Artist Alla Belyakova: Back in the Limelight
Text and images Olga Slobodkina-von Bromssen
The collapse of the Soviet Union marked the beginning of a new era in any number of ways. In Moscow’s artistic circles, it meant the last vestiges of Socialist Realism giving way to free-thinking artistic creativity. It also meant a renewal of the careers of artists marginalized by the Soviet regime. One such person was watercolorist Alla Belyakova, who in her 80s experienced a resurgence in the art world both in Russia and abroad that brought her the recognition that had eluded her for so many years.
Alla Kukol-Yasnopolskaya was born in 1914 into an aristocratic Russian family that three years later, following the revolution in 1917, was sent to Turkestan to live. Given her class background, higher education was out of the question for young Alla in the new social order that reigned in what by 1922 had become the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.
By the early 1930s, the now married Alla Belyakova had moved to Moscow with her husband and found work in an architectural design office. Recognizing her talent, the organization enrolled her in a three-year course of study at the Moscow Architectural Institute, where she received her first formal artistic training. Following World War II, she started work at the Academy of Architecture, where she met a fellow artist who would become an influential teacher and eventually a partner to Belyakova. “It was Arthur Fonvizin who actually made me a painter,” Belyakova would later reflect.
Belyakova met Artur Fonvizin in 1948, at which time he was one of the most prominent figures on the Russian artistic scene. Fonvizin painted 50 portraits of his talented student, with whom he was passionately in love (at least, that is, according to Belyakova). One of the most famous is called Lady Hamilton, in which Belyakova is portrayed seated in an armchair wearing a posh black hat.
In 1962 Belyakova suggested to Fonvizin that the two collaborate on a series of lithographs. Fonvizin made the drawings while Belyakova transferred them onto the lithographic stone and painted them, adding her own details and making all the prints by hand (not more than 10 from each drawing). These solemn, polyphonic works are delicate designs, as if an ebbing wave has left a lace design of foam on the sand. But a closer look reveals a small, elegant woman on horseback, an umbrella in her hands.
The collaborative project showcased both Fonvizin’s artistry and Belyakova’s mastery in working with stone. The series consists of a total of 30 images, and only one museum – not in Moscow, but in the Siberian town of Chita – can boast a complete collection of these marvelous prints. The project inaugurated a creative partnership that would continue until Fonvizin’s death in 1973.
Another influential teacher in Belyakova’s life was the Russian artist Robert Falk (1886-1958), whom she met in 1954 when he attended her first solo exhibition. Falk, who had been a member of the Moscow art group Jack of Diamonds in the first quarter of the 20th century, immediately invited Belyakova to study with him, and art critics have credited him with helping Belyakova emerge from Fonvizin’s powerful influence and develop her own original style.
Apart from her collaborative work with Fonvizin and some prints she created on her own, mainly in black and white, Belyakova is known mainly for her watercolors – still-lifes, landscapes, and portraits. Speaking about the major theme of her works, flowers, the artist used to say: “I love music, I love poetry. When I’m painting flowers I want them to be as beautiful as poetry and music. There are lots of beautiful things in the world, but what can be compared to the silent beauty of a flower?”
In Belyakova’s works, each spot of color is perfectly placed, the objects in her still-lifes easily visible in a perfect spatial composition on the sheet of paper, while her refined palette and depth of color draw the viewer into a world of harmony. Her works are authentic easel watercolors, in the tradition of a school of painting that was once quite robust in England as well as in Russia but has died out in both places.
In this way, Belyakova was one of the few classical artists living at the end of the 20th century. She died in 2006, working until the last moment of life. Shortly after hear death, a newly discovered planet was named in her honor.