Vera Chaikovskaya «Measure of severe beauty»

Article from the book «History of russian Art. Jewish note». Moscow, «Three squares», 2011

Artist in question is very special and paradoxical. Child of the shtetl, he managed to absorb the figurative culture of all greatest artists of his century. In spite of his visual aestheticism, he had quite strict approach to nature and  ascetic selection of artistic devices. Even though formally he remained utterly composed, almost severe, in his works he embodied almost (or even not «almost»!) childish dream of happiness and harmony. Not without reason his favourite heroes are children.


Artist’s face on the photo is the first thing that attracted attention at the exhibition of Meer Akselrod (1902-1970) in gallery on Solyanka. Unusual face! Not a worldy-wise patriarch, no! Rugged, youngish face with amazed boyish look. And that’s how he drew his «boys» – «carrot», «bobbed», «stubborn». They are not cheerful and easy-going, they are thinking, they are utterly amazed and concerned with this world. It seems to me these boys are kind of self-portraits.

More and more new layers of «frightful», «stalin» era are discovered. Turns out, not only «stalin»! Art gives us an opportunity to «look inside» this time, to see its complexity. It helps us to understand that in future this epoch won’t be called stalin, but may be mandelstam or petro-vodkin, as it happenned to  epoche of Nicholas I, it became Pushkin epoche ( Anna Ahmatova mentioned it, having in mind her time).

Astonishing people lived and created at that time! They saw and understood what was going on, but they hoped, they believed and they created works, that did not reflect the «wolf grin» of the century, but the warmth of the special mental atmosphere, where one could live, breathe and create. Not without reason in a catalogue for the exhibition artist’s daughter  poetess Elena Akselrod (now living in Israel) called her father’s works «landscapes of happiness».

There are great masters of the century. We know Filonov and Petrov-Vodkin, Sokolov and Tishler, Shterenberg and Falk. They left mark in russian culture with their cretaive genius. Against all odds?

Now we remember the names of their apprentices and successors. One of them is Meir Akselrod, who studied in VKHUTEMAS-KHUTEIN and became the member of «4 arts» society along with his friends and maitres — Shterenberg, Falk, Petrov-Vodkin.

Judging by catalogue, Akselrod almost did not exhibit, but connoisseurs aprecciated his works. Not without reason his graphic arts, now displayed in exhibition, were aggregated to the most prestige moscow collections — the Tretyakov Gallery, Museum of Fine Arts, the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum.

All honour to museum staff, who preserved this wonderful graphics in Russia! It was created at the end of 20’s, and also in 30’s-40’s. Totally non-free times. Incredible artist’s freedom amazes. Entire freedom in theme selection, in technique, in manner of working. Obviously he was glad to draw in a pencil, paint in water-colours, in gouaches or in a mixed method, creating simple landscapes, eastern yards, childish speaking faces, portraits of friends-artists. Free and artistic works. Not a whisper of mannerism, simple as they come. This «simplicity» became an aesthetic element. It makes him special. For example, Chagall and Tishler created extraordinary, faery, fantastic worlds. Worlds of ecstatic storms and dreams. Akselrod’s muse is simpler and more strict. Not meager, not colder, it is just more strict. Sometimes when the alto is depicted, it seems there is something almost salon, just too beautiful. No! The one can see some angularity, which is not common for salon. The one can see the astonishing inventiveness in representation of «simple» world and ordinary things. Kind of unmistakable sense of proportion. Vivid face of live, depictured by strict, laconic hand, tending to balance, harmony and happy adequacy.

There are no «theatralization», grandiosity and «effects» even in his  stage sets and costume sketches. The same strictness, proportion and simplicity, most noticeable in set designs and costumes for the play «Measure of severity». I don’t know what was the play like, but artist  found real «measure of severity» in it’s design  – laconism of details and elegant simplicity.

Despite the simplicity of water-colours and gouaches, they are daintily beautiful. Colour «reticence» generates the feeling of harmonic clarification, radiance of the depicted world.

There are no «grotesque» intensifications, no weights, no dashed accents. Faces are drawn very simply, with some very dim black pencil. But the character shows through, the living model is depictured. It is harder to appreciate this specific skill, than works of more exalted,  colourful, faery masters. There is no any special national «accent», assuming that national in a mystic way shows through in characters’ looks, in their attitudes, gestures, clothes and also in artist’s spirits, his manner, which is «strict» and «decent», but in its own way free, artistic,      devoted to life details, mundanity, all that «vivid flesh», its simple but elegant forms, its tinting, but pure and balanced colours.

It feels like supreme school and confident mastery. No feeble works were detected at the exhibition.

Grownup master with rugged face of stubborn boy, heated the frozen space with the warmth of his brush, pencil, the warmth which lay upon the glass of eternity, as Mandelstam said.