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Pavel Filonov – famous Russian artist

Pavel Filonov. Self-portrait. 1921

Pavel Filonov. Self-portrait. 1921

Pavel Filonov was a famous Russian artist, inventor of the analytical method of painting. He was one of the most enigmatic artists of the XX century. He was called a genius and a charlatan, a rebel and a prophet, a hypnotist and a crazy man. All his life he lived in poverty and died of hunger, knowing that his pictures cost a lot of money. His work influenced the development of national and world art and was hidden for many years.
Pavel was born in 1883 into a peasant family. His parents moved to Moscow three years before their son’s birth. The boy’s father worked as a coachman in the capital and his mother was a washerwoman. There were five children in the family.

Filonov didn’t like to talk about his childhood. After the death of his father little Pavel helped his mother, he embroidered tablecloths and towels and sold them at the Sukharev Square. In 1897, the artist’s mother died of tuberculosis. In the same year Filonov moved to St. Petersburg, where he entered pictorial workshops and since 1903 he worked in academician L.E. Dmitriev-Kavkazsky’s private studio.
He tried to enter the Academy of Fine Arts three times, but was accepted only as an external student “for the excellent knowledge of anatomy”. At the academy Filonov behaved strangely. He sat down at the feet of the model and, trying not to look at her, started with a sketch of the feet. Surprisingly, when the picture was finished, all the proportions of the model were perfect.
However, he didn’t finish his studies. One day students had to paint beautiful model with perfect skin color. Filonov covered canvas with greenery and painted blue veins. “He peels the skin! – cried the professor. – You’re crazy, what are you doing?” Filonov said, looking into the eyes of the professor: “Fool.” Then he took the canvas and left the room.
In 1913 Pavel sold one of his most successful paintings “Heads” and traveled to Italy and France, where the artist studied European and ancient art.
In 1916 he fought in the First World War. After the war Filonov returned to St. Petersburg. In 1919 he managed to get a small room on the outskirts of Leningrad, where he lived until his death.

P. Filonov. Heads.

P. Filonov. Heads.

The first and last exhibition
In 1929, the Russian Museum was going to do a solo exhibition of the artist. But the government decided that his art didn’t suit to the Soviet Union. Only representatives of workers’ organizations were invited. It was assumed that simple, uneducated people, who understood nothing about art would be strongly against the opening of the exhibition. However, the opposite occurred. All workers were for the opening of the exhibition. They said, “It is necessary try to understand Filonov’s paintings.” Nevertheless, the exhibition was not open.
The artist was known only to people professionally engaged in the art. During Perestroika his work was presented to the general public.

German war filonov

P. Filonov. German war. 1915. Photo: Public Domain

One day a woman came to Filonov. She lived next door to him. The woman asked to paint a posthumous portrait of her dead husband. The artist agreed. Three years later, Yekaterina Serebriakova became his wife. She was 58 years old and Filonov 20 years younger. He called his wife “daughter” and wrote letters to her, suffering from the fact that he could not give her expensive things.
Filonov was visited by artists from all over the USSR and other countries, but he never took money for his lessons.

Filonov with his wife

Filonov with his wife. Photo:

The artist refused to sell at least one of his many paintings abroad: “My paintings belong to the people. I’ll show you everything that I have, but as a representative of my country or do not show at all.”
After the beginning of the siege of Leningrad Filonov was in the attic dropping incendiary bombs from the roof. He was very afraid that the pictures would be lost in the fire – they were everything that he had created in his life. He said: “As I stand here, the house and the pictures will be safe. But I do not waste time. I have so many ideas in my head. ”
Pavel Filonov died of starvation at the beginning of the siege on December 3, 1941.
All Filonov’s paintings, which cost millions of dollars today, were in his room. After five months of blockade his widow realized that she would die and moved with them to the sisters of the artist.
The first exhibition of Pavel Filonov in Russia took place in 1988.

Feast of Kings filonov

P. Filonov. Feast of Kings. 1913. Photo: Public Domain

filonov faces

P. Filonov. Faces. 1940. Photo: Public Domain

P. Filonov. Head.

P. Filonov. Head.

stalin filonov

P. Filonov. Portrait of Stalin. 1936. Photo: Public Domain