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Lot 252: VOLKOV, ALEKSANDR 1886-1957 Wedding

Est: £450,000 GBP - £600,000 GBPSold:
MacDougall'sJune 10, 2010London, United Kingdom

Item Overview


VOLKOV, ALEKSANDR 1886-1957 Wedding signed and dated 1927, also inscribed with an authentication from the artist's son on the reverse Oil on board, 76 by 95 cm.
Provenance: Collection of the artist's family.
Gift of the family to a close friend.
Acquired directly from the above.

Authenticity has been confirmed by the artist's family.

Exhibited: A. Volkov. Oils and Works on Paper, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, March 2007.

Volkov's masterpiece Wedding, presented here for auction waspainted in 1927, it belongs to a new phase in the artist's creativelife associated with his exploration of figurative art. The complexities of this exploration, in which he soon diverged from the mainstream of Soviet art, led to accusations that the artist had lost hisway in the "debris of formalism", and are reflected in the complexhistory of Wedding.

At least two versions of this subject are known, both dating from1927. The larger of the two is in the Tretyakov gallery and depictsa bridegroom and the men accompanying him. The second version of the Wedding, presented here for auction, has been kept inthe artist's family for many years. It can provisionally be called"female", as the composition is structured in a way so that all threemale figures have their backs turned or half-turned to the viewer,while the four central figures of young women face the viewer.We are unlikely now to learn how both these compositions relateto one another and what provoked Volkov's radical gesture, leaving only the upper part of the male procession to the history ofart. But the unity of artistic conception of both paintings, structured around the image of a musician, suggests that they represent, if not fragments of a single monumental image conceived byVolkov, then at least a single compositional cycle.

The artist's work on Wedding was inspired by his interest in nation-al culture and sense of affinity with the life of his country and itsnational heritage. Volkov was charmed by the sounds of the market squares, the processions, the old and new holidays and it ismusic. Therefore, that forms the focus of both Wedding compositions. In the "male" version, the composition is structured aroundthe mouth of the traditional Uzbek shawm (surnay) played by amusician dressed in red. In the "female" version - music andmerriment are symbolised by the jingling Uzbek tambourineslightly to the left. All the details of social life are depicted accurately, with a precise sense of scale and space. The sense of musicis conveyed with great sensitivity by the simplest, most economicalmeans, creating the impression that Volkov's pictures reproducepictorially the distinctive rhythm of traditional Uzbek monodyand solo song, often with a hypnotic effect.

The movement of figures in a circle "to the sonorous chorus ofamber faces" (from Volkov's own poetry) and the closed circle ofthe compositional structure form the counterpoint of the paintingpresented here for auction. The surrounding, the circle, and theparts of the circle vary ceaselessly in scale and colour, shifting,turning and shortening, each time embodied in another subject:the spherical heads with their skull-caps, the arched brows, therounded knees and large hands of the seated figures, the curve ofthe arc in the notional background. The picture, seemingly casually framed and full of spontaneous movement, achieves a rare unityand elegance, a sense of completion and enclosure, drawing thetotal space, the many small spaces, bodies and dimensions togeth-er. All details are consciously structured and linked to one another.The tambourine, brought close to the face of the man on the leftin a natural, spontaneous movement, "echoes" the half-moon ofthe yellow cap on the figure to the right. The dancing circle ofhands raised at different levels is depicted with great skill. Unityand strength of composition is also achieved by the smoothness ofthe enclosed forms, both by the general structure and by the dominance of circularity in the shapes, but most of all, of course, bycolour and by movement, the flow of colour. The painting is executed in restrained olive-green and grey tones, superbly conveyingthe coolness, purity and quietness of the setting and the deeplypensive mood of the guests.

The female face, freed for the first time from face veils and "veilsof silence", had a particular attraction for the artist. In art, untilthat time, there existed only the conventional image of "easternbeauty" created by poets and miniaturists, with beauty-spots, elaborate curls framing the cheeks, half-moon brows and tiny mouthssmaller than an ant, or the romantic and exotic image ofEuropean tradition. Volkov also paid tribute to this, but here, in awork of the late 1920s, he seeks a real image of a woman of thepeople, a worker, an equal participant in the new life. Before usare four young women with broad irregular faces, charming intheir rustic simplicity, completely absorbed in the solemnity of theunfolding event. Volkov depicts them with their caps rakishlypushed back to the side, massive necks, and plain, almost severedresses, and faces framed by contrasting dark, smooth hair. Thespace is shaped softly, very sparingly by translucent shadows incold tones and by light brushstrokes of white. The narrow, expressive eyes are barely shaded, emphasising the flashing pupils anddark red of the cheeks. For all the ethnographic accuracy andindividuality of the portraiture, the faces of these young womenare universal, exalted, showing signs of age.

Fusing the local colour of his native Uzbekistan with the searchfor a new figurativeness which characterised the art of the late1920, Volkov becomes part of the worldwide trend towards a newkind of figurative art, which gives Wedding international significance.

Auction Details

Russian Art Auction - Russian Classic and Contemporary Art

June 10, 2010, 11:00 AM GMT

30A Charles II Street, London, LDN, SW1Y 4AE, UK