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Nikolai Zagrekov. Return to Russia

23 September - 10 November 2004
The Benois Wing

The Nikolaus Sagrekow Return to Russia exhibition presents the oeuvre of a German artist of Russian origin whose dramatic fate mirrors the twentieth-century history of both Germany and Russia. The more than 80 works of art include painting, graphic art and posters. Born in Saratov, Nikolaus Sagrekow entered the Bogolyubov School of Drawing in 1914, becoming the best student of local painter F. M. Korneev. In 1918, he qualified as a drawing teacher and entered A. I. Savinov's workshop at the Saratov Higher Free State Art Studios (SVOMAS). Parallel to studying at the SVOMAS, Sagrekow entered the VKhUTEMAS (Higher State Art and Technical Studios), where he studied painting under Pyotr Konchalovsky and Ilya Mashkov. In late 1921, Nikolaus Sagrekow moved to Germany. In1922 he entered the Vocational School of Art and Crafts (Gewerbeschule für Kunst und Handwerk) in Berlin, where he studied under Professor Harold Bengen. The way Nikolaus Sagrekow developed as an artist mirrors the tendencies of fine art of the 1920s. He started with Cubism compositions depicting flowers, fruit and landscapes; painted portraits and the nude. By the mid 1920s the artist had mastered different styles and started combining various manners. He remained true to his plein air tradition of landscape painting, though, his harsh abrupt brushwork already revealed expressionistic features and his growing interest in the art of Lovis Corinth and his broad and energetic manner of painting. The artist felt a particular kinship with the "new objectivity". In the late 1920s and early 1930s, Sagrekow gained public recognition for the first time. His portraits with sportswomen, artists and female citizens as the favourite models were a success. Self-confident, a bit rough, energetic, and impulsive Nikolaus Sagrekow's characters symbolised the epoch itself, the Sturm und Drang of the young century. Nikolaus Sagrekow had become a staff teacher in the Vocational school of art and crafts, proving the excellence of the professional education received in Russia, which allowed him to integrate into the diverse world of the German art. As the Nazis came to power Nikolaus Sagrekow was dismissed from the School. The political situations in Germany and in Soviet Russia of the late 1930s led to him losing all the connections with his motherland. His brother was arrested by the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD) in 1936, after which the artist ceased the correspondence with his relatives who stayed in Russia not to jeopardize their lives. For quite a few years his relatives thought that the artist was no longer alive. In 1945--48 the house of Nikolaus Sagrekow was occupied by the Soviet commandant's office, while the artist was commissioned to paint 12 portraits of the Soviet Marshals, including those of Georgy Zhukov and Konstantin Rokossovsky, and the portraits of Joseph Stalin and Vyacheslav Molotov. Sagrekow also acted as an interpreter for the Soviet officers during their contacts with the representatives of the municipal organisations. A new peak of Nikolaus Sagrekow's oeuvre started after World War Two. As an architect, he reconstructed the buildings of the ruined Berlin, designed a residential area in the city. His painterly manner had changed. Contrary to the pre-war force and energy, he now turned to the "quiet art". Landscapes and still-lives, always with blossoming plants; vases full of bright large dahlias or lively sunflowers, had become a source of inspiration for the painter. Sagrekow had been working till his last days. His latest canvases - landscapes and portraits - are marked with the finest artistic solutions and lyricism. In the 1960s Nikolaus Sagrekow became the main architect of a whole residential area in Berlin. Under his charge some thirty buildings were erected. Nikolaus Sagrekow was fully recognised as an artist. He participated in the shows organised by the Prussian Academy of Arts and the Union of Berlin Artists; exhibited his works in Berlin, Paris, Munich, Düsseldorf, Stuttgart, Hamburg, Wien and Parma. He khew personally great German polititians, such as Willi Brandt and Walter Scheel, and made their portraits. Professor, holder of the VIP title for his contribution to the art of Germany (1973), Accademia Italia delle Arti de Lavoro academician (1979), he was decorated with a high award of the German Federal Republic - Cross for the services to the country (1979), as well as with a European Society of Culture gold medal for his contribution to art and preservation of culture (1980). He also was a prize winner of the Palma d'Oro d'Europa (1986). Nikolaus Sagrekow died in Berlin at the age of 95. He never returned to Russia, which he so often recalled in the last years of his life. After the artist's death, the Society of Friends of Sagrekow (Sagrekow-Freundeskreises) was founded, while his house was turned into a museum.