HALL OF BORIS SMIRNOV-RUSETSKY
Boris Alekseevich Smirnov-Rusetsky (January 21, 1905, St. Petersburg — August 7, 1993, St. Petersburg) — a famous artist, scientist, writer, public figure, member of the Amaravella creative «Cosmists» group. The noble families of Smirnov and Rusetsky, to which the artist belonged, came from St. Petersburg. So the best spiritual background of the city and the nobility made up the future artist. He came from an educated and intelligent background and inherited a refined perception of the environment, art and people, and most importantly — the desire for spiritual life. All this created from a little boy, and then the young man a creative and noble person aspiring to capture the beauty in creativity.
His romanticism and impressionability, rich imagination, familiarity with the liturgical space of churches, knowledge of the creative forces of nature, and the inner life of the world around him determined the themes of his future cycles of works. So, the cycle «Transparency» was conceptual and developed by him during all his life. In this cycle, the artist continuously depicted the mystery of life: birth, development and prosperity, a complete departure to an inner concentration that resembles death, and then the resurrection of nature, as the victory of life over decay.
As a teenager, when he was thirteen to fourteen years old, Boris
began to attend a drawing class led by Alexei Mankov. He participated in disputes about new trends in art and visited Moscow art galleries. Acquaintance with the world of poetry, music, and theater also took place during these years. From a young age, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky was aimed at understanding the meaning of life, which became the starting and leading idea of his whole life. The artist himself recalled: «At the age of fifteen to sixteen I was already striving to comprehend the world. I saw that life is difficult, I knew that there was an injustice, I understood that I, as the son of an officer, would not have an easy, simple way.» These arguments can be called prophetic, they were based on analysis and intuitive perception of the political situation in the country, logical thinking, they led him to conclusions about the difficult future and the difficult path of life: an arrest, ten years in prison and five years of exile. The future artist began his studies in Peterpaulschule — a German gymnasium, where teaching was conducted in German. In his memoirs, he noted that «study was easy for me because of my abilities and efforts, and soon I became the first student.» After graduating from an already transformed school, Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy worked at the Russian Telegraph Agency.
Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy and his sister Tanya (1910)
In 1922, he enrolled the evening department of the Moscow Engineering and Economics Institute, as he wanted to study. Smirnov-Rusetskiy noted: «Oddly enough, studying at the Engineering and Economics Institute spiritually gave me more than studying in the art university.»
The important years of his life were 1922 and 1926. During these years he committed his first musical experiments in the painting, having started the cycle «Transparency». At the same time, a landmark acquaintance with the artist Petr Petrovich Fateev (1891–1871) took place. With Petr Petrovich Fateev, who was fourteen years older, Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy was brought together by romanticism, the desire for knowledge of the Outer Space and intuitive creativity, based on an in-depth study of Theosophy and philosophy. The beginning of the correspondence between Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy and Vasily Kandinsky, which lasted five years (until 1928–1929), also dates back to the same period. At the same time, the cycle «Autumn Thoughts» was started and impression paintings were painted from the music of L. Beethoven (1770–1827) «Moonlight Sonata», R. Wagner (1813–1883) «The Flying Dutchman» and «Lohengrin». The «Lohengrin» painted in gouache
is in the collection of Odessa Roerich House Museum. This period was noted by Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy as a period of meetings with many people, «who were probably connected with me in the past. Otherwise, it is difficult to explain the reason for the ease of communication, inner sympathy, and attraction that arose when I first met my future friends.» Those destined meetings influenced and determined the direction of the artist’s future life. Petr Fateev introduced Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy to Anatoliy Mikuli (1882–1938) professional violinist, artist, poet, and author of the «Ptitsa — Galka» (Jackdaw, the bird) collection. With Alexander Sardan (1901-1974), painter and pianist Smirnov-Rusetskiy met at the Museum of Pictorial Culture. In 1924, he met with Vera Nikolaevna «Runa» Pshesetskaya, a former actress of the Moscow Art Theater. She also painted, «mysterious, like rebuses» pictures. Runa was the oldest and united the whole group, as she was able to smooth out the contradictions that arose and «infect everyone with her energy». Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy called her «spiritual mother.» All friends were united by a love for art, especially for the visual and musical, the latter, according to them, was «a leading factor in the spiritual life».
The Amaravella group (from left to right): Alexander Sardan, Petr Fateev, Vera "Runa" Pshetskaya. Standing: Sergey Shigolev, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky, Viktor Chernovolenko
In June 1926, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky and his friends had met with the outstanding artist Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947). The meeting turned out to be fateful and radically changed the whole future life of a 21-year-old Boris. That meeting directed the stream of his life into the watercoursе of not a spiritual search, but of a spiritual path. It had never changed its course, despite his young age and difficult trials. «The events of 1926, determined not only creative and personal life but also determined the circle of people with whom the path of life was passed.» In the same year, Sergey Shigolev (1895–1942?) joined the group. At the time of the meeting with Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky and his friends, Nicholas Roerich was a world-famous painter, academician. At that time, Nicholas Roerich led the Central Asian expedition (1923-1928), on its route from Mongolia to the USSR through Siberia, Altai, and Moscow. The reason for visiting Nicholas Roerich and his family, who stayed at the Bolshaya Moskovskaya Hotel, was a monograph about Roerich written by the uncle of Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky, art critic A. P. Ivanov (1876–1940). Years passed, but the memory of the meeting with Roerichs did not fade. Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky wrote a year before his departure: «More than sixty years have passed since then, but with extraordinary clarity I see his calm, enlightened face with a graying beard, I recall his simplicity, cordiality, and close attention to the interlocutor. I felt his interest in the life of the new Russia and all its manifestations. » There were five or six such meetings, during which Nicholas Roerich got acquainted with the works of artists and presented the first two books — «Call» (1924) and «Illumination» (1925) of the scientific and philosophical Teaching of Living Ethics, as well as his book «Ways of blessing. » So in the USSR was founded the first Society of Friends of the Nicholas Roerich Museum in the USA. Further communication with the Roerichs was maintained through the native of Odessa — Sina Fosdick (1889-1983) —
an American co-worker who served as director of the United Nations Institute of Art in New York.
Three important events for Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky and his friends followed after the arrival of Nicholas Roerich in Moscow. On the advice of Nicholas Roerich, Smirnov-Rusetskiy enrolled in VKhUTEMAS, the faculty of graphics, which was renamed VKHUTEIN (Higher Art and Technical Institute) in 1927. He studied from famous artists: P. Pavlinov (1881–1966) in drawing, with A. Osmerkin (1892–1953) in painting, with I. Nivinsky (1880–1933) in etching, with V. Favorsky (1886–1964) in engraving. By the time he entered VKhUTEMAS, he had studied for three years in the studio of a prominent artist and realist, Professor F. I. Rerberg (1865–1938), from whom many prominent artists, including P. P. Fateev, were trained. The second event is the proposal of Nicholas Roerich to take part in the exhibition in New York, which was to be held in April 1927. For this purpose, fellow artists gave their association the romantic name Amaravella, which meant in Hindi «sprouts of immortality.» The Amaravella group created a manifesto in which it formulated the basic creative principles, one of which was the intuitiveness of creativity, aimed at «revealing various aspects of the „Cosmos“ (Deep Space) — in human forms, in the landscape and the display of abstract images of the inner world.» A year after the first, the second exhibition of Amaravella took place in the USA. The same year Amaravella was joined by the new artist Viktor Chernovolenko (1900–1972). And the third event, notorious, followed fifteen years later. On June 24, 1941, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky was arrested and sentenced by the decision of the Special Meeting, to ten years in forced labor camps «for anti-Soviet propaganda» and for communication with Nicholas Roerich, followed by another five years in exile in Akmolinskaya Oblast (Akmola region of Kazakhstan).
Showcase with personal items and books of Sina Fosdick
The years following a significant meeting with Nicholas Roerich were full of creative work, internal combustion trips around the country, and the expectation of a new meeting with Nicholas Roerich, who mentioned two dates in his conversations: 1928 and 1931. The ideas of Nicholas Roerich, acquaintance with the books of the Living Ethics Teaching evoked a mood of elation in the communication of friends, the expectation of joyful changes, and most importantly — aroused dreams! They purposefully dreamed about the beginning of the New Spiritual Time — the Renaissance of all the highest that mankind has and that, created by the human genius. «The Teaching says that the path of dreams is at the same time the path of reality since it leads to the future. A dream is a mental organization of the future, something without which one cannot move forward. » In 1930, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky enrolled the graduate school of the Institute of Metals of the People’s Commissariat of Railways. A diploma from the Moscow Engineering and Economics Institute and recommendation from the Department of Metallurgy came in handy here. So he began teaching at the Welding College, then at the Moscow Higher Technical School, and engaged in scientific activities related to physical metallurgy. Working at one of the best physical metallurgy science
departments, Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy became a «highly qualified specialist in physical metallurgy.» In recognition of his scientific achievements, he was appointed assistant professor of metallurgy in 1937. However, Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy did not break with painting but spent every summer vacation lasting two months traveling with a sketchbook around places where Nicholas Roerich had once gone through. «Summer travel was the greatest joy of life. I recalled the wanderings of Nicholas Roerich, his life in Sortavala near Ladoga skerries — I really wanted to follow his footsteps.»
The indictment says: «In 1926, Smirnov and several other anti-Soviet artists, carried away by painting, organized a religious-mystical circle. The circle established contact with the Russian émigré Nicholas Roerich. Smirnov, as a representative of this circle, received from Roerich and through his emissaries illegal literature of religious and mystical content and distributed it among the members of the circle and other friends.» The original documents about Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy’s arrest, dated June 24, 1941; Exile dated November 10, 1951; and Termination of Proceedings dated September 29, 1956, «due to the absence of corpus delicti» are in the collection of the Odessa Roerich House Museum.
Winter sun. (Borovoe) 1988.
Cardboard, pastel, pencil. Private collection (Odessa)
Many years later, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky wrote in his diary about the «feeling of deep gratitude» to the High, which led him throughout his life, and the low, which caused not only terrible trials but also elevated and strengthened his spiritual core. «I am often filled with a feeling of deep gratitude to that Great Hand, which tirelessly led and leads my life; this feeling of Joy and extraordinary fullness, when I want to say with Tagore: «I will put before you the full chalice of my life ...» Yes, the chalice is full, and it seems to be very full soon. Then the time to leave will come. I want to thank everyone, from the Great to the small, for those generous gifts that have filled the chalice of life ... Any and each who has passed in my life, I want to thank for the value that has been brought. Even Aleksey Sidorov, who brought me the bitter cup (snitched on Smirnov-Rusetsky), deserves gratitude, it was also necessary for the ascent«(March 6, 1983) In August 1954, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky was released. In 1955, he returned to Moscow. The new 1956 year brought him rehabilitation (his sentence was canceled), and «radical changes». A new stage in life and work has begun: «Looking back, I often thought that the most hopeless situation brings a shift to joy. Runa used to say: «When you stand near the wailing wall, joy comes to you.» Gradually, life went into the mainstream of professional and creative work. In March 1957, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky enrolled as a junior research fellow in the welding laboratory of the Institute of Metallurgy of the USSR Academy of Sciences. This work fascinated Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky, and he began writing a thesis, which he defended in 1962. Soon he became the
head of the welding laboratory, specialized in steel and non-ferrous metals, having worked in this position until retirement in 1973. He also resumed the meetings and friendly conversations with friends from the Amaravella group — Petr Fateev, Alexander Sardan, and Viktor Chernovolenko. Reflecting on the past and the unification of friends, the artist briefly and succinctly expressed the idea of their creativity: «Amaravella is becoming a legend, but the ideas of cosmic consciousness live and become increasingly important.» In 1957, the Orientalsit Yuriy (George) Roerich, the eldest son of Nicholas Roerich, returned to the USSR. He brought home his father’s legacy, more than 400 paintings, a collection of Buddhist art, a collection of Buddhist manuscripts, and much more. Yuri Roerich headed the Sector of History and Philosophy of India at the Institute of Asian Peoples of the USSR Academy of Sciences. In a short period of two and a half years (1957–1960), he managed to revive the traditions of Russian Buddhism studies, once the most advanced in the world, and restore its former world fame. He also restored the defeated series «Bibliotheca Buddhica», take over all the Tibetological works in Moscow, Leningrad, and in the Buryat SSR. In 1957, after a long break from 1926, Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky met with Yuriy Roerich again. This meeting «left a deep mark» in the artist’s life. Regular meetings began «brought to life a special rhythm and were always expected with joy and impatience.» The spiritual aspirations and hopes for the future were revived, he was experiencing an internal upsurge — «it was like a promised meeting with Nicholas Roerich.»
Yuri (George) Roerich and Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy.
Moscow Region. 1958-1960
In the spring of 1960, Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy met the younger son of Nicholas Roerich, Svyatoslav Roerich, who brought an exhibition of his works to the USSR. Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy began a series of works from which the following cycles were formed: «The Far East», «Borovoye», «University on the Lenin Hills», «Virgin Land», «Transbaikalia», «Portraits of Trees», «Koktebel», «Altai», «Sortavala» and others. Of course, he continued to work on the cycle «Transparency» which corresponded to the deep states of his soul and philosophical understanding of the world. He also began an intensive exhibition work, promoted art and creativity in life. His first exhibition was held at Moscow State University (1962), then at the club of the Kurchatov Institute (1967), and the Moscow House of Architects (1969, 1971-1972) and other places, as he said about this period, «the ice has broken.» Along with the organization of new exhibitions, the artist traveled a lot. Most of his routes were connected with the places that Nicholas Roerich had visited: Sortavala, Valaam, Novosibirsk, Altai, Pskov, Izborsk, Baltic. In 1968, Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy visited Kiev and donated six of his paintings to the Kiev Museum of Russian Art, now the National Museum «Kiev Art Gallery». He was deeply immersed in the intensive creative work of his mind and heart, as he set the lofty goal — to bring spirituality to art. «Nevertheless, sometimes I feel a deep sadness and self-dissatisfaction that embrace me. How much imperfection, how little spiritual take-off, how little the real is expressed in art ... Of course, before my eyes is an example of such a giant as N.K. [Nicholas Roerich], whose level cannot be reached. But I want to do so much more...». It is also a period of serious awareness of responsibility for one’s creativity, reflection on the tasks of art, and, of course, BEAUTY. Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy visited Odessa in 1993 when he first presented his work to Odessa citizens and opened the exhibition of his Teacher Nicholas Roerich in the Odessa Art Museum.
In the Odessa Roerich House Museum, there is a hall devoted to Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky. The following cycles of paintings are exhibited: «Transparency», «Crimea», «Autumn Thoughts», «Trees», «Sortavala», «Temples», «Altai» and «Space».
Odessa Roerich House Museum has published a number of books authored by Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy: «The Roerich Family. Memories», «Diaries», «Great Images», «Diaries. Letters» as well as full-color albums-catalogs of the cycles: «Altai of B. A. Smirnov-Rusetsky», «Transparency», «North», «Farewell to Sortavala», «Space». The albums featured works from the collection of the Odessa Roerich House Museum and the A. V. Bleshchunov Municipal Museum of Personal Collections. All books are compiled and edited by the Director of the Odessa Roerich House Museum Helena Petrenko.
Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy worked mainly in the pastels but using own distinctive technique. He applied several layers of pastel, fixing each layer of pastel with a weak gelatin solution using an atomizer, there were up to five such layers. This technique added a velvet-like appearance to his works. He paid much attention to the overall color harmony of the picture and its composition, which was especially reflected in his landscape works. Boris Smirnov-Rusetskiy learned from nature the elevated states of consciousness and the diversity of beauty, and most importantly, the ability to see it. «The most important is to clearly see and understand where the Light is and where there is darkness, where art is spiritually elevating, and where is leading to darkness.»
The creed of Nicholas Roerich was the leading idea for Smirnov-Rusetsky, both for his life and creativity. It helped him to overcome difficulties, and ascend spiritually: «Once upon a time, I expressed my understanding of life ... When we proclaim: Love, Beauty, and Action, we know verily that we pronounce the formula of the international language. This formula, which now belongs to the museum and scene, mast enter the everyday life. The sign of beauty will open all sacred gates. Beneath the sign of beauty, we walk joyfully. With Beauty, we conquer, through Beauty we pray, in Beauty we are united. »
Based on the article by Helena Petrenko: Striving for beauty. In the book: Boris Smirnov-Rusetsky. Diaries. Letters. Odessa: Astroprint, 2012.