Margarita Sabashnikova was a gifted artist, writer, translator, and teacher, and the first wife of the poet Maximilian Voloshin. In Russia she studied painting under Ilya Repin and Konstantin Korovin and icon-painting in the workshop of Matvei Tyulin. A frequent traveler, she also took drawing classes in Paris.
Delving into the world of pure color, Sabashnikova was constantly searching for a higher spiritual reality behind the everyday and was interested in the spiritual mission of painting and art in general. In 1905, this search led her to Rudolf Steiner and anthroposophy, which gave new meaning and direction to her life. Sabashnikova took part in the construction of the First Goetheanum, a unique structure built in Dornach for anthroposophical work and productions of mystery plays. She was among the artists who painted the small dome of the Goetheanum and also took part in the development of eurythmy, a new art of movement originated by Steiner. Through anthroposophy Sabashnikova came to a new understanding of Christianity based on a conscious and lived experience of Christ.
On September 20, 1913, Sabashnikova took part celebrations for the founding of the Russian Anthroposophical Society (1913–1922) in Moscow. Inspired by the idea of a spiritual renewal in Russia, in 1917 she returned to her homeland. At Anatoly Lunacharsky’s suggestion, she began teaching. During her years in Russia, she produced portraits of important public figures and ran eurythmy classes and courses in anthroposophy. By 1922, having faced numerous difficulties, she realized that anthroposophical work in Russia was becoming impossible and emigrated to Germany, settling in Stuttgart. There she taught painting and gave talks about Russia, her experience of working with Steiner, and the First Goetheanum. She painted portraits and works based on myths, folk tales, and legends, but her main focus was on religious subjects. She offered original interpretations of popular Christian stories. Following Steiner’s belief that “today, one should search for Christ in all areas of life, including in painting,1 Sabashnikova painted to explore “the very essence of color.”
In 1954, she published the autobiographical novel The Green Snake: The Story of a Life. The epigraph, taken from Goethe’s The Green Snake and the Beautiful Lily, reads, “...the Temple is built.” Her friends recalled Sabashnikova as “a thoroughly Russian person” throughout her life. Her legacy includes around 300 paintings. Some have been acquired by museums in Russia, but most are in private collections in other countries. Her best-known paintings include portraits of Ekaterina Balmont, artist Mikhail Chuyko, and poet Vyacheslav Ivanov. In Self-Portrait (1905), she painted the silhouette of the Second Goetheanum, which was built many years later. She is also known for the altar paintings she produced for Christian community halls in several European countries.
At the end of her life, Sabashnikova wrote, “Christ wants to reveal himself to contemporary humans, such is his nature. Light shines in darkness and thus transforms it. Colors emerge as His epiphany, His language. Speaking this language, comprehending this discourse in the kingdom of life, we bring to painting a sense of reality, a feeling that Christ lives in the paint. That is already Christian painting, and no other content is needed.”2
Olga Pronina, Svetlana Sholokhova
1. Bodo von Plato, editor, Anthroposophie im 20.Jahrhundert. Ein Kulturimpuls in biografischen Porträts (Dornach: Verlag am Goetheanum, 2003), 941.
2. Margarita Woloschin, Leben und Werk (Stuttgart: Verlag Freies Geistesleben, 1982), 54.
“In Zurich… I began to paint a self-portrait. My face was reflected in the second glass of a three-sided mirror so that, as a result of the double mirroring, the two sides should not be exchanged. I painted myself with flowing hair so that it formed a sculptural, rosegold mass on both sides of the face. Each of these surfaces, composed mosaic-like in colour and form, were reminiscent of a pearl oyster. The face I painted in bluish, cold-rose and warm-rose tones. Behind the head, the surfaces were set forth in the same manner, forming an architecture…What amazes me today is the fact that the architecture in the background and the treatment of its surfaces reminds one, in every respect, of the sculptural forms of the Goetheanum that was built twenty years later.”
Margarita Sabashnikova, “The Green Snake: Life Memories” (translated by Peter Stebbing)