Rozengolts-Levina, Eva (1898–1975)

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Rozengolts-Levina, Eva (1898–1975)

Russian artist. Name variations: Eva Levina-Rozengolts; Eva Rozengolts. Born Eva Rozengolts in Vitebsk, Russia, in 1898; died in Moscow in 1975; daughter of Klara Frumkin Rozengolts; educated at the Alekseev High School in Vitebsk; entered the School of Dentistry at Tomsk University; studied with sculptor Anna Golubkina; studied with painter Robert Falk; married a man named Levine; children: Elena Levina (b. around 1928).

Eva Rozengolts-Levina was born in 1898 and grew up in a large, gregarious family in Vitebsk, Russia. Her mother Klara Frumkin Rozengolts was deeply interested in art, and studied drawing and painting at the People's Art College under "World of Art" painter Mstislav Dobuzhinsky and artist Vera Ermolaeva . Eva, like her mother, was passionate about art, but her father wanted her to have a more stable profession. In accordance with his wishes, she became a hospital nurse, and later studied at the School of Dentistry at Tomsk University. In 1919, she traveled to Moscow, where she met such artists as the sculptor Stepan Erzya.

The Russian Revolution interrupted all her pursuits, and Rozengolts-Levina nursed dying Red Army soldiers on the front during a typhus epidemic. Her family did not escape tragedy during this time; three of her five brothers were killed in the war. In 1920, she returned to Moscow, hoping to pursue her dream of becoming an artist. She began as a student of sculptor Anna Golubkina , but their partnership did not last long. Golubkina thought her insufficiently serious, and their relationship was stiff and awkward. Despite Golubkina's poor opinion of her, Rozengolts-Levina idolized her teacher, and their work together eventually led her to meet the painter Robert Falk.

In October 1921, Rozengolts-Levina became Falk's student, and switched from sculpting to painting. She found the change of mediums intensely rewarding, as the immediacy of the canvas appealed more to her than did the slow development of sculpting. She also proved to be gifted with colors and blossomed under the guidance of Falk. So important was he to her development as an artist that it was reported that she finished a painting and dedicated it to his memory on October 1 for many years of her life. He thought just as highly of her talent; he once told his students that he thought of Rozengolts-Levina as the only legitimate reason for his career as a teacher. Falk's mark as a teacher is particularly evident in Rozengolts-Levina's early work, in which she endeavored to incorporate his lyrical humanitarianism in her depictions of everyday people. His technique can also be seen in her layering of full brush strokes and her use of large-scale canvases. In 1925, Rozengolts-Levina completed her training and received permission from Soviet authorities to travel abroad. One of her brothers was working in London as a member of the Soviet Trade Delegation, and in 1926 she traveled there and visited the Tate Gallery.

In the 1930s, Rozengolts-Levina began working on smaller canvases, and increased the power of her imagery. She used pastels as her medium, and her images evoked spiritual suffering and travail. During this period, she became more socially active and aware; she was concerned that workers were rarely exposed to art, and, in line with Stalinist dictates, wanted to use her art to help build a new socialist society. As Rozengolts-Levina became more introspective throughout this decade, she worked more on cityscapes, such as Chimneys, which evokes tension and fear with a depiction of large smokestacks over a night-time town beneath a glowing sky. In Moscow River at Twilight, the river is a threatening current in an apocalyptic scene.

It is for her later work, however, that Rozengolts-Levina is now best known. In 1949, the secret police took her from her home with only the clothes on her back, and she was exiled to Siberia. Her crime was being Jewish and the half-sister of Arkady Rozengolts, who had been executed during one of the great Stalinist purges eleven years previously. For six years she performed heavy manual labor at a timber works on the Enisei River in the harsh Krasnoyarsk region, suffering in frigid temperatures and sleeping on rented floor space in the homes of peasants. Her mother and her daughter Elena Levina , a geologist then in her 20s, were allowed to send her the art supplies she requested, and Rozengolts-Levina kept two sketchbooks during her exile. On infrequent occasions she was also able to supplement her tiny wages with commercial art such as lampshades and fans. She was allowed to join her last remaining brother in his exile in Kazakhstan in 1955, two years after Stalin's death. The following year, after seven years of exile, she received permission from government officials to return to Moscow, where she was granted a small apartment and a small pension.

Rozengolts-Levina spent the rest of her life distilling into art her sufferings in Siberia and the suffering she had seen all around her. Working at a table in her Moscow apartment, she created 227 drawings in seven series, all small enough to fit on the table. The early series, Trees (1956–60), Marshes (1960–61), Sky (1960–63), and People: Plastic Compositions (1965–68), stark and heavily worked evocations of a bleak, devastated world, are done in ink. In the later series, Landscapes (1968–70), People: Plastic Compositions (1970–74), and Sky (1970–74), some of which concern the same scenes as in earlier series, Rozengolts-Levina used pastels, creating a lighter, less agonized feeling that implies she has made her peace with her memories.

While a number of younger artists and critics knew Rozengolts-Levina in her later years and greatly admired her work, the political climate in the Soviet Union at the time was such that displaying it openly was out of the question, although some of the drawings were quietly purchased by the State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts. She died in 1975, at age 77, without having seen a public exhibition of her later art. Elena Levina remained a champion of her mother's work, and in the late 1970s dared to give a one-night exhibit of her drawings in Moscow, which was attended by some 300 equally daring people. Word of mouth about Rozengolts-Levina's work continued to grow, and in 1996, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the first exhibit devoted to her art opened at the State Tretiakov Gallery. In 1999, Joan Afferica , an American history professor who had met Elena Levina and first seen Rozengolts-Levina's work at her home in the 1980s, succeeded in bringing an exhibit of 56 of the Siberian drawings to America. Eva Rozengolts-Levina's "Life and Work," curated by Afferica, opened at the National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington, D.C., in June 1999. Rozengolts-Levina's international reputation has continued to grow apace with interest in her work, to the satisfaction of her daughter, who noted during the American exhibit: "What matters to me most is that it will go into the history of art." The poet Evgeny Vinokurov once said of Rozengolts-Levina that "her drawings are severe and, in the main, dark in tone and in their lighting. Yet one of her favorite words was 'joy.' She would not sit down to work until she experienced the joy—although it might be a bitter kind of joy—which was necessary for her creativity. This was the stimulus and the source of her work."


"Stunning Chronicle of Suffering and Renewal by Russian Artist Eva Levina-Rozengolts on view at the National Museum of Women in the Arts June 17–September 26, 1999," National Museum of Women in the Arts press release, June 1999.

The Washington Times. July 31, 1999, p. D3.

Women Artists of Russia's New Age. NY: Rizzoli, 1990.

Kelly Winters , freelance writer, Bayville, New York