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Michail Larionov (1881 - 1964)

Lot 84: f - MIKHAIL FEDOROVICH LARIONOV, 1881-1964

Sotheby's

May 31, 2006
London, United Kingdom

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Description

PROPERTY FROM A EUROPEAN COLLECTION

SUNSET ON THE BLACK SEA

41.5 by 84cm., 16 1/4 by 33 in.

oil on canvas

PROVENANCE

Collection of the Artist
Collection of A. Tomilina-Larionov, Paris

EXHIBITED

Paris, Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Goncharova - Larionov, September 27 - November 1963, no.68
Lyon, Musee des Beaux-Arts, Michel Larionov, March 17 - May 15, 1967, no.6
New York, Acquavella Galleries, Michel Larionov, April 22 - May 24, 1969, no.5 (also cited in non-paginated introduction by F.Daulte. ill. in colour)
Albi, Musee Toulouse-Lautrec, Michel Larionov et Son Temps, 1973, no.3 (also cited in introduction by F. Daulte, p.8
Brussels, Musee des Beaux-Arts d'Ixelles, Retrospective Larionov - Goncharova, April 29 - June June 6, 1976, no.6, (also cited in non-paginated introduction by F. Daulte, ill.)

LITERATURE

B.W. Kean, All the Empty Palaces: The Merchant Patrons of Modern Art in Pre-Revolutionary Russia, London, 1983, p.236 (illustrated p.223, caption mistakenly lists owner as The Hermitage Museum, Leningrad).

NOTE

Words of the poet Marina Tsvetaeva: In Russia there are two souths, the south of the steppes and of the sea. Tiraspol is steppe, with the river Dnestr and its herbs, sage, Artemisia, thyme... and then the steppe finally reaches the sea. This is the second south, the sea: Odessa, Yalta, Sevastopol, naked boys diving for coins. Sea with bodies. Bodies, sea and silver (Tsvetaeva, M.I., "Natalia Goncharova//Natalia Goncharova. Mikhail Larionov. Vospominaniya Sovremennikov.)

In the early 20th century the influence of contemporary French painting on Russian art proved fundamental to its own development. It sparked off a period of immense creativity and innovation which lasted until the 1930s when under Stalin the political situation became critical and artists faced emigration, adapting to the new regime, or censorship and repression.

Sunset on the Black Sea is an example of Larionov's early work in the years culminating in the Golden Fleece exhibitions. Camilla Grey in her seminal The Russian Experiment in Art, notes that paintings from this period are little known and under-represented in museum collections in Russia and the West. It is an assured essay in post-impressionism from its seemingly arbitrary framing of the scene - a hallmark of modern French art employed first by Edgar Degas -- to the vibrancy of its brushstrokes.

Comparable works by Larionov from this period include his 1904 Bathers at Sunset. Odessa, (formerly in the collection of A.K.Tomilina-Larionova) and Fish at Dusk of 1904 (Russian Museum,St. Petersburg) in which he employs a similar palette of soft pastel colours (fig 1). The dating of Sunset on the Black Sea is a matter of ongoing debate, most likely it was painted around 1905, although existing literature dates the work to 1902.

The origins of Sunset on the Black Sea can be traced to a painting of 1886 by Claude Monet, Rocks of Belle-Ile depicting the famous needle or pyramid shaped rocks at Port-Coton (fig.2). Now in the Pushkin Museum of Arts, it was acquired in Paris in 1898 by Sergei Shchukin for his Moscow mansion and hung in his music room. Shchukin and his contemporary Morozov visited Paris in the early years of the 20th century and alongside Gertrude Stein were among the first, most ardent international collectors of contemporary French art. Back in Moscow, Shchukin invited Russian artists to study his collection and Larionov was a frequent visitor (fig. 3). These visits had a catalytic, radicalising effect on his art.

Seen in the context of Larionov's education at the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, under Valentin Serov and Isaac Levitan, the paintings in Shchukin's collection must have shined as beacons of modernity. He eventually rebelled against the college's teaching methods and was expelled in 1910. Images of Impressionist art were little available elsewhere in Moscow at this time, Martiros Sarayan writing in his memoirs that he had not even seen an Impressionist painting until 1906. This was also the year of Larionov's first trip to Paris, at the invitation of Sergei Diaghilev to exhibit works at the Salon d'Automne.

In 1908 Larionov became associated with Riabushinsky's Golden Fleece magazine (alluding to the Argonauts' mythical quest), which, as its name suggests, was more orientated towards the fin-de-siecle symbolism of Vrubel and Borisov-Musatov. It played an important, almost singular, role in the dissemination of images of French art in Russia. Its ambitions changed in 1908-9 when Riabushinsky staged three exhibitions of French and Russian art in Moscow, with Larionov as its main Russian contributor. It brought the art of Larionov to the public's attention, and sealed the fate of the Golden Fleece era; Larionov's influence began to be felt among Russian artists of his own generation: he set a new standard.

Larionov's subsequent role in the development of modernism in Russia is difficult to overstate. His assimilation of French art was startlingly complete and rapid. Furthermore, Larionov, as distinct to his Jack of Diamond contemporaries, Konchalovsky and Mashkov, can be seen as an inheritor of realism, which underpins his later art. N. N. Punin, in an article published in 1928 titled The Impressionist Period in the Art of M.F. Larionov even claimed that Larionov was himself an impressionist -- painting not in an impressionist style but as an impressionist. Such an analysis is critical in understanding his importance to Russian modernism and the driving force behind his work. His later primitivism is still firmly anchored in 19th century realism; this realism is laid bare in Sunset on the Black Sea.

Larionov's post-impressionist period was short lived, some art historians arguing that it lasted only from 1903-4, others take a broader interpretation seeing its demise around 1908 which marks the beginning of his primitive style. Some of the best works were produced during summer sojourns with Natalia Goncharova in Tiraspol, where Larionov was born. Tiraspol, not far from the black sea coast, had a beneficial effect on his art, and independence from his Moscow tutors enabled him to paint in a freer, more experimental manner. In 1903, influenced in part by Nabis painter Bonnard, his palette softens into pastel colours, his brushstrokes are applied in small daubs and his paintings appear to shimmer with light.

Of Sunset on the Black Sea, A. E. Kovalev writes: in Larionov's hand suddenly the viewer is compelled to experience the dynamics of space reaching towards eternity, for there is no horizon. The sea is touched by rays of sun on the silhouette of rocks. [...] In order to capture the poetical nuances of nature, Larionov chooses its most characteristic element, a fundamental line of vision and the very moment in time necessary to concentrate one's feelings to elicit the fullest expression of the essence of the subject and its internal content. A. E. Kovalev, Mikhail Larionov v Rossii, 1881-1915, Moscow, 2005, p.43

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