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

Spanish landscape

Petr Konchalovsky (1876-1956)
Spanish landscape
signed in Cyrillic and dated 'P. Konchalovskii/1910.' (lower left); further signed, inscribed, dated and numbered '126 1910/P. Kontchalovsky/126' (on the reverse)
oil on canvas
25½ x 31¾ in. (65 x 81 cm.)
The family of the artist, France.
Exhibition catalogue, Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds],
The house of Levisson, Moscow, 1910, listed p. [4], no. 93.
Exhibition catalogue, Vystavka kartin obschestva Bubnovyi Valet [Exhibition of paintings from the Jack of Diamonds society], The Swedish Church of St Catherine, St Petersburg, 1913, listed p. 6, no. 50 or 52.
K. V. Frolova, Konchalovskii: Khudozhestvennoe nasledie [An artistic legacy], Moscow, 1964, listed p. 95, no. 120.
Exhibition catalogue, Petr Petrovich Konchalovskii, Russian Academy of Arts, Moscow, 1968, listed p. 39.
N. Avtonomova et al, The Unknown Konchalovsky, Moscow, 2002, listed p. 70, 72, 83 & 84.
Probably, Zhivopis' Konchalovskogo [Konchalovsky's Painting], Moscow, 2006, listed p. 92 as 'Gornii peisazh v Ispanii' [Mountain landscape in Spain].
Moscow, Exhibition of the Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds]
Society, The house of Levisson: 32 Bolshaiia Dmitrovka Street, 10 December 1910-16 January 1911, no. 93.
Moscow, Exhibition of the Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds] Society, The Economic Society, 23 (or 25) January-26 February 1912, no. 95.
St Petersburg, Exhibition of the Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds] Society, The Swedish Church of St Catherine, 3 April-1 May 1913, no. 50 or 52.
Moscow, 1st solo exhibition, State Tretyakov Gallery, April 1922.
Leningrad, 6th solo exhibition, State Russian Museum, March-June 1929.
Moscow, Leningrad, 10th solo exhibition: k 35-letiiu tvorcheskoi deiatel'nosti [35 years of artistic endeavour], The Fellowship of Moscow Artists, March 1941.
Moscow Petr Petrovich Konchalovskii, Russian Academy of Arts, 1968.

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Lot Essay

'I was struck by those bright colours: yellow sand, blue sky and perfectly emerald shadows on the sand. Later, when I painted the bullfight, I was afraid to go with the colours all the way - no one would believe such unseemly bright splashes.'

V. I. Surikov, Pis'ma. Vospominaniya [Letters. Recollections], Moscow, 1977, pp. 271-276

Petr Konchalovsky's Spanish landscape, a bold vista combining the intensity of the Mediterranean sun with the dynamism of the natural terrain, is testimony to the artist's indisputable burgeoning talent following his career-defining visit to Spain. Painted in 1910, this work is one of a small number of seminal canvasses painted during the same year, including the acknowledged masterpieces Bullfight in Seville (Private collection), Spanish room (State Tretyakov Gallery), Matador Manuel Garcia (State Russian Museum) and Portrait of the artist G. Yakulov (State Tretyakov Gallery). The significance of this year in Konchalovsky's career cannot be overstated; in December he participated in the first landmark Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds] exhibit that opened in Moscow. Spanish landscape was exhibited alongside the jaw-dropping work of thirty-seven of the most important Russian artists of the 20th century, including Goncharova, Falk, Larionov, Kandinsky, Malevich, Burliuk and Jawlensky. Crucially, it was this year that the vital and energetic young artist, immortalised in Mashkov's controversial double-portrait of 1910, achieved new artistic heights. Last exhibited in 1964, Spanish landscape appears at auction for the first time and is a key work from what is arguably the most important and sought-after period of the artist's career.

In order to evaluate the importance of this painting, one must first appreciate the context of the work in the artist's development. The Konchalovsky family home in Moscow provided a fertile atmosphere for the inquisitive and talented artist: Vasily Surikov (his future father-in-law), Ilya Repin and Konstantin Korovin - three of the most important artists in Russian Art - all frequented the house. This culturally rich environment stirred the creativity already flowing in Konchalovsky's blood, as shown by his descendants, a myriad of talented writers, directors, artists and actors.

Exhilarated and inspired by the work of his contemporaries both in Russia and abroad, 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 fired Konchalovsky's appetite for knowledge and it is this artistic energy that is palpable in his early work and shows his willingness to experiment. Konchalovsky exchanged letters with Matisse and met with Picasso but it was Cézanne, above all others, who was to have the greatest impact. Konchalovsky himself translated Emile Bernard's Cézanne, his unpublished letters and reminiscences into Russian. In his memoirs, Konchalovsky recalls how 'Cézanne's methods of understanding nature were dear to me [...] it was Cézanne's methods that 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).

Konchalovsky was already an accomplished artist when in 1910 he accompanied Surikov on a visit to Spain, touring Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Seville, Valencia and Barcelona. For Konchalovsky, the beauty of the native landscape was as much an inspiration as the strong school of national art. Particularly drawn to Diego Velázquez, whose work also inspired Pablo Picasso and Salvador Dali, Konchalovsky became fascinated by purity of form, intensity of colour and the strength of contrasts. His palette grew markedly richer, more vibrant: 'For me, Spain is a long poem in black and white. It is how I felt and how I had to paint it. During my stay there I was obsessed with an idea to master the art of simple, synthetic colours' (Ibid. p. 22).

During the trip Konchalovsky sketched furiously; he painted the oils on his return to Caldetas, near Arles. His well-known depictions of bullfighting skillfully reflect the passion and primitivism of the spectacle by his use of nave forms of what Konchalovsky himself termed 'muzhik' simplicity. In Konchalovsky's landscapes from the period, we are reminded of Czanne's instruction to Emile Bernard to 'Treat nature by the cylinder, the sphere, the cone', yet we cannot fail to notice Konchalovsky's distinctive painterly expression. Spanish landscape, free from the tenets of traditional naturalism, is rich in the striking beauty of light, the elements and the mountainous terrain. The rhythm of the undulating landscape, captured by Konchalovsky's sweeping strokes of pure colour, renders the plasticity of the trees and earth in a confident and powerful way that captures the brilliance of that sun-drenched and apparently timeless world. Man, whose presence is represented by the cart and driver in the centre of the composition is almost enveloped, even consumed, by the natural forms that surround and overpower him. In this way, the distinction between man and nature is blurred, perspective is flattened and we are presented with a dynamic composition that artfully draws you into the verdant landscape.

As an artist, Konchalovsky has no obvious peer: 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.

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 [Thoughts on artistic work/Konchalovsky. An artistic legacy] Moscow, 1964, p. 33), collectors today who are fortunate enough to own one of Konchalovsky's works possess the living testimony of one of the most extraordinary Russian artists of the 20th century. The appearance of Spanish landscape at auction, a painting which was shown at the inaugural Bubnovyi Valet exhibition, is an opportunity to acquire not only a master work by Konchalovsky but furthermore an important piece of Russian Art history.

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