from the Telegraph 20th January 2008 by Sue Steward
On a July evening in 1915 Lilya and Osip Brik prepared their St Petersburg flat for one of the soirées that attracted the writers, poets, painters and film-makers from the new generation of Russian revolutionary artists. The evening would be intense and inspiring, but it also carried life-changing consequences. Lilya’s 19-year-old sister, Elsa, was bringing her ex-boyfriend, the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, whose poems and outrageous performances were being greeted with caution by the bourgeois establishment and delighted acclaim by fellow young radicals. An unpublished poet, Mayakovsky must surely have been aware of Osip’s reputation as a literary critic and adventurous new publisher.
The room was smoky and full when Mayakovsky entered – tall and well built, with a booming, bass voice, he had the look of a labourer, in contrast with the small stature and refined features of his hosts. Breaking the etiquette of the Briks’ salons – where guests arranged in advance to read new works – the newcomer announced his latest poem, ‘Cloud in Trousers’, and stood up to read a long, intense story of cruel rivalry between two women, couched in revolutionary and religious language. It silenced the room. He ended,
Of grandfatherly gentleness I’m devoid,
there’s not a single grey hair in my soul!
Thundering the world with the might of
I go by – handsome,
Osip Brik offered to pay the poet on the spot to publish his poem, which a few months later received unimagined praise. For Lilya, though, the evening had a very different effect. She’d heard about this bombastic, socially awkward man, imprisoned three times as a teenager, who had abandoned party politics and moved to Moscow to study art, self-publishing his first poem at 19 and reciting others in controversial street performances. She was entranced, and surprised to discern vulnerability among such intensity. His words intoxicated her. That night there began one of the most passionate and dramatic love affairs in Russian history.
Lilya would become the muse for Mayakovsky’s poetry for the next 20 years, and the couple a key presence in the Soviet Union’s new literary and artistic movements. She would also inspire the pioneering photographer and graphic designer Alexander Rodchenko. The first British retrospective of Rodchenko’s work opens at the Hayward Gallery in London next month and is a reminder of Lilya Brik’s central place in that era of Russian history.
Lilya Yurevna Kagan was born in 1891 in Moscow to a Jewish lawyer and a music teacher. She and her sister, Elsa, received a typical European middle-class education, playing the piano and speaking French and German. Their social circle included Russian artists and writers and visitors from Paris and Berlin, who brought ideas and news from the explosive new art movements erupting there. Lilya studied architecture at the Moscow Institute, privately trained in ballet and acting, and wrote poetry.
There are photographs of Lilya posing in a tutu, with girl friends on a sofa, at gatherings in the 1920s among her friends and collaborators – Osip, Mayakovsky and Alexander Rodchenko and his wife, Vavara. Sheets of poetry, books and manuscripts everywhere reveal the seamlessness between work and pleasure in their lives. The older Lilya, living in reduced circumstances during the Cold War, remains elegant, her face still striking and the large, round eyes now bearing traces of loss but retaining the expressive radiance that inspired Mayakovsky and Rodchenko.
Lilya’s affair with Mayakovsky erupted unexpectedly, and was documented through his poetry. The couple were constant companions, seen in photographs entangled in seawater, sprawled in café chairs, concentrating on work. Rodchenko came into their lives in 1915, and with Osip the quartet were a passionately creative and social group.
The affair between Mayakovsky and Lilya was public but its intensity was played down to her husband. Then, in 1918, Lilya wrote, ‘After testing my feelings for the poet, I was able to tell Brik with confidence about my love for Mayakovsky. We all decided never to part and to pass our lives remaining intimate friends, closely tied by mutual interests, tastes and work.’ They arranged a ménage à trois, which even in those enlightened times was unconventional. ‘Lilya found the solution for the three to be together,’ says Olga Sviblova, the director of the Moscow House of Photography, who curated an exhibition on Brik last year. The trio travelled as a family between addresses, and the poet had his own room. A photograph confirms their harmony, as Lilya stands, smiling radiantly between her two men.
But, given Mayakovsky’s melodramatic personality, it is not surprising that the affair was volatile and that he endured periods of torment. From their first meeting, he dedicated his poems to Lilichka and Lili. In ‘Lilichka’ he writes,
Beyond that window
In a frenzy
I first stroked your hands
But then the poem builds to a pitch of self-pity and a fear of rejection:
You sit here today with an
In another day, you will toss me out
Besides your love I have no sun
As well as writing poetry and plays, Mayakovsky collaborated with Rodchenko, producing copy for state posters and advertisements and launching Rodchenko’s angular constructivist designs and photomontages and his bold new typography alongside the poet’s surreal captions. With Osip Brik, the two men also published a left-wing arts magazine, LEF (Left Front of the Arts), a showcase for new writers and Rodchenko’s designs. His close-up portrait of Osip Brik, with Cyrillic letters spelling lef pasted on to his glasses, remains an iconic template.
Lilya was also now a muse for Rodchenko. ‘She was always a free, very individualistic woman – before, during and after the Revolution,’ says Olga Sviblova. ‘She was a muse, she inspired people, and that was a very important role.’ Sviblova says it was Lilya’s powerful personality as well as her striking looks that made her perfect for the role. ‘Her beauty wasn’t conventional but it contributed to her skill as a muse. For her, it was a job, a talent. It was a way to give energy to other people, to stimulate their inspiration. That is beyond being a lover or a beauty.’
Rodchenko’s photographs gave Lilya a cultural and historical place. His portraits were incorporated into photomontages for posters, pamphlets and publications. Most startling is the shot of Lilya’s face with staring eyes that accompanied Mayakovsky’s 1923 poem, ‘Pro Eto’ (About That). The most familiar is a poster for a soviet publisher, Gosizdat, in 1924, which shows Lilya, with hand to wide-open mouth, shouting BOOKS! It is the most imitated image of the era and was most recently appropriated and adapted by the band Franz Ferdinand for their second album cover.
Throughout the 1920s the members of this group moved between Berlin and Paris, where Lilya’s sister, Elsa, now lived with her husband, the surrealist pioneer Louis Aragon. Mayakovsky developed a passion for travel and shopping, bringing gifts for Rodchenko and the Briks.
In the late 1920s Lilya wrote to Mayakovsky that she found their lives ‘too routine’, and during a break he began an affair in Paris with a young Russian model, Tatiana Yakovleva. By that time Osip was involved with the woman who was to become his second wife, Eugenia Sokolova-Zhemchuzhnaya, but the trio continued to share their lives. Back in Moscow in 1928 Lilya and Mayakovsky reunited and he began a frenzy of writing. Lilya, meanwhile, had passionately re-engaged with film-making. But hovering in the air was the increasing repression of artists as Stalinism cranked up its control mechanisms, heralding the severe restrictions of the coming decade.
In the spring of 1930, without warning, Mayakovsky sat in his office and shot himself in the head. In a suicide note he wrote, ‘Don’t think I’m a coward. Seriously, it could not be helped.’ He lay in state for three days, and 150,000 people followed his coffin through the streets of Moscow.
Lilya responded to the horror with furious energy – granted by the poet the rights to his work, she spent months editing his collected writings. Most amazingly, in the year of his death, having by now divorced Osip, she married a Stalinist military commander, Vitali Primakov. It may have been a clever, tactical move to ensure herself a hot line to Stalin for state acknowledgement of Mayakovsky’s place in history. After receiving her personal request, Stalin wrote to a colleague, ‘[He] was still the best and the most talented poet of our soviet epoch. Indifference to his cultural heritage is a crime.’ The collected works were published in 1935. A year later Primakov was arrested as a traitor, imprisoned and shot.
Lilya endured a period of quiet contemplation, sculpting Mayakovsky’s large, strong, unmistakably domed head and writing. Then in 1938 she married a young literary critic, Vassili Katanian, with whom she remained until her death in 1975. Their Moscow flat became a smaller, more austere version of her previous salons.
In 1955 Lilya visited Elsa in Paris, having received permission to travel in spite of the USSR’s closed borders. Three years later she published Literary Heritage, the collected letters between her and Mayakovsky, which brought attacks on the 70-year-old for her decadent, unrevolutionary life and work. She returned to Paris in 1975, seen in a photograph with Elsa in a car, looking tired but still with the same startling face.
In 1978, following a fall, she was told she would be bedridden, and months later she killed herself. Says Olga Sviblova, ‘She was more than 20 years older than her husband and didn’t want to become dependent. She had never depended on Osip or Mayakovsky. Suicide marked the strength of a remarkable woman – without fear.’
and another piece from bashy.net
Admired, envied her, hated her, but most importantly – loved her long and passionately. Lilya Brik has become the very “femme fatal” fatal and in a sense, the only woman in the life and work of Vladimir Mayakovsky.
On the birthday of the mysterious “Lilichka” offer to remember the interesting and controversial episodes of her bright, busy life.
1. Lilya Brik was born in 1891, in a fairly wealthy family of a Moscow lawyer Yury A. and Elena Kagan Yulyevna, nee Berman. The father unsuccessfully tackling the issue of the right of residence of Jews in Moscow. Mother rizhanka, graduated from the Moscow Conservatory.
2. In early youth, Lily realized her ability to conquer men, and she was very amorous, his head dipping into the passionate and numerous novels, which gave her parents a lot of trouble. According to legend, among her fans was even Fyodor Chaliapin. One day he met undergoing a boardwalk on the streets of Moscow Lily and invited her to a concert. Of course, any liberties this was not followed, but Lily herself so talked about that period of his life: “My mother did not know me no rest, and did not take her eyes off me» …
At the same time, the parents were rightly proud of her daughter: she was also capable, and talented. Yes, having an unmistakable flair for the truly talented and beautiful. And if most could not do anything else, she resorted to the help of others. For example, in the family often and proudly read aloud with appropriate compositions Lily of interest and approval of a listener. But once it became clear that the true writer is not a schoolgirl and her teacher of literature, rather than the creative abandon his youthful passion.
It was decided to send out an adventurous girl in Katowice, the Polish city where my grandmother lived. But soon came the shocking news: Woman in love with his uncle, and so much that has to seek the consent of the lawyer in Moscow on an official marriage with his daughter. Lily quickly returned to Moscow.
3. It is worth noting, our heroine made much of its appeal cosmetics and resorted to various “female” tactics. “She has a solemn eyes, and there is blatant and sweet in her face with lipstick and dark hair … this is the most charming woman knows a lot about human love and sensual love” – recalled one of her contemporaries.
When she was thirteen years old, she met a seventeen-year-Osip Brik, who was just appointed head of the propaganda mug in her girls’ school. Lily, in her confession, fell in love right away, but, alas, for the first time unrequited. However, after several years of marriage with Osip yet been registered, and later Lily remembered the beginning of their relationship: “We have a lot of philosophizing with Osei and finally come to believe that for each other when talking about the supernatural. We both thought a lot about it, and I have come to conclusions about which said Ose. After listening to me, he’s in the perfect excitement went to his desk, took out of the box scrawled notebook and began to read aloud, almost word for word what I just told him ».
4. She herself said that the appeal of the formula is very simple: “We need to impress upon man that he is a great or even a genius, but that others do not understand. And let him that is not allowed at home. For example, smoking or go where they like. Well, the rest will be good shoes and silk underwear. ” Being a married woman, Lily flirted recklessly, but tried not to cross the line …
6. … As long as their life with Osip not appear novice poet Vladimir Mayakovsky, with whom Lily met in 1915. It led to his younger sister, Elsa, just graduated 8th grade school. Is looked after by a young poet. “July 1915. Joyful date. Seeking to LY and OM BRIC “- Mayakovsky wrote many years later in his autobiography. House Brikov soon become his home, their family – his family.
7. That evening, the poet found his muse. “Volodya fell in love with me once and for all. I say – forever and ever – because it will remain for centuries, and he was not born athlete, who will erase this love with the face of the earth “- then said Lily. Her attitude to the new fan was difficult, to say the least. As she wrote in a memoir of her irritated Mayakovsky in everything, including his appearance and even the name, similar to the “vulgar pseudonym.” But there is a flashback she said that her adorable Osya “immediately fell in love with Volodya.” And at that time the relationship between the couple became strained, Osip paid less and less attention to his wife. Paradoxically, Lily drew into their marriage third party to preserve the alliance, which literally shocked not puritanical to Moscow at the time. Add a visual relationship with her husband due to an affair with another man, fix the creative collaboration of two friends commercial component – Lily’s choice, but really, an outstanding woman in the family has decided to issue an original way.
8. Once Lilya Brik and Mayakovsky went to Petrograd fashionable cafe “Halt Comedians.” Before leaving, Lily has forgotten her purse, and the poet returned to her. At the next table sat a spectacular lady, well-known journalist Larisa Reisner, who looked at the Mayakovsky sadly: “You are now and will carry this bag for life! I Larisochka, this bag can carry in his mouth – followed the proud answer – there is no resentment in love! “This is how the shocking affair married and frankly not dazzling natural beauty (testimony of contemporaries and impartial news in pictures remarkably unanimous on this issue) Ladies and genius the poet.
9. Lilya Brik by example proved that not need to be hand-written a beauty to drive crazy men.
10. On a visit to the family of Brick Mayakovsky came famous writers, and part friends Mayakovsky: Velimir Khlebnikov, Sergei Yesenin, Vsevolod Meyerhold, Maxim Gorky. The soul and the natural center “salon” was the mistress, Lily Brik. Then there was Mayakovsky’s poem “The Backbone Flute” in which, as in so many of the verses, the poet sang of his fierce sense to Leela. A special place in the lyrics took Mayakovsky poem “Lilichka». Liu – as it was called Mayakovsky – just realized that so you need to storms and suffering, and not stable feeling. Vladimir himself once said to her: “Oh, how I love it when tormented, jealous …” For the sake of jealousy, he even elicited Lily details of her wedding night with her husband and then terribly worried. But some of these experiences resulted in the verses. Knowing this effect, the muse sometimes deliberately forced the poet nervous.
11. Perhaps the secret charm of Lily Brik was precisely her femininity. She could not live without the beautiful clothes, she thought up the dress. Mayakovsky many published, earning enough for a comfortable life. Lily even persuaded him to bring back from Paris and Renault car, learning to drive, she has always been behind the wheel. When there was a threat of parting with Mayakovsky because of the poet’s love affair with a Russian émigré Tatiana Yakovleva, Lily asked my sister, who lived in Paris, to write a letter with the news that allegedly Tatiana marries a wealthy viscount, and read the letter aloud on one of the evenings . Pale Mayakovsky immediately decided to conclude a failed love affair with Tatiana, who was unaware of the fraud carried out by nurses.
Mayakovsky’s suicide Lily perceived quite calmly, saying that the poet has always been a “neurotic.” But death of her husband Osip she survived with difficulty: “When there was Mayakovsky – Mayakovsky was not, and when he died Brick – I died.” But after that her life was still a lot of men, the beautiful courtship, flowers, and gifts – all that muse so loved.
12. After the death of the poet Lily engaged in preparation of the collected works of Mayakovsky, but have difficulty with the publication. Then she wrote a letter to Stalin, asking for help in the publication of the meeting. That’s what her letter, Stalin said: “Mayakovsky was and remains the best, most talented poet of our Soviet epoch. Indifference to his memory and works of art – a crime. “Word of the leader is not in question: Mayakovsky was a major poet of the Soviet Union.
Lili Brik, collaborated with the OGPU and other Soviet intelligence agencies, “went abroad more often than in Peredelkino”.
13. About Jurevne Lila told me that she and 80 years easily captivated by the Cavaliers, cleverly changing the voice and facial expression so that every man seemed – he is in charge of her life. Biographer Basil Katanyan Mayakovsky wrote of her: “She had a” talent to live ».