The work of the genius of the 20th century graphics, virtuoso draftsman, brilliant book illustrator, master of artistic miniatures M. K. Sokolov for a long time was artificially excluded from the channel of Soviet art. The name "romantic of the era of change" returned to Russian art culture only in the mid-1960s.
One of the brightest representatives of the romantic-symbolist "quiet art" Mikhail Ksenofontovich Sokolov (1885-1947) went down in the history of Russian painting as a rebellious rebel and a lone artist who did not adhere to the channel of the aesthetic doctrines of the era. He categorically did not accept socialist realism, but strove to follow his own path in art. Instead of workers and collective farmers, tractor drivers and sportswomen, Sokolov painted portraits of noble knights, old ladies, heroes of the French Revolution, itinerant comedians and circus performers. Interpreted religious subjects, portrayed characters in classical literary works.
During the life of the master, his work turned out to be absolutely unclaimed, since it went beyond the actual official themes of the Soviet era. Today M. K. Sokolov is rightfully considered an unsurpassed virtuoso of neuro-expressive drawing-improvisation (graphics, book illustrations) and temperamental and lyrical, but restrained in tone of painting (portrait, still life, landscape). According to art critics, the artist became, if not the key, then at least the most paradoxical author of the “thirties”.
Mikhail Sokolov is a native of the city of Yaroslavl. Born in September 1885 in the family of the bourgeois Ksenofont Nikanorovich and Ustinia Vasilievna Sokolov. To his mother - a quiet, balanced, meek and pious woman - Mikhail was imbued with great tenderness from early childhood. And he retained only fond memories of her sons. Relations with the oppressive and wayward father did not work out. It got to the point that Mikhail refused to wear a patronymic name. Instead of Ksenofontovich, he called himself Konstantinovich. And he persisted in this until the very death of his father. The head of the family made a small fortune by making barrels, and insisted that his son also master the craft of a cooper. Not understanding the boy's craving for the fine arts, he considered him a useless mediocrity. I didn't give a penny to pay for my studies. And in general he refused to provide any kind of support to the disobedient offspring.
Mikhail left the parental home early and could only rely on himself. His life was full of hardships and hardships. I had a chance to wander and wander, survive poverty and hunger. For military conscription and mobilization twice (1907 and 1914) he served on the ships of the Baltic Fleet. He was an active participant in the February Revolution and the July Bolshevik uprising in Petrograd. After the conflict between the new government and Kerensky, he retired, and was no longer involved in politics.
Fully devoting himself to the fine arts, Sokolov begins to paint in various techniques and exhibit his paintings. Conducts classes in the State Art Workshops of Yaroslavl, Tver, Yakhroma. At home, he headed the provincial decorative workshops at the Narobraz, conducted classes at an art school. In 1923, having received the position of the head of the Studio of Fine Arts in Proletkult, he moved to Moscow for permanent residence. He taught at such educational institutions as the Moscow State Technical School of Fine Arts, the Institute for Advanced Studies of Painters and Designers at the Moscow Union of Artists. He works hard and fruitfully and very soon becomes popular in the circles of the capital's bohemia. The artist's works were shown at the Venice Biennale (1924), at the exhibition "Russian Drawing in Ten Years of the October Revolution" (1927). In 1928 - the first purchase of graphics by the Tretyakov Gallery. But a successful career is not set.
Sokolov's inspiration and creative emotional impulses are higher than the desire to profit from painting. He does not compromise with himself and refuses commissioned work. The only exception is illustrations for Voltaire's "The Virgin of Orleans" (1935), made for the Academia publishing house. The denial of everyday life and the demonstration of declarative abstraction from the actual topics of the Soviet era made his works unclaimed by customers. He paints with ink and watercolors (cycles "Circus", "Musicians", "Horsemen"); writes artistic still lifes, in oil painting deserted landscapes of Moscow appear. His works are exhibited from the cycles: "Saint Sebastian", "Passion", "Beautiful Ladies". But there is no recognition. Many express disagreement with his approach to the objects of the visible world and the interpretation of pictorial problems. The artist categorically rejecting socialist realism is declared a formalist in the visual arts. And those were not supposed to have their own premises for the workshop. Sokolov had to work where he lived - in a room allocated by Proletkult in a "communal apartment" at a house on the Arbat.
1934 - admission to the Moscow branch of the Union of Artists of the RSFSR. 1936 - personal exhibition at Kuznetsky Most, which was a great success. And finally, the long-awaited decision of the Moscow Union of Artists to give him a workshop. The talented lone artist, who has never participated in the work of art groups and creative associations, has many admirers and followers, but no less outright ill-wishers and hidden enemies. The State Academy of Artistic Sciences holds meetings dedicated to the work of Sokolov. Persecution begins at work and in the press. After the article “Against formalism and“leftist”ugliness” appeared in Komsomolskaya Pravda, Sokolov was declared “a henchman of bourgeois art”. Now in Soviet art he is persona non grata.
In 1938, terrible and fatal for the whole country, Mikhail Sokolov fell victim to political repression. On a denunciation of one of the students, he is accused of anti-Soviet propaganda and sentenced to 7 years in forced labor camps. While serving his sentence, the artist continued to work and in letters to friends he sent artistic miniatures drawn with improvised materials. These "little things" and "trifles", as the author called them, made on smoking paper and scraps of newspapers with surrogate paints, are among the best creations of the artist.
In 1943, Sokolov was released early from the Taiginsky camp, as a "goner" incapable of work. Without permission to return to Moscow after exile, Mikhail Ksenofontovich goes to Rybinsk. Inside this outwardly stern man, whose whole appearance spoke of the hardships and sorrows he had endured, an incorrigible romantic and idealist continued to live. The terminally ill artist found the strength to work (he led an art circle at the local House of Pioneers), returned to creativity. Creates cycles of still lifes, draws illustrations for Pushkin and Gogol, Dickens and Maupassant. In correspondence with friends, he is eagerly interested in the paintings of the Dresden Gallery, delivered to the capital after the war.
He was allowed to come to Moscow only in the summer of 1946. Despite all efforts, Sokolov did not succeed in getting his conviction removed and reinstated in the Moscow Union of Artists. But he does not give up: he visits exhibitions, meets with colleagues, makes plans for the future. A serious illness chained Mikhail Ksenofontovich to a hospital bed in the Sklifa, and at the age of 63, cut off his life. The tombstone on a modest grave at the Pyatnitskoye cemetery is a black granite slab with a 1925 graphic self-portrait carved on it.
The true tragedy of the "Calvary path" of M. K. Sokolov was that for many years he remained an incorrigible dreamer and uncompromising neo-romanticist. The idealist artist fought not for worldly goods, but for the very opportunity to create. For Mikhail Sokolov, there have always been two aesthetic coordinates: the surrounding reality, in which he was forced to live, and the invented artistic world, where he strove with all his soul. And if in the inner illusory world he felt comfortable, then in the outer, real world everything was much more complicated. Sokolov's worlds intersected, in essence, only at one point, and this was his work. In a letter from Mikhail Ksenofontovich to his wife, we read: “… life for me was an evil and merciless stepmother. She choked me with earthly, the prose of life, but my soul did not accept it. " Hence the feeling of complete loneliness, and conflict with oneself, and a tragic fate.
Aspects of personal life
A dreamer and a romantic by nature, Mikhail Sokolov was an esthete in everything - from the ability to think with inspiration and express his views to the habit of deliberately elegant and aristocratic dress. He was distinguished not only by his artistic appearance, but also by his special attractiveness. From a young age, Mikhail literally charmingly acted on provincial young ladies. His pale thin face, ironic smile and romantically excited speech enchanted the young ladies. The artist was in no hurry to start a family, tying the knot after 30.
- His first wife was the artist Nadezhda Viktorovna Shtemberg (from 1917 to 1919). The early termination of the relationship was due to the fact that Sokolov groundlessly accused his wife of the death of their son.
- Marina Ivanovna Baskakova became the artist's second wife and muse in 1928. Refined and mysterious, “breathing spirits and mists” in Blok's way, Marina was 18 years younger than her husband. She moved to Moscow from Ukraine after her father was shot. She worked as a typist in a small institution. Over the years that they lived together, Sokolov painted about a hundred portraits of his wife. These are pencil drawings, pen and ink works, oil paintings. The paradox was that the artist created from Baskakova a certain image of an exquisite lady in ordinary life: he forced her to wear ridiculous hats, dressed as he liked, not taking into account the desires and tastes of the woman. In addition, he completely did not pay attention to everyday difficulties: they lived in cramped conditions, they often did not have enough money, sometimes there was not even normal food. After 7 years of such a marriage, the muse left the creator.
- Sokolov's last love and companion for several years of his life was Nadezhda Vasilievna Rozanova (after Vereshchagin's first husband). The daughter of the writer and publicist V. V. Rozanova was a longtime acquaintance of Mikhail Ksenofontovich. She became a student of the artist, fussing about preserving his creative heritage. Nadezhda Vasilievna arranged for the returned exiled to work; took measures to restore it in the Moscow Union of Artists; helped fight a serious illness. Their marriage was registered in 1947, shortly before the death of the master.
As for the character of Sokolov, he was extremely difficult. This is a cool temper inherited from his father, cocky and ardor, excessive self-confidence, increased exactingness and pickyness towards people. Although he was a completely kind person and often opened his soul wide open to others. Difficulties in his personal life were added by his lack of restraint in judgments and manifestations of injustice in relation to others. A close friend of the painter, historian and art critic N. Tarabukin described him as follows: “In life he is an unmercenary and aesthetic ascetic, in his work he is an“apostle of beauty”and a“knight of art”. M. K. Sokolov, in a letter to his wife, gave himself the following self-esteem: "Let me be accepted as I am - with all my feelings gone into the" unreal, non-existent "- an absurd, incorrigible dreamer and romantic."
Your way in art
Determined to devote himself to painting, Mikhail received his elementary art education in the Yaroslavl city drawing classes (1898-1904). The formation of philosophical views and creative style began when, having received financial assistance from a local philanthropist, he went to study in Moscow. But very soon the young man leaves the Stroganov School. Sokolov wrote that staying here did not give him anything, but only brought him disappointment. He strove to master the secrets of mastery, to develop an artistic gift, and had to "overcome what the academic school imposed." An aspiring artist makes a decision - to independently study classical painting based on the works of European and Russian masters in museum collections in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In the 1920s, young Soviet art was overwhelmed by all sorts of "isms". Sokolov does not stand aside and tries different avant-garde directions. It is as if he is looking for himself in others: now being carried away by Malevich's supermatism, now adhering to the Impressionists or supporting the futuristic trend, now he turns to cubist forms or the religious symbolism of the Makovets circle. But at the same time it remains internally whole, retains its own creative face. The critic D. Nedovich writes: “He tries different approaches, as if trying on different clothes. But he is constant in his vagrancy and is true to himself. " In essence, Mikhail Sokolov is a "museum artist". And stylistically it is closer not to post-impressionists, but to Western art of the 17th-19th centuries.
While the Russian masters, who passed the drill of the academic school, broke free from the shackles of the classics into the vastness of modern futurism, Sokolov is moving practically in the opposite direction. He gets rid of the avant-garde left and creates his own original version of sophisticated, sophisticated, slightly theatrical, timeless art. Most often, the artist improvised (an imaginary portrait, book graphics), in nature images (landscape, still life) there are also many internal visions: it is difficult to unequivocally determine the moment of work from nature.
It is clear that Sokolov did not fit into the Soviet art nomenclature, his works looked foreign in the country of mass forced collectivization in art. According to N. Tarabukin, the artist sought to highlight the joy of being, which people do not always know how, and more often do not want to notice, "being an image of the creator in the most romanticized hypostasis." M. K. Sokolova is the author's summit of European artistic experience (from Poussin and Tiepolo to Rembrandt) combined with the anti-official principles of “quiet art” based on eternal subjects (beauty, love, heroism). But as D. Nedovich rightly noted, the creator, obsessed with his pictorial dream, carries stubborn romantic images in himself. He "rests on his fantasy and does not recognize the coming day."
For many connoisseurs and connoisseurs of art, Mikhail Sokolov seems to be a difficult, sometimes unclear and confused author. But he is undoubtedly recognized as the brightest personality in the Soviet art of 1910-1940. Having gone through the stages of being carried away by the fashionable trends of the avant-garde, retaining a taste for sharp form, but at the same time remaining a follower of romantic symbolism, the artist created his own unique style in art - avaricious lyricism in paintings and unsurpassed virtuosity and flight in graphics.
Biographers and art critics characterize Mikhail Ksenofontovich Sokolov as a person who felt his artistic gift and was in constant creative burning. He knew how to create works under any circumstances, always remained a romantic and humanist, incapable of compromises either in art or in life.
For many years M. Sokolov, accused of being disconnected from reality, who in 1936 A. Efros called an "unnoticed artist", remained so. The scale and originality of the master's talent were appreciated only in the early 1960s. By this time, his creative heritage (not only artistic, but also epistolary and poetic) was collected, systematized and studied. And the name of Mikhail Ksenofontovich Sokolov became widely available to the mass audience in the year of his 100th anniversary. The retrospective exhibition at the State Tretyakov Gallery (2005-2006) was a huge success. The enormity of the master's contribution to Soviet art became even more tangible after the publication in 2018 of a three-volume edition, which included 1200 drawings, pastels and art miniatures.
The most famous among his works are:
- art cycles "Moscow Departing" and "Birds"; graphic cycles "Musicians", "Circus", "St. Sebastian";
- A special place is occupied by "Siberian camp miniatures" - "small - large painting, in which freedom breathed";
- from the huge number of book and graphic illustrations for literary works, the "Adventures of Oliver Twist", "The Virgin of Orleans", "Dead Souls" stand out.
According to critics and art historians, the merit of Mikhail Sokolov lies in the fact that working in large and varied cycles, he built a bridge from symbolism to the forties of the 20th century.