Lives of the Artists I

Speaking of Aristarkh Lentulov, there’s a story about his sense of irony and self-deprecation. He painted a self-portrait which he modestly titled ‘Le Grand Peintre’. He named the title humorously, in a way completely in accord with his character, just as his contemporaries recall.

Self-portrait. “Le Grand Peintre”

The book designer Andrei Goncharov wrote in his memoirs about how in winter the artist Alexander Osmerkin ran into a merry and excited Aristarkh Lentulov who was riding on a sled. The sled stopped and Lentulov said, ‘Sasha, I have painted a masterpiece! Come over to my place and I’ll show it to you. But first let’s go to the shops for wine and hors d’oeuvres. There’s much to celebrate.’

No sooner said than done: they shopped and stocked up and hurried home. Without taking off his winter wear, still clad in overcoat and hat, Lentulov rushed up to the canvas (it was facing the wall), turned it around, looked at it for a long time, and then he said, mournfully waving his hand, ‘It’s crap.’

Such was Le Grand Peintre – talented and self-critical.

(Translated excerpt from Irina Osipova, ‘The Bright Light of the Ringing Bell‘, The Independent, 26 January 2007.)

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