Alexander Rodchenko’s iconic portraits of Vladimir Mayakovsky represent two of the most significant members of the Russian avant-garde movement. Both photographer and sitter were deeply influential stalwarts of Constructivist ideology, their names now synonymous with that revolutionary moment in art history. Through their individual and collective creative outlets, they redefined notions of visual and literary art, production, and consumerism. While doing so, both relied heavily on each other for support, encouragement and inspiration.
Vladimir Mayakovsky, one of Russia’s most legendary avant-garde poets, was an early proponent of the Russian Futurism movement that swept through Moscow’s artistic circles in the early 1910s. Futurism emphasized Russian art’s independence from Western influence and was a precursor to the utopian ideology that shaped the next decade of Constructivist art – the movement to which both Rodchenko and Mayakovsky devoted their lives.
Rodchenko was an admirer of Mayakovsky and attended his poetry performances for many years in advance of their meeting in 1920. Rodchenko was attracted to the poet’s infectious, dynamic personality and creative intellectualism. The two were like-minded in their fervent devotion to ‘the new world, the world of industry, technology, and science’ which continually fueled their intimate friendship (A. Lavrentiev, Aleksandr Rodchenko Experiments for the Future, New York, 2005, p. 228).
Before Rodchenko began photographing he created photomontages to be used for Mayakovsky’s book covers, including his seminal poem Pro Eto (About This). It was during this period of collaging when Rodchenko began experimenting directly with photography and it was Mayakovsky who funded the purchase of his first enlarger.
In 1924 Rodchenko took six photographs of Mayakovsky during an evening of game playing in the home of writer Osip Brik; the poet was in particularly playful spirits after winning a game of Mahjong. The portraits, now iconic, were considered some of Mayakovsky’s best and repeatedly used for press and exhibitions. The present version is listed as number four of six in Rodchenko’s memoirs and described as ‘Head shot, en face.’
The present lot is a rare vintage print of this piercing portrait, a powerful homage to both artists and the historic circumstances under which they flourished.
He floated slowly.
The liveliest of the living.
The battle commander
Of the new revolutionary art front, the
Great proletarian poet of the USSR.
– Rodchenko upon the death of Mayakovsky, 1930
We would like to thank Alexander Lavrentiev for his assistance in cataloguing this work.