Reviews and Articles

Unique Collection of Works by Moses Feign

Nadezhda Musyankova - Ph.D. in art history, senior researcher at the State Tretyakov Gallery. “Russian Art” Magazine, III/2014

М. Feigin. BEAUTY. 1970. Canvas, oil. 25.6" x 25.4". Collection of Luba Matusovsky, USA


In November of last year there was a 110th anniversary of Moses Feigin, the artist who lived over a century, and what a century it was-the20th! He was born in the small Belarusian place Rechiza in 1903. In 1914 his family moved to Moscow where Moses spent most of his remarkable life. 

Feigin was the favorite student of A.A. Osmerkin –the prominent and famous Russian artist, - the member of ”Bubnovy Valet” (.Jack of Diamonds, also called Knave of Diamonds, Russian Bubnovy Valet, group of artists founded in Moscow in 1909, whose members were for the next few years the leading exponents of avant-garde art in Russia). 

Moses Feigin learned a lot also from other artists – reformers: Lentulov, Mashkov, Konchalovsky, Kuprin. They had a lot of influence on Feigin, when he was studying in BXUTEMAS. In his latest interview, Feigin called himself “the last member of “Bubnovy Valet”, having in mind unbreakable soul connection with his teachers [1]. During the years of totalitarian social realism he had to work on the government orders, visited factories and construction sites, devoted his work to the creation of images of “labor heroes” and leaders of the Soviet Union. Only after 60 years of age he finally received a studio that he had to share with other artist - B.B. Fedotov. 

After that period he had a second wind in his life - starting his way towards expressive abstraction art and devoting the rest of his life to it. 

In the art collection of Luba Matusovsky located in Denver (Colorado) there are 26 artwork and 3 graphic lists from 1968-1992 years. All these art works in different years were obtained by the owner from the author, proofed, documented and notarized. The collection of L.Matusovsky represents the best of Moses Feigin artworks, created in the 1970s, nine of which were presented in the rarity catalog private exhibition in MOSX (1979). The uniqueness of American collection is that it reflects the whole spectrum of Feigin’s mature art. 

Along with abstract art work and carnival scenarios there are some very important and rare art pieces of his work. That is the group of paintings, created with the use of combined technique of collage with foil and represent unique variations in the theme of icon painting.

Carol Dowson who works in the modern art museum of Denver and appreciates the artwork, considers and compares the work of Moses Feigin to the art level of Picasso [2].

Indeed, in the creation of both artists you can see the serials of parallels: the consecutive motion of cubic forms to abstractive expressionism, the richness of color palette, breaking of the lines, and finally - the theme of strolling musicians and clowns. And the exhibition in Pushkin State Museum not without the reason was named as “Confession of Harlequin” so much this theme was wide spread in Feigin’s art. 

The collection of Luba Matusovsky represents the best pieces of artwork of the master from the end of the 60th-to the 80th: Abstract paintings “Blue and Red” (1970), the symbolic- allegorical artwork “Light signal of Life“ (1971), images of scrolling musicians and artists in the work “Trio” (1987), work related to classic - “Concert” (1987). 

The theme of war, the witness of which was the artist himself, is called “You will be hung” (1975),. There is also example of primitivism, devoted to Mark Shagal - “Childs drawing” (1969) and two graphic art works in the theme of ballet, (1968).

The acquaintance of Moses Feigin and Luba Matusovsky took place thanks to her long time friendship with another talented artist Irina Vilkovir (1913-1985). She took Lubov to the Feigin’s art studio on Vavilov street. Lyubov had fallen in love with the great talent of the artist, who was wise in life, but still young in his soul. Lyubov had a desire to materially support master who did not care for money. 

Far away from any kind of commercial deals, Luba Matusovsky started to buy his works, practically not bargaining. Without saying, the things she obtained became the form and way of spending expenses, that in “Soviet times” you could only spend on certain kind of limited things, like “products and services”. Even though for collections were chosen not the subjects of antiques, not the creations of masters of realism or ,on the contrary, avangard influenced radical young people, characterizes the collector herself. 

Not everyone can afford to own a collection of paintings. For that purpose one should not only posses the qualities and the resources, but also acute intuition, perseverance and purposeful, ability to risk, because the artwork obtained will gain its real value only overtime. The first one was the real pearl of the collection: ”Temptation of St. Anthony” 1971. Its cost by the way, even by those time standards, was very significant and quite impressive - equivalent to monthly income of several working people. 

TEMPTATION OF ST.ANTHONY,Pressboard, Oil, Foil,76×83,5cm (29,9×32,7”), 1971. Collection of Luba Matusovsky, USA

Scenario of this very painting has a long story in the world fine art. It was referenced by Tintoretto, Veronese, Shongauer, Durer, Bosch, Grunewald, Cranach, Breygel and famous engraver of XVII century Callow. These artists were interested in the possibility to demonstrate the richness of their fantasy showing demonic creatures that were torturing the lonely old man. The theme had become traditional, and was continued in XX century surrealists Ernesto and Dali. 

As far as the painting of Feigin, the centerpiece and attention was aimed to the female figure with an open bloody-red dress, with the head tilted backwards and naked breast. On the right was the sadly drooping figure of the hermit. The female nudity was highlighted by the gold foil, that was showing how flashy and dazzling is the subject of temptation. Very close to this work chronologically adjoins the composition “Beauty” (1970). In the dark-blue background, that reminded of the color of August night sky, chaotically spread out gold and silver stripes, arcs, ellipses, cones. With attentive look the geometric figures were combined in the female image- one hand is on the waist, the other is raised up, like fixing the hair. That is how from these abstract independent forms, from the shining of the foil, the metaphorical image of the light was born, that beauty carries with it.

CURTAINS, CIRTUS SERIES, Pressboard , Oil, 48 x 40cm (18,9×15,7”), 1974, Collection of Luba Matusovsky USA

The polisemy is also seen in the work “Curtain” from the “CIRTUS” series (1974). Unbent grey thick curtain showing the space behind it. But there is one more grey canvas. Feigin was able to create allegory of incomprehensible genesis, when the discovery of one secret of the world finds the next puzzle, and this can go on and on forever. Grey paint associates with metal, may be reminding of “iron curtain”. Parallel to Feigin, artists of different generation formed a group “Gnezdo”, also thought about this theme. Inspired by the movie ”Assa”, they created the work “Iron Curtain” (1976 GTG). Realization of metaphors – the way that brings together the artists of different ages. 

Thoughts of everyday choice that every person has to make, incarnated in the collage of Feigin’s “Light signal of Life” (1971). The painting is separated vertically in two parts by the foil line, reminding of miracle crossroads: If you go to the right- you will lose a horse, if you go to the left-you will lose a sword. At the same time the centerline reminds of the cross- the symbol of conclusion of Christian life. To the right and the left of it - the hints of people figures. One of them is calling for action, the other - follows predestination. 

LIGHT SIGNAL OF LIFE, Pressboard , Foil, Oil, 70 x 49cm (27,6×19,), 1971 ,Collection of Luba Matusovsky USA

Shining of the foil in religious scenarios gives Feigin sacral meaning, the same that carries gold assists on icons., symbolizing divine light. Lyubov Matosovsky’s collection bares six creations with the usage of this material. Foil has the unique qualities: Other than reflection of the light, it has an effect of form memory. For example it can be plastically transformed depending on the temperature of the environment, and then in front of the viewer comes the dynamic moving picture. The work “Jupiter”(1971) is like that.

JUPITER, Pressboard , Oil, Foil, 51 x 38cm (20,1×15”), 1971, Collection of Luba Matusovsky, USA

In the group of small abstract art works “Sunset”, “Sunrise”, “Temptation” (all -1988) strikes the power of expression of smear and seldom-black lines that cut through the surface of paintings. Vladimir Meyland in the introductory article with the mentioned catalog of 1979, pointed out characteristic part of many Feigin’s creations- the monumentality. In fact, having spent half of his life on expression of completion of agitation works, Feigin  mastered to perfection the techniques of monumentalization of images. Even in small art works you can feel it. 

Modest in sizes, the Feigin’s abstract works also are monumental, they are lacking any kind of surface decoration in spite of certain similarity with middle century stained glass. 

The paintings already reviewed by us , despite the concrete names and easily recognizable figurative images, should be considered the abstract direction of the art. Artwork of the painter towards the end of 1960-1970, that reflect the subjectivity of Genesis and variety of abstract associations can be characterized as a geometric art abstraction.

In the second half of 1980s - Feigin started working on the wide series of paintings, showing clowns and scrolling musicians. Among them appeared loved by everyone, the greatest comic of XX century - Charlie Chaplin. 

TRIO, Inorganic, Oil, 64 x 45cm (25,2X17,7”), 1987 Collection of Luba Matusovsky USA

CLOWNS, Pressboard, Oil, 65 x 50cm (25,6 x 19,7”), 1987 Collection of Luba Matusovsky USA

In the painting “Trio” (1987) on the background of burning purple sunset, we can see a very tall Harlequin and walking next to him Charlie Chaplin. Small white dog is running fast by the side. The actors are looking ahead, they are in a hurry to the beginning of the performance in their circus-shapito. The fate of the street comedians is that, they don’t know themselves, where they will be the next morning. Maybe the author was thinking about his own fate as an artist? What is the future of this strange trio? Its unknown, but the main thing for them is to move forward. 

In the same series Feigin painted a couple of buffoons “Buffoons” (1987)- street actors wearing bright patchwork costumes with the musical instruments in their hands. Faces of the musicians are sad, it shows, and the song is unhappy. There is a small white dog by their feet (traditional symbol of being faithful). In spite of their losses and problems, actors are continuing to work. The world of clowns and actors that Feigin created rises up to the famous phrase from the Shakespeare play “How do you like it?”: All world is the theater. And women and men – all are actors. The modern society is a masquerade, where people are hiding under different faces, because honesty is less and less appreciated. The artist picked up this tendency and actualized it in his work. 

CHILD’S DRAWING, Pressboard , Oil, 68x50cm (26,8×19,7”), 1969, Collection of Luba Matusovsky USA

All of those that wrote about Feigin pointed out dramatization in his creativity. Big amusement of the art critics was the fact that his collage and abstract works the master created after he turned 60. Moses Feigin had a great quality saving interest in life, like he knew the secret of never ending youth of a soul. Even when he was 100 years old and almost lost his sight, he continued to work. And the expression in his works was only growing.

When Feigin’s work made to the West, his work is still not without attention of art critics. In the introductory words to the catalog of exhibitions of Feigin in the London “Cooling Gallery” (1990) English curator , writer and poet Edward Lucy Smith compared colors and rhythm of his composition with the work of extraordinary masters, like Shagal and Bakst. Famous American painter Mara Devre, who was shocked by the truthfulness, intellect and specific vision of the artist called Feigin the “Giant of his time”. Florid in palette, thick and gestural in style and rich in sublime allegory” that was the opinion of art critic and blogger of popular Internet edition of the“Huffington Post” Shana Nys Dambrot., the character of the creativity of Feigin [3].

In the current time creations of Moses Feigin are presented in the State Tretyakov Gallery and in the Museum of Contemporary art in Moscow, in the State Russian Museum and also in the private and government collections in England, USA, Germany, Switzerland, Israel. One of the artwork by Feigin, along with the paintings of Matis and Picasso, is included in the collection of English designer Sir Paul Smith.

In the tens of years that went by from the moment of creation Moses Feigin’s works, situation in the art market has changed drastically. In the last years the interest of gallery owners has increased towards the Russian art of 1960-80s. With that, the results of deals are not advertized, it is well known that the prices of the Feigin’s works are constantly and gradually increasing. Taking in the account that commercial deals with purchases of his paintings are still rare (his art work is amongst his relatives, family and some private collectors, the owners of which do not want to part with them), auction history of sales of this art master so far is not too great.

In Russian auctions of Sotheby’s, for example in 2008, one of the realistic art work of Feigin“Artist in his studio” (1960) was sold for $18,945 [4].
“Still life with jug and horses” (1985-1986) was bought by Munich auction house of “Ketterer Kunst” in 2007 for $49,700 (35,000 Euros) [5].

How much can the collection of Luba Matusovsky be worth - is hard to predict, because of uniqueness in this segment of the art market. But definitely, we are talking about 7 figures number now. Only available to online viewing this collection could be the base for the museum, representing the Russian Art of the second half of the XX century

1. Rubakhin K. Moses Feigin. Time in my eyes. 01.11.2004. // Information agency Culture. Date of access: 04.12.2014.
2. Dowson Carol. Date of access: 04.29.2014.
3. Dambrot Shana Nys. The Temptation of Moses Feigin. // Haffpost. Arts & Culture. Posted 04/29/2014. Date of access: 04.29.2014.
4. Sotheby’s Sale: L08113 | Location: London, 2008 Auction Dates: Session 2: Tue, 10 Jun, 2008, 2:30 PM LOT 442. Date of access: 04.29.2014.
5. Private Art Collection of Luba Matusovsky. Date of access: 04.29.2014.
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