03.03.1937, Moscow – 28.03.2012, Paris
Eduard Steinberg was the son of the poet and translator Arkady Steinberg, who was arrested twice during Stalin’s terror: in 1937 and 1948. Eduard was effectively brought up by his mother. From 1957 to 1961 the family lived in Tarusa, where his father had settled after his release from imprisonment. Steinberg received his first lessons in drawing and painting from the father of a VKhUTEMAS graduate. He did not receive any other artistic training. When he moved to Moscow in 1962, he got to know Non-conformist artists. His first one-day exhibition (jointly with Vladimir Yankilevsky) was held in the Dostoyevsky Museum in 1963.
Steinberg’s entire oeuvre can be divided into three periods. His early paintings are distinguished by a dark palette, and they are sometimes almost genre motifs with human figures in an urban landscape. From the mid-1960s he transferred completely to still life. He was drawn by the theme of death, and the subjects of his existentialist still lifes are dead birds and dry fish, lifeless stones and empty seashells. But the pictures themselves – the actual painting – are light and white. He was clearly a follower of the bright painting of Giorgio Morandi and Vladimir Weisberg. The more he developed, the more abstract his pictures became. His third period can be identified as purely metaphysical. From the start of the 1960s Steinberg had become good friends with the recently converted Orthodox intellectuals Yevgeny Shiffers and Zoya Krakhmalnikova, and the writer Felix Svetov. His young wife Galina Manevich also belonged to this circle. Steinberg understood his art specifically in the light of the religious philosophy of Vladimir Solovyov, Nikolay Berdyaev and Pavel Florensky. Their photographs, together with a photograph of Kazimir Malevich, always hung on the wall of his studio.
His artistic fate was similar to the fates of other independent artists of his generation: constant harassment, exhibitions banned, ignored in his homeland – but a large number of exhibitions and publications abroad.
In 1974 he took part in the first authorised ‘uncensored’ exhibition, in the open in Izmaylovsky Park. In 1978 he showed works in a joint exhibition with Vladimir Yankilevsky at 28 Malaya Gruzinskaya. 1980 was a key year in his life, as it was when he got to know the Parisian gallery owner Claude Bernard; the latter became his admirer, propagandist and seller. Steinberg moved to Paris, and remained faithful to his salesman until the end of his life. Although living in Paris, he often made flying visits to Moscow and Tarusa, where he bought a house in the hope that after his death it would become his museum.
Steinberg’s powerful colouristic gift is revealed in his late Parisian period. He remains true to his metaphysics, but the resonance of his pictures becomes purer and stronger. Towards the end of his life the artist received wide recognition, both abroad and in his native country. Exhibitions of his works took place in many museums and galleries, and album monographs were published. Art historians now quite justifiably see his art as a link between the first and second Russian avant-gardes. V.G.