OBITUARY: Dmitry Krasnopevtsev

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Dmitry Krasnopevtsev was one of the most important modern Russian artists from the 1960s to the 1980s. His art, though totally apolitical, was banned by both Nikita Khrushchev's and Leonid Brezhnev's cultural censors; but it was recognised by museums in the West, especially in the United States, and eventually by his own country.

He became an overnight celebrity in 1956 when Life magazine reproduced one of his still-life paintings. Khrushchev's cultural machine went immediately into action. Krasnopevtsev was thrown out of the Artists' Union, lost his state workshop, all his orders from publishers and any chance of an exhibition. Newspapers attacked him and called him a "traitor".

Krasnopevtsev became virtually a recluse at his two-room flat at Ostozhenka (Metrostroyevskaya Street), in the centre of Moscow, where many artists lived and worked. In 1967 the Museum of Modern Art, New York, bought several of his paintings; in 1988, he had one-man shows at the New Jersey Museum of Contemporary Art, and at the Moscow Central House of Artists, one of the most prestigious places for a Russian artist. Two years ago the Pushkin Museum of Fine Art exhibited his work - an honour rarely given to an artist in his lifetime.

Krasnopevtsev was a Francophile. His flat at his second address in Moscow, at Cheryomushky, was filled with French books, pictures, photographs and a huge map of Paris which, said his friends, he knew as if he lived there. In fact he had never been to Paris and spoke neither French nor any other foreign language.

In 1968 Alexander Glezer, his agent, organised an exhibition of dissident artists in Moscow, which included three paintings by Krasnopevtsev. The same day three members of the Moscow City Party Committee came and banned all three works. One painting showed a jug with a plant. But the plant emerged not through the jug's mouth but from the wall. Glezer asked why Krasnopevtsev's work had been banned. "Oh, come on," the commissars answered. "It's quite clear, he wanted to show that, despite all our bans, they - dissident artists - will get through anyway."

Krasnopevtsev lived modestly. Most of his foreign currency he received for his work was taken by the State. Under Mikhail Gorbachev, the State finally recognised him, and two books were written about him and published by state publishing houses in Moscow which used to forbid even mentioning him in books about other artists.

Jeanne Vronskaya

Dmitry Krasnopevtsev, artist: born Moscow 1924; died Moscow 1 March 1995.