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Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943)
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Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943)

Church in Alupka

Aristarkh Lentulov (1882-1943)
Church in Alupka
oil on canvas
28.3/8 x 20½ in. (72 x 52 cm.)
Painted in 1916
The artist's daughter, Marianna Lentulova.
Acquired from the above by Aleksandr Miasnikov, Moscow.
Vladimir Semenov, Moscow.
Galerie Gmurzynska.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Exhibition catalogue, Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds], Moscow, 1916, listed p. 7 as Etud tserkvi [Study of a church], no. 109.
Exhibition catalogue, Vystavka sovremennoi russkoi zhivopisi [Exhibition of Contemporary Russian Painting], Petrograd, 1916, listed p. 7 as Etud tserkvi [Study of a church], no. 132. Exhibition catalogue, I. Khvoinik and A. Skortsov, Vystavka kartin A. V. Lentulova organizovannaia k 25-letiu khudozhestvennoi deiatel'nosti 1908-1933 [Exhibition of paintings by A. V. Lentulov to commemorate 25 years of his artistic career], Moscow, 1933, listed p. 27, no. 63.
M. Lentulova, Khudozhnik Aristarkh Lentulov [The Artist Aristarkh Lentulov], Moscow, 1969, listed p. 132.
Exhibition catalogue, M. Lentulova and E. Chlenova, Aristarkh Lentulov, Moscow, 1971, listed p. 39.
Exhibition catalogue, Russische Kunst aus der Sammlung Semjonow, Cologne, 1980, illustrated p. 31, listed p. 28, incorrectly dated and titled as 1914/1915, Kathedrale in Nishni Nowgorod.
Exhibition catalogue, Sieben Moskauer Künstler/Seven Moscow artists 1910-1930, Cologne, 1984, illustrated p. 197, listed p. 196.
Exhibition catalogue, Russische Kunst des XX Jahrhunderts. Sammlung Semjonow, Esslingen am Neckar, 1984, illustrated p. 65.
Exhibition catalogue, Aristarkh Lentulov 1882-1943: Zhivopis/Grafika/Teatr [Paintings/Drawings/Theatre designs], Moscow, 1987, illustrated p. 45, listed p. 68, no. 81.
E. Murina and S. Dzhafarova, Aristarkh Lentulov, Moscow, 1990, illustrated p. 63, listed p. 264, no. 63.
Moscow, 11 Bolshaia Dmitrovka, Bubnovyi Valet [Jack of Diamonds], 6 November-19 December 1916, no. 109.
Petrograd, Khudozhestvennoe biuro N. E. Dobychinoi [Art salon of N. E. Dobychina], Vystavka sovremennoi russkoi zhivopisi [Exhibition of Contemporary Russian Painting], 27 November 1916-1 January 1917, no. 132.
Moscow, Vserossiiskii Kooperativnyi Soiuz Rabotnikov Izobrazitel'nykh Iskusstv [All-Russian Cooperative Union of Artists], Vystavka kartin A. V. Lentulova organizovannaia k 25-letiu khudozhestvennoi deiatel'nosti 1908-1933 [Exhibition of paintings by A. V. Lentulov to commemorate 25 years of his artistic career], 1933, no. 63.
Moscow, Dom Khudozhnika [The House of Artists], Aristarkh Lentulov, December 1971.
Cologne, Museum Ludwig, Russische Kunst aus der Sammlung Semjonow, 28 March-26 May 1980.
Cologne, Galerie Gmurzynska, Sieben Moskauer Künstler/Seven Moscow artists 1910-1930, 12 April-15 July 1984.
Esslingen am Neckar, Villa Merkel, Galerien der Stadt Esslingen am Neckar, Russische Kunst des XX Jahrhunderts. Sammlung Semjonow, 9 June-15 July 1984.
Moscow, Tsentral'nyi dom khudozhnika [The Central House of Artists], Aristarkh Lentulov 1882-1943: Zhivopis/Grafika/Teatr [Paintings/Drawings/Theatre designs], 1987, no. 81.
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Aleksandra Babenko
Aleksandra Babenko

Lot Essay

As one of the most innovative and significant figures of the Russian Avant-Garde, Aristarkh Lentulov's passion for artistic experimentation resulted in a number of the most iconic images in Russian 20th century art such as the 1913 St Basil's Cathedral and his 1915 Self-portrait (both State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow). The series of paintings in which churches provide the subject matter is rightly considered Lentulov's most successful, his infatuation with colour palpitates from within, each canvas irresistibly full of energy and yet painted with masterful control.

Born in Nizhny Lomov, the son of a village priest, Lentulov received his first formal artistic training in Penza (1897-1903) and Kiev (1903-1905). The following year he moved to St Petersburg and worked in the studio of Dmitry Kardovsky, who was himself appointed Professor at the Imperial Academy in 1907. A glance at Lentulov's multi-faceted, undeniably delicate, cubistic style reveals Kardovsky's success in conveying his own admiration for Mikhail Vrubel, whose posthumous exhibition the older artist organised in 1912.

From early on in his career Lentulov's work was exhibited in prestigious exhibitions including The Union of Russian Artists, Mir Iskusstva [World of Art] and at V. Izdebsky's salon in Odessa. His work was also exhibited in many of the earliest Avant-Garde exhibitions including Venok [The wreath] and Zveno [The link]. As one of the founding members of the Jack of Diamonds alongside Natalia Goncharova, Ilya Mashkov, Petr Konchalovsky and Mikhail Larionov, Lentulov's passionate interest in both domestic and international experimentation in art defines his work. While the Jack of Diamonds was short-lived in its intended format, largely as a result of Goncharova and Larionov's demand for greater separation from Western European influence, the inaugural exhibition held at the Levisson house from 10 December 1910-16 January 1911 presented not only the works of Russian artists shaping and defining their field but also that of French cubist artists such as Henri Le Fauconnier, Jean Metzinger and Albert Gleizes as well as pictures from 'Munich School' artists Wassily Kandinsky, Gabriele Münter and Marianne von Werefkin.

For Lentulov, who had moved to Moscow in 1908, the acquaintance with the work of Le Fauconnier proved fruitful: in 1910 Lentulov travelled to Paris where he studied at the French artist's studio and at the Académie de La Palette. Working in Paris he became better acquainted with the work of fellow Jack of Diamond contributors such as Albert Gleizes and Jean Metzinger in addition to Fernand Léger and Robert Delaunay who at that time were crystallising into a group known since as the Puteaux Group, or the Section d'Or, and who published the first theoretical defence of Cubism, entitled Du 'Cubisme', translated into Russian in 1913, going through two editions in Moscow in that year. Living in Paris in the heady pre-war period, Lentulov was inevitably caught up in the informal and crucially wide-ranging group of Avant-Garde artists living there, united by their fascination with the shifting boundaries of perception and representation. Their influence on Lentulov's work was considerable and yet his work remained distinct, characterised by the sheer brightness of his multi-faceted subjects, beguilingly Russian, beguilingly National; his contemporaries referred to him as a 'Futurist à la russe'. Where Lentulov's earlier works reveal the influence of the pervasive Moscow obsession with Neo-Primitivism and make reference to Russian folk art, in Paris greater exposure to a panoply of movements including Orphism and Futurism ensured that on Lentulov's return to Russia in 1912 he became a major influence in Russian Futurism and in particular Cubo-Futurism. His subsequent work and fractured planes almost reach the point of abstraction, paving the way for such eminent figures as Wassily Kandinsky and Kazimir Malevich.

The present work depicts the Church of the Holy Archangel Michael in the Crimean town of Alupka. The church, built in response to the town's growing population in the late 19th century, was consecrated 8 November 1908. Painted in 1916, Church is Alupka is a searing modern interpretation of a traditional architectural form. In describing his working method for painting one of his most famous compositions, St Basil's Cathedral, Lentulov's declared aim was to present every aspect of the building simultaneously. The resulting sensory overload beautifully reflects Fernand Léger's sentiment on the modern aesthetic as a response to the changing world: 'If pictorial expression has changed, it is because modern life has necessitated it. The existence of modern creative people is much more intense and more complex than that of people in earlier centuries. The thing that is imagined is less fixed, the object exposes itself less than it did formerly. When one crosses a landscape by automobile or express train, it becomes fragmented; it loses in descriptive value but gains in synthetic value. The view through the door of the railroad car or the automobile windshield, in combination with the speed, has altered the habitual look of things. A modern man registers a hundred more sensory impressions than an eighteenth-century artist' (quoted in E.F. Fry (ed.), Functions of Painting, London, 1973, pp. 11-12).

The New Age required, in Léger's phrase, a 'Realism of Conception': a nexus of impressions, surroundings, colour, light and geometry. True to Léger's word, Lentulov creates a tightly rationalised canvas where line, form, and colour are all able to work independently as aesthetic features, yet contribute to a synthesised whole. And in pursuit of this 'Synthetic' approach to Cubism, the most striking element is the use of the Golden Spiral as a compositional structure.

The Golden Spiral, and the related Golden Section, has fascinated artists, monks and mathematicians for centuries, connecting architectural schemes, plant growth, shell forms and human proportion, hinting at a kind of universal or metaphysical order. By naming their group Section d'Or, it is to be expected that the French artists of Lentulov's acquaintance were interested in the Golden Ratio and Golden Spiral, with Metzinger especially making frequent use of them as details in his figures. Lentulov, however, makes much more innovative use of the Golden Spiral by using it as a structuring pattern for the composition of the entire painting. He makes it picture-wide, drawing the eye into and around the picture according to the Golden Ratio. We begin in the lower right corner, leading the eye down the row of parapets and up through the line of the green awning before being caught and reined in by the small cupola; our gaze is then drawn through the window on the central tower and around to the centre-left of the picture, around the inner set of parapets and coming to rest seamlessly but invisibly right in the middle of the canvas.

This masterful structure - certainly a revolutionary approach to picture design and one that is certainly not of the eighteenth century - combines beautifully with the use of transparent planes to inject both colour and tonal contrasts into the picture, as well as giving a sense of cubist movement around and through the subject of the picture, with the transparent planes seeming to signify the sensation of looking beyond something at a point in the distance, unfocussing and partially superimposing near objects over the field of vision. While our eyes are moved around the picture, we also experience the effects of our eyes moving and the occasionally positive, occasionally negative results of binocular vision - the great revolution of Cézanne's painting being the discrediting of Renaissance static perspective. One almost feels led into the picture, down the narrow street alongside the house in the lower right and then up the church's tower to gaze beyond it, out to sea at the boat, all the while encountering different objects to look around or from, shown here as transparent yet visible plains - which also affords Lentulov the opportunity to add variation to what would be a block of colour and add further structural elements, one of which is colour itself.

In addition to its extensive and impressive exhibition history, Church in Alupka was formerly in the eminent collection of Vladimir Semenov. Appearing on the open market for the first time in history, this evocative and compelling painting is one of the most important paintings by Aristarkh Lentulov ever to appear at auction.

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