Remembering Mrs Solanov / by Ellice Mol

1 July 2005

This article was written by Merrick Fry after seeing a retrospective exhibition at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery about the life of Eugenie Solanov, a childhood Art Teacher of Merrick’s.

I first remembered seeing Mrs Solanov riding a bike past out house in Rankin Street. She was probably going to the library because her basket was full of books. I noticed this because the idea of my own mother riding a bike would have been embarrassing, but Mrs Solanov had a dignity and style – she was a woman of the world.

As I got a little older, I attended her classes at the Bathurst Technical College on Saturday mornings. Her classes were a bit of a shock at first, because she was my first serious teacher. I had been to lots of art classes where I had mucked about filling pages with colour and being congratulated with everything I produced. Mrs Solanov would set up a still life and come around to each student individually and speak of ‘composition’ and ‘structure’- with her intense facial expressions and an accent from another world, I was spellbound. She would open books on Cezanne with the same care my grandmother had with her bible, and she would speak with reverence of ‘The Masters’.

In my late teens I visited her home having been invited by her daughter, Eve, whom I went to school with. The house was an eye opener because most of it had been built by Eugenie and George (her husband), including the furniture. There were lots of paintings and when it was time for a cup of tea, the teapot and cups had also been made by them. The house in Kefford Street was also a meeting place for the local intellectuals and the conversation on politics and art got very heated at times. I realized I knew very little about anything, but I was excited about the emotions expressed. In my early 20’s I developed a passion for Russian literature, especially Maxim Gorky, and I realised it had started at the Solanov’s home.

It was such a pleasure to view her works currently showing at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery. What struck me most was the intense investigation she carried out on so many modern masters. One of the earliest paintings of a house and garden in Latvia has such a deep emotion expressed in a tapestry quality, reminding one of Edward Vuillard. A lot of the portraits have the simplicity of Modigliani, but at the same time are deeply felt, the artist very much in touch with the sitter. This is rare at the moment with portraiture, more to do with the celebrity status of the sitter and the artist.

In more abstract works you see hints of Kandinsky with the colour of Russian foly art. Another influence in the flower paintings reminds one of Odilon Redon. The major influence through all the work is Cezanne which every painter at the time worth his salt had to come to terms with. Paul Cezanne was like a juggler, with many balls in the air at one time. First of all there was the solid reality he got from Gustane Courbet mixed with colour from the Venecians (especially Tintoretto) this was then pulled together in a network of complex structures that still, in the end looked fresh and spontaneous.
I felt a little flat leaving the exhibition because I realised that Eugenie could have made a bigger contribution to Australian art if she had the opportunities artists have today.
A bit of struggle for artists is not a bad thing, but for Eugenie, she had much more than her share.

Merrick Fry