14 (26).07.1881, Zhitomir – 01.05.1948, Moscow
Painter, graphic artist, teacher, public figure

Shterenberg was from the family of a minor civil servant. After being refused entry to the Imperial Academy of Art, he went to Odessa in 1905, studying in private art studios. As an active member of the Bund, the Jewish socialist party, he was forced to emigrate in 1906 because of harassment of the party. He continued his artistic training in Vienna, and then in Paris at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts, and then under Martin, van Dongen and Anglada-Camarasa at the Académie Vitti. He lived in the artists’ colony La Ruche, and joined the circle of the Parisian artists’ international. From 1912 he took part in exhibitions at the spring and autumn Salons, and the Salon des Indépendants. He held a joint exhibition with Matisse, Ozenfant and Utrillo in 1917. At the beginning of 1916, after trying many of the latest trends, he developed his own style which underwent few changes over the next two decades. The still life became his favourite genre, and he found his own inimitable style in it.

He returned to Russia immediately after the Revolution and lived in Petrograd in 1917–18, then in Moscow. He took an active part in cultural and political activity and became one of the closest collaborators of Lunacharsky, the People’s Commissar for Education. In the latter’s ministry he headed the Fine Arts Department (1918–21), and dealt with reforming art education and preserving the historical and cultural legacy; he took part in organising free state exhibitions, which had no jury. Shterenberg created his best works during these years of hectic public activity: the still lifes Herrings (1917–18), Curdled Milk (1919), Still Life with Cabbage (1920) and others. He joined Jewish art organisations and was a member of the Moscow section of the Kultur Lige. The Exhibition of The Three – Altman, Chagall and Shterenberg – took place in Moscow with the participation of the Kultur Lige in 1922. He had a solo exhibition in the Museum of Artistic Culture in Moscow in 1927.

Shterenberg was professor at VKhUTEMAS and VKhUTEIN in the 1920s and 1930s and organised the first exhibition of Russian art in Berlin in 1923. In 1925–30 he was a founder-member and then chairman of the arts association the Society of Easel Painters. The activity of this organisation, which included Deyneka, Pimenov, Labas, Vilyams, Goncharov and others, defined the face of Soviet art in the 1930s. In 1930 Shterenberg was one of the first artists to be awarded the distinguished title of Honoured Art Worker of the RSFSR. When the unified Artists’ Union was set up in 1932 he was elected first deputy chairman of the Moscow section. He illustrated books, including Isaac Babel’s Short Stories. During the years 1923 to 1933 he took part in almost all the exhibitions by Soviet artists abroad – in Venice, Paris and New York. However, the regime became harsher and as early as 1933 he was accused of Formalism and effectively relieved of all his duties. During the final years of his life (1947–48), when he was almost forgotten, he painted lyrical landscapes and worked on the graphic series 'Biblical Subjects'. F.B.

Shterenberg