Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938)
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Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938)

A dancer in Spanish costume

Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938)
A dancer in Spanish costume
with artist’s chop marks (lower right); stamped ‘Atelier/Iacovleff’ (on the reverse)
sanguine and charcoal on paper laid down on board
68 ½ x 35 ½ in. (174 x 92.7 cm.)
The Property of a Russian Nobleman; Sotheby's, London, 15 December 1995, lot 328.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, A Time to Gather... Russian Art From Foreign Private Collections, Italy, 2007, illustrated p. 22.
A. Purvis, et al., The Ballets Russes and the Art of Design, New York, 2009, illustrated p. 65, listed p. 64.
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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

Lot Essay

A large-scale, life-sized figure, with gracefully posed arms and confident gaze, Alexandre Iacovleff’s dancer is a model of elegance, form and charisma. The contrast between her smooth sanguine skin and the inky black of the floral-patterned lace, luxuriously draping down from the mantilla and delicately overlaying the voluminous skirt, deepens the immediate impact of the work – the model becomes a statue, a goddess-like figure to be admired. 
A dancer in Spanish costume invites comparisons with Iacovleff’s remarkable life-size portraits in oil, such as Portrait of Roberto MontenegroThe Violinist (both dated 1915, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) and, of course, his Portrait of Vera Shukhaeva (1921, Centre Pompidou, Paris). However, Iacovleff is perhaps best-known for the superb draftsmanship evident in his works on paper using sanguine and charcoal. His precise and swiftly executed portraits of the native peoples he encountered during the Citroën Croisière Noire and Croisière Jaune expeditions in 1924-25 and 1931-2 respectively, are notable for their high artistic merit, in addition to their value as ethnographic records. A dancer in Spanish costume, a rare example of Iacovleff’s grand portraiture in private hands, epitomises Iacovleff’s distinctive blend of Russian Neo-Classicism with a stylised Art Deco sensibility.  
Husband to a ballerina, Iacovleff was drawn to dancers as well as their performances, which often became the subject of his compositions. In the absence of a conclusive catalogue raisonné, it has not been possible to verify the identity of the model depicted in A dancer in Spanish costume; however, it is highly likely that the inspiration was Anna Pavlova (1881–1931), one of the most iconic ballerinas of all time.   
Like his close friend and collaborator, Vasily Shukhaev (1887-1973), Alexandre Iacovleff also painted Pavlova’s portrait in the early 1920s (Portrait of Anna Pavlova, 1924, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), and the pair grew very close, spending time together in the spa town of Salsomaggiore in Italy. In addition to the unquestionable likeness of the model in A dancer in Spanish costume to Pavlova, particularly evident in the soft corners of the model’s mouth and the line of her jaw, it is interesting to note that the Spanish costume would have had a particular significance to Pavlova during this period.
Don Quixote, the ballet in four acts and eight scenes originally choreographed by Marius Petipa to the music of Ludwig Minkus, was first introduced to the West by Anna Pavlova’s company in September 1924 when she danced in a two-act abridgement at the Royal Opera House in London. Appearing as Kitri/Dulcinea (fig. 1), her performance ‘stirred to enthusiasm alike the representative audience that filled the […] stalls and boxes, almost in Grand Season manner, and the zealous shrieking sisterhood of flappers that thronged the slips and gallery. It was truly a stirring night, starting triumphantly a season…’ (The Stage, London, 11 September 1924, p. 8).  
The highlight of Pavlova’s performance in Don Quixote would have been Kitri’s final-act solo with a fan, a dance originally created for Matilda Kshesinskaya (1872-1971) by choreographer Aleksandr Gorsky (1871-1924) when he restaged Petipa’s work in 1900.  The Kitri variation in Acte III is the focal point of the ballet; with a fluttering fan and intricate pointework, this demanding solo allows the dancer to fully express her talent and individuality. Iacovleff’s A dancer in Spanish costume embodies the elegance, grace and flair that is captured precisely in this balletic moment. 

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