• Christies auction house James Christie logo

    Sale 7598

    Russian Art

    11 June 2008, London, King Street

  • Lot 71

    Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956)

    Portrait of Todzuro Kavarasaki, a Japanese actor

    Price Realised  


    Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956)
    Portrait of Todzuro Kavarasaki, a Japanese actor
    signed in Cyrillic 'PKonchalovsky' (lower right); further signed, inscribed and dated '732 1928/P. Kontchalovsky/Acteur japonais Kivarasaki' (on the reverse)
    oil on canvas
    68½ x 56½ in. (174 x 143.5 cm.)
    Painted in 1928

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    Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky (1876-1956) is a unique personality in the history of Russian and Soviet art. A young noble, he was one of the founders and the chairman of the Jack of Diamonds group which was formed at the beginning of the Russian Avant-garde. During the Soviet era, Konchalovsky was a National Painter, Laureate of the USSR State Prize and the most popular painter in the country. His talent was acknowledged by both 'leftist' artists and government officials. Throughout Konchalovsky's life, his art was hugely successful both in Russia and abroad.

    Konchalovsky possessed an unbelievable, vital energy and capacity for creativity which passed on to his descendants. The master's family includes artists, directors, writers and actors. The family collection is the richest collection of Konchalovsky's works, from which two beautiful paintings are presented here: Portrait of a Japanese actor, Todzuro Kavarasaki (1928) and Natalia Petrovna Konchalovskaya and Katenka near the piano (1935).

    O. V. Konchalovskaia, the artist's wife, wrote in her memoirs: 'In 1928...Peter Petrovich finished...the portrait of Todzuro Kavarasakai, a Japanese actor, who came to Moscow with the Kabuki theatre. He posed in fleeting movements: each time he would recite a monologue and finish it with a leap, then stand up, make a bow and start all over again. Only after many tries did Petr Petrovich succeed in capturing that movement' (Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvenoe nasledie, Moscow, 1964, p. 56).

    What is striking is that this painting has a direct link to a unique cultural event in the history of both Russia and Japan. During the 1920s, the Land of the Rising Sun was a closed and isolated military state, as was Soviet Russia. Traditional Japanese culture was practically unknown in Europe. The Kabuki theatre left Japan for the first time in 1928 and went to the Soviet Union. Moscow and Leningrad were witness to the famous Forty seven faithful vassals by Takedo Idzumo. Sergei Eisenstein was amazed by the Japanese acting and spoke to the 'young actor Kavaradzaki...about the principle techniques (considered absolute) of acting and movements by the Japanese actor' (Eisenshtein, S. M., Method. vol. I, Masters' Mysteries, Moscow, 2002, pp. 394-395). The actors of Ichikawa Sadanji II theatre group, who organised the first trip abroad for the Kabuki theatre, also met with the great Russian directors K. S. Stanislavski and V. E. Meyerhold.

    Kawarazaki Chôjûrô IV was the stage name for Kawarazaki Transude (1902-1981). He appeared on stage for the first time at the age of three and achieved fame in 1913. He joined the Sadanji group in 1919 and soon became the leading actor. The meeting with the Soviet dramatists, particularly Eisenstein influenced the young actor. In 1930, he became one of the founders of the progressive 'leftist' Zenshinza Theatre group as well as developing an interest in cinema.

    Konchalovsky worked for a long time on the portrait, searching for the perfect pose and palette. There are many sketches and studies, which testify to this search. The painter tried to show the seated actor (Sketch of a seated figure for the portrait of the Japanese actor Todzuro Kavarasaki, 1928, Family Collection) and moving in a smooth dance (Sketch of a dancing figure. A drawing for the portrait of the Japanese actor Todzuro Kavarasaki, 1928, Family Collection). In the end, he chose a dynamic composition showing the richness of the artistic motions of the Kabuki theatre.

    In his portrait of Kawarasaki, Konchalovsky aimed to show Russians a new manner of acting, constructed from sharp movements and rich facial expressions, as well as through symbols, which showed the full spectrum of moods and emotions of the legendary characters of Japanese folklore. Konchalovsky saw the young actor in the same way as he saw the Spanish toreador fifteen years earlier; we do not see an exotic movement, but an integral, organic part of the mysterious, unknown culture.

    Special Notice

    VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 15% on the buyer's premium


    By direct descent in the artist's family to the present owner.


    Exhibition catalogue, 6th Solo exhibition of works by P.P. Konchalovsky, Leningrad, 1929, illustrated p. 11.
    Iskusstvo, no. 5-6, 1929, illustrated p. 89.
    V. A. Nikolsky, Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky, Moscow, 1936, p. 147.
    Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky. Album, Moscow, 1958 illustrated.
    M.L.Neiman, Presentations at the Institute of History of Art, State Academy of Sciences, Moscow, 1960, illustrated p. 38
    ed. K. V. Frolova, Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie, Moscow, 1964, pp. 56, 119, fig. 78.
    Unknown Konchalovsky, Moscow, 2002, pp. 121 illustrated, 119, 124, fig. 67, 288, 292.


    Leningrad, State Russian Museum, 6th Solo exhibition of works by P. P. Konchalovsky, 1929, no. 184.
    Pittsburgh, Carnegie Institute, International exhibition of art, 1929.
    Moscow, 7th Solo exhibition of works by the Honoured artist P. P. Konchalovsky, 1930.
    Leningrad, Artists of RSFSR over 15 years, 1932.
    San Francisco, International exhibition of art, 1934.
    Moscow, 16th Solo exhibition of works by the People's artist of RSFSR, the member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR P. P. Konchalovsky, 1956.
    Leningrad, 17th Solo exhibition of works by the Peoples artist of RSFSR, the member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR P. P. Konchalovsky, 1956.