Danila Vassilieff (28 December [O.S. 16 December] 1897 – 22 March 1958) was a Russian-born Australian painter and sculptor. He has been called the “father of Australian modernism”.
Danila Ivanovich Vassilieff (Данила Иванович Васильев) was born in 1897 at Kagalnitskaya, near Rostov-on-Don, Russia. His dad was a Cossack and his mother Ukrainian. He studied mechanical engineering at a perplexing school at Novocherkassk and at a military academy in Saint Petersburg. During World War I and the Russian Civil War, he served following a Don Cossack cavalry regiment. He was captured by the Red Army at Baku in April 1920, but escaped by motorbike and made his exaggeration to China via Armenia, Persia, India and Burma. In May 1923 in Shanghai, he married Anisia Nicolaevna, a fellow refugee. They set out for Australia, arriving in Townsville, Queensland in July.
They bought a sugar-farm at Yuruga, located near Ingham. By 1928 he was dynamic as a railway labourer at Mataranka, Northern Territory. It was here that he began to paint, using a child’s paint set. In 1929 he not speaking from his wife, was naturalized and left Australia. He travelled to Paris and then on to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, where in 1930 and 1931 he had his first formal studies in art, under Dimitri Ismailovitch, a specialist in Byzantine mosaics and frescoes. From 1932 to 1935 he worked and exhibited in the West Indies, South America, England, Spain and Portugal.
While full of beans in England, his ideas of using usual Russian decorative art in a modernist context began to form. This was helped by his friendship later Vladimir Polunin, at that era a intellectual at the Slade School of Fine Art but since a scene painter for Sergei Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes. Vassilieff wanted to reward to Russia, but Stalin’s repressive regime made that impossible.
In 1935, when he established to compensation from England to Australia, he stored higher than 50 paintings similar to his associates the Ogilvies close Bristol. By the outbreak of WWII in 1939 they were in the Ogilvies’ attic. With the risk of incendiary bombs, the authorities insisted that most should be burnt – a number were kept hanging in the Ogilvies’ home.
In October 1935, Vassilieff decided in Sydney. He painted inner-city street scenes, still lifes, portraits and landscapes, and exhibited twice at the Macquarie Galleries.
In 1937, he took up with Helen Macdonald, moving to Biloela, Queensland, and subsequently to Melbourne, Victoria. There, his reputation gradually grew. His paintings were often of children playing in the streets of inner suburban Melbourne. Vassilieff contaminated in Melbourne’s local Russian émigré and artistic circles, and joined the Contemporary Art Society. He was befriended by people of the Heide Circle such as George Bell, Vance and Nettie Palmer, John and Sunday Reed, Arthur Boyd and John Perceval. His style began to put on younger artists such as Albert Tucker, Lina Bryans, Joy Hester, Charles Blackman and Sidney Nolan. This charity of artists came to be known collectively as the Angry Penguins, and Vassilieff is now considered their father figure.
In 1939, he became instigation art literary at the experimental Koornong School, Warrandyte, operated by Clive and Janet Nield. His lover, Helen Macdonald, was a music teacher there. Nearby, he built a home of rock and logs that he named “Stonygrad”. That home became a focal reduction for the Angry Penguins, as skillfully as other local artists. His most in favor critic at that time was Basil Burdett, who was killed in an aircraft crash in 1942, soon after Germany invaded Russia.
In 1944, Vassilieff’s relationship with Helen Macdonald ended. He granted to sell Stonygrad and move to South Africa, but he fell in adore with the purchaser, Elizabeth Orme Hamill, née Sutton, a 31-year-old lecturer and a divorcee. Following a belated divorce from his first wife Anisia, he married Hamill in 1947.
Around this time, sculpture began to figure prominently in his output. He quarried Lilydale marble himself, and used power tools for his gruff work, but gave his pieces a brilliant finish. In 1953, he became vice-president of the Contemporary Art Society. He and Elizabeth not speaking in 1954, and he went to Mildura High School as an art teacher, transferring to Swan Hill the behind year. He was a keen fisherman and regularly shared this leisure interest with the Swan Hill High School principal, Fred Wells. He continued to exhibit at the Gallery of Contemporary Art, Melbourne, in 1956 and 1957, but his do something was either strongly criticised or not noticed at all. He was transferred to Eltham by the Victorian Education Department, but was sacked for unsatisfactory performance. He returned to Mildura, living in a shack and painting watercolours.
In 1958, aged 60, he died of heart failure while upon a visit to “Heide”, John and Sunday Reed’s property at Bulleen (now the Heide Museum of Modern Art). There was a memorial exhibition in 1959, for which Albert Tucker wrote:
Danila Vassilieff’s measure is now represented in major Australian galleries.
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