Felix Samoilovich Lembersky (Russian: Феликс Самойлович Лемберский) (Lublin, Poland, November 11, 1913 – Leningrad, currently St. Petersburg, December 2, 1970) was a Russian/Soviet painter, artist, teacher, theater stage designer and an organizer of artistic groups. A refugee of World War I, he grew up in Berdyczów (now Berdychiv, Ukraine) and studied art in Kiev and Leningrad—at the Jewish Arts and Trades School, known as Kultur-Lige (1928–29), the Kiev Art Institute (1933–34) and the Leningrad Academy of Art (1935–41). He graduated with high honors, completing his thesis during the Siege of Leningrad. He was wounded in the defense of Leningrad during World War II. His parents perished in Holocaust in Ukraine. After evacuation in 1942, LEMBERSKY spent two years working in the Urals, recording industrial war effort. After the war, LEMBERSKY joined the Leningrad Union of Artists (LOSKh, LOSSKh). He exhibited widely in national and privately organized art shows in Russia and his work was acquired by museums and private collectors. While living in Leningrad, he also toured and worked in the Urals, Ladoga, Pskov and Baltic Republics. Much of his art is inspired by the Eastern Europe of his childhood—Ukraine and Ukraine. Among his most moving images are the portraits of his fellow citizens and the places where he lived and visited.
LEMBERSKY's art is rooted in the early Soviet Avant-Garde, with which he became acquainted at Kultur-Lige and while working as a theater sets designer in Kiev in the 1920s and early 1930s. He was further exposed to Avant-Garde at the Kiev Art Institute, where Kazimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin taught in the years prior to the ban of Avant-Garde in 1932; and their influence continued at the Institute into the 1930s, when LEMBERSKY studied there. In Leningrad LEMBERSKY visited the studios of the great Avant-Garde painter and theorist Pavel Filonov and a former member of the Knave of Diamonds, artist Aleksandr Osmerkin. At the Academy of Art, LEMBERSKY attended art history lectures given by the Avant-Garde theorist Nikolay Punin.
Lembersky's art was also formed by his rigorous classical education at the Academy, where he mastered realist and impressionist techniques at the studio of a great Russian painter Boris Ioganson. LEMBESKY was highly regarded for his expressive and nuanced work. During enforced Socialist Realism and in spite of state-imposed restrictions on Western art, LEMBERSKY continued to synthesize a wide range of influences, including German Expressionism, the French school, Mexican mural painting, Russian icons, African folk art, and Dutch and early Renaissance painting, among others. He was keenly interested in modernist and contemporary literature, poetry, and theater. Music was essential to his art, he regularly attended concerts of classical music and personally knew many musicians, including Dmitri Shostakovitch and conductor Natan Rakhlin, whose portrait he created in the Urals in 1943-44. He studied Western philosophy and mysticism. LEMBERSKY's work is intensely spiritual in defiance to atheism endorsed by the Communists. His art is centered on the idea of a two-tiered reality, expressed in painting as a union between recognizable objects and hidden symbols shown “between the lines.” He frequently included religious symbols in his paintings. He was haunted by the memory of Holocaust. His 'Execution. Babi Yar' series (1944–52) are the earliest known artistic renderings of the Nazi massacres in Kiev. In his later work, he persistently brought back Holocaust symbols to his semi-abstract canvases. The themes of war and industrial labor—as alternating forces of destruction and reconstruction—appear again and again in his work. Yet, in contrast to the gravity of the content, LEMBERSKY'S paintings appeal to his viewers with brilliant color, light and formal beauty. His art speaks to the universal experience evoking emotional response and delighting the eye.
Lembersky was born in 1913 into the family of Samuil Lembersky of Lublin, on the eve of World War One. The Russians lost Lublin to Austro-Hungarian army in 1915. The family relocated to Berdyczów (now Berdychiv, Ukraine) however, the Soviet troops destroyed most of Berdyczów during the Polish–Soviet War of 1920, and the city was ceded by Poland to the USSR following Peace of Riga. His parents remained there. In 1928 Lembersky relocated to Kiev where he attended the Jewish Arts' and Trades' School (known as “Kultur-Lige Art School”, studio of Mark Epshtein). In 1930–33 he worked as set designer for the Jewish Theater in Kiev and Berdichev and in 1933–35 attended the Kiev Art Institute, studying painting with professor Pavel Volokidin. In 1935 he moved to Leningrad to study at the Russian Academy of Arts.
Lembersky toured the Urals to collect material for his thesis, while the Soviet Union invaded Poland. He was in Berdichev when the Nazi Germany launched their Operation Barbarossa against the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941. As a student of the Academy, he was ordered to immediately return to Leningrad, while his parents remained in Berdichev, where they perished in Holocaust. Writer Vasily Grossman, whom Lembersky knew from childhood in Berdichev and whose family also perished in the city, collected documents and described the massacre of Berdichev in a detailed essay published the Black Book. In July 1941, Lembersky was wounded during the defense operations at the outskirts of Leningrad. He contracted typhoid and was brought back to the Academy, which was converted into a home and a hospital for its students, professors and staff during the war. Lembersky remained there during the first months of the Siege of Leningrad. He completed his thesis during the Siege and defended it in December 1941, earning a degree in easel painting with honors for academic achievement.
- 1944 Joins the Union of Soviet Artists. Offers private art classes at his studio
- 1944–54 Works on commissions and portraits of workers, and heads group projects. Creates Execution: Babi Yar series.
- 1955 Creates triptych Leaders and Children for Anichkov Palace.
- 1956–57 Novgorod and Pskov series.
- 1958 The Urals Series 1959–64. Railway Pointer and Miners series and Staraya Ladoga series.
- 1960 Personal exhibition at LOSSKh exhibition gallery in Leningrad.
- 1950s–’60s Lembersky speaks out for greater freedom in Soviet art. Organizes unofficial exhibitions of young artists.
- 1970 Dies December 2 at his home in Leningrad.
Critically acclaimed Lembersky was among recognizable figures of Russian mid-twentieth century art. His painting style spanned from academic realism to expressive, semi-abstract and symbolist forms that rely on rich vibrant color, pastose texture and complex geometries. Despite his modernist tendencies in the later years, Lembersky considered himself a realist; in his autobiography he cited Russian icons and Russian avant-garde among the main influences on his art. Formal transformations in his work served the to heighten the expression of human condition. The human image is at the center of Lembersky’s paintings, from his earlier portraits to the later compositions. His landscapes reconstruct human forms and gesture through still objects, retaining the memory of human activity, even in their absence.
The themes in Lembersky's art focused the Siege of Leningrad, the Miners of the Urals, Staraya Ladoga, Russian Revolution (1917), industrial sites of Nizhny Tagil and Holocaust. Three Babi Yar paintings (1944–52), which Lembersky painted following the death of his parents at the hands of the Nazis in Ukraine, are the earliest known artistic record of the massacre. The final painting of the Babi Yar cycle was created during Stalin’s vicious anti-Semitic campaign in 1952. The second painting Babi Yar painting was never exhibited in the Soviet Union, it was shown publicly for the first time at Brandeis University in 2011 marking the 70th anniversary of the massacre.
He was married to Lucia Keiserman Lemberskaya (1915–1994).
Selected Exhibitions, Lectures, Symposia and Public events
- 2013 Being and Beings: Works by Felix Lembersky (Pushkin House, London, Great Britain)
- 2013 Felix Lembersky: Soviet Form, Jewish Context (Jewish Museum Milwaukee, Milwaukee, WI, catalogue)
- 2012 Torn from Darkness: Works by Felix Lembersky (The University of Richmond, Richmond, VA)
- 2011 Felix Lembersky and Non-mimetic Socialist Realism, panel presentation at ASEEES conference, Washington, DC
- 2011 Felix Lembersky, Rubin-Frankel Gallery, Boston University Hillel, Boston, MA (catalog)
- 2011 Faces of Babi Yar in Felix Lembersky’s Art. Presence and Absence, exhibition symposium, The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA (catalog)
- 2010 Felix Lembersky: Revival of Jewish Art after World War II, media poster presentation at Association for Jewish Studies, 42nd Annual Conference, Boston, MA
- 2010 Felix Lembersky, public lecture at The Academy of Art, St. Petersburg, Russia
- 2009 Point. Line. Fence. Felix Lembersky, Newbury College Art Gallery, Brookline, MA
- 2009 Intermuseum-2009, VDNKh, Moscow, Russia
- 2007–08 Restoration as the Rebirth of Art: Restoration of Painting from the Sixteenth through the Twentieth Centuries from the Collection of the Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art, Nizhny Tagil
- 2006 Leningrad Artist Felix Lembersky, Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art
- 2005 The Art of Portraiture, Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art
- 2004–05 Painting of the First Half of the Twentieth Century from the Collection of the Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art, Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art
- 2004 Exhibition for the Sixty-Year Anniversary of the End of the Leningrad Siege, Saint Petersburg Union of Artists (The Siege of Leningrad Survivor, 1949)
- 1999 Felix Lembersky. Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University, Brookville, New York (Catalog)
- 1989 Felix Lembersky: Retrospective Exhibition, Bloomfield Hills, Michigan
- 1988 Felix Lembersky: Retrospective Exhibition, Ann Arbor, Michigan
- 1970 Commemorative Exhibition of the Art of Felix Lembersky, LOSKh, Leningrad
- 1961 Art by Leningrad Artists, Russian Museum, Leningrad (At Factory Tracks, oil, 1961; Daughter’s Portrait, oil, 1961; The Wharf, oil, 1961)
- 1960 Paintings by Felix Lembersky and Sculpture by Mikhail Vayman, LOSKh, Leningrad (catalogue) (76 oils, 55 works on paper in watercolor, gouache, and pastel, and 87 drawings)
- 1955 Exhibition of the National Art, Manezh Exhibition Hall, Moscow
- 1954 Art by Leningrad Artists, Russian Museum, Leningrad (catalog)
- 1951, 1954, 1960 Art by Leningrad Artists, Russian Museum, Leningrad (catalogs)
- 1945, 1946, 1948 Group exhibitions at the Central Navy Museum and Museum of Leningrad Defense, Leningrad
- 1945 Exhibition of Paintings by Leningrad Artists, LOSSKh, Leningrad (catalog)
- 1944 Frontlines and Homefront, Sverdlovsk and Leningrad
- 1943 Exhibition dedicated to the active Soviet troops, Sverdlovsk
- 1942 The Decade of the Urals, Sverdlovsk
- Joel Berkowitz. Felix Lembersky: Soviet Forms, Jewish Content. Milwaukee: University of Wisconsin- Milwaukee, * Sam & Helen Stahl Center for Jewish Studies, 2013; catalogue
- Review. Russian Art and Culture (London, 2013
- Review. Financial Times (London, 2013
- Interview. BBC (Interview, London, 2013
- Review. Milwaukee Sentinel, 2013
- Julia Alcamo. Review. Jewish Quarterly (2013)
Joseph Troncale, Alison Hilton, Galina Lembersky and Lourdes Figueroa. Torn From Darkness: Works by Felix Lembersky. Richmond: The University of Richmond Museums, 2012; catalogue
- Christian Wade. Boston University Today (2011)
- Ori Z Soltes. Arty Semite, Forward (2011)
- ChaeRan Freeze. “Unearthed.” Tablet Magazine, March 10, 2011
- Leah Burrows. “A Jewish Artist’s Untold Story.” The Jewish Advocate, March 4, 2011
- Ori Z Soltes. “Felix Lembersky: The Artist Uncovered.” Ars Judaica, vol. 7, 2011
- Eric Herschthal. “Babi Yar and the Rose Art Museum: Things Worth Seeing.” The Jewish Week, March 1, 2011
- Jason Blanchard, Robert Goodwin, and Yelena Lembersky. Felix Lembersky in Color, web-film created for Faces of Babi Yar in Felix Lembersky’s Art: Presence and Absence, symposium at The Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, March 2011, published on YouTube and Vimeo
- Musya Glants. “Felix Lembersky.” Book Review. The Russian Review, July 2010
- Irina Karasik. “Felix Lembersky.” Book Review. DI (‘Dialog Iskusstv’), March 2010
- Alison Hilton, Yelena Lembersky. Felix Lembersky 1913-70. Paintings and Drawings. Moscow: Galart, 2009 (bilingual catalogue in English and Russian, full color, 154 pages)
- “Felix Lembersky.” Book Review. ARLIS Art Libraries Society of North America, 2009
- Mikhail Krutikov. “Felix Lembersky.” Book Review. Forvert, August 7, 2009
- Larisa Smirnikh, Elena Ilyina. Felix Lembersky: Tvortsi Uzniki Sovesti. Nizhny Tagil: Nizhny Tagil Museum of Fine Art, 2009
- Nasedkina, A. A. “Project ‘Felix (Falik) Samuilovich Lembersky 1913–1970’: Restoration as the Rebirth of Art; Restoration of Painting of the Sixteenth to Twentieth Centuries from the Collection of the Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art.” Nizhny Tagil: State Museum of Fine Arts, 2007, 72–75. Catalog
- Ilyina, Y., and L. Smirnikh, “Felix Lembersky and Tagil Periods in His Art.” Gornozavodskoi Ural, Nizhny Tagil, 2004, 75–92
- Ilyina, Y, L. Smirnikh, and M. Ageeva, Painting of the First Half of the Twentieth Century from the Collection of the Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Arts. Nizhny Tagil: State Museum of Fine Arts, 2004, 91
- Musya Glants. “Jewish Artists in Russian Art: Painting and Sculpture in the Soviet and Post-Soviet Eras.” Published in Jewish Life after the USSR, edited by Zvi Gittleman with Musya Glants and Marshall I. Goldman. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2003
- Olga Litvak Painting and Sculpture. The YIVO Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe
- Soltes, Ori Z., Felix Lembersky. New York: Hillwood Art Museum, Long Island University, Brookville, 1999
- Jewish News, Detroit, Michigan, USA, July 15, 1988
- Jewish News, Detroit, Michigan, USA, May 19, 1989
- Leon Shapiro, “Easter Europe: Soviet Union: Today and A Look Back.” American Jewish Year Book, 1973
- Zisman, Iosif. “The Life of Felix Lembersky.” Sovetish Heimland, Moscow, 1972
- “Falik Lembersky” in “Essays about Artists.” ZTYME, Krajowa. December 13, 1969
- “Felix Lembersky.” Sovetish Heimland, Moscow, 1969. Color insert
- “Sovetske vytvarne umеni (Avant-garde traditions in Soviet art).” Sovetskoe Iskusstvo. Trutnov: OV SCSP, Czechoslovakia, 1961
- Kornilov, P. Felix Lembersky. Leningrad: Leningradskoe Otdelenie Souza Sovetskikh Khudozhnikov RSFSR, 1960. Catalog
- “Decade of the Arts in the Urals.” In Marietta Shaginyan: A Collection of Essays in Six Volumes. Volume 6, “About Art and Literature.” Moscow: Gosudarstvennoe Izdatelstvo Khudozhestvennoi Literaturi, 1958, 417–29
- “Decade of the Arts in the Urals.” Homefront in the Urals: A Writer’s Diary. 1944, 125–26
- Trud, Urals Almanach, 1943–44
- Berezark, I. “Exhibition of Tagil Artists.” Tagilskiy Rabochiy, Nizhny Tagil, May 29, 1943
- Davidov, A. Soviet Landscape. Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1958.“Decade of the Arts in the Urals.” Izvestiya, October 24, 1942
- Lembersky, Felix. “Let’s Organize a Union of Soviet Artists in Nizhny Tagil.” Tagilskiy Rabochiy, Nizhny Tagil, July 28, 1942
- “Tagil Artists at Work.” Tagilskiy Rabochiy, Nizhny Tagil, September 13, 1942
- Shaginyan, Marietta. “Decade of the Arts in the Urals.” Literatura I Iskusstvo, November 30, 1942
- “The Art in the Urals Today.” Literatura I Iskusstvo, December 19, 1942
- “The Work of Tagil Artists.” Tagilskiy Rabochiy, Nizhny Tagil, November 7, 1942
- Zimenko, V. M., et al. Visual Art during the Great Patriotic War. Moscow: Akademia Khudozhestv SSSR, 1951, 157–58
- “Proletarskaya Pravda,” Globus, 1933
Museums and Private Collections
Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, The Norton & Nancy Dodge Collection of Nonconformist Art from the Soviet Union (1956–1986), Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, New Brunswick, USA
Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg
The Russian Academy of Arts, Saint Petersburg (Strike at the Urals Plant, oil, 1941)
Saint Petersburg City History Museum at Peter and Paul Fortress (Reading of War Order before Battle, with Nikolay Timkov, oil, 1944–48; The Siege Survivor, oil, 1949; portrait drawings, charcoal, ink, black watercolor on paper, 1941–44)
State Museum of Political History of Russia (formerly the State Museum of the Revolution), Saint Petersburg (First News: Revolution 1917, oil, 1956)
Anichkov Palace, Saint Petersburg (formerly the Palace of Youth) (Leaders and Children, oil, 1955)
Nizhny Tagil State Museum of Fine Art
Ekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts
Kyrgyz National Museum of Fine Arts, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan
Collection of Yelena Lembersky, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
Collection of Mikhail Raikhel and Zhanna Vestfrid, Beersheba
Collection of Mikhail Grachov, Saint Petersburg
Collection of Iosif and Natalia Zisman
- "Феликс Лемберский. Живопись, Графика". Аннотация. LibroRoom. 2011 (Галарт: Москва, 2009). ISBN 978-5-269-01080-9. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
- Jesse Vestermark (2009). "Felix Lembersky, 1913-1970 : paintings and drawings". Art Libraries Society of North America. Retrieved February 22, 2013. "Digital copy at California Polytechnic State University"
- ChaeRan Freeze. "Felix Lembersky’s Art" (PDF file, direct download). Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
- "Torn from Darkness: Works by Felix Lembersky". Lora Robins Gallery. University of Richmond. 2012. Retrieved February 22, 2013.
- Video on YouTube
- Felix Lembersky's exhibit at Boston University Rubin Frankel Gallery, Sept 1-Dec 21, 2011
- Felix Lembersky film on YouTube