Alexandra Exter, born 1882, was a Russian painter and designer of Polish birth. After graduating in 1906 from art school in Kiev, Exter moved to Paris in 1908, where she studied at the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. The following year she rented a studio in Paris and became acquainted with Picasso, Braque, Guillaume Apollinaire, Max Jacob and with the Italian Futurists Filippo Marinetti, Giovanni Papini and Ardengo Soffici (with whom she shared a studio in 1914). In Paris she also attended the Vasil’yeva Free Russian Academy, where Fernand Léger gave two important lectures on modern art. In the years 1909–14 Exter travelled extensively between Paris, Moscow and Kiev, playing an important role in disseminating Cubist and Futurist ideas among the Russian avant-garde. She participated in many important avant-garde exhibitions in Russia and the Ukraine, including David Burlyuk’s Link (Kiev, 1908), the first and second Izdebsky Salons (Odessa, 1909–10; Kiev and St Petersburg, 1910–11), and the first and last shows of the Union of Youth in St Petersburg (1910 and 1913–14). She also exhibited in Paris at the Section d’Or (1912) and at the Salon des Indépendants (1912 and 1914), and in Rome at the International Futurist Exhibition (1914).
In Exter’s work the gradual assimilation of Cubist and Futurist ideas was never divorced from a decorative interest in colour and rhythm. From the summer of 1914 Exter was based in Russia, exhibiting with the avant-garde in the exhibitions Tramway V: The first Futurist exhibition of paintings (Petrograd, March 1915) and The Store (Moscow, 1916). Her paintings became totally abstract, exploring a personal interpretation of Malevich’s Suprematist style.
In 1916 Exter began working for Aleksandr Tairov’s Kamerny Theatre in Moscow. Her experiments in theatrical design included treating the costumes almost as abstract sculptures, reducing the set to movable three-dimensional geometric forms and using mobile coloured lights to dramatize the effects.
In 1924, Exter and her husband emigrated to France and settled in Paris, where she initially became a professor at the Academie Moderne. From 1926 to 1930, Exter was a professor at Fernand Léger's Académie d'Art Contemporain. In 1933, she began creating beautiful and original illuminated manuscripts in gouache on paper - The "Callimaque" manuscript (c. 1939, the text being a French translation of a hymn by Hellenistic poet Callimachus) is widely regarded as a masterpiece. In 1936, she participated in the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art in New York and went on to have solo exhibitions in Prague and in Paris. She was a book illustrator for the publishing company Flammarion in Paris from 1936 until her death in 1949.