Whether in the American Southwest, the Far East, or his native Russia, Leon Gaspard's most celebrated canvases capture the folkways of many varied cultures. Among the artist's most distinctive paintings are his lively depictions of Russian villages and their people, of which the present work, Siberian Cossack Girl is one of the artist's most intimate and engaging.
Leon Gaspard was born near Moscow, Russia, in 1882, to parents who encouraged his artistic talents. He moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, where he was enthralled by the creative climate of the city. Gaspard stayed in France for approximately twenty years, and participated on several occasions at the Paris Salon. While in France, Gaspard met Evelyn Adell, an American who became his wife in 1909. For their honeymoon, the couple embarked on a two-year journey on horseback through Siberia, eventually reaching Irkutsk. Gaspard became acquainted with Siberia as a young man, when he frequently toured the province with his father, a retired army officer who traded for furs and fine rugs with the native tribes in the Siberian steppes. While his father conducted business, young Leon spent his time sketching the towns and villages they visited. The artist became intimately familiar with many remote and picturesque villages, and later adopted Siberia as a principal theme in his art.
From his highly academic training under Adolphe Bouguereau as well as his exposure to Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism during his stay in Paris, to his immersion in small villages such as Taos, New Mexico and the remote areas of the Gobi desert, Gaspard developed a distinct style of direct painting that captured his daily interactions with each regions' people in an enchanting an inspiring way. A Parisian critic once commented, "the work of Leon Gaspard is a most truthful and significant document of the habits and costumes of the moujiks, workmen, vagabonds, and poor wretches of the Russian country...They are animated documents, too, taken from life with realistic sincerity... They are admirably composed and have a fine sense of color." (F. Waters, Leon Gaspard, Flagstaff, Arizona, 1964, p. 24) Documentary in its recounting of village life, immediately engaging with its viewer's direct gaze to reveal a haunting narrative, and beautifully painted with its rich patterning and palette, Siberian Cossack Girl exists as a powerful portrait from one of the twentieth century's most diverse and poignant artists.