Painter, graphic artist, illustrator, theatrical designer, teacher. Born at the estate of Petrovskoe in the village of Klyuchi near Saratov (1893) in the family of hereditary nobleman and liberal landowner Mikhail Yermolaev (1847–1911) and Baroness Anna Unkovskaya von Ungern (1854–?). Named after Russian revolutionary Vera Figner (1852–1942), who was protected and employed as a rural doctor by her parents in the nearby village of Vyazmino (1878). Lost the use of her legs following an attack of polio or a horse-riding accident in childhood, leaving her a cripple all her life. Went to Innsbruck for treatment and attended schools in Paris, London and Lausanne (1902–03).
Returned to Russia (1904) and moved with her family to St Petersburg (1905), where she attended the Princess Alexandra Obolenskaya Grammar School at 8 Baskov Lane (1906–11), graduating with a gold medal (1911). Inherited over a million roubles following the death of her father (1911). Studied at the Mikhail Bernstein School of Painting, Drawing and Sculpture (1911–14) and the Institute of Archaeology (1914–17). Regularly travelled to Siberia to visit her elder brother Konstantin Yermolaev (1883–1919), who joined the Menshevik Party and was exiled to the Yermakov Iron Mines near Irkutsk (1912–17). Visited Paris (1914), where she studied works of Post-Impressionist and Cubist painting. Returned to Petrograd following the outbreak of the First World War (1914) and rented an apartment at 4 Baskov Lane (1914–18). Founded the Bloodless Murder group with Mikhail Le-Dantiu and Nikolai Lapshin (1915), illustrated the Assyro-Babylonian and Albanian issues of theBloodless Murder magazine (1916) and helped to design the sets for a performance of Ilya Zdanevich’s transrational play Janko I, King of Albania at Mikhail Bernstein’s studio (1916). Founding member and secretary of Freedom to Art (1917), member of Art and Revolution (1917) and To the Revolution (1917).
Headed the signboard subsection of the Museum of Petrograd (1918–19). Founded the Today cooperative of artists and writers (1918), which published limited-edition children’s books created from linocuts and popular prints (1918–21). Illustrated Walt Whitman’s poem Pioneers! O Pioneers! (1918) and Vladimir Mayakovsky’s play Mystery-Bouffe (1918). Taught at the Vitebsk School of Art (1919–22), where she invited Kazimir Malevich to head the painting department (1919) and replaced Marc Chagallas rector (1920). Lover of Kazimir Malevich (1920–23). Founding member of UNOVIS (1920), contributed to the UNOVIS No. 1 almanac (1920), elected secretary of the creative committee (1920–22). Decorated Vitebsk on May Day (1920) and the third anniversary of the Bolshevik revolution (1921). Designed the sets and costumes for Kazimir Malevich’s production of Alexei Kruchenykh’s Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun at the Latvian Club in Vitebsk (1920) and Nikolai Efros’s production of Vladimir Mayakovsky’s poemWar and Peace at the Latvian Club in Vitebsk (1921). Returned to Petrograd with Georgy Noskov, Anna Kagan and Mikhail Veksler (1922). Rented Apartment 2 at 13, 10th Line of Vasilyevsky Island, where she hosted poor students and held Tuesdays attended by Mikhail Matiushin and Pavel Filonov(1922–34). Worked under Mikhail Veksler at the poster workshop of the Decorative Institute (1923). Taught painting in the private studio of Alexei Uspensky and invited to teach at the VKhUTEIN (1923). Joined the Institute of Artistic Culture in Petrograd (1923), where she studied Cubism in the theoretical and formal department (1923–24) and headed the laboratory of colour (1924–26). Collaborated with such children’s magazines as Sparrow(1923–25), New Robinson (1925), Hedgehog (1928–31) and Siskin (1932–33) and such publishing houses as Young Guard (1931–32), Uchpedgiz (1931–32) and Lenoblizdat (1934).
Worked under Vladimir Lebedev at the department of children’s literature of the State Publishing House (1925–31), where she composed her own children’s books, including The Unfortunate Coachman(1928), Doggies (1929), Down the Nile (1930), Six Masks (1930) and Masks of Wild Animals (1930). Illustrated Nikolai Aseyev’s Top-Top-Top (1925) andRedneck (1927), Boris Zhitkov’s Who Will Win? (1927) and Dress Me (1928), Nikolai Zabolotsky’s The Good Boots (1928), Alexander Vvedensky’s Many Wild Animals (1928), The Fishermen (1929), Run, Jump (1930) and The Feat of Mochin the Pioneer (1931), Daniil Kharms’s Ivan Ivanych Samovar (1929), Yevgeny Schwartz’s The Train (1929), Nikolai Oleinikov’s The Geography Teacher (1930), fables of Ivan Krylov (1929–30) and the fairytales of Mikhail Saltykov-Schedrin (1931–32). Member of Sorabis (1925–34). Worked at the experimental laboratory for the study of modern art at the Institute of the History of the Arts (1927–30) and the experimental lithographic studio of the Union of Artists (1933–34). Member of the Group of Painterly-Plastic Realism, which met at her apartment on Vasilyevsky Island and Lev Yudin’s room in a wooden house on Shamshev Street on the Petrograd Side (1927–34).
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