uniformity of elements in the paintings. For several years he worked in a minimalist, monochromatic palette, trying to get rid of multicolor as well. A winding continuous line began to play a huge role in his work. Rhythm became one of the key features of the style. Participated in the annual salons of the Polish Union of Artists in Warsaw, the Polish Association of Artists in Lodz, the Institute for the Promotion of Art. Held personal exhibitions in Lodz (1927), Poznan (1933) and Warsaw (1934). In 1932 he received the Lodz Art Prize.
In 1936, Katerina gave birth to a daughter, Nika, who almost became a bone of contention between her parents at birth. The sick child practically did not sleep for the first year of his life, constantly cried and was capricious, which forced Katerina to completely abandon working on sculptures and completely devote herself to raising the baby. With the birth of Nika, her parents' marriage began to gradually disintegrate. Scandals and quarrels escalated. But for now they are still together.
In the light of the events that swept Poland, in 1939 the artist's family was forced to flee again. And this time to the city of Vileika in Western Belarus. This was due to the outbreak of World War II. Here the artist creates the first drawings from the military cycle - the most graphic and laconic, but at the same time expressive and painful. The artist completely abandons color. But after a while the color will return - in the painfully bright flashes of the work "People in War".
And again moving. Citing Katerina's German roots, Strzeminski and Kobro returned to Poland in 1940. The artist drew postcards, portraits to earn money, decorated bags that his wife made. And in his free time, shocked by the horrors of war, Vladislav creates the cycles "Deportation", "Civil War", "Faces", "Cheap as Mud", "Hands That Are Not With Us". And finally, in 1945, a series of collages "To my Jewish friends" was born, which he donated to the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum.
The war years for the family were filled with difficult trials. And the negative emotions accumulated over the years resulted in a stormy divorce. Strzheminsky tried with all his might to deprive his wife of parental rights and keep the child for himself. People who once felt for each other turned into sworn enemies. From love to hate - one step.
The next blow awaited the painter after the end of the war. At first, everything seemed to be going great: for several years Strzheminsky bathed in well-deserved fame. He took up teaching, earning a professorship at the ód High School of Art. In parallel, he created and sought new forms of expression in art. Monotony disappears from the works, giving way to motley colors - the artist catches the “afterimage of the sun” (glare remaining on the retina of the eye), devoting another cycle of paintings to this topic. Abstractness is intensified in his works.
However, in 1949, the ideology of socialist realism triumphed in Poland, which became one of the countries of the socialist camp. The authorities, following the example of the USSR, began to fight against formalism. What Vladislav Strzheminsky fled from Russia in the 1920s, overtook him almost a quarter of a century later in Poland, where abstract painting also began to be perceived as ideologically unacceptable.
In 1950, according to the order of the Ministry of Culture, Vladislav Strzheminsky was banned from teaching. After that, the master did not live long. December 26, 1952, undermined by adversity, he ended his life. And only after his death, in 1958 and 1979, the books "Visions" and "Letters" were published.
Unfortunately, the life story of the artist Vladislav Strzheminsky is little known to the modern reader. Only recently, largely thanks to Andrzej Wajda's latest film "Afterimages", a new wave of interest in the creativity and ideas of an extraordinary person has risen. In 2016, a film by Polish film classic Andrzej Wajda about the difficult life of a famous painter was released.
P. S. Katerina (Katarzyna) Kobro - (1898-1951)
Ekaterina Nikolaevna Kobro is an avant-garde artist and sculptor. Born in Moscow, came from a mixed Russian-German family. Kobro's passion for avant-gardism was passed on to her husband Vladislav Strzheminsky. Subsequently, it turned out that Strzeminski became a better known artist.
Katarzyna Kobro was one of the tragic figures in the history of art of the twentieth century: wandering during the war, the loss of some of the works during this period (they were simply thrown into the trash), the tragic parting with Vladislav Strzheminsky, the need to look for income to support the child, make excuses before the prosecutor's office, which accused her of “abandoning her Polish nationality” (the sculptor signed the so-called “Russian list” during the war), and finally, the fight against a fatal disease - all this led to a weakening of her creative potential in the last years of her life. As a result, the work of Kobro remained in the shadow of the achievements of Strzeminski and other avant-garde artists.
Continuing the theme of people of art who, at the cost of incredible efforts, have achieved worldwide recognition in the profession, read our publication: How the blinded Soviet ballerina Lina Po became a world famous sculptor.
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