Alexei Harlamoff seems to have been aware of the future market for his work from when he had arrived in Paris. The place where Harlamoff forged his reputation was the Salon in Paris. He won a medal in 1878 with his portrait of Alexander F. Onegin. Many of his major portraits appeared at the Salon, and they were greeted with critical acclaim. The young Russian painter successfully challenged French artists by the force and originality of his characterization. His work broke new ground and made that of his contemporary, Leon Bonnat, look dull.
Harlamoff's half-length portraits of the Viardots (catalogue raisonné nos. 239 & 240) were those through which he came to public attention, and on which his contemporary reputation rested. He did, however, paint also distinguished three-quarter-length portraits like those of Turgenev (catalogue raisonné no. 242) which displays another fine psychological side to his art. A series of female portraits of 1884 form a homogeneous group of particularly fine quality. The sitters are women of markedly aristocratic descent.
Though Harlamoff's feeling for nuances and mysterious atmospheres, his quick touch and searching brushwork were particularly well and much more adapted to the depiction of young girls. The late seventies and early eighties, which is the most exciting and formative period in the development of his art, is plentiful recorded by his paintings, but the least well documented in archival material.
The artistic rendering of young girls was Harlamoff's natural arena. Yet his first exhibited portraits demonstrate an astonishing precocity. His sitters confront the viewer in direct and challenging ways, they present complex psychological histories. At the same time, these portraits can stand in comparison with the old masters in their unity of tone, their powerfully theatrical lighting and their largeness of design.
But Harlamoff surpassed his contemporary artists in a carefully selected niche and his artistic rendering of young girls has no precursor or successor. The rendering of young girls takes a very special place within Harlamoff's mind. Harlamoff's dashing brushwork and flickering accents of light which impart such immediacy to all these special pictures give way to a measured harmony and a well orchestrated compositional design.
The freedom, which Harlamoff enjoyed, to experiment and invent in the artistic rendering of young girls owed much to the painterly genius of Mariano Fortuny, who arrived in Paris 1866. In 1874 Fortuny died from malarial fever, and Harlamoff took his place with the art-dealer Adolphe Goupil. Goupil was quick to detect the originality of this young, Russian painter and to allow him a free hand in his depiction of children. Harlamoff was enormously productive in the seventies and eighties. As well as formal portraits, he threw off 'portraits' of young girls in an outpouring of creative energy. He seems to have needed the spur of constant artistic activity.
His renderings of young girls represent a sharpening of his powers of observation, a responsiveness to subtleties of light and shade and spatial relationships, a feeling for the mysteries of human innonence, and bold experiments in technique (dashing brushwork), an exposition of bravura painting. His skill in recreating the textures of the real world, in bringing his sitters to life with so much vitality and intensity, developed through a process of continuous practice.
Moody Girl represents a typical work from Harlamoff's mature period starting with the late eighties. He then often created compositions with two or more figures, depicting either 'Young girls playing' or 'Elder girls teaching their young sisters' or 'Mothers with their children.' In our catalogue raisonné we have arranged the various young girls accoring to their phenotype determined by their observable appearance. In this painting the placidly smiling young woman belongs to the characteristic subgroup 'lovely rose girl' (catalogue raisonné no. 23, pl. 15) (fig. 1). The young girl evidently has grown up and probably has become a mother. On her lap rests a playful young girl from the 'Vladikavkas-type.' Harlamoff had repeately favored this type in many of his single figure paintings. The young girl is particularly close to Girl with apples (catalogue raisonné no. 145, pl. 136) (fig. 2).
Harlamoff has placed the two figures in a partly lit rustic interior with unevenly plastered walls. Furnishing, table and wall decoration repeat the typical compositional elements in many of Harlamoff's genre pictures. The heads of the two sitters are invariably modelled in a raking side light with impasted brushstrokes that give solidity of mass and clarity of form. Harlamoff excelled here with his insight into the subtleties of illumination. The costumes painted in vibrant brushstrokes, they help to impart movement and immediacy to his characterizations. Thus Harlamoff deployed once again his painterly means and displayed a superlative facility in execution of different material.
The painting was exhibited at the 32. Itinerant Exhibition in 1904 - 1905 (catalogue raisonné no. 202). Harlamoff usually equipped exhibitions with paintings not older than five years. This known habit of Harlamoff and stylistic reasons support our tentative dating of the present paintng to circa 1900.
We would like to thank Mr. Eckart Lingenauber and Ms. Olga Sugrobova-Roth for confirming the authenticity of this lot and preparing this catalogue entry.
(fig. 1) A. A. Harlamoff, Girl.
(fig. 2) A. A. Harlamoff, Girl with apples, Private Collection.