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Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956)
Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956)

Versailles. L'Allée.

Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956)
Versailles. L'Allée.
signed 'Kontchalovsky' (lower left); signed in Cyrillic numbered and dated '66 (b) 1908/P. Konchalovsky' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
38½ x 27¼ in. (98 x 69.5 cm.)
K. V. Frolova, Konchalovskii: Khudozhestvennoe nasledie, Moscow, 1964, listed p. 92 as 'Versal'. Alleia'.
Exhibition catalogue, Unknown Konchalovsky, Moscow, 2002, pp. 215 illustrated, 286, no. 11.
Moscow, State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Unknown Konchalovsky, 30 March-2 June 2002, no. 11.
Sale Room Notice
Please note that the frame hanging with the picture is not sold with the work but is available for purchase from Arnold Wiggins & Sons., 4 Bury Street, London.

Please contact the department for further details.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

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Lot Essay

This highly important group of four paintings by the Russian master Petr Konchalovsky has never before appeared on the market. Led by his rare and masterful 1908 work Versailles. L'Allée., collectors are here provided with the unique opportunity to acquire the most important example of Konchalovsky's work offered at auction since Christie's record-breaking sale of Portrait of Todzuro Kavarasaki for £1,049,250 in June 2008.

Konchalovsky has no obvious peer: a leading figure of the Russian Avant-Garde and a founding member of the Jack of Diamonds group, alongside Goncharova, Larionov and Mashkov, he was uniquely embraced by both 'leftist' artists and the Nomenklatura, the vibrancy and vitality of his paintings transcending the political division. Irrespective of his refusal to adopt Soviet-prescribed themes and neatly avoiding a request to paint Stalin, Konchalovsky was nevertheless much lauded by the authorities and was National Painter, Laureate of the USSR State Prize and the recipient of the Stalin prize. From 1909 onwards, he exhibited frequently with the Golden Fleece, Fraternity, Mir Iskusstva, and New Society of Artists. His first solo exhibition was held at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow in 1922. By 1923, his biography had been published and, in 1924, he exhibited in New York, Venice and Moscow to critical acclaim. The most popular artist in Russia during his lifetime, Konchalovsky's success has in no way diminished subsequently; 2010 witnessed the seminal exhibition of the artist's work first at the State Russian Museum, St Petersburg and subsequently at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow. Well attended by high-profile figures of the international art world, the exhibition further confirmed the importance of Konchalovsky's work not only within the context of Russia but in the history of 20th century art.

The Konchalovsky family home in Moscow where Petr Petrovich lived from the age of thirteen provided a fertile atmosphere for the young artist: his future father-in-law Vasily Surikov, Ilya Repin and Konstantin Korovin all frequented the house while Mikhail Vrubel was both his teacher and later chauffeur at his wedding. The culturally rich environment could only stimulate the fervour and creativity already flowing in his blood, a creativity testified to by Konchalovsky's descendants, a myriad of talented writers, directors, artists and actors.

Passionately interested in the work of his contemporaries both in Russia and further afield, Konchalovsky first visited Paris in 1896 and remained there until 1898 studying at the Académie Julian. The Parisian appetite for discussing method, philosophy and execution proved endlessly inspiring to Konchalovsky. The artistic energy of the period is almost palpable in his work in which he was prolific, brimming over with enthusiasm and a hunger for experimentation. He exchanged letters with Matisse and met with Picasso but it was Cezanne above all others who was to provide divine inspiration.

The heady influence of Cézanne, whom Konchalovsky revered, has been well documented by art historians and the artist himself. It was Konchalovsky himself who translated Emile Bernard's Cézanne, his unpublished letters and reminiscences into Russian. On his return to Russia, Konchalovsky was able to see the 32 canvasses in the collection of Sergei Shchukin whose home, after 1909, was open to the public on Sundays although the doors to Ivan Morozov's incredible collection featuring examples of the artist's work from every period remained firmly closed. In his memoirs, Konchalovsky recalls how 'Cézanne's methods of understanding nature were dear to me. I followed in his footsteps even later, in my more mature years, because it was Cézanne's methods which allowed me to see nature in a new way and I wish always to be true to it. Even in those years I felt instinctively that without new methods there would be no salvation, no way to find a path to true art. That's why I grasped at Cézanne like a drowning man at a straw.' (quoted in V. Nikolsky, Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky, Moscow, 1936, p. 38). If the influence of Cézanne is discernable in the lyrical Versailles. L'allée., the spirit of Van Gogh (fig 1.) is flagrant. Konchalovsky first encountered the work of Van Gogh in 1907 when a large retrospective of his work was held in Paris. The effect it had on him was profound:

The works of Van Gogh have opened my eyes on painting as a whole. I feel clearly that I'm not treading in circles as before but going forward; I know how the artist should approach nature. Not copy it, not imitate it, but doggedly seek in it what's most characteristic, not shirking from alteration of the visible world if that's required by my artistic conception, by my will and emotions. Van Gogh taught me to 'do what you do, abandoning yourself to nature' and there's great joy in that.

ibid, p. 38.

In 1908, Konchalovsky travelled to Arles to paint in the location where Van Gogh had sought refuge. The influence of the great painter strengthened and clarified his composition, lending it renewed vigour. The palette of Versailles. L'allée., the rich mauve and the ochres owe much to Van Gogh as do the expressive and flamboyant brush strokes. Highly exacting and self-critical, Konchalovsky destroyed a number of works from this period, further underlining the significance of Versailles. L'allée..

Despite his commercial and critical success, Konchalovsky determined to remain independent, eschewing patrons in favour of creative autonomy. While far from reactionary, Konchalovsky's steadfast belief in the value of traditional landscapes and still lives provided him with a degree of immunity to the passion for cubism that swept over France and the more radical expressions of the Avant-Garde. On his return to Russia in 1925, he immediately travelled to Novgorod to paint the Russian north as if to remind himself of the irrelevance of fashion and controversy in comparison to paint and canvas. As examples of his mature period, Still life. Oranges and radish. Kislovodsk. and Still life. Tobacco leaves., one of a series of works the artist devoted to the accoutrements of smoking, testify to the artist's established sense of self. As Gleb Pospelov suggests, 'Amid the depths of the inhumanity overtaking his country he affirmed the greatness of humanity as preserved in the works of artists of old.'

The influence of Cézanne in both palette and subject matter in Still life. Tobacco leaves and Still life. Oranges and radish. Kislovodsk. is unmistakable. Witness Cézanne's preferred colour-triad for still lives of yellow, green and blue and the ubiquitous Cézanne napkin in Still life. Tobacco leaves., a composition first visited in 1929 (fig 3. State Russian Museum. 1929.) and the attention to form in Still life. Oranges and radish. Kislovodsk. which echoes Cézanne's handling of the same objects (fig. 2). Konchalovsky's distinctive attention to surface texture and almost sensual pleasure for his medium however distinguishes the work as his alone. Emile Bernard, Cézanne's great friend and champion described Konchalovsky as 'one of the few artists who didn't merely imitate Cezanne but developed his principles on Russian soil'. The vitality of his work combined with sheer pleasure for the painterly medium is what distinguishes Konchalovsky from so many of his contemporaries and radiates from within in works such as his 1904 work, A small garden near Rome. Peach trees in bloom., the artist's first foray into Impressionism. He described the time he later spent working in Italy thus:

For me it was a time of dreams and enchantment after the deep emotional trials of war and revolution, a time of spiritual ascent which lefts its mark on all my later work, which imbued me with vigour and joy for years to come.

quoted in V. Nikolsky, ibid, p. 92

Konchalovsky cannot be treated as artist first and man second; the separation rings false. As Pavel Muratov, author of the 1920 monograph on the artist wrote: 'He works with all his being, making no distinction between himself and his work, between effort and rest, or between ends and means' (Zhivopis' Konchalovskogo, Moscow, 1923, p. 13). By remaining true to his own maxim 'to exhibit heroism and passion in the most ordinary things' (P. Konchalovsky, Mysli o khudozhestvennom tvorchestve/Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvennoye nasledie, Moscow, 1964, p. 33), collectors today who are fortunate enough to own one of Konchalovsky's works possess the living testimony of the Russian spirit.

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