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Alexandra EXTER

Belarus (Poland) 1882 – France 1949

Costume model of a Martian guard for the film Aelita c.1923 Materials & Technique: sculptures, watercolour on cardboard, cotton, steel wire and tacks

Primary Insc: No inscriptions
Dimensions: 26.2 h x 12.2 w x 5.7 d cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1980
Accession No: NGA 80.3924
  • the artist;
  • from whom acquired by Elsa Kruger, Berlin/Munich in 1927;
  • Trude Ziegler, Munich, in 1968;
  • to Andrei B. Nakov, Paris, in 1972;
  • bought through Annely Juda Fine Art, London, by the Australian National Gallery, November 1980

This small, robot-like figure in cardboard follows the design of life-size articulated costume models that Exter designed for the science fiction film 'Aelita'. Based on the novel by Alexi N. Tolstoi, 'Aelita' was produced by Yakov Protazanov for Mezhrabpom-Russ, Moscow, in 1924. It tells the story of a young Russian engineer who dreams that he travels to Mars in a spaceship and helps the inhabitants overthrow their tyrannical rulers and establish government by the people. Isaak Rabinovich (1894-1961) was responsible for most of the sets in the film, with Exter designing the costumes and sets for the sequences on Mars.

The Gallery's model is close in design to the figures, which appear in the film as attendants to the Martian court. Two related drawings for this costume exist1, differing slightly from the Gallery design but retaining the war-like decoration of targets and club limbs.

The model has commonly been dated to 1926, the year Exter made a number of marionettes for another film project (see entires for Publicity man and Sandwich man). Although jointed, the Martian figure is not a marionette and does not appear to have been made for easy manipulation. It is distinct from the later group of marionettes in style and in the materials used in its construction. It seems more likely that study was made at an earlier date, possibly in 1923 when Exter began working on the deigns for 'Aelita'. She may have made the figure to realise the design in the round. In the film, the costume for the guards is the most encompassing, covering the actors from head to toes.

Michael Lloyd & Michael Desmond European and American Paintings and Sculptures 1870-1970 in the Australian National Gallery 1992 p.150.

  1. One, known as Machine man 1924, is in the collection of Mr and Mrs Lobanov, London, and a second, known as Warrior 1924, is in the collection of Cinématèquie Français, Paris.

Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra