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August 4: The Muse of the Russian Avant-Garde

August 4, 2013

Alexander-Rodchenko-Lilya-BrikLilya Brik (Kagan), who became lovers with the great Russian futurist poet Vladimir Mayakofsky while living in an open marriage with her husband, writer Osip Brik, ended her life at age 87 on this date in 1978. Brik was a sculptor, writer, architect, and filmmaker who was named by Pablo Neruda as the “muse of the Russian avant-garde.” An erotic, compelling figure for many men, she had her portraits done by painters and photographers including Alexander Rodchenko, Fernand Léger, Henri Matisse, and Marc Chagall. She also helped elevate the careers of numerous artists and writers, with her apartment serving as salon for the likes of Boris Pasternak, Maxim Gorky, Sergei M. Eisenstein, and many others. The Briks were active proponents of new ideas in the arts and helped shape Russian culture before and after the Revolution — but her second husband, General Vitali Primakov, was executed as a “Trotskyist” by Stalin, which left Brik homeless in Moscow for several years. Her third marriage was to Vasily Abgarovich Katanyan, a writer with whom she lived for forty years. To see her 1926 film, “The Jew and the Land,” about Jewish collective life in the Crimea, look below.

“The home of Lily Brik and Vasili Katanyan was the meeting place for unofficial cultural milieu in the 1950s and 1960s Moscow. At that time Lily Brik played an important role in supporting the new generation of talented writers, musicians, artists, and filmmakers . . .” —Steve Shelokhonov