2335. David Petrovich Shterenberg, Still life

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Still Life
Signed. Oil on canvas, 72 x 54,5 cm.
Executed around 1920
Family of the artist
Purchased from the above around 1993 by Paolo Valentino, Moscow correspondent of the Corriere de la Sera
This work is a striking example of Schterenberg's lifelong preoccupation with the genre of Still-Life and experiments with Cubism. In 'Still Life', we see domestic objects assembled in harmony upon a red table-cloth: a blue book, a patterned tea-cup with spoon, a bread-bun, a bread-knife and a yellow exercise book labelled in French (possibly l'amour?). Here, Schterenberg departs from his usual mathematical precision and formalism. The objects in this painting are instead depicted in motion, toppling, their forms half-distorted, evoking the sensation of falling. This is a particular feature of Schterenberg's Still-Life painting between 1920 - 26, where perspective is almost provocatively distorted and one wonders how the objects are kept in place. There is more than meets the eye; in his usual playful manner, Schterenberg subverts our expectations and the meaning of domestic objects, charging ordinary things with a double meaning.''Schterenberg can dissect objects how Dostoevsky dissects souls'', O'Bir writes in response to one of Schterenberg's exhibitions in 1922 (The Three, Petrograd), where his work was displayed alongside Chagall and Altman. In this painting, we see Schterenberg's interest in finding the essence of 'the object'; both the object being represented and that of the canvas. He handles the items depicted with microscopic incision, focusing on the graphic details of objects and paint, such as the tactile texture of the bread-bun and the minute floral decoration peppering the table-cloth and teacup. In 1906, Schterenberg moved to Paris to study in the Vitti Academy, and naturally assimilated the art of the Parisian avant-garde. His neighbours in Paris were Modgliani, Soutine and Chagall. Yet, what makes Schterenberg so extraordinary is that he is not a typical Cubist. He uses a Cubist painting vocabulary: the flattening of the canvas, the distortion of spatial perspective, but Schterenberg keeps the form of the object depicted, imbuing it with a decorative charm. Perhaps what decided Schterenberg's fate was his return to Russia before the revolution. In 1919, Schtrenberg's French influence suddenly combined with the realities of War Communism, and his style developed away from the more refined French subject matter. During this period, we begin to see more 'Russian' things emerge in his paintings, such as bread, knives, herrings, cakes and decorated table-cloths; suggesting Schterenberg's fascination with objects of the Russian everyday, and not merely aesthetic experiments.
Schterenberg was one of most important Russian avant-garde artists of the 1920's, whose significance has unfortunately been buried. He was the Director of the IZO (Department of Fine Arts under Narkompros, the Soviet committee of Education in the 1920's), and founded a number of key Soviet art journals and his work was frequently exhibited with Malevich, Tatlin, Chagall and Rodchenko.
His paintings disappeared after 1930, dispersed to private collectors, and banned from being studied until the 1970's. It is only recently that his oeuvre has begun to resurface and has started to attract the attention that eluded him during the 20th. This painting was produced during one of the most experimental and thriving periods of Russian art. It is therefore an exemplary product of the feverous period of 1920's Russian avant-garde.

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