Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957)
The Hen and the Man
signed and dated 'P. Tchelitchew 34' (lower left)
oil on canvas
25¾ x 36¼ in. (65.6 x 92.3 cm.)
Painted in 1934
with Arthur Tooth & Sons, London (label on the stretcher).
Exhibition catalogue, Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, 1964, listed p. 61, no. 133, illustrated p. 21.
P. Tyler, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew, London, 1969, p. 404.
L. Kirstein, Tchelitchev, Tokyo, 1994, p. 58, listed p. 178.
New York, Huntington Hartford Gallery of Modern Art, Pavel Tchelitchew, 20 March-9 April 1964, no. 133 (label on the stretcher and frame).

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Lot Essay

Tchelitchew frequently exploited the natural malleability of memory to fuel his fixation with portentous symbols.
In his authoritative biography of the artist, Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) recounts an event that took place when Tchelitchew was in Tunisia with his partner of twelve years, Allen Tanner (1898-1987). While returning from their host's villa, Tanner witnessed a hen being attacked by other hens and related the graphic horror to Tchelitchew. 
Five years later, Tchelitchew painted an echo of the event, The Hen and the Man: ‘A broad nocturnal landscape frames an enormous strident bird, rearing back in swollen defiance, seeming to gloat over a supine, naked youth, passive in his phosphorescent nightmare. Haloed in fractured lightning, the enraptured or magnetized fowl is electrified in apocalypse.' (L. Kirstein, Tchelitchew, Tokyo, 1994, p. 58).
This disturbing vision, a puzzle to decipher, appears to suggest the dominance of Nature over Man, as the feathered beast looms large over a pallid, powerless pound of flesh. Like so many of Tchelitchew’s signifiers, the hen returns in his later work and can be seen scrabbling at the edge of the water in Phenomena (1936-38), Tchelitchew’s monumental Bosch-like masterpiece that he bequeathed to the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.

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