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Exter, Aleksandra Aleksandrovna or Ekster; maiden name: Grigorovichlocked

Russian, 20th century, female.

Active in France from 1924.

Born 1882 or 1884, in Bielostok (Kiev); died 1949, in Fontenay-aux-Roses, France.

Painter, decorative artist. Stage sets, stage costumes.

Symbolism, Futurism, Constructivism.

Groups: Golubaya Roza (Blue Rose), Bubnovy Valet (Jack of Diamonds).

Aleksandra Aleksandrovna EXTER: signature or monogram

A student at the school of fine art in Kiev, Aleksandra Exter exhibited for the first time with the Blue Rose ( Golubaya Roza) group in Moscow in 1907. The following year in Kiev she organised one of the first exhibitions of the Russian avant-garde, The Link ( Zveno), which brought together Baranoff-Rossine, the Burlyuk brothers, Larionov, Goncharova and Lentulov.

She travelled extensively from 1903 to 1914 between Paris, Rome, Genoa and Florence. From 1908 onwards she spent long periods in Paris, where she joined the Cubist circle. In 1908 she also married her cousin Nicolai Eugenovitch Exter, a wealthy lawyer. She met Picasso, Apollinaire and Max Jacob and came under the influence of Léger and then of Sonia and Robert Delaunay.

In 1912, she painted a series of Visions of Cities, which encouraged Apollinaire to invent a new term to describe Cubism tending towards Abstraction, 'Orphic Cubism', practised by Robert Delaunay and Kupka among others. Exter returned to Russia periodically between 1910 and 1914 with photos of the latest Parisian pictorial innovations and established a link between France and Russia. Before the war in 1914, she joined all the avant-garde groups for a short time, including the Young People's Union in St Petersburg, the Jack of Diamonds ( Bubnovy Valet) group in Moscow, founded in 1910 by Mikhail Fedorovich Larionov, and the Section d'Or group in Paris to which Archipenko, Survage and Baranoff-Rossine belonged. She also discovered Italian Futurism, particularly through the painter and writer Ardengo Soffici with whom she shared a workshop from 1914 onwards and took part in the Esposizione Internazionale Futurista in Rome. Having assimilated the lesson of the Cubists and Futurists, she took part in the exhibition Tramway V in St Petersburg in 1915 with Malevich, Tatlin, Popova and Klyun.

Aleksandra Exter played a vital role of in the history of Russian theatre. It is no exaggeration to say that she initiated the majority of innovations in sets and costumes in 1920s Russia. These novelties were widely disseminated through the teaching she so tenaciously provided in Kiev, Odessa, Moscow and, after 1924, in Paris. In her theatrical work, she showed particular interest in the movement of shapes in space in relation to the movement of the actors on stage. Together with Tairov, Director of the Chamber Theatre of Moscow, she established a general theatre formula in which costumes, sets and actors form a lively, dynamic unit. The majority of her costume designs, including those for Salome (1917) and Romeo and Juliet (1921) are examples of her Cubo-Futurist design for the rotating movement of shapes and planes. This experience was developed in some of her paintings, in particular those exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1924.

In 1921, she became involved in Constructivism, and was represented at the 5 x 5 = 25 exhibition organised by Rodchenko. She left Russia in 1924 and settled in Paris where she started teaching in Léger's workshop and continued working for the theatre. In 1930, she became established in Constructivism with an illustration in the first edition of the journal Cercle et Carré, organised by Michel Seuphor. She ended her days in Fontenay-aux-Roses, apparently in semi-oblivion.

Her work is a synthesis between Cubism in its decomposition of forms, Futurism in its dynamics of composition and Constructivism and in the arrangement of its coloured, geometric shapes. Her pure colours show often touches of white, which give an effect of volume and depth to the whole.

Group Exhibitions

2003, A Russian Summer in Montmartre. St Petersburg Artists in Paris at the Beginning of the 20th Century (Un été russe à Montmartre. Artistes de St-Pétersbourg à Paris au début du XXe siècle), Musée de Montmartre, Paris

2003, Russian Paris 1910-1960, Von der Heydt-Museum, Wuppertal (an itinerant exhibition on Russian art and artists organised by the Russian Museum, St Petersburg and also presented at the Museum of Fine Art in Bordeaux)

2003, The Origins of Abstraction (1800-1914) (Aux origines de l'abstraction (1800-1914)), Musée d'Orsay, Paris

2009, Creating the Modern Stage: Designs for Theater and Opera, Morgan Library and Museum, New York

Solo Exhibitions

1975, New York

1991, Alexandra Exter and the Chamber Theatre, Rovereto (Italy)

Museum and Gallery Holdings

Canberra (Nat. Gal. of Australia): Costume model of a Martian guard for the film Aelita (c. 1923, watercolour on cardboard, cotton, steel wire and tacks); Sandwich Man (1926, collage on cardboard and wood, cotton, string, book cloth, copper, sequins, steel tacks and bridge nails)

Chicago (AI): Robot (1926, cardboard, fabric, wood, glass, and string)

Los Angeles (County MA): Evening Dress (1926, wood, cardboard, plastic and fabric)

Madrid (Mus. Thyssen-Bornemisza): Still-life with Bottle and Glass (1912, collage and oil on canvas)

New York (Morgan Library and Mus.): Construction for a Tragedy (c. 1925, gouache, graphite, pen and black ink on paper); Constructivist Setting for O. Gilbertini and Ugo Betti's La Donna sullo scudo, Act I (1927)

Washington DC (Hirshhorn Mus. and Sculpture Garden): Lady in Red (1926, painted wood, fabric, felt, metal, thread, yarn and plastic); Harlequin (1926, painted wood, metal, tin, fabric, thread and plastic); American Policeman (1926, painted wood, fabric, felt, ribbon, metal, thread and plastic)

Washington DC (Nat. Mus. of Women in the Arts): Costume Design for "Les Equivoques d'Amour" (c. 1933, gouache and pencil on paper)

Auction Records

London, 12 April 1972: Suprematist Composition (gouache) GBP 2,800

London, 4 July 1974: Abstract Composition (gouache) GBP 2,200; Cubist Nude (c. 1914) GBP 1,600

New York, 27 May 1976: Stage Set (gouache and collage, 7 × 9 ins/17.8 × 22 cm) USD 750

New York, 15 Dec 1977: Stage Set (c. 1923, watercolour and pencil, 20¼ × 21¼ ins/51.3 × 54 cm) USD 3,000; Marionnette: Costume (wood, card, plastic and fabrics, h. 21½ ins/54.6 cm) USD 8,000

New York, 3 Nov 1978: Figure (c. 1924-25, gouache, 19 × 9 ins/48.2 × 22 cm) USD 1,800

New York, 6 Dec 1979: Tarantella (c. 1920-21, watercolour, gouache and pencil, 5 × 5¼ ins/13 × 13.3 cm) USD 1,400

London, 29 Oct 1981: Costume Design for The Circus (gouache and pencil, 15 × 19¼ ins/38 × 49.2 cm) GBP 1,500

London, 28 June 1983: Dynamic Vision for a City (c. 1921, pencil and white gouache/paper, 17¾ × 19¾ ins/45 × 50 cm) GBP 4,500

New York, 17 May 1984: Set Design (1925, gouache/pencil outlines, 19 × 14 ins/48.2 × 35.3 cm) USD 7,500

London, 13 Feb 1986: City (oil and gouache, 17¼ × 11¾ ins/44 × 30 cm) GBP 1,800

London, 2 April 1987: Cafe Scene (1925, watercolour, pen and pencil, 25 × 16½ ins/63.5 × 42 cm) GBP 10,000

Varenne-St-Hilaire, 6 Dec 1987: Still-life and Sailing Boat (1925, gouache/card, 24¾ × 19 ins/63 × 48 cm) FRF 31,000

London, 6 Oct 1988: Costume Sketch: The Hunter (gouache/paper, 18¼ × 12 ins/464 × 30.2 cm) GBP 3,960; Prancing Horse (oil on canvas, 12½ × 15½ ins/32 × 39.5 cm) GBP 6,600

London, 6 April 1989: Composition, Genoa (1912, oil on canvas, 45½ × 34 ins/115.5 × 86.5 cm) GBP 759,000

London, 5 Oct 1989: Paris Bridges (1912, oil on canvas, 37½ × 60½ ins/95 × 153.5 cm) GBP 330,000

Versailles, 29 Oct 1989: Woman in a Cloak (gouache, 11½ × 8½ ins/29 × 21.5 cm) FRF 5,000

New York, 21 Feb 1990: Sketches for Set Designs: Don Juan and Death; Don Juan and Hell (gouache and stencil, a pair, each 13 × 19¾ ins/33.1 × 50 cm) USD 2,860

London, 4 April 1990: Romeo and Juliet, Costume Design (oil, gouache and gold paint/card, 19 × 13¾ ins/48 × 35 cm) GBP 143,000

London, 5 April 1990: Composition of Dynamic Colours (58¼ × 32¼ ins/148 × 82 cm) GBP 506,000

London, 23 May 1990: Chateau (oil on canvas, 18 × 28¾ ins/46 × 73 cm) GBP 15,400

Lugano, 28 March 1992: Costume Design for 'Romeo and Juliet' (1920, pencil and tempera/paper, 23 × 17¼ ins/57.5 × 43.5 cm) CHF 38,000

New York, 12 June 1992: Set Designs for 'The Merchant of Venice" and "Circus Big Top' (gouache and stencil/paper, 13 × 15¾ ins/33 × 40 cm and 13 × 19¾ ins/33 × 50.2 cm) USD 1,320

Boulogne-sur-Seine, 20 March 1994: Concert (oil on canvas, 23½ × 32 ins/60 × 81 cm) FRF 168,500

New York, 9 June 1994: Landscape and Architecture (oil on canvas, decor design, 24¼ × 28¾ ins/61.9 × 73 cm) USD 8,050

London, 29 June 1994: Castles Under the Sea (1928, oil on canvas, 35½ × 43¾ ins/90.2 × 111.1 cm) GBP 11,500

Paris, 26 June 1995: Costume Design for 'Salome' by Oscar Wilde (varnished gouache, 18 × 12¼ ins/46 × 31 cm) FRF 16,000

London, 14 Dec 1995: Costume Design for 'Romeo and Juliet' (gouache heightened with gold, 19¾ × 19 ins/50 × 48 cm) GBP 25,300

London, 11-12 June 1997: Figure Study (oil on canvas, 21 × 17¾ ins/53.5 × 45 cm) GBP 4,025

London, 29 April 1999: Stage Designs (oil on card, two works, 22 × 20 ins/56 × 50 cm) GBP 7,000

London, 29 April 1999: Set Designs (oil on card, three works, 20 × 7 ins/50 × 17 cm) GBP 9,000

London, 23 Nov 2000: Fisherwomen (c. 1925, oil on canvas, 46 × 29 ins/116 × 74 cm) GBP 60,000

Paris, 30 May 2001: Colour Dynamism (1915, watercolour and gouache on card, 19 × 13 ins/48 × 32 cm) FRF 420,000

London, 31 May 2001: Nude Bathers (oil on canvas, 18 × 22 ins/46 × 55 cm) GBP 40,000

London, 22 May 2002: Harbour Scene (oil on panel, 23 × 15 ins/58 × 39 cm) GBP 25,000

London, 27 June 2002: Stage Design (1921, gouache, 19 × 25 ins/48 × 64 cm) GBP 7,000

London, 21 May 2003: Costume Design for a Dancer (gouache, 20 × 13 ins/50 × 34 cm) GBP 28,000

London, 25 Nov 2003: Still-life of Fruit, Vegetables, Bowl of Eggs and Bottle of Milk (oil on canvas, 32 × 21 ins/82 × 54 cm) GBP 48,000

New York, 23 April 2004: Costume Design for the Seven against Thebes (pencil and gouache, 20 × 13 ins/51 × 33 cm) USD 40,000

Paris, 19 May 2004: Costume Project (gouache, 22 × 17 ins/57 × 42 cm) EUR 31,000

Bibliography

  • Nakov, Andrei B.: Alexandra Exter, Galerie Jean Chauvelin, Paris, 1972.
  • Weiss, E.: Russische Avant-garde 1910-1930, Prestel, Munich, 1986.
  • Bowlt, John E./Drutt, Matthew (ed.): Amazons of the Avant-Garde: Alexandra Exter [et al], Guggenheim Museum/Thames and Hudson, New York, London, 2000.
  • Gérard, Raphaël/Essaïan, Sergeï, et al.: Un été russe à Montmartre. Artistes de Saint-Pétersbourg à Paris au début du XXe siècle, exhibition catalogue, Musée de Montmartre, Éditions Fragments, Paris, 2003.
  • Marcadé, Jean-Claude/Pétrova, Evguénia: Paris russe 1910-1960, exhibition catalogue, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Bordeaux, 2003.
  • Lemoine, Serge/Rousseau, Pascal, et al.: Aux origines de l'abstraction (1800-1914), exhibition catalogue, musée d'Orsay, Paris, 2003.
  • Chauvelin, Jean: Alexandra Exter, M. Milo, Paris, 2003.