Lot 17: Alexei Alexeevich Harlamoff (Russian, 1840-1925) Young girl blowing bubbles
June 9, 2008
London, United Kingdom
Young girl blowing bubbles
signed in Latin (lower right) oil on canvas
81.5 x 66cm (32 1/16 x 26in).
Private collection, Scotland.
Purchased by the great-grandparents of the present owners, the offered lot has belonged to the same private Scottish collection for over 100 years. Harlamoff enjoyed considerable success in Scotland after first exhibiting his work at the Glasgow International Exhibition of 1888, and it is highly probable that he returned there in some capacity to build upon this initial entrée. The family of the present owners were so impressed with Harlamoff's paintings that they bought three of his works at the turn of the century, of which the present lot is one.
The offered lot combines the masterful technique of Harlamoff with motifs which exhibit his sensitivity towards the chosen subject matter. The scene is particularly well composed, so as to ensure that the gaze of the viewer is engaged by the little girl and her actions. The area of focus is delineated by an invisible triangle, whose points are the bowl resting in the girl's lap, her hand encircling the soap bubble and her eyes entranced by it. Young girl blowing bubbles is a exploration of a number of themes which interested the artist. On various occasions, Harlamoff painted young children blowing soap bubbles, and exhibited one such painting (Bulles de savon) at the 98th Salon au Palais des Champs-Elysées in Paris, and another in the 1888-1889 16th Itinerant Art Exhibition (no.73) in Russia. A popular compositional trope, the theme of bubbles has multiple interpretations, the most poignant being the bubble as a metaphor for the transitory nature of both youth, and by extension, life itself. The little girl is painted against the backdrop of a peeling wall, emphasising the simplicity of the setting, but also heightening the effect of her beauty for the viewer. Sir John Everett Millais, Bt (British, 1829-1896) employed the same effective juxtaposition with his famous work of 1886, Bubbles [National Museums Liverpool, Lady lever Art Gallery, long loan], seating the young boy on a slab of stone next to a broken flowerpot. Bubbles was later used towards the end of the 19th century in an extraordinarily successful advertisment campaign for Pears' Soap, capitalising upon the enduring image of childhood enthralment so cleverly captured by Millais. Harlamoff also succeeds in depicting the young girl's wonderment at the iridescence of her bubble, endowing her with a poise and calm which resonates with the viewer.