Nicolas Kalmakoff (1873-1955)
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Nicolas Kalmakoff (1873-1955)

Le calice

Nicolas Kalmakoff (1873-1955)
Le calice
signed with monogram and dated '1924' (lower right)
pastel, heightened with gold, on paper laid down on card
24¾ x 16 7/8 in. (63 x 43 cm.)
Prince Sadruddin Aga Khan (1933-2003), by whom acquired at the Galerie Motte exhibition.
Ketterer Kunst, Munich, 28 May 1979, lot 600.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Nicolas de Kalmakoff, Paris, 1928, listed. p. 11, no. 87.
Exhibition catalogue, Nicolas de Kalmakoff, Paris, 1964, listed p. 14, no. 47.
Exhibition catalogue, Kalmakoff: L'Ange de l'Abîme, Paris, 1986, illustrated p. 59, no. 20.
J. Bowlt & Iu. Balybina, Nikolai Kalmakov i laborint dekadentstva
[Nicolas Kalmakoff and the labyrinth of decadence], Moscow, 2008, listed p. 359, illustrated p. 50.
G. V. Romanov, Mir Iskusstva [World of Art], St Petersburg, 2010, illustrated p. 397, mistitled as 'Smert' Adoninsa' [The death of Adonis].

Paris, Galerie Jean Charpentier, Nicolas de Kalmakoff, 4-18 January 1928, no. 87.
Paris, Galerie Motte, Nicolas de Kalmakoff, 7 February-5 March 1964, no. 47.
Paris, Musée-galerie de la Seita, Kalmakoff: L'Ange de l'Abîme, 26 March-17 May 1986, no. 20.
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Aino-Leena Grapin
Aino-Leena Grapin

Lot Essay

Branded a decadent and an eccentric, over fifty years after his death Nikolas Kalmakoff remains a fascinating figure. A Russian aristocrat by birth, Kalmakoff was born in Nervi on the Italian Riviera, the son of a Russian General. The actor Alexander Mgebrov, who became acquainted with Kalmakoff in St Petersburg, recalled the artist's fascination with the devil and his insistence that he appeared to him late at night. Given the consistent blurring of the sexes as a prevalent theme in his work, including Les femmes des Nadjis in which two beautiful women are surrounded by malevolent asexual heads, it is interesting to note the testimony of Kalmakoff's contemporaries of his membership of the Skoptzy movement. The sect called for abstinence and castration where necessary; Kalmakoff appears to have interpreted this stance to indicate that women as a source of temptation should be condemned. Much of his work, particularly from this early period, including Les femmes des Nadjis, associates the female form with ominous symbols. Les femmes des Nadjis, which was exhibited with the Mir Iskusstvo [World of Art] in 1913, adheres to the St Petersburg emphasis on line and a strongly decorative aesthetic, richly enhanced with gold. Rhythmically painted, erotic, even frenzied, the women pose provocatively while the scaled bodies of the dark figures beside them warn of the dangers of succumbing to their charms.

Despite the critical success he enjoyed in his lifetime, not to mention the notoriety he achieved following his sexually-charged stage design for a production of Oscar Wilde's Salome in 1908, Kalmakoff died in abject poverty at the hôpital de Lagny, near Chelles. It was only after the discovery in 1962 by Bertrand Collin du Bocage and Georges Martin du Nord of forty 'lost' works in the Marché aux Puces, a flea market not far from Paris and their subsequent exhibition at Galerie Motte in 1964 that Kalmakoff's work again caught the attention of the general public. Both Les femmes des Nadjis and Le Calice (executed in 1924, the year the artist emigrated from Russia) were exhibited at Musée-galerie de la Seita in 1986.

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