Somov studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts under Ilya Repin from 1888 to 1897. While at the Academy, he befriended Alexandre Benois, who would introduce him to Sergei Diaghilev and Léon Bakst. When the three founded the World of Art, Somov liberally contributed to its periodicals. Somov was homosexual, like many of the World of Art members.
Inspired by Watteau and Fragonard, he preferred to work with watercolours and gouache. For three years he worked upon his masterpiece, Lady in Blue, painted in the manner of 18th-century portraitists.
During the 1910s, Somov executed a number of rococo harlequin scenes and illustrations to the poems by Alexander Blok. Many of his works were exhibited abroad, especially in Germany, where the first monograph on him was published in 1909.
©Konstantin Somov (1869-1939). A Reclining Man (sold for US$790,378) (©4)
Konstantin Somov was a Russian artist associated with the Mir iskusstva. Somov was homosexual, like many of the World of Art members. On September 15, 1906, Mikhail Kuzmin depicts in his diary what was apparently his first sexual experience with more than one partner. The two happened to be a young man, Pavlik Maslov, Kuzmin’s lover at that time, and Konstantin Somov, Kuzmin’s close friend. On June 14, 2007, Somov's landscape The Rainbow (1927) was sold at Christie's for US$7.33 million, a record for a work of Russian art.
Following the Russian Revolution, he emigrated to the United States, but found the country "absolutely alien to his art" and moved to Paris. He was buried at the Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois Cemetery.
On June 14, 2007, Somov's landscape "The Rainbow" (1927) was sold at Christie's for US$7.33 million, a record for a work at an auction of Russian art.
The Russian writer and translator Mikhail Kuzmin (October 18, 1872 - March 1, 1936) wrote poems and novels that present sympathetic, often idealistic, portrayals of gay love and desire. (P: Konstantin Somov (1869–1939). Portrait of Mikhail Kuzmin, from the Tretyakov Gallery (1909))
Kuzmin was initially attracted to theater and music. He developed his interest in theater early in life, attending operettas in Saratov, near Yaroslavl, where he was born. Kuzmin became a member of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's music composition class at the St. Petersburg Conservatory in 1891, completing three years of the seven-year program, while also learning German and Italian.
During his life, Kuzmin translated writing not only from German and Italian, but also from English, French, Greek, and Latin, including works by Apuleius, Aubrey Beardsley, Lord Byron, and Johann Goethe, as well as 110 of William Shakespeare's sonnets and 9 of his plays.
In 1904, the homosexual Georgy Vasilevich Chicherin (1872-1936) introduced Kuzmin to Mir iskoustva (The World of Art), an artistic circle centered primarily on Sergei Diaghilev (1872-1929), best known for making the Ballets Russes a major influence in the European art world, and for his relationship with the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky.
The group attracted Kuzmin because of its theatrical concerns, its Art Nouveau aesthetic, and its relation to Symbolism. Mir iskoustva also appealed to Kuzmin because of its large homosexual membership and its penchant for dandyism.
Mikhail Kuzmin, 1919 portrait by his lover Yuri Yurkun
In 1910, Mikhail Kuzmin met his first major love, the poet Vsevolod Knyazev. In the same year, he published The Carillon of Love, a collection of poems written in the style of eighteenth-century pastorals and set to music by Kuzmin himself. Two years later, he published Lakes in Autumn, possibly the work by him that most idealizes homosexuality. Knyazev committed suicide in 1913, and Kuzmin met Yury Yurkun, also a poet, soon after. Kuzmin and Yurkun's relationship lasted until Kuzmin's death.
At this time, Kuzmin was often a resident at the "Tower," Vyacheslav Ivanov's apartment, the major literary center of St. Petersburg from approximately 1905 to 1907.
Kuzmin's first publications appeared in 1905 in Zelenyi sbornik (Green Miscellany), including the homosexual and idealist play Istoriia rytsaria d'Alessio (The History of the Knight d'Alessio). His literary career gained noticeable momentum when the Moscow Decadent and Symbolist Valeri Bryusov (1873-1924) published twelve of Kuzmin's "Aleksandriiskie pesni" ("Alexandrian Songs") and his novel Kril'ya (Wings, 1906) in the journal Vesy (The Scales, 1904-1909). Wings was published separately in 1907.
Vladimir Markov claims that the Alexandrian poems constitute the first major corpus of Russian free verse to be published. They contain lush descriptions of male beauty and a steady flow of mystical, orientalist imagery reflecting the author's travels in Egypt and Italy in the mid-1890s.
Dealing with love for young men, as described by various male and female narrators, the Alexandrian songs make up the last section of Kuzmin's first published collection of verse, Seti (Nets, 1908), which was compiled on Bryusov's request and which Alexander Blok (1880-1921) claimed to be in love with.
Wings is Kuzmin's most popular prose work, having been published in numerous editions. A sympathetic depiction of gayness, the novel narrates the relationship between the adolescent Vanya and the older, urbane Larion Dmitrievich Stroop, who helps the younger man acknowledge and accept his homosexuality.
In the ten years following the initial success of Wings, Kuzmin wrote a number of literary and theatrical works, including the plays Opasnaia predostorozhnost' (Dangerous Precaution, 1907), complete with gender transgressions and a concluding affirmation of homosexual love, and Venetsianskie bezumtsy (The Venetian Madcaps, 1915), which, like many of Kuzmin's works, depicts a woman interfering in male-male affections.
The publication of Kuzmin's essay "O prekrasnoi yasnosti" ("On Beautiful Clarity") in 1910 led many of Kuzmin's contemporaries to affiliate the author with the newly formulated poetic movement of Acmeism, which countered Symbolist obscurity with clarity, economy, and precision. Though this connection is reinforced by Kuzmin's support for Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966) and by his membership in the short-lived school of Clarism, he states in his personal writings that he saw Acmeism to be an obtuse and passing fad.
In 1910, Kuzmin met his first major love, the poet Vsevolod Knyazev. In the same year, he published Kuranty lyubvi (The Carillon of Love), a collection of poems written in the style of eighteenth-century pastorals and set to music by Kuzmin himself. Two years later, he published Osennie ozera (Lakes in Autumn), possibly the work by him that most idealizes homosexuality.
Knyazev committed suicide in 1913, and Kuzmin met Yury Yurkun (1895 - 1938), also a poet, soon after. The two men lived together with Yurkun's mother, and they were joined, for a short while, by Yurkun's wife, Olga Arbenina. Kuzmin and Yurkun's relationship lasted until Kuzmin's death.
After the Communist government came to power in 1917, Kuzmin sat on the Praesidium of the Association of Artists in Petrograd, along with such authors as Blok and Vladimir Mayakovsky (1893-1930), and worked as an official translator under Maxim Gorky (1868-1936). He also helped found the daily Zhizn iskuostva (The Life of Art) in 1918 and, along with Viktor Skhlovsky (1893-1984), worked as one of its editors.
He published two more collections of verse at this time, Ekho (Echo, 1921) and Paraboly (Parabolas, 1922), as well as two chapters of Roman Wonders (1922), which is set in the reign of Marcus Aurelius and which he felt was his finest work of prose.
Ultimately, however, Kuzmin's writing fell into political disfavor, with Lev Trotsky (1879-1940) stating, in his Literature and Revolution (1924), that Kuzmin's books were disreputable and useless.
Kuzmin's final great work was Forel' razbivaet led (The Trout Breaks the Ice, 1929), a poem sequence in often highly imagistic and symbolic form that focuses predominantly on one man's idealized, and ultimately reciprocated, love for another. The sequence is also characterized by an economy of language, an aesthetic sensitivity, and decadent characters.
When Kuzmin read sections of the sequence in his last public performance in 1928, the gate-crashing crowd of homosexuals and other supporters showered the writer with flowers. Knyazev appears in the sequence as the "stripling with a bullet through his brain," and Yurkun appears as Mister Dorian, an allusion to Oscar Wilde's novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Kuzmin died in 1936 of pneumonia, two years before Yurkun and many other writers were arrested under the Stalinist regime and shot. Respected by many of his contemporaries, including Blok, Mayakovsky, and Velemir Khlebnikov (1885-1922), Kuzmin's work is currently experiencing renewed attention in Russia and elsewhere.
Author: Denisoff, Dennis
Entry Title: Kuzmin, Mikhail Alekseyevich
General Editor: Claude J. Summers
Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
Publication Date: 2002
Date Last Updated October 10, 2007
Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/kuzmin_ma.html
Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL 60607
Today's Date March 1, 2014
Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.
Entry Copyright © 1995, 2002 New England Publishing Associates
Days of Love: Celebrating LGBT History One Story at a Time by Elisa Rolle
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Days of Love chronicles more than 700 LGBT couples throughout history, spanning 2000 years from Alexander the Great to the most recent winner of a Lambda Literary Award. Many of the contemporary couples share their stories on how they met and fell in love, as well as photos from when they married or of their families. Included are professional portraits by Robert Giard and Stathis Orphanos, paintings by John Singer Sargent and Giovanni Boldini, and photographs by Frances Benjamin Johnson, Arnold Genthe, and Carl Van Vechten among others. “It's wonderful. Laying it out chronologically is inspired, offering a solid GLBT history. I kept learning things. I love the decision to include couples broken by death. It makes clear how important love is, as well as showing what people have been through. The layout and photos look terrific.” Christopher Bram “I couldn’t resist clicking through every page. I never realized the scope of the book would cover centuries! I know that it will be hugely validating to young, newly-emerging LGBT kids and be reassured that they really can have a secure, respected place in the world as their futures unfold.” Howard Cruse “This international history-and-photo book, featuring 100s of detailed bios of some of the most forward-moving gay persons in history, is sure to be one of those bestsellers that gay folk will enjoy for years to come as reference and research that is filled with facts and fun.” Jack Fritscher
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