Vera Pagava is one of the rarest jewels of Georgian painting, she is especially interesting for those years when she worked away from her homeland. The beginning of the 20th century is one of the most important periods in Georgian history in terms of architecture, painting, theater, literature and other fields too. Galaktion Tabidze appears, Georgian symbolism poets and prose-writers found a group called Blue Horns, Lado Gudiashvili, Elene Akhvlediani, Davit Kakabadze, Shalva Kikodze start their career…It seems as if everything is finding its own place in independent Georgia.
In 1920, 13-year-old Vera Pagava moves to Germany with her family. In 1921, February 15th, the fact that the Red Army entered Georgia and Soviets took place, the family’s fate was finally decided, they never returned and in a few years they settled in Paris, as it turned out afterwards, forever.
Vera started learning painting in a school for decorative art, where her lecturer was a very popular painter and sculptor of those times, Andre Lhote. Then was a workshop of art and advertising, while in 1934-39 lessons of Roger Bissiere in the Academie Ranson. Probably, it is his influence that later Pagava became one of the best painters of church windows.
Vera Pagava became well-known in Paris since 1944. A gallery-owner Jeanne Bucher, who introduced many famous French artists, contributed a lot to the discovery and promotion of this painter’s talent. Picasso’s wife Dora Maar was also participating in the exhibition and due to this, exposition and Vera’s works drew a lot of attention.
Pagava’s career coincided with a truly fascinating and attractive era in Europe and the USA. This is the period when Bauhaus has already passed in architecture and Le Corbusier is creating his famous masterpieces. Alvar Aalto, Eames couple are active, in art works Matisse and Picasso are leading. In the US Alexander Calder is making mobile sculptures, while Philip Johnson’s modernist architecture is such an innovation that none of the fields have ever seen such a thing. Although, at first sight they seem to be very distanced, still everything makes one chain, revolves around Vera’s life, is in her daily news and soon enough this will turn into a cult, obviously including Pagava’s paintings too, which from this point seem to be one of the most interesting and unstudied material.
The Second World War commences and Vera’s role is interesting here too. Having a qualification of a nurse, the artist helps the wounded in the hospitals, at the same time working on textile, vitrage and creates remarkable artworks.
Her artworks are geometrical and palette – soft. The themes are varied, but always containing some mystery. In Vera’s works feminine touch can be strongly felt. The airy colours and lightness describe as if a different, but familiar world. An artist is free in composition, everything is pre-defined. Forms have their own place in lyrical works, but they develop independently in the whole picture.
It is an interesting fact that Vera Pagava was presenting France on the 33rd Biennale in Venice, in 1966. A separate pavilion was allocated to her works. This exhibition contributed to taking this artist’s works to other European cities. Exposition moved from Paris to Berlin, New York, Rome, Turin, Brussels and Vienna.
The artist died at the age of 80. She is buried in Leeville Cemetery, next to her parents. Vera Pagava’s phenomenon is not only her work, it is life and character of a Georgian female artist in emigration. She was expressing freedom in her compositions, in soft and subtle shades. Maybe these processes seemed easy from Soviet Georgia, but at those times being in such a competition for a female artist, probably was not as easy as it might seem now.
Nowadays most of Vera Pagava’s works are kept in Paris, Darial Gallery founded by “AC / VP – Association culturelle Vera Pagava” in 1991 in Paris. This space was opened in 1972 with Vera Pagava’s exhibition, which also belonged to an emigrant Georgian and the artist’s childhood friend Tamar Tsuladze.
IDAAF contacted Tamar’s daughter and president of the association, Eliso Tarasashvili and asked a few questions about Vera Pagava’s artwork.
– What is the most important period in Vera’s art life from your point of view?
-To answer to your first question, there is no « most important period » in her work, but an evolution toward the abstraction as she said in some interviews.
She paints what she feels and does not need to have the real interpretation of the reality.
But to be more precise we could say that the heart of the work goes from the 1940’s to the end of the 1970’s. Her work was first figurative (not completely though) and she started to be more abstract in the 1960’s (or end of the 1950’s). Even if we could say that her figurative period could be considered as abstract also, and her abstract period isn’t completely abstraction. As she said, she tried to reproduce her inner vision of the subject she painted in all of her work, since the beginning, in the 1930’s.
– Did the WWII affect the emotional aspect and style of the painting?
– I can’t say if the WWII affect her in her work, but when the war started she went into a nurse school to be able to help the wounded soldiers. After the German invasion of France and the Occupation, the life of Pagava’s family was very difficult (as it was for a lot of French inhabitant), since they lacked of money. So Vera was struggling to buy canvases, paint, brushes, etc. But she was helped by her artist friend and the community who gave her the tools she needed. The artists were for example Elena Viera da Silva, Roger Hilton, etc.
One of my hypothesis, and I don’t know if it is the truth, is that most of her religious theme or sacred theme painted were created in the 1940’s, so during the WWII. Maybe we could make a link between this and the theme she chose to paint. Also, and this is very important, it matches also the death of the mother in 1946 and the suicide of her father in 1950.
She had her first exhibition in 1944 in Paris, that was still during the war. It was at the Jeanne Bucher gallery. The exhibition was around her and Dora Maar.
– Why was the last exhibition named “celestial bodies”?
– The « celestial bodies » exhibition was curating by an upcoming and famous French curator Matthieu Poirier. The title, chosen by the curator, refers to the balance shapes and the floating and moving forms that we can find in her work since the beginning. But as she progressed in her work and became more abstract, the floating forms became the essence and the center of her paintings. She used to say that one has to get to the point, get to the essentials (of things). And I think that is what she did throughout her career.
– What is the relation between Vera Pagava and Vano Enoukidze?
– That is a « great question ». They had a very deep companionship. Vano Enoukidzé arrived in France in 1930, and lived with the Pagava family in Montrouge where they rented a flat and sub-rented rooms to immigrants like Vano. She was very discreet and reserved about this relationship but they were a couple, they lived together in Montrouge, in a different place than when they lived with Vera’s parents, until Vano passed away in 1979. They had two dogs and cats.
Vano began to paint after the WWII, and had quite a success in Paris. He sold a lot of paintings in art galleries. Before the War he studied International Law and became doctor in Law. But he was an erudite, very cultivated, before studying law, he studies archaeology, sociology, philosophy…
idaaf was also interested to know about plans of AC/VP in Georgia in nearest future. Unfortunately, there aren’t any shows planned for the moment here. Though, the project concerning Vano and the National Gallery is on a working stage (but it is hard to organized with the different authorities) and the association is thinking of a big exhibition in Georgia for Vera, but nothing is confirmed yet. The first retrospective of Vera Pagava in Georgia has been held in 2012, with the help of the Georgian authorities and the French Embassy, in the National Gallery in Tbilisi.
It should be noted that Vera Pagava’s works can be found in Pompidou Center since 2016.
Author: Tata Alkhazashvili | Nanuka Zaalishvili
Photo credit: Courtesy of Association culturelle Vera Pagava (AC/VP)