GLAHA:42303, “Paris Bird market”, Exter, Alexandra; 1882-1949, 1926 – 1926, watercolour, drawing, watercolour on paper
Another work in the Hunterian collections associated with Poland is “Paris Bird market” by Aleksandra Aleksandrovna Ekster, also known as Alexandra Exter or Olexandra Exter. Sources often also provide her name in Russian: Алекса́ндра Алекса́ндровна Эксте́р and Ukrainian: Олекса́ндра Олекса́ндрівна Е́кстер. Born in 1882 as Aleksandra Aleksandrovna Grigorovich in Białystok, now in Poland, then in the Grodno Governorate of the Russian Empire, to a Belarusian father and a Greek mother, she studied art and graduated from the Kiev Art School in 1906. In 1908 she married a lawyer from Kyiv and together they travelled to Paris where she met, between many, Picasso, Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob, Filippo Marinetti, Robert and Sonia Delaunay and Fernand Léger. Subsequently, she lived, worked and exhibited in Kyiv, St. Petersburg, Odessa, Paris and Moscow, working and socialising with Aleksandr Vesnin, Lyubov’ Popova, Aleksandr Rodchenko, Varvara Stepanova, Goncharova, Tatlin and Malevitch, to name just a few. Part of the avant-garde movement after the revolution she stayed in Russia as long as her mother lived and in 1924 ‘prudently left for Paris (…), when the nature of the Soviet regime, her art, and her origins put her in jeopardy’ . In Paris she taught stage design and painting at Leger’s Academie d’ Art Moderne. Kubism, constructivism, futurism inspired her but she was never associated with one movement, and later in her life she returned to figurative painting. The Hunterian holds her work entitled ‘Paris Bird market’ created in 1926 in Paris when she worked with the puppeteer Nechama Szmuszkowicz on a set of 40 marionettes for the never realised film project.
At this time Białystok, Exter’s birthplace was almost in the centre of the newly resurrected after the First World War Poland. Due to her place of birth Exter is sometimes described as a Russian or Ukrainian or French painter of Polish birth, but her biography was much more complex and the notion of one’s national identity can be influenced by several factors, including but not limited to one’s place of birth, family relations, heritage, culture, language, religion and lastly the place and people with whom one lives.