Robert Rafailovich Falk, Greek Woman Inna Costakis
Russian Art

Inna Costakis Recalls Sitting for Falk

By Sotheby's

I t all occurred between 1953 and 1954 when we were still living on Bolshaya Bronnaya Street. As always, we were hosting many guests…and I met Falk for the first time. I was nearly 21 and already smoked regularly, and would run out through the corridor onto the fire escape so that my father wouldn’t find out.

I don’t remember how it happened, either someone told Falk or he noticed that I smelled of smoke. He didn’t smoke himself, but he suddenly asked me “So, your father doesn’t know?” I answered “No, he doesn’t”. So he went and said “Georgy Dionisovich, I think that little Inna has become a grown-up girl. Why should she have to dash out and hide from you if she smokes?” And well from that day forward, I began to smoke in my father’s presence and, in a word, became a ‘grown-up girl’. Naturally, I never would have thought to start of my own accord.

And then he asked my father if I could pose for him. And so I began to visit him every day at the house on the embankment on the river Moscow by the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, it was very well-known. Falk lived in the attic. He had a studio there, as well as a small bedroom and a kitchenette. They were very poor. I would always buy coffee or bread rolls for his family when I was on my way to a sitting.

It was well-known that to begin with his family had only been able to survive because there was a vast quantity of empty bottles in that attic, simply thousands, and they would return them in exchange for money. At that time, of course, nobody was willing to exhibit the works of a ‘Cezannist’. But, nevertheless, all of Moscow’s elite came to visit Falk in his studio. I met Faina Ranevskaya, Vera Mukhina and Sviatoslav Richter there. Falk truly was extraordinary.

Inna Costakis, Moscow, 1950s. Courtesy of Inna Costakis.

Whenever I used to climb the stairs to his studio, I could always hear him practising music. Women loved him. When my portrait was exhibited at the exhibition organised by Richter, some people said that I resembled some new flame of his. It was good that my father didn’t hear. It took Falk a long time to paint my portrait. To begin with he had me stand on a stool in a long blue evening dress and heels.

Originally, my portrait was intended to be full-length, and I endured ten sittings this way, each of which was four to five hours long. I simply began to feel unwell, almost to the point of fainting. I complained to my father “I can’t do it anymore. I won’t pose.” This upset Falk terribly, and he said that he would paint me seated instead. I posed in the same dress as for the full-length portrait.

Inna Costakis, Moscow, 1950s. Courtesy of Inna Costakis.

Falk worked very slowly. It could take him several sittings to create one sketch. He would constantly chat to me and ask me questions, and didn’t really let me switch off. To begin with I felt shy, and didn’t always know how to reply. Falk wouldn’t show me the portrait and would cover it up when he wasn’t working on it. Then he would come back, take the cover off it and continue working.

When he showed me the finished portrait, I said “Robert Rafailovich, that’s not me!” He replied “No my dear Inna, it is you, and you don’t recognise yourself”. I know that he had wanted to paint me nude and had, of course, asked my father’s permission. I was, however, already married by that point, and my father refused.

I received the portrait shortly before we emigrated in 1977. Angelina [Shchekin-Krotovo, Falk’s last wife] simply wouldn’t give it to me, although my father had already bought it. He paid 6000 roubles for it at the time, which wasn’t a small amount. But everyone understood Falk’s situation and was generous. Volodya Moroz, who bought his still life Potato, said that each potato had cost him 1000 roubles. But the full-length portrait of me stayed with him. I didn’t even see it and I’m not even sure where it is now. And so it was that the first version remained unfinished. But the splendid expensive French dress hung in my wardrobe for years afterwards.

Originally published in the catalogue for the exhibition George Costakis: The Keeper of Modernities at the State Tretyakov Gallery in 2014.

Stay informed with Sotheby’s top stories, videos, events & news.

Receive the best from Sotheby’s delivered to your inbox.

By subscribing you are agreeing to Sotheby’s Privacy Policy. You can unsubscribe from Sotheby’s emails at any time by clicking the “Manage your Subscriptions” link in any of your emails.

More from Sotheby's