Part 2 of paintings displayed at the St Petersburg Gallery, London, in their Russian portraiture exhibition.
So here we are among the works by artists originally displayed as part of the Jack (or Knave) of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow. The notes for each painting are taken from the exhibition cards of the Courtauld Gallery, London.
Mikhail Larionov’s (1881-1964) work below was displayed along with Still life in a Major Key at the Golden Fleece exhibition in Moscow in 1910. The Russian avant-garde artists had an abiding interest in the union of music and painting.
This painting was in the first Jack of Diamonds exhibition in Moscow from December 1910 – January 1911. “The nude female bathers form a scene similar to the works of the German Expressionist group the Bruecke (Bridge). Larionov’s use of red-orange and green, opposite colours on the colour wheel, define the figures with a jarring, clashing force.”
Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943) returned to Moscow and painted this based on his impressions gained from his Parisian life among the French avant-garde. “The artist uses a radical style to depict a very traditional subject, giving the roses a monumental quality through his layering of petals and bright blocks of colour.”
Natalia Goncharova’s (1881-1962) series of harvest paintings appeared between 1908 and 1911. She imagines a scene of cypresses and pink mountains, and the women’s outfits are unlike those she usually depicted Russian paintings in. Apelsinia was a name she invented for her solo exhibition in 1913 in Moscow. “The work reveals her taste for the exotic and interest in the art of Paul Gauguin.”
Vladimir Burliuk (1886-1917) was influenced by Cezanne and Cubism. “He often fractured his paintings into interlocking irregular segments, as if translating the principles of stained glass onto canvas.”
Olga Rozanova’s (1886-1918) typical style of simple and energetic brushwork and bright colours is exemplified in this work, executed three years before her death. The playing cards theme was one she returned to throughout her life, “emphasising that her art was based on card games often played in streets, bars and funfairs.”
Innokenti Annenesky’s play Thamyris, The Cither Player (Famira Kifared) was staged at the Moscow Chamber Theatre to Alexandra Exter’s design, which incorporated traditional art of her native Ukraine and referenced ancient Greek friezes. “With their graphic clarity and arrangement of bold colours, Exter’s designs contributed to a rhythmic framework shaping the performance itself.”
This was a design created by Goncharova for the astronomer Magus in a ballet (Liturgie) that never saw the light of day. Here she displays her interest in Russian folk art, peasant embroidery and icon painting. She was at the same time beginning her fruitful collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes.
In the December 1913 edition of the journal Argus, Mikhail Larionov and Ilya Zdanevich published Why We Paint Ourselves: A Futurist Manifesto.1 You can see its contents in the Russian typography of pre-Revolutionary times at the Lobgott Pipzam blog. In this piece appear photographs of the artists and their cohorts with strange signs and characters on their cheeks. Each design is meant to impart a particular idea to the viewer. For example, the squiggles and hash marks, the letters И Д Е А (misspelling ‘idea’) and the number 8 that appear on the right cheek of the one of the men is supposed to signify the connection between man and civil construction. The even more obscure sign that appears on the left cheek also connects man to urban construction.
For Larionov and Zdanovich, face and body painting represented a new way to keep up with the urban kaleidoscope of fleeting impressions. “Our faces are like the screech of the trolley warning the hurrying passersby, like the drunken sounds of the great tango.” 2
Part of this futurism involved the Larionov/Goncharova idea of ‘rayism’, that is, the use of lines and multiple intersections to give the impression of accelerated flashes of light. There were several followers of this idea – Alexander Shevchenko, Morits Fabri, and Viacheslav Levkievsky – offering colorful arrangements of clashing, diagonal rays to create on the static canvas the impression of bright light interpenetrating multiple spatial planes and rays emanating at an unprecedented pace from the ordinary objects and their environment. 3 These lines were similar to the Italian Futurists’ lines of force that elicited the impression of speed.
We know that there was much psychologising and philosophising in the Russian avant-garde (in which sphere, of course, they were no less than any of the other modernists in the rest of the world). But this one, to me at least, seriously takes the biscuit. There are photographs of Larionov and Goncharova (see above) and Zdanovich with various squiggles on their faces, and these are meant to signify some deep perspective into modern life. Well, strike me down with a feather.
- Ilya Zdanevich & Mikhail Larionov (1913), Why We Paint Ourselves.
- Tim Harle (2009), Fast Forward: The Aesthetics and Ideology of Speed in the Russian Avant-Garde Culture, 1910-1930, Univ. of Wisconsin Press. p. 101.
- ibid, p. 102.
In these health-conscious times it is probably not often recalled that smoking was once considered the height of style. Ever since tobacco arrived in Europe after the Spanish conquest of the Americas, it had been thought medicinal, therapeutic, fashionable. By the nineteenth century, it was known as the divine weed. Art followed life, and through the eyes of artists, we can see the evolution of smoking and smokers. Here is a series of paintings from Russia and environs.
‘Young woman with cigarette‘ by Pyotr Zabolotsky (1803-1866) is first, and a surprising theme it is too. Women who smoked were considered somewhat infra dig, and yet this lovely, evidently upper-class woman, has no compunctions about being seen with a cigarette.
Above are a couple of works by Mikhail Larionov.
I’d never heard of Teodor Axentowicz (1859-1938), a Polish-Armenian artist, but this self-portrait is remarkable.
Two paintings by the Latvian artist Kārlis Padegs (1911-1940). He died tragically young of complications from tuberculosis, and was long forgotten until rediscovered in the 1980s.
Yet another Polish artist is Aleksander Gierymski (1850-1901), who painted Trumna chłopska (‘Peasant coffin’) between 1894-95.
And here’s Pokkasakki (Card players?) by the suicidal Finnish artist Vilho Lampi (1898-1936).
Boris Grigoriev’s ‘Man with pipe‘ is from 1922, after he left Russia for France. This was painted in Brittany.
Pyotr Konchalovsky (1867-1956) painted the director Vsevolod Meyerhold in this languid pose. Check out the dog on Meyerhold’s leg, only slightly more alert.
This is a much more recent work, a caricature perhaps? Passerby – by V. Kalinin.