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Alexandra Exter

(1882—1949)


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(b Bielostok, Kiev region, Ukraine, 6 [18] Jan. 1882; d Fontenay-aux-Roses, nr. Paris, 17 Mar. 1949).

Russian painter and designer. In 1908 she visited Paris for the first time and from then until the outbreak of the First World War she made regular visits there, forming a link between the Western avant-garde and that in Russia (she knew Apollinaire, Braque, and Picasso, among other luminaries). Her early paintings were influenced by various modernist styles, including Cubism and Futurism, and by 1917 she had arrived at complete abstraction, using interpenetrating, semi-geometrical slabs of colour in a manner that is something like a cross between Delaunay's Orphism and Malevich's Suprematism. From 1917 to 1921 she taught at her own studios first in Odessa (1917–18) and then in Kiev (1918–21). Her pupils, who included Pavel Tchelitchew, helped her to create huge abstract designs for agit-steamers (propaganda boats) and agit-trains, which the new Soviet government used to celebrate the Russian Revolution and spread knowledge of it. Her most impressive and original work, however, was as a stage designer, particularly for Alexander Tairov's Kamerny (Chamber) Theatre in Moscow between 1916 and 1921. In powerful Constructivist sets she explored the architectural potential of the stage, avoiding both traditional decorative illusionism and flat stylization. In 1924 she settled in Paris, and she lived in France for the rest of her life. In her later career she was mainly active as a theatre, ballet, and fashion designer. A good collection of her drawings for stage designs is in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.

Subjects: Art.


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