Geliy  Mikhailovich Korzhev

Geliy Mikhailovich Korzhev

1925 —2012
  • Laureate of the State Prize of the RSFSR named after I. Repin (1966)
  • Laureate of the State Prize of the USSR (1987)
  • Corresponding Member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR (1962)
  • Academician of the Academy of Arts of the USSR (1970)
  • People's Artist of the RSFSR (1972)
  • People's Artist of the USSR (1979)
Geliy Korzhev was a Soviet and Russian artist of a unique nature and scale with an extremely recognisable style. Being an exponent of the Realist movement, the artist was also engaged in teaching activities for about thirty years, he acquired the status of the Professor of the Academy of Arts and was awarded honorary medals for his paintings on numerous occasions. Korzhev was presented with the title of the People's Artist of the RSFSR in 1972 and the People's Artist of the USSR in 1979. Korzhev was holding a significant respected position in the official Soviet art hierarchy. Despite this fact, strangely enough, there is something extrinsic, even conflicting, in his paintings in regard to the conventional socialist dogma of the official art. Moreover, having this inner anti-canonicity, Korzhev's paintings can be juxtaposed with other extraordinary, phenomenal international representatives of the conceptualised Realism such as for instance, Lucien Freud and Eric Fischl. The art historian, A. D. Borovsky has pointed out the characteristic feature of Korzhev very accurately: 'He had one very personal quality. He tried to grasp life in its raw condition, its unconscious state, or the stage before we can reflect on it. As if it is easier to absorb and digest this sort of unprocessed, rough representation of life with the appropriate aesthetic enzymes'.  

Korzhev was born in Moscow on July 11, 1925, in a family of the talented architect, the graduate of VKhUTEMAS, and one of the founders of the Soviet landscape architecture, and also, the head of ASNOVA, and the teacher of Russian language and literature. Thus, the atmosphere of cultural enlightenment, arts and creative spirit has been familiar to Korzhev since his childhood. Together with his parents, the artist from an early age was engaged in drawing, sculpting, and studying classical literature. In 1936, when Korzhev was eleven years old, he began to visit the art studio at the House of Pioneers and Schoolchildren in Frunzensky district of Moscow being in the class of A. P. Sergeeva. Following the advice of his teacher, the boy, without even consulting his parents, applied to the newly opened Moscow's secondary art school in 1939. Fortunately, Korzhev's parents supported the choice of the young artist. During the war, together with his classmates, Korzhev was hurriedly evacuated to Bashkiria, where he graduated from the school in 1944. In the same year, the young man entered Moscow State Academic Art Institute named after V. I. Surikov. During his study, Korzhev was supported by his mentors S. V. Gerasimov and N. H. Maksimov in the difficult, painful search of his own distinctive style, path, subject matters and compositions. The artist graduated successfully from the institute in 1950. In his early period, Korzhev was not particularly inspired by ordinary events and mundane topics. Despite the fact that Korzhev's paintings do not contain any depictions of battle scenes or aggressive militancy, his undivided attention was dedicated to capturing the crucial, critical moments in the history of his homeland: the heroic, dramatic situations, emotional traumas, hopes and despair of the twentieth century. In his paintings, which art historians relate to the 'severe' style, Korzhev tried to convey the spiritual and emotional atmosphere of the time, to awaken empathy in the viewer and provoke deep thought. One of the main subjects in Korzhev's work is the October Revolution and the Patriotic War. The artist praises the Soviet man for his courage, willpower, and perseverance. Korzhev has raised questions of morality and social foundations while referring not only to his contemporaries but also to eternity. The artist abandoned the usual compositional decisions in his works; his paintings reflect tireless creative exploration and the desire for innovation. Restrained in colour, without any poetical quality and delicacy, due to the specifically highlighted foreground in his paintings, Korzhev turns his works into direct dialogues with the audience. The protagonists of the paintings seem to listen carefully to the flow of life, ponder their place in it. Thus, the main characteristics of Korzhev's work can be identified as keen existential feeling, traces of the war, extreme physiological imagery, and a sense of inevitable 'river of time', which erases everything.

In 1951, upon the invitation of S. V. Gerasimov, Korzhev became a teacher of painting at the Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts, where among his pupils were Egor Zaitsev and Grigory Chainikov. Together with P. P. Ossovsky, Korzhev was engaged in the creation of illustrations to the book of A. P. Gaidar, 'A hot stone', in 1952. The general public turned its attention to the artist in 1954, when Korzhev first exhibited at the Moscow Youth Art Exhibition. The artist not only showed his works at the exhibition but was enthusiastically participating in its organisation. The painting 'During the War' has brought early recognition and honour to the artist. Since then, Korzhev regularly has exhibited his works at major exhibitions in the country and abroad and soon has begun to make numerous trips abroad. Among others, the artist took part in the All-Union jubilee art exhibition dedicated to the 40th anniversary of the Great October Socialist revolution in 1957, the all-Union Youth art exhibition '40 years of the Komsomol' in 1958, the Republican Art Exhibition 'Soviet Russia' in 1960, the art exhibition 'Moscow - capital of our Motherland' in 1964, in VIII exhibition of the works by members of the Academy of Arts of the USSR in 1965, in the Third Republican art exhibition 'Soviet Russia', in the jubilee exhibition 'Artists of Moscow - the 50th anniversary of October' and in the all-Union art exhibition '50 years of Soviet power' in 1967. During his particularly creative and productive years, Korzhev visited Italy on several occasions (1956, 1970, 1972), Syria and Lebanon (1957), France (1959), the Netherlands (1968), Poland (1969), Spain (1970), India and Nepal (1983), Cyprus (1987), and The German Democratic Republic (1988).

The artist has always enjoyed great success with the state apparatus, and his works have often been awarded numerous prizes and awards. In 1961, he was awarded the gold medal of the Academy of Arts of the USSR for the triptych "Communists". The same triptych brought Korzhev the state prize of the RSFSR named after I. E. Repin in 1966. Primarily, the 1960s were significant years for the artist's career. In 1964, he created his first paintings from the famous series 'Scorched by the fire of war'. His pedagogical activity also has received its successful development, and in 1965, Korzhev headed the Department of monumental painting of the Stroganov Moscow State University of Arts and Industry, and in 1966, he received the academic title of Professor. Two years later, Korzhev has begun to lead a creative workshop at the Academy of Arts of the USSR and was appointed as Chairman of the Board of the Union of Artists of the RSFSR. In 1970, Korzhev was elected as a full member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR and awarded the jubilee medal 'for valiant labour. To mark the 100th anniversary of Vladimir Lenin's birth'. Also, in 1971, the artist received the order of the Red Banner of Labour. After leaving for Italy in 1972, Korzhev worked at the creative cottage, 'dacha', of the Union of artists of the USSR - Villa Abamelek-Lazarev in Rome. In the 1980s, the style and theme of the artist's work have radically changed. Terrifying creatures, surreal monsters, reminiscent of the bestiaries of Francisco Goya and Hieronymus Bosch have started to appear in Korzhev's works. Bitter disappointment with the condition of the society has led the artist to try to capture the socio-moral degradation on that point when it is still possible to recover. However, Korzhev's work has no illusions about the future of the Soviet Union. Experiencing the collapse of his country in the 1990s, Korzhev became a hermit with a heightened sense of his special mission - a prophet in a voluntary exile. More than once he turned to the motives of the gospel and Don Quixote in his works. Korzhev died on August 27, 2012, in Moscow and was buried at the cemetery of Alekseevskoe. The artist's works can be found in many museums in Russia, international galleries and private collections.


Баркова, Н. (1976) Г. М. Коржев: Художник и время: Альбом. Москва: Советский художник.
Боровский, А. (2016) Гелий Коржев. Москва: Государственная Третьяковская Галерея. 
Зайцев Е. В. (2000) Гелий Михайлович Коржев. Альбом: К 75 летию со дня рождения. Москва: Пассим. 
Манин В. С. (2002) Гелий Михайлович Коржев: Альбом-монография. Москва: Новый Эрмитаж.