Only Seventeen: Nadya Rusheva

Andréa Fernandes

Yesterday marked the 40th anniversary of the death of Nadya Rusheva (1952-1969). The Mongolian-born Russian illustrator died just a month past her 17th birthday, yet she managed to produce at least 10,000 drawings in her short life. While Rusheva is not well-known in the U.S. (her Wikipedia entry is just two sentences), she has a devout following in Russia.

1. Like most children, Nadya Rusheva began drawing around the age of 5. It wasn't until she was 7, though, that her family began to take her artistic endeavors seriously. She began to paint every day, and once drew 36 illustrations of "The Tale of Tsar Saltan" in a single evening while her father read the story to her.

2. Rusheva reportedly made no preparatory drawings or sketches, nor even erased much. According to the artist herself, "I live the life of those I draw. I first see them"¦ they appear on paper as watermarks, and I need to do something to lead around them"¦" She brought her characters to life in clean, flowing lines.

3. In 1964, Rusheva's works were first exhibited in the offices of the opposition magazine Yunost (Youth); the magazine also published her illustrations for the first time shortly after. Over the course of the next 5 years, Rusheva had 15 personal exhibitions around Russia, Poland, and the Ukraine. According to an expert at the Pushkin museum, "People queued for hours to see her drawings. Back in those times they were a gulp of fresh air, a portion of intellectual and spiritual food."

4. Rusheva is most famous for her illustrations of Mikhail Bulgakov's Master and Margarita. Originally banned in the Soviet Union, the book contains two parallel stories: the story of Master and Margarita and the story of Jesus Christ's final days as written by the Master. Rusheva's illustrations of Margarita are said to bear a strong resemblance to Bulgakov's wife, whom Rusheva never met. Yelena Bulgakova later said, "I wish I knew this amazing and subtle creature, Nadya Rusheva."

5. Academics and fellow artists have praised the young illustrator, saying, "Her paintings went far beyond the limits of children's creativity"¦" and that "her sharp mind penetrated into the depths of human spirit."

6. Rusheva's first name has been said to mean "hope" or "living eternally." Her name and spirit will live on as close to home as the Caucasus and as far away as outer space: a pass in the Caucasus mountains is named after her, as is Asteroid 3516 Rusheva.

Larger versions of the two Rusheva illustrations above are available: left and right. Fans should check out this portrait of Rusheva; this collection of personal photos of Rusheva; her Master and Margarita illustrations; this LiveJournal group (in Russian) dedicated to her; the Rusheva museum (in Russian); the collection of her work at Mini Beautiful World; the "You, as a First Love..." documentary on Rusheva; and the only English fan site for Rusheva. "Feel Art Again" appears every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can e-mail us at with details of current exhibitions, for sources or further reading, or to suggest artists.