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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

BOOKWORM: Muses of 4 Masters Revealed




It has often been observed that many of the most creative men in Russian history relied heavily on outstanding women during their lives to fulfill the demanding multiple roles of muse, handmaid, stenographer, critic, wife and lover. But what is less well known is the fact that Russian women did not dedicate themselves to their native artists alone. The distinguished 20th century French artists and writers Henri Matisse, Fernand L?ger, Luis Aragon and Romain Rolland each had a Russian muse who fundamentally influenced their creative output.


And it is the lives of these four women which are described in Volf Sedykh's lively collection of biographical essays The Russian Muses of Great Frenchmen ("Russkiye Muzy Velikikh Frantsuzov") published last month at the author's own expense by the Russian-French publishing joint-venture Nash Dom-L'Age d'Homme.


All of these women led extraordinarily complicated lived. And Sedykh, a veteran Soviet journalist who was for many years Pravda's Paris correspondent and is today the president of the Russian Association of Friends of France, was lucky enough to have known them all personally.


Nadya Khodosevich was born in a little village in Belarus, but went on to study painting under Kazimir Malevich, who taught at the time in the nearby town of Vitebsk. Recognizing Khodosevich's prodigious artistic talent, Malevich sent her to Paris to work alongside the great Fernand Leger. They lived and worked together for 30 years before finally deciding to marry.


Lydia Delektorskaya initially moved into Henri Matisse's house in order to look after his wife who was very ill. Delektorskaya nursed and eventually replaced the sick woman. And she lived with the great master of impressionism until his death 22 years later.


Maria Mikhailova was the illegitimate daughter of a Russian colonel, but this did not stop her marrying well. Her first husband was Prince Kudashev, who was intimate with the poets of the period which was subsequently dubbed the Silver Age. In the end, however, Mikhailova exchanged her original husband for the Nobel prize-winning author Romain Rolland, and she remained with him until his death in 1944.


The Kagan sisters both had complicated love lives. The older sister Lilya Brik, (who took her name from her first husband) was a great femme fatale even into old age. But she will principally be remembered as the only true love of the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Her younger sister Elza Triole, who took her name from the French lieutenant she initially married, subsequently hitched-up with the French communist writer Luis Aragon and spent the rest of her life in France.


"The Russian Muses of Great Frenchmen," by Volf Sedykh. Nash Dom-L'Age Homme, 170 pages, 8,000 rubles ($1.50).