Nadya Rusheva: Sighs on Paper, Breathing Lines

Left: Ballerina. Right: Apollo and Daphne.

She died before I was ever born,  but she’s been with me all my life. Nadya Rusheva was only 17 when she succumbed to a brain hemorrhage in Moscow. She left behind ten thousand drawings – a fragile, incomplete catalogue of her teenage fascinations with Greek myths, Pushkin’s life, Bulgakov, Byron’s poems, War and Peace, and other bits and pieces from history and literature.

L: Pushkin and Goncherova. R: The Transfiguration of Margarita

She once said that she lived the lives of the people she drew. Her drawings are simple, impulsive – some might even say they’re amateurish – but there’s something to them,  a spark, a keen insight, a visible love. For example, when she illustrated The Master and Margarita (which Zo and I blogged about), it turned out that her drawings of Margarita bore an eerie resemblance to Bulgakov’s wife – whom Rusheva had never met.

L: Saying good-bye to Fox. R: Self-portrait.

She’s virtually unknown in the West –  not even a real Wikipedia page – but in Russia, she’s beloved by generations for her combination of tragedy, whimsy, youth and the adult-like insight that sometimes appeared in her work. Young fans still visit her museum and leave behind poems and drawings. On her Livejournal fan community, people swap scans of her drawings and write dedications. And a new film about her called “Secret Signs” recently came out in Russia.

Rusheva was born in 1952 in Mongolia to a Bolshoi theater designer and a ballerina (both of whom, I believe, are still alive today), and died in 1969. Some say that she was exploited to make the Soviet education system look good. I found two translations of the same document that claim that, upon being discovered, Rusheva was forced to produce artwork at a grueling pace so that the regime could hold her up as a paragon of Communist artistic training. One translation outright states that she was worked to death, but other (and better translation) doesn’t imply this. I’d never heard this before, even though I knew her work since childhood, thanks to my parents’ immense book collection. I could see it being true – despite the irony that Master and Margarita, one of her favorite books to illustrate, was banned when she drew it.

After the jump, my favorite Rusheva drawings (there’s lots!) and more.

Pushkin and Natalya Goncharova

Freida from Master and Margarita

Kentavryonok, or “Little Centaur”

Pontius Pilate from Master and Margarita

The first meeting of Master and Margarita



Nadya Rusheva

What could she have been? With Rusheva, I don’t like to ask myself that. I look at her images and see a complete body of work. She wasn’t “at the edge of reaching her potential.” She reached it. She did the best she could in the time she had. As, I’m beginning to think, most people do – more than they give themselves credit for.

13 Responses to “Nadya Rusheva: Sighs on Paper, Breathing Lines”

  1. Merveilleuse Says:

    Her work is beautiful. I’d never heard of her before, although my local museum has TONS of Natalya Gonchorova. It’s interesting to see Nadya’s drawings of her and Pushkin.

    As an artist, her body of work is an inspiration for me. Snaps, Coilhouse!

  2. Emera Says:

    I’d never heard of her before, either, so thank you! I love how fluid and delicate they are, especially the little jester and the dancing centaurs.

  3. Amanda Says:

    I don’t think I have ever heard of her, but looking at the examples you posted I know I’ve seen her work before. I have always wondered who did that drawing of Pushkin (the one you posted above), and now I know.

    Spacibo for introducing us to this v. lovely artist’s work.

  4. James Shearhart Says:

    A wonderful article, well done! Some of her work reminds me of Cocteau’s line drawings….

  5. Mer Says:

    Never heard of her. So very glad you fixed that, dear. Amazing.

  6. R. Says:

    Her name seems so familiar to me and yet I had never heard of her. I’m glad that I have now. Her work is fascinating.

  7. cappy Says:

    Nice work — reminds me of the brain damaged filmmaker in Pattern Recognition. Haunting.

    On the “other side” post with peoples’ pictures — when I posted a picture using an XHTML-style IMG tag (with the little forward slash at the end: <img src=”BLAH” />), your blogging engine stripped it out. When I posted it again using old HTML style (<img src=”BLAH”>) it seemed to work! Betcha that has something to do with it.

  8. paul blume Says:

    I had heard of her before — my mother was an ardent Russophile — and seen a fair number of her works, though many, many years ago. Thanks for re-introducing her.

  9. Chris L Says:

    The ballerina is fantastic. Thanks.
    I’m guessing there aren’t any sites that are more english-accessible with more of her work?

  10. Sera Noise Says:

    I have never heard of her before either.
    Very beautiful artwork. The lines are magnificent, and there’s an air of melancholy flowing in most of the drawings. Perhaps it’s just me ~

    Thank you for sharing with us. Very beautiful.

  11. David Forbes Says:

    Heartbreakingly beautiful. Her work is entirely new to me. Thank you.

  12. Nadya Rusheva « Sharp in San Diego Says:

    […] more information, click here or here. For more of her art, check out her American fan site.  The Transfiguration of Margarita Duet […]

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