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Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Painter and Mediator

The artist Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein is mostly known for her affiliation to the art scene in Munich, especially Marianne von Werefkin, her contact to several members of “der Blaue Reiter”, or her friendship with Wassily Kandinsky. But she is more than just a peripheral figure - her skill and sensibility for contemporary art is reflected in her interesting body of work. After many years working and studying in Moscow, Munich and Paris, Epstein had to flee to Geneva when the first World War started, where she stayed until her death in 1956. Influenced by cubism as well as German expressionists and French impressionists, her work shows a palette of different artistic positions with a very unique signature.

Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Stilleben mit mit Pflanze 1946
Öl auf Leinwand
61 x 50 cm
 

Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Nature Morte 1946
Öl auf Leinwand
55 x 46 cm
 

Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Stilleben mit Zimmerpflanze und Zitrone 1946
Öl auf Leinwand
73 x 60 cm

Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Stilleben mit Zimmerpflanze und Zitrone 1946
Öl auf Leinwand
73 x 60 cm

Epstein was born on the 27th of February 1879 in Russia. She studied art in Moscow under Leonid Pasternak, a very well known Russian impressionist. Like many of her contemporaries Epstein was drawn to French impressionism and it’s artistic centre Paris. In 1898 she moved to Munich to continue her artistic education for almost ten years. It was there where she met Marianne von Werefkin and Wassily Kandinsky, two friendships that would have a great impact on her life and artistic career. Munich was the centre of the Russian-German Avant-Garde and Epstein was in the middle of it. In 1908 she decided to finally move to France, to Montparnasse. Here her works were published in the art magazine Les Tendances Nouvelles as well as exhibited in the Salon d’automne.

But like many of her female contemporaries she didn’t experience the same attention as her male counterparts. It was harder for a female artist to build a career. In an Essay that was published in 1913 in  the art magazine “Der Sturm, Wochenschrift für Kultur und die Künste” with the title "Einige Gedanken über Bildentstehung" (=”thoughts on the emergence of a painting”) she compares the making of a painting with childbirth and pregnancy. The comparison between artistic creation and a very female act can be seen as a critique at the status quo, since creativity and artistic intellect was seen, art historically and socially, as a male characteristic. Epstein's comparison between motherhood and artistic creation has to be seen in the context of her being a female artist that is excluded from the chance of economic success in her career.

Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Nature Morte 1946
Öl auf Leinwand
55 x 46 cm
 

Her friendship to Wassily Kandinsky but also Gabriele Mütner were important ties to the Munich art scene, which remained influential in her work even after she moved to France and later to Geneva. Abstraction as a goal of painting was discussed in many letters with Kandinsky. Epstein was also friends with Robert Delauney, who she introduced to Franz Marc and Kandinsky. By sending pictures of Delauney's artworks to Marc she established a life long connection between him and “Blauer Reiter”. Both Delauney and Epstein were part of the first Exhibition of the “Redaktion der Blaue Reiter”.

Elisabeth Iwanowna Epstein - Stilleben mit Blumen 1946
Öl auf Leinwand
73 x 60 cm

Countless works of Epstein are considered missing or were destroyed during the war. Very little from her early works survived, the ones that remained consist mostly of portraits and still life paintings. While working and living in Geneva she worked mostly on interior scenes, still life paintings and landscapes. She experimented with a increasingly cubistic vocabulary, both in form and colour. The increasing disintegration of representation leads, in later works, to a disintegration of outlines and contours. While “Nature Morte” (1929) is still very much related to cubism, lines and edges seem to dissolve in her later work, such as in “Stilleben mit Blumen”. Although one can still see the influence of cubism, the leaves of the bouquet are diffused and seem to dissolve into the background wall.