In October 1924, a team of army officers, archaeologists, and reporters, including National Geographic's Maynard Owen Williams, set off across Africa on an exploratory mission sponsored by the French industrialist André Citroën. The expedition, known as the Croisière Noire, was intended to test Citroën's new all-terrain vehicles and to seek out and document the group's ethnographical findings. Russian émigré Alexandre Iacovleff was recruited as the official artist for both this expedition and its Asian successor, the Croisière Jaune of 1931-1932.
In the early 1920s, Iacovleff's Parisian exhibitions caught the eye of Georges-Marie Haardt, associate of Citroën. Haardt could not have made a wiser choice in selecting Iacovleff, deemed "one of the greatest living draftsman" by John Singer Sargent, to document Citroën's continental crossings (E. Forbes, Exhibition catalogue, A. Iacovleff, New York, 1936, p. ). Both expeditions served as ideal platforms for the artist to showcase his talents and his transcendent artistic style.
The expeditions traversed much of the African and Asian continents, resulting in a significant amount of sketches and paintings that thoroughly documented the various landscapes and customs witnessed by Iacovleff and the team of explorers. Most of these images became known to the broader public immediately following the trips thanks to exhibitions organized in Washington, D.C. and Paris. The National Geographic Society's collection includes a number of Iacovleff's iconic images which highlight a wide range of the artist's celebrated strengths. The group is led by two large and important canvases depicting scenes from the trans-Asian trip, Kirghiz encampment on the "Roof of the World" and Polo game at Misgar. Both epic works, painted when the artist returned home to Paris, serve as a culmination of his experience traveling on both legendary expeditions. Equally momentous as the journeys themselves, they are two of Iacovleff's finest oil paintings to appear on the market.
These works display not only Iacovleff's masterful artistic talents, but also his skill in producing ethnographic evidence for a larger, Western public that would otherwise have had no exposure to the places he documented. Iacovleff's notable ability to work quickly and accurately and to win the trust of his subjects rendered the charismatic artist ideally suited to this role. His sharp curiosity and truthful eye reflect the 125-year-old mission of the National Geographic Society, which continues to encourage such research and exploration in order to better understand the world in which we live.