07.06.1924, Moscow – 01.01.1985, Moscow
Painter, art theoretician, teacher.
Grigory Weisberg, the artist’s father, was an academic, one of the founders of the Russian Psychoanalytic Society, and the translator into Russian of Sigmund Freud’s works. The artist’s first teacher was Sergey Ivashev-Musatov, and after the latter’s arrest he studied at the studio of Ilya Mashkov and Alexander Osmyorkin. At the beginning of the century they had both been members of Jack of Diamonds, the association of Russian Cézannists. Their influence can be seen in Weisberg’s paintings until the start of the 1960s, and the pictures of this period possess a powerful chromatic radiance. He painted portraits, still lifes and female academy figures, and remained true to these classic genres until the end of his life. Like Cézanne, he worked very slowly, using many sessions. He often gave the picture to the sitter as compensation for the exhausting posing.
During the second half of the 1950s he found himself by some strange misunderstanding in the Group of Eight, which brought together young artists who were trying to reform the then moribund Socialist Realism. From 1956 he sometimes showed his works at the group’s exhibitions. But in reality Weisberg’s philosophy of art had nothing in common with the group. Two very clear trends can be seen in the history of Russian modernist art: the analytical, with Cézanne as its starting point, and the metaphysical, which stems from Malevich – above all from White on White, one of his squares of 1918. Weisberg’s work is a unique example of the harmonious unification of these two trends. His method of working is deeply analytical, and his philosophy is exalted metaphysics. ‘In my compositions,’ he said, ‘everything is decided in relation to the sky, the upper part of the picture. It provides the main idea for the composition.’ He continued ‘I want matter to consciously become the spirit.’
From the early 1960s Weisberg moved away from multicoloured pictures and came to ‘invisible painting’ and the concept of ‘white on white’. From time to time he still painted portraits or academy figures, but his main models were geometrical white plaster shapes: cubes, spheres, pyramids and cylinders. He brought his theoretical ideas together in ‘Classifying the Main Types of Colour Perception’, a paper that he gave at a symposium on the structural study of semiotic systems at the USSR Academy of Science.
The only solo exhibition to take place during the artist’s life was held abroad, in the Tel Aviv Museum in 1979. It consisted of works that his pupil Jan Rauchwerger had brought with him from the USSR. Weisberg never lived to see his own exhibition in his native land. Thanks to private donations, about 90 of his works are now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. V.G.