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Vladimir Mayakovsky – Russian Futurist

Vladimir Mayakovsky
Vladimir Mayakovsky was the best and the most talented poet of the Soviet epoch, playwright, artist and stage and film actor. He is among the foremost representatives of early-20th century Russian Futurism.

Mayakovsky was born on July 19, 1893 in Baghdati, Russian Empire, where his father worked as a forest ranger. After the death of his father in 1906, the family moved to Moscow.
In Moscow, Mayakovsky took part in numerous activities of the Russian Social Democratic Labour Party. In 1908, he was dismissed from the grammar school because his mother was not able to pay for the education.

Around this time, Mayakovsky was imprisoned on three occasions for subversive political activities. In Butyrka prison in 1909, he began to write poetry, but the poems were confiscated.
In 1911 Vladimir joined the Moscow Art School where he became acquainted with members of the Russian Futurist movement. But because of his political activities Mayakovsky was expelled from the Moscow Art School.
In 1912, Mayakovsky moved to St. Petersburg, where he met Maxim Gorky who was instrumental with his initial steps and introductions. Mayakovsky wrote and directed his first play, a tragedy titled ‘Vladimir Mayakovsky’, that premiered at a St. Petersburg theatre in 1913.

At that time, on a dacha in the Levashovo suburb of St. Petersburg, Mayakovsky met Lilya Brik, a wife of his publisher Osip Brik. The woman changed his life forever. She became his Muse, lover, and most trusted companion.
Vladimir wrote the poem “The Backbone Flute” (1916) alluding to his sexuality and the emerging menage e trois relationship with the Briks.

Osip Brik, Lilya Brik and Vladimir

Osip Brik, Lilya Brik and Vladimir

A Cloud in Trousers (1915) was Vladimir’s first major poem.
The language of the work was the language of the streets, and Mayakovsky went to considerable lengths to debunk idealistic notions of poetry and poets.

Your thoughts,
dreaming on a softened brain,
like an over-fed lackey on a greasy settee,
with my heart’s bloody tatters I’ll mock again;
impudent and caustic, I’ll jeer to superfluity.

Of Grandfatherly gentleness I’m devoid,
there’s not a single grey hair in my soul!
Thundering the world with the might of my voice,
I go by – handsome,
twenty-two-year-old.
(From the prologue of A Cloud in Trousers.)

Lilya and Vladimir

Lilya and Vladimir

During 1915-1917 Mayakovsky worked at the Petrograd Military Automobile School as a draftsman.
After the Revolution of 1917, he remained in Petrograd (St. Petersburg) and was editor of Futurist paper as well as art magazines “Iskusstvo” and other projects.

Vladimir’s satirical play Mystery-Bouffe was staged in 1918 and in 1921. Mayakovsky wrote and starred in three silent films made at the Neptun studio in St. Petersburg: The Young Lady and the Hooligan, based on the tale The Workers’ Young Schoolmistress (1895) by Edmondo De Amicis; It Cannot Be Bought for Money and Shackled by Film. The last two films, directed by Evgeni Slavinsky, are presumed lost.

Shackled by Film

Shackled by Film

In mid-1919, after moving back to Moscow, Mayakovsky worked for the Russian State Telegraph Agency (ROSTA) as designer and poet for propaganda publications.
In 1919, he published his first collection of poems Collected Works 1909-1919.
His popularity grew rapidly. From 1922 to 1928, Mayakovsky was a prominent member of the Left Art Front and went on to define his work as ‘Communist futurism’.
Mayakovsky and Brik published the avant-garde and leftist magazine ‘LEF’, where they opposed the mainstream official Soviet culture.
He also co-wrote the scenario for Lilya Brik’s film Evrei na zemle (1927).

His personal life remained unstable for many years, as he was torn between several women in his life.
The greatest love of Mayakovsky was Lilya Brik. But there were many more women in the poet’s life. He wanted the beloved to belong completely to him. Herein lay the tragedy of the poet’s love

Vladimir’s first love was Maria Denisova, they met in Odessa. He tossed about like a madman, could not find a place anywhere. But Maria refused. She did not want to connect her life with the talented, but probably weird man. As a result, the pain was reflected in the poems of the poet. The image of Mary in the poem “A Cloud in Trousers” repelled and attracted at the same time with its inaccessibility.
Since then Mayakovsky had chosen women, who weren’t free. So, his love was an impossible dream.

Maria Denisova

Maria Denisova

According to evidence and materials, Mayakovsky was the biological father of the Soviet sculptor Gleb-Nikita Lavinsy (1921-1986). Gleg’s mother, an artist Lilay Lavinskaya, worked with the poet at the ROSTA.

Mayakovsky was one of the few Soviet writers who were allowed to travel freely.
On a lecture tour in the United States, Mayakovsky met Russian-American emigre Elli Jones, who later gave birth to his daughter (Patricia Tompson).

Elli Jones

Elli Jones

In the late 1920s, Mayakovsky fell in love with Russian emigrant actress, Tatiana Yakovleva and to her he dedicated two poems “A letter from Paris about the essence of love” and “A Letter to Tatiana Yakovleva” (1928).
Together with Tatiana Mayakovsky chose a present for Lilya – a Renault car. Brick became the second female driver in Moscow.

Tatiana Yakovleva

Tatiana Yakovleva

Mayakovsky’s last love was a young and beautiful theater actress Veronica Polonskaya (1908-1994). She was 21, he was – 36. Veronica was married to an actor Mikhail Yanshin, but didn’t leave her husband.

Veronica Polonskaya

Veronica Polonskaya

On the evening of April 14, 1930, Mayakovsky shot himself.
The Soviet officials announced that Mayakovsky shot himself directly in his heart, because of his breakup with actress Veronika Polonskaya.

He was buried at the Moscow Novodevichy Cemetery.

In 1930, his birthplace of Bagdadi was renamed Mayakovsky in his honor.
In 1967 the Taganka Theater staged the poetical performance Послушайте!, based on Mayakovsky’s works. The role of the poet was played by Vladimir Vysotsky, who also was inspired by Mayakovsky’s poetry.

In 1938 the Mayakovskaya Metro Station was opened to the public. In 1974 the Russian State Museum of Mayakovsky was opened in the center of Moscow in the building where Mayakovsky resided from 1919 to 1930.

In 2007 Craig Volk’s stage bio-drama Mayakovsky Takes The Stage (based on his screenplay At The Top Of My Voice) won the PEN-USA Literary Award for Best Stage Drama.
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Vladimir Mayakovsky – Russian Futurist