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Vera Ermolaeva

1893Kliuchi, Russia | 1937Karaganda, Kazakhstan

Russian painter, illustrator, and decorator.

Vera Mikhailovna Ermolaeva was born in the Volga region to a family of landowners. A fall from a horse as a child left both her legs paralysed, for which her parents would seek treatment in Europe. In 1911, she took classes in Saint Petersburg from Mikhail Bernstein, who introduced Russia to French avant-garde art, and became interested in Cubism and Futurism. In 1914, she went to Paris, where she studied the works of contemporary painters such as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Georges Braque, and André Derain. Upon returning to Petrograd in 1918, she became a founding member of the “brigade” of artists Segodnya (Today), along with Nathan Altman and Yuri Annenkov, who published handmade picture-books for the Russian people, including books for children. V. Ermolaeva herself illustrated Nathan Vengrov’s Petukh (The Rooster) in a style combining Neo-primitivism and Futurism.

In 1919, the Narkompros (People’s Commissariat for Education) appointed her to teach at the Art School in Vitebsk, alongside eminent artists such as Robert Falk and Mtislav Dobuzhinsky. She replaced Marc Chagall as the school’s director in 1921 after he left his position. Having invited Kazimir Malevich to Vitebsk, she joined the master and his students to create Unovis, the artistic laboratory of Suprematism. In 1922, she was in charge of the colour laboratory at the famous Ginkhuk (State Institute of Artistic Culture) in Petrograd. She reverted to illustration in the late 1920s, and collaborated with children’s magazines, creating her own books, and later broadening her activity to painting in a schematic and vividly coloured style reminiscent of Post-suprematism. The dictates of Socialist realism sealed her fate: she fell victim to the first wave of repressive measures against “nonconforming” artists, was accused, like many of her counterparts in Leningrad, of “promoting anti-Soviet ideas”, and was sentenced to five years of Gulag incarceration in Kazakhstan, where she was put on trial a second time, found guilty, and shot dead.

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Ada Ackerman

Translated from French by Lucy Pons.

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque
© Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Design for Victory over the Sun, 1920, woodcut with watercolour additions, 16.5 x 20 cm, © MoMA

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Abstract Composition, 1923, watercolour and pencil on paper, 67.15 x 63.34 cm, Carnagie Museum of Art

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Pionery [Pioneers], 1918, book with four linoleum cuts with watercolour additions (including cover), 20.2 x 15.1 cm, © MoMA

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Segodnia [Today] 1918, book with four linoleum cuts (including cover), 20.2 x 14.9cm, Private collection

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Original illustrations for Little Girls, 1927, watercolour, 1002 x 1203 cm

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Sobachki [Doggies], 1929, illustred book, 19 x 14.9 cm, Private collection

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, The east on Fire, 1931, illustred book, unknown dimensions

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, Composition, 1930, watercolour, unknown dimensions, Private collection

Vera Ermolaeva — AWARE Women artists / Femmes artistes

Vera Ermolaeva, 10 fokusov chudodeeva [Ten Conjurer’s Tricks], 1928, illustred book, 17.5 x 13.3 cm, Private collection

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