Anatoly Zverev Russian expressionism graphics

Anatoly Zverev

( 03.10.1931 - 09.12.1986) (November 3, 1931 Moscow –December 9, 1986 Moscow)


a Russian artist, a member of the non-conformist movement and a founder of Russian Expressionism in the 1960s. 


His style of tachisme can be compared with the work of the American Abstract Expressionist painter Jackson Pollock. His work was based on deep philosophical convictions, particularly the idea of momentalism, that everything is in constant change. His intention was to render direct sensations, and he worked at great speed.


Zverev was born in 1931, died in 1986, but for the short 55 years of his life he left a huge artistic heritage.

Zverev had multiple gifts: he was a brilliant painter, a virtuoso draftsman, an avant-garde poet, an ironic theoretician.

Pablo Picasso called him "the best Russian draftsman", the playwright Jean Cocteau said "Zverev on his own performed the whole route of Western painting - from early Picasso to the present day", the famous French conductor Igor Markevich wrote - "Zverev is a case. The case of a man who, without knowing it, has rediscovered the history of world art. “


Anatoly Zverev did not receive an academic art education. He graduated from a vocational school as a housepainter, a fact which gave him extraordinary freedom in the choice of materials. He himself believed that a real artist can create even without paints. He wrote with charcoal and juice of herbs, beets, used cereals, cottage cheese and tooth powder, he himself jokingly said - “No paints, give me water from paints!” Like a freelance artist of the 19th century, he developed his gift in workshops and studios, in Sokolniki Park and in the Moscow Zoo whiere he drew sketches, he was also a regular visitor to the Tretyakov Gallery and the Pushkin Museum. Zverev considered Leonardo da Vinci himself to be his immediate teacher. Among Zverev's favorite artists were Rembrandt, Velasquez, Von Gogh, Savrasov and Vrubel. Anatoly Zverev was an absolutely free spirit: an artist and a person, formally belonging to the circle of non-conformists - unofficial artists. But in reality, his work does not fit into any trend or association. He freely traveled through styles and eras, did not borrow - he created his own unique artistic world. A world that can still be recognised at a glance.

Around 1980 Zverev was requested by some foreign agency to write his autobiography. These pages help to understand him better:
"I was born in 1931. My birthday is November the 3-d. My father was disabled - a victim of the Civil War. My mother was a worker. I did not know my sisters well enough. I remember (of those dead) only two of them - Zina (the first one) and Verochka. Twosisters, I guess, are still alive. One of them is four years older than me, the other one is four years younger.

Reading some of his writings and finding a lot of common between us (if the Genius had been translated correctly). While reading Treatises by the above-mentioned Genius - my friend since that time - I couldn't but wonder how identical we were in expression of thoughts. Though socially uncomfortable and miserable, I enjoy the greatest and happiest privilege of being able to once and again share my impressions of the artistic life, based on his Painting Treatise.

My education consists basically of the things most natural and acceptable to my personality. In other words, the things which were easy for me to understand because in my early years I used to be weak and ailing.

My marks at school ranged grossly. Some subjects were "excellent" and others a contrasting "unsatisfactory". Somehow I managed to struggle through seven years of school and get "incomplete secondary school education" certificate - a good reason to feel proud in those years, even to show off among my peers.
My childhood was wild and confused. It seems that I almost didn't have wishes or dreams. I never thought of becoming an artist, but every time my second cousin came to visit I urged him to draw me a horse, always a horse.

There was a bast print on a wall in our room - a piece of folk art I used to watch for hours and even tried to copy it, to duplicate it somehow, but my own way. I had color pencil and checker I dreamed of learning to play. I often asked father to draw something for me and he would do it eagerly although he wasn’t very good at it in spite of great lyricism in his character. Out of pure wish to please me he drew one and the same head of a mythical old man turned sideways.
I myself was pretty good at drawing and somehow got used to it. In my fifth year "in this world" I drew a portrait of Stalin. Later at a summer camp I created (I can say it straight) a real masterpiece - "A Tea-Rose, or an Eglantine". It was so good that the hobby-group master got really surprised. At the age of five I created my "Traffic". I drew it from memory at a polling station on Election day. Every polling station in those pre war years had little tables, color pencils and paper for children to draw. There weren't as many people in Moscow then as there are now. And people in those days went to the polls with their children, playing concertinas, singing and dancing in the streets. In was a sort of a holiday.

What concerns the next period in my artistic life - the Patriotic, or as people also called it, the Great war began. The evacuation started, who goes where. My father and mother, two sisters and I moved to Tambov area. Naturally, drawing was out of question.Probably, it couldn't be otherwise. Vanity of vanities, all was vanity.

My father used to give me lengthy explanations of rural life. He would show me rye, wheat, oats and tell me which is what. But soon he caught cold and got his feet badly frostbitten. He didn't survive long and died in his forty third year of a sad life, five hours into January, the first morning of a New Year. It was so very sad.

Soon I caught nyctalopia, or night-blindness. Later my eyes also suffered from lime and chalk from our country-house ceiling. That was another mischief. I liked and at the sametime disliked the countryside. Some things about it I did like, other things I didn’t.

The beauty of landscapes and the colors of my native land are amazing: those meadowsand river overflows, and spring roar of melting snow that streams through fields in roaring morning waves... And the rest of the seasons, let it be summer or winter with snowdrifts up to the tops of telegraph poles, when people could hardly dig their way out of the houses, then dig out chimneys, then doors, then windows... Or summer heat, intense heat and wild storms. Big and small rivers, and lakes, and everything else.
That is how we lived, day by day. And the war was still on.

When the war was over and we came back home to Moscow, the food was still rationed, people still lived in poverty.

I continued to draw only by chance. Remeber, once I found the photo from a sports newspaper "Sovetsky Sport". It was called "A tough moment at the Moscow Spartak goal". I used it as a model. First pen and ink drawings appeared in my sketch-book. First since before the war.

Soon I joined two art groups in Sokolniki and lzmaylovo parks. Classes in drawing, painting, sculpture, linoleum engraving, poker-work were part of the parks' educational programs for children. Later I proceeded to art studios of two Houses of Pioneers.

I spent two years at a designers' vocational school. Even before graduation I tried to join several more serious artistic studios. I even took some classes at a good art school at Sretenka Street, but before too long I was fired because of my "ugly outfit". That's how my financial difficulties determined my destiny.

I took a job as a Sokolniki Park designer, which meant painting walls most of the time. I was completely out of luck, yet I continued drawing and painting.

I respect contemporary artists for the kindness they show to one another. There is reason to think every one of them is happy, but a lot of outsiders believe that being able to call oneself "an artist" alone makes one happy. I haven’t got used to think of myself as ahappy man - especially when I confronted the roughness of my own destiny, or when I was out of luck, or when my body hurts in bad weather.

The most interesting artists are those who's works attract your attention longer, who's technique and subject aren't too fancy and are not tiresome to watch: van Gogh, Rembrandt, Rubens, my teacher Leonardo da Vinci, Velasquez, Goya, van Dyck, Raffaello,Savrasov, Vrubel, Rublev, Ghe, Kiprensky, Ivanov, Malevich, Kandinsky, Botticelli, Daubigny, Serov, Brullov, Gaughin, Constable and many others. I may not know or remember their names.

Concerning artists of my own age - all of them are the best while they are alive, because all of them have the future, the present, or at least the past."

The sun-bright lucky star of his fortune was his friendship with Ksenia Mikhailovna Aseyeva, widow of the Russian poet of the "Left" group. Both as much as they could helped each other to ward off loneliness. She was most kindhearted, slightly exalted woman, the heroine of Aseyev's piercing lines in the past, who had seen in her lifetime quite a lot of brightest celebrities and lived through lost of romances, friend of Mayakovsky. She became a devoted worshiper and a passionate promoter of his art. She was literally enchanted and bewitched, and steadfastly endured any follies and eccentricities of the reckless genius. Well, she for the second time happened to live through everything that she breathed with in the stormy twenties. The history and her youth repeated for her for the second time. His destiny was to see Ksenia Mikhailovna off in her wake. The memory of touching tenderness in their relations warmed up the rest of the artist's years.

...By the end everything was shaping up tragically and desperately. The closed space of more and more uniform drinking bouts (where partners broke down unable to keep up with more experienced master) oppressed him and broke his wings. All of a sudden a shed with five hundred paintings said to be ready to be exported by Costakis from the Soviet Union (the king of collectors was getting ready to move to Greece). He was looking for a real safe refuge, losing his magic of mastership, falling apart in paltry and fleeting handouts and compliments. The mask of a "sly guy" and a kind simpleton that saved him all his life and was more and more boring now, interfered and turned into a burden. The role provoked by the circumstances was played through. Everything that people expected and demanded of him he gave them back with interest through his work in his honest, sincere and irreproachable way.

A few days before his sudden death (in December 1986) he wrote on a slip of paper:

"Art should be free. Though it is very hard. Because human life is not free".

His heritage tragically and irreversibly missed the exhibition halls, museums, and art galleries of Russia. He worked hard all his life, but there is not a single work by the master which is exposed in the public collections of Russia.

Anatoly Zverev's work has been offered at auction multiple times, with realized prices ranging from 178 USD to 59,989 USD, depending on the size and medium of the artwork. Since 2001 the record price for this artist at auction is 59,989 USD for 4 works: Portrait of a woman; and three other works on paper, sold at Christie's London in 2017.

Anatoly Zverev has been featured in articles for RUSSIAN ART + CULTUREArt Reveal Magazine and St. Petersburg Times. The most recent article is Leonid Shishkin Gallery: Online Russian Art Sale 20-28 July written for RUSSIAN ART + CULTURE in July 2020.













Male Portrait