Alexander Nikolaevich Samokhvalov

Alexander Nikolaevich Samokhvalov

1894 —1971
  • Gold Medal of International Exposition of Modern Industrial and Decorative Arts (1925; 1937)
  • Order of Lenin (1967)
  • Honoured artist of the RSFSR (1967)
Alexander Samokhvalov is one of the most prominent and brightest masters of the Soviet art, who has been incredibly prolific and worked in many different media including painting, graphics, sculpture, illustration, as well as theatrical and decorative, monumental and applied arts. There are portraits, genre pictures, landscapes among his painting. Samokhvalov's impressive oeuvre, which had already been developed and established quite solidly by the beginning of the 1930s, has been able to reflect imposing pathos of the epoch of socialism in a revealing and intelligible way. Alexander Samokhvalov was born on August 21, 1894, in a small provincial town of Bezhetsk, Tver province, in a large family of a small merchant, formerly a peasant labourer, Nikolai Dmitrievich Samokhvalov and Elena Fedorovna Samokhvalova (nee Chistyakova), who was occupied with housekeeping and raising children. Alexander Nikolaevich had four brothers and three sisters. Already being in his very young age, Samokhvalov has felt an intense craving for drawing. The artist later had recalled a notable episode from his childhood, when a wandering artist came to the town, and Alexander has been instantly charmed by the artist's palette and his oil paints. Immediately after that, the boy has devised his own palette and has managed to get the oils. So Samokhvalov has begun to make his very first steps in painting - he was painting mostly nature and everything that surrounded him. At the age of seven, Alexander was sent to the parish school. The father of the future artist wanted his son to get a technical profession, and twelve-year-old Samokhvalov was sent to a Technical school in the neighbouring town of Kalyazin. However, two and a half years later, Alexander, among other students, was expelled from the school for "seditious" mood associated with the revolutionary movement, and the school itself was closed. However, this time was not lost in vain, because the school has helped Alexander Nikolaevich to master carpentry, locksmith, and blacksmith skills that expanded the horizons of the future artist and contributed to his diverse and multifaceted creative path. Another positive result of the study was that Samokhvalov closely aligned himself with the working class and their children, who, in general, were the majority of the students. In the future, it helped Alexander Samokhvalov to develop as an artist with a more sincere, subtle, real depiction of certain motives in his works.

The talent of the young Samohvalov to drawing was impossible not to notice, and his father took him to Moscow to visit a reputable artist, Vasily Meshkov to determine the boy's future possibilities in the art world. During that trip, Alexander visited the State Tretyakov Gallery and the Rumyantsev Museum for the first time, where he was flooded with admiration and was especially mesmerised by the works of such outstanding artists as Nikolai Ge, Vasily Surkov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Isaak Levitan, and Nikolai Yaroshenko. The work of the young Samokhvalov was shown to Vasily Meshkov and Petr Kelin who both noted that the young man is gifted, but it is necessary to finish his general secondary education first and only then embark on an artistic journey. Following the advice of esteemed artists, in 1909, Alexander was sent to the non-classic secondary school of Bezhetsk, where the future artist was fortunate enough to have a skilful teacher of drawing, Ivan Kostenko, who has played a significant role in Samokhvalov's artistic development. The director of the school, Ismail Maksakov, who was a very educated person with a great interest in culture, also had great importance in this early period of the formation of creative preferences of Alexander Nikolayevich and his theoretical artistic knowledge. The impressive library of Maksakov allowed Samokhvalov to become an avid reader. He was exploring the most exciting subject-matters, starting from materials on Egyptian history, records by Paul Gauguin, poetry by Alexander Blok and ending with the issues of the magazine "Apollo", from which the young artist has learned about Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso, Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin's African journey, getting awareness about the world of art. Samokhvalov graduated from the secondary school in 1912, and went to St. Petersburg to Art School of Ilya Mashkov and Petr Konchalovsky to prepare for admission to the Academy of Arts. As planned, in 1914, Alexander Nikolaevich entered the Architectural Faculty of the Higher Art School at the Academy of Arts. The decision to choose the Faculty of Architecture was due to the fact that, being under the influence of his new friends, Samokhvalov doubted the methods of teaching painting at the Academy at that time and decided that he will continue to practice painting independently and alongside with the primary study. Because of his financial situation, Samokhvalov was forced to combine his studies and additional work: first, he served at the factory and then worked in the Ministry of Agriculture. During this period, Samokhvalov, who was actively visiting museums, and especially the Hermitage, encountered a profound passion for ancient Russian art, which apparently has affected his work. Since 1914, the artist has started to take part in exhibitions.

Among the Samokhvalov's teachers of drawing at the Academy were Nikolai Bruni, Vasily Belyaev, Ivan Tvorozhnikov, Hugo Zaleman. They all have greatly assisted Alexander Nikolaevich to master the skill of realistic drawing. He also began to regularly visit the studio of painting techniques at the Academy of Arts, which was headed by Professor Dmitry Iosifovich Kiplik. Following the advice of Evgeny Lansere, with whom Alexander Nikolaevich met in the studio of Professor Kiplik, Samokhvalov took part in the exhibition "World of Art" in 1917, where his work "Portrait of the wife" was shown. He also participated in the exhibition, which was organised by students of the Academy that year. At the very beginning of the revolution, Samohvalov was involved in visual propaganda: he was creating thematic posters, banners and slogans. This period turned out to be challenging and quite eventful for the artist: after a severe illness his father died in 1917, his daughter was born in 1918, and there also was a fire in the house of his parents in Bezhetsk. So, in 1918, he took his family and returned to his native Bezhetsk, where he was teaching drawing at the women's school and was conducting drawing courses in general, was leading the municipal decoration project for the first anniversary of the great October socialist revolution and was engaged in another municipal project which took place at the Palace of Soviets. Even though the artist changed his place of residence, he still found the time to travel to St. Petersburg.

In 1920, Samokhvalov entered the Petrograd State Higher Art and Technical Studios (VKHUTEMAS) to study under Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin's guidance. Next year, together with his mentor Petrov-Vodkin, he participated in the expedition of the Institute of the history of material culture to Samarkand to research the state of architectural and historical monuments. The artist was taking part in numerous exhibitions, including the Fifth Exhibition of the Community of Artists in 1922, where five works of Alexander Nikolaevich were shown, and an Exhibition of Paintings of Petrograd Artists of All Trends in 1923. During the same period, Samokhvalov has begun to create illustrations for books. Alexander Nikolaevich graduated in 1923 from VKHUTEMAS with a diploma work "Dressing-down" and received the official title of the artist. Samokhvalov was awarded a gold medal at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1925, for the poster "Long live the Komsomol!". In 1926, Alexander participated in the restoration of St. George's Cathedral in Staraya Ladoga, entered the art society "Circle of Artists", which he left three years later due to disagreement with his colleagues, and begun to work increasingly as a children's writer and Illustrator. In 1930, he joined the October Art Society, and until 1932, he enthusiastically worked on a series of paintings and drawings in "The Leningrad Way" commune. Alexander Nikolaevich joined the Leningrad Union of artists in 1932. At the anniversary exhibition "15 years of Artists of the RSFSR" Samokhvalov presented as much as 47 paintings and drawings. The 1930s were an extremely productive and busy time for the artist. Many state authorities and institutions have regularly ordered his works, he has taken part in various exhibitions, including exhibitions of Soviet art abroad, for example, in the United States, Italy, Denmark, Bulgaria, France, England, and he was not limiting his creativity with only one direction in the arts. So, in 1935, Alexander Nikolaevich began working at the Leningrad's Bolshoi Drama Theatre named after M. Gorky. In 1937, Samokhvalov was awarded the Grand Prix for the panel "Soviet Physical Education", the gold medal for the painting "A girl in a t-shirt", and the Grand Prix for illustrations to the "History of one city" by M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin at the International Exhibition in Paris.

During the Second World war, in 1941, Alexander Samokhvalov was evacuated to Novosibirsk together with the Academic Theatre named after A. S. Pushkin, where he worked as a chief artist and decorator. He returned to Leningrad only in 1944. Alexander Nikolaevich continued to experiment with monumental art, and in 1946, he was working on a sketch of the painting "Heroics of the great Patriotic war" for the hall in the Palace of Soviets. From 1948 to 1951, Samokhvalov was teaching at the Faculty of Monumental Painting at the Leningrad Higher Art and Industrial School. In 1967, he received the title of honoured artist of the RSFSR and was awarded the order of Lenin. The artist travelled to Italy in 1969, where he lived in a villa owned by the Academy of Arts. During this period, he is also working on his memoirs. Alexander Samokhvalov died at the age of seventy-six on August 20, 1971, in Leningrad and was buried at the Komarovsky cemetery. His works are present in the collections of the State Russian Museum, the State Tretyakov gallery, as well as in other museums, galleries and private collections in Russia, the UK, France, Germany, the USA, Italy and other countries.

Баршева, И., Сазонова, К. А. Самохвалов. Ленинград: Художник РСФСР.
Зингер, Л. (1982) Александр Самохвалов. Москва: Советский художник.
Petrova, E. (ed.) (2014) Alexander Samokhvalov. St. Petersburg: Palace Editions