As a young Russian woman in the first part of the 20th century Lilya (Lila, Lily) Urvena Brik was in the midst of the dynamic avant-garde that flourished in the early days of that country's communist revolution.
Her father was a Moscow lawyer and her sister, Elsa Triolet, became a respected French writer and wife of the Surrealist Louis Aragon. Lila married Osip Brik in 1912. Through her husband, who published a number of literary journals, Lila intersected with the artists, writers and filmmakers who became prominent in the Russian avant-garde.
In the summer of 1915 Lila's sister Elsa introduced her to the poet Vladimir Mayakovsky. Mayakovsky would become one of the leading poets of the Russian revolution. After hearing the poet read his poem "Cloud in Pants" to the guests assembled at the Brik apartment in Petersburg Lila fell in love with Mayakovsky. It was a relationship that lasted, with its ups and down, until Mayakovsky's suicide in 1930.
Describing the evening she wrote:
His reading was fascinating. It was what we had been waiting for. We had not been able to read anything for some time. All poetry seemed worthless-- poets were writing not in the right way and not about the right things, and here suddenly was both.Despite her marriage to Osip Brik, Lila fell in love with Mayakovsky.
When I told [Osip] that Mayakovsky and I had fallen in love with each other, all three of us decided never to part from one another.Lila became Mayakovsky's muse and he dedicated much of his work to her. At least two books have appeared that cover this love affair. In 1979 Ann and Samuel Charters published I Love: The Story of Vladimir Mayakovsky and Lili Brik (New York: Farrar, Strauss & Giroux.) In 1987 the correspondence between the two lovers was published as Love is the Heart of Everything edited by B. Jangfeldt and translated into English by J. Graffy (New York: Grove Press).
Viktor Shklovsky, a member of the avant-garde circle around the Briks described Lila. She had,
brown eyes, a large head, is beautiful, red-haired, light, wants to become a dancer...She likes objects, earrings in the shape of golden flies, and old Russian charms, has a string of pearls and a lot of lovely trinkets, very old and familiar. She can be sad, feminine, capricious, proud, frivolous, fickle, amorous, wise, and what you will...A photograph of Lila by the Russian Constructivist Alexander Rodchenko was later used in a well-circulated Soviet propaganda poster.
In 1918 Lila appeared in a now lost film with Mayakovsky. After the poet's tragic suicide in 1930 she married Vitaliy Primakov, a Soviet general who died in 1937. That same year she married Vasily Katanan and together they lived in Moscow publishing Mayakovsky's work.
Lila died in 1978. She did not have any children.
Lila with Osip Brik
Lila with Vladimir Mayakovsky
Lila with Vasily Katanan
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