Vera Pagava

1907Tbilisi, Georgia | 1988Montrouge, France

Georgian painter.

In the 1980s, when looking back on the path she had chosen to follow 20 years earlier, Vera Pagava confessed: “I couldn’t handle any more figuration and no longer needed to use it as a crutch.” Despite being figurative, the Georgian artist’s paintings always showed a strong inclination towards abstraction, from the start of her career in 1930s Paris. Her early works were painted in a post-cubist style, with pared-down schematics and a dark and restricted palette that expressed her will to keep them as pared down as possible. Whether in her portraits, still lifes, or religious scenes, she seemed less interested in the narrative potential of her subjects than in the way in which her motifs – consisting of areas of precise, almost plain, colour – were arranged on the surface of the canvas. She later took this approach in multiple directions, showing great freedom in her manner of execution. While the simplicity of her Campanile (1957) resuscitates that of the pre-Renaissance primitives, her Blue Still Life (1949) brings to mind both Matisse’s transparency effects and the smooth and clinical workmanship in Amédée Ozenfant and Le Corbusier’s works.
In the 1950s, V. Pagava tried her hand at optical effects achieved through a multiplication of the motifs and an intermingling of planes. The silhouettes in her battle scenes, such as The Fall of the Angels (1953), are reminiscent of Matisse’s various “dances” (1930-1933) and also prefigure the folded coloured arabesques that Simon Hantaï would create ten years later. In her series of cities, she experimented with interlocking coloured rectangles – an innovative extension of similar formal explorations in Robert Delaunay’s simultaneist works and Piet Mondrian’s cubist pieces from the 1910s.

By 1960, V. Pagava no longer needed the “crutch” of figuration, and predominantly painted geometric shapes with rounded and irregular edges. This very liberal approach to geometry, which she had already explored in her biomorphic paintings from the late 1930s (Shape with Guitar, 1938, for instance) brought fluidity and organicity to these rough elements, making her more akin to Sophie Taeuber than to De Stijl disciples. Her work later became increasingly ethereal. The watercolours she showed alongside other artists at the 1966 Venice Biennale’s French Pavilion, as well as her large canvases, such as the almost monochromatic Presence (1963), echo Mark Rothko’s atmospheric monochromes. The final years of her career were characterized by her use of geometric shapes depicting stars, skies, mountains, and “ascensions”. These simple yet effective “celestial bodies” appear to be the graceful manifestations of an intimate and spiritual cosmos – the last stage in a rich and diverse career that is a testament to her constantly renewed inventiveness.
Born an only child to wealthy and cultivated Georgian parents, V. Pagava fled Soviet annexation with her family and settled in Montrouge, France, in 1923. She studied mainly at the Académie Ranson, in the workshop of painter Roger Bissière, and first showed her work in 1944 at the Jeanne Bucher Gallery. From then on, she took part in many collective exhibitions in France and abroad. She also worked on several public commissions, most prominently the stained glass windows and furnishings of St. Joseph’s Church in Dijon, which were inaugurated in 1987.

Marion Alluchon

From the Dictionnaire universel des créatrices
© 2013 Des femmes – Antoinette Fouque © Archives of Women Artists, Research and Exhibitions
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