Boris Dmitrievich Grigor'ev (1886-1939)
Boris Dmitrievich Grigor'ev (1886-1939)

The Children

Boris Dmitrievich Grigor'ev (1886-1939)
The Children
signed and dated 'Boris Grigorieff/922' (upper left)
oil on canvas
39½ x 32 1/8 in. (100.3 x 81.6 cm.)
Painted in 1922
Exhibition catalogue, Paintings and Drawings by Boris Grigoriev, New York, The New Gallery, 1923, no. 6, illustrated on cover.
Exhibition catalogue, Exhibition of Paintings by Boris Grigoriev, Worcester, Worcester Art Museum, 1924, no. 10, illustrated.
Possibly, New York, The New Gallery, November 1922, no. 3 (exhibition label on the reverse).
New York, The New Gallery, Paintings and Drawings by Boris Grigoriev, 6 April - 28 April 1923, no. 6.
Worcester, Worcester Art Museum, Exhibition of Paintings by Boris Grigoriev, 4 January - 3 February 1924, no. 10.

Lot Essay

Born in Rybinsk, Boris Grigor'ev studied at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg under Aleksandr Kiselev and Dmitrii Kardovskii before relocating to Paris in 1912, where he attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière. Establishing himself as a portraitist, Grigor'ev captured many of his contemporaries on canvas, including Anna Akhmatova, Boris Kustodiev and Nikolai Roerich, with his distinctive style which relied heavily on the traditions of icon painting. His tendency towards grotesque stylisation, with an emphasis on line, lent itself to graphic work, as seen in his illustrations for the publications Novyi Satirikon and Apollon. His style was as innovative as it was au courant as the critic Igor' Grabar' later observed, 'He took what he considered necessary - something from Cubism, a little from Cézanne - and worked out his own Grigorievesque style, which on one side, touched on the work of Petrov-Vodkin, on the other, that of the French Post-Impressionists.' (I. Grabar', as cited in D. Ia. Severiukhin and O. L. Leikind, Khudozhniki russkoi emigratsii (1917-1941), St. Petersburg, 1994, p. 171.)

Grigoriev first found international fame with his Rasseïa cycle (circa 1916-1921) which combined his gift for portraiture with a critical eye and looked to the Russian countryside and peasant village life for subject-matter. As Louis Réau explains, 'the title Rasseïa was chosen to suggest a land of villages and boroughs populated by peasants and workmen - the Russia that Grigor'ev wished to capture in his portraits and genre scenes' (B. Grigor'ev, Faces of Russia, London, 1924, p. 16). As with his other cycles, including Intimité (1914-18) and Boui Bouis (1921), Grigor'ev chose everyday people as his subjects, finding in the farmers, sailors and showgirls a psychological depth that he was able to capture on canvas. Grigor'ev's portraits transformed these figures into modern-day oracles, imparting a sense of gravitas and wisdom seemingly at odds with the reality of their status.

'The Children' is an extremely powerful image, highlighting Grigor'ev's unique abilities as a portraitist. Painted in 1922, the work appears to have been executed during the artist's stay in Normandy. Indeed, a photograph of the work appears in the artist's archives entitled 'Les enfants français' (Fig. 1). Perhaps an indication of the harsh conditions of post-War France, the children appear far older than their years, the only true indicator of the boy's age is his clothing. The earthy palette and the formless landscape serve to illuminate further the faces of the pair, whose expressions are both startling and instantly memorable. The boy's lugubrious face is turned towards the girl, his gaze is fixed upon her in a look expressing dependence, expectation or perhaps even desire - all feelings synonymous with adolescence. Despite the physical proximity of the children, Grigor'ev expresses the gulf between them; the clenched fist and tense expression of the girl reveals a hidden torment which cannot be assuaged.

Supported by the critic Christian Brinton and James Rosenberg, the artist's representative in America, Grigor'ev exhibited many works from this period with great success in New York during 1922-24. His arresting figures made a profound impression upon the American public who was enraptured by the dramatic narratives of his insightful portraits. In the foreword of the 1924 exhibition at the Worcester Art Gallery, in which 'The Children' was included, Christian Brinton in part explains the emotional appeal of Grigor'ev's work, 'Despite its manifest preoccupation with problems of line and form, its evident sympathy with current neo-classicm, the vision of Grigoriev is in essence romantic. It is romantic as Gorky is romantic; romantic as are the soul-racked pages of Fyodor Dostoevsky. In brief, it is feeling, not form, that maintains ascendency in these vital, invigorating canvases.'

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