Drawings and Sketches by Sergei Eisenstein
People who are passionate about cinema are familiar with Sergei Eisenstein’s films and cinema theory; fewer people know of his enthusiasm for drawing. Ever since his childhood in the Latvian city of Riga, Eisenstein has been drawing, eventually producing five thousand works over the course of his lifetime, with only a short break in the 1920s when he made his first films. The drawings were playful, funny, provocative, and inventive.
Drawing for Eisenstein was a means to develop a visually effective language, which he applied in his work as film director. He drew circus scenes, story boards for his films, sketches to map out his filming process, as well as erotic, sacrilegious, and sexual scenes. The drawings were private affairs to Eisenstein, sources for his amusement and also a form of freedom, emotionally and artistically, from the pressures, often political, he experienced in his work. Some of the drawings were in-jokes meant to be shared with close friends; and some drawings were given away as gifts.
In 1931, Sergei Eisenstein worked in various locations of Mexico on the film project “¡Que viva México!”, produced by Upton Sinclair and a small group of investors. During this time, which included an intimate affair with his Guanajuato guide Jorge Palomino y Cañedo, the production of Eisenstein’s drawings resulted in a dramatic increase. His interest in line and the interplay of figures showed his connection to the work of Mexican muralists including Diego Rivera, whom Eisenstein first met in 1927, and whose work he greatly admired. At the end of his Mexican adventure, he told his friend Anita Brenner, that drawings were just as important to him as film writing and film production.
“it was in Mexico that my drawing underwent an internal catharsis, striving for mathematical abstraction and purity of line. The effect was considerably enhanced when this abstract, ‘intellectualized’ line was used for drawing especially sensual relationships between human figures.” —Sergei Eisenstein, 1947
Drawings done after Eisenstein’s return to the Soviet Union are no less provocative than the Mexican ones, but they are more sparsely articulated. In these later works, Eisenstein used line only, minimizing the shading and shaping of figures. Included in these, we find two sketches for an unrealized film on Alexander Pushkin; several drawings done during the filming of his “Ivan the Terrible”; and а series that appears to have been inspired by George Grosz’s images of maimed war veterans.
After Eisenstein’s death, his widow, Pera Atasheva, gave most of his drawings to the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art. She did not release a relatively small cache of about 500 drawings that had sexual subject matter, because Atasheva feared that they might be considered harmful to the Eisenstein’s legacy. Later, she passed them for safekeeping to Andrei Moskvin, a friend and the cameraman who had worked with Eisenstein on the filming of “Ivan the Terrible”. After perestroika, Moskvin’s descendants sold the drawings to a private collector in the west.
Eisenstein’s drawings kept at the Russian State Archive were first shown in 2000 at the Drawing Center, a not-for-profit art institution, in Soho. New York, A first-show exhibition of the drawings, once held safely by Andrei Moskvin, were shown at the contemporary art gallery Alexander Gray Associates in New York in early 2017.