Geli Korzhev exhibition in preparation at the Tretyakov Gallery for March opening

Feb 12th, 2016 | By | Category: Journal

An exhibition titled “I have a right” featuring the works of the late Geli Mikhailovich Korzhev is due to open at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow on March 18th and run till June 14th.  This is part of a series of exhibitions that the Tretyakov is devoting to the post-war ‘Severe Style’ artists. Also in the series is an exhibition of the works of Tahir Salahov, “The Sun at its Zenith” which is currently running (22nd Jan – 20th March).

Korzhev's 'Miner Girl.'

Korzhev’s ‘Miner Girl.’

The exhibition has been organized by Zelfira Tregulova who has been Director of the Tretyakov since 10th February 2015 having worked at the museum since the mid 1980’s, initially as a researcher. Formerly Tregulova was a Director of the State Museum and Exhibition Center also known as ‘Rosizo.’ When organizing the exhibition Tregulova worked closely with Natalya Alexandrovna, the Tretyakov paintings curator of the 2nd half of the 20th century, who was a friend of Korzhev for many years.

Geli Korzhev

Geli Korzhev

Tregulova says, “The museum has been preparing this exhibition for 2.5 years. Before this, repeated attempts had been made to hold a retrospective of this quite surprising, unique, very powerful, very complex artist. And this is one of the most important projects, in my opinion, because here we do want to try to change society’s attitude to the art considered to be official Soviet art. We have just opened an exhibition of Salahov. When I was the director of ROSIZO we showed a small retrospective of Viktor Popkov, which changed the attitude to the artist. With this exhibition we want to show that in the second half of the 20th century, in the framework of the official art sphere, artists were living and working in the country who, with their works, were talking about the times, like so many of their colleagues in the West and the rest of the world were talking about, and very accurately reflected the times, then it came to their relationship with the official ideology, but now we understand that it was not actually the same.”

“Just come to the exhibition of Salakhov, who was elected the First Secretary of the Union of Artists three times, and look for something that is a reflection of the official Soviet ideology. You will not see anything, because all the pathos that is presented there is the pathos of all mankind, not the pathos of ideological statements,” the Director of the Tretyakov Gallery added.

Tregulova is pointing out that the greatest artists during the Soviet Era managed to rise above the dogma of Socialist Realism and create individual bodies of work that are individual , clearly recognizable, and outside of the template which was supposedly enforced by the State.

Despite being regularly offered shows at the Tretyakov during his lifetime Korzhev always declined. He never gave a reason but those close to him speculated it may have been a lack of self confidence, something he certainly did not demonstrate when you met him. He was an opinionated but sociable man who loved hosting visitors to his studio where he would draw up some chairs, produce a bottle of whisky, and enjoy discussions on art, communism and his favorite artist Rembrandt. Buying paintings from him in his later years was a frustrating experience because he would enjoy showing off some his better works and then refusing to sell them.

Korzhev's 'On the Cross.'

Korzhev’s ‘On the Cross.’

Korzhev’s work is powerful and demonstrates a gritty realism that he felt was a reflection of the shattered post-war Soviet Union that he grew up in. Sometimes the work can stray into sentimentality and the artist seemed determined to deny the viewer visual pleasure, except perhaps in his still lifes. The artist appears to have deliberately sought out models who were not conventionally beautiful. He was more interested in form than line and wasn’t a great draughtsman like some of his contemporaries such as Victor Ivanov. However, at his best, his arresting work was highly original and has an impact that was seldom matched by his contemporaries in the ‘Severe Style’ post-war Moscow School.

The exhibition draws on the holdings of the Tretyakov Gallery, The Russian Museum, Rosizo, The Institute of Russian Realist Art, and a few private collections in Russia and abroad. Due to the current difficult political situation it was difficult to borrow works from abroad so most of the works shown are from within Russia.


Korzhev's 'Refugee.'

Korhzev’s ‘Refugee.’

Korzhev is now recognized as one of the key figures of Russian post-war art and he has influenced the two generations of painters since the war. He was born outside Moscow in 1925 just after the civil war which had successfully overturned centuries of aristocratic rule. He was a teenager when the Germans invaded in 1941, evacuated, and he didn’t graduate from the Surikov Institute until 1951. He lived through life under Stalin, the end of the Soviet State, and Russia’s uneasy adoption of western capitalism. Although he never formerly joined the Communist party he said he did, “share the ideas of communism.” He joined the Union of Soviet Artists and chaired the Moscow branch, whilst initially earning the respect of party bureaucrats by painting heroic soldiers and survivors. Later he explored the anxiety, grief and injury that he saw everywhere around him in a country that had lost 25m dead and had 25m homeless by the end of the war.

  ”The 1950s ushered in a period of artistic uncertainty as well as a search for one’s own artistic principles that were no less difficult to determine.” –  G. Korzhev



“His realism was a different interpretation of the official art, Korzhev represents the generation of 1960s artists. He understands there is emotional freedom in life and freedom to choose, to experience tragedy and to accept it.“ –Natalia Aleksandrova, a friend of the artist, one of the organisers fo the exhibition and a painting curator at the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.

Korzhev's 'Don Qiuxote.'


Cervantes’s ‘Don Quixote’ as imagined by Korzhev.

Stalin died in 1953 and his legacy was immediately called into question. At the twentieth Party Congress of 1956 Krushchev delivered his famous speech denouncing Stalin. The new leader perceived the need to break with the violence of Stalin’s rule and to pursue a more liberal politics. After 1953 Kruschev’s ‘Thaw’ gave artists more freedom to pursue their own personal styles. In contrast to the previous idealization and romanticism, artists began to paint more objective visions of Soviet life, prompting the rise of what has become known as the “Severe Style.” Geli Korzhev was one of the founders of this movement along with Petr Ossovski, Victor Ivanov, Tair Salahov, Nicolai Andronov and Pavel Nikonov.


Korzhev’s also oeuvre also covers fantasy, with works of strange monsters, which he said he initially painted to amuse his grandson. He also painted religious works all through his career, a subject matter, perhaps because of its forbidden nature during soviet times, that he never properly explained saying cryptically, “The Biblical series is not religious; it represents a creative process which is the most important aspect of art.”


Korzhev’s also painted numerous still life paintings reflecting the spartan, simplified and durable elements of life that are also captured in his figurative paintings. He has said that, in time, he believes his still lifes will be considered among his most important works. Unpretentious objects − soup pots, oil lamps, samovars − have individual textures, while they convey a sense of social timelessness and indestructibility suggesting that they might exist forever. The objects often belonged to Korzhev and he kept them in his studio returning to them again and again.

Korzhev 'Still life with Jugs.'

Korzhev ‘Still life with Jugs.’


Tags: art market, Geli Korzhev, Korzhev exhibition at Tretyakov Gallery, Natalya Alexandrovna, Russian art, Severe Style school of art, Tair Salahov, Zelfira Tregulova

Leave a Comment