Throughout Alexander Volkov's career he returned to certain themes and subjects: caravans, teashops ('chaikhanas'), roads, labour and contemplation, which appear consistently in his work. The artist's 'Water and stones' series is unique in this sense: Volkov painted this subject matter only very early on in his career in the mid-1910s and then again towards the end of his life in the late 1950s.
Geographically, this series is linked with Brichmulla, a region in the Eastern part of Uzbekistan, which served as a much loved holiday destination for Tashkent's citizens, and its nearby mountain rivers - Kok-Su (translated as 'blue' or 'sky' water), Pskem and Chatkal. Here one could escape the mid-summer heat in the multitude of fruit gardens. At times entire families moved out there for extended periods of time. Even while studying in St Petersburg and Kiev, Volkov would return to Uzbekistan for holidays and continued to spend a significant amount of time in Brichmulla, hiking, or 'wandering' in the mountains, as he would describe it. He also worked intensively, making studies of nature. By family legend, annoyed by the neighbours who disrupted him while painting, Volkov used to strip off all his clothes so that no one would dare to approach him.
From 1915 onwards Volkov began to frequent the region with his first wife, Maria Volkova-Taratunina. Kok-Su mountain river, one of the first works from this series, was painted in 1914 while Volkov was still studying at the Kiev Art College and the same year he held his first solo exhibition there. Stylistically, it is already a typical example of Volkov's work, his easily recognisable bright and warm colour palette, fragmented mosaic-like black contours and a 'frame', enclosing the painting's space. The composition, in which land occupies the foreground and the middle ground while the sky appears only as a narrow line at the top, became characteristic of the majority of Volkov's landscapes. Emotionally, Kok-Su mountain river, even when compared to other 1910s works, is particularly distinguished by the artist's joie de vivre, which became paramount to the artist's oeuvre. Describing the work from this period, the artist's contemporary and one of his first champions, Dzhura wrote: 'already at this time Volkov began to inhale the air of Turkestan more deeply, soak in its colours, listen to the land'. 'Water and stones' belong to this period, a subject to which he returned many times.' (Dzhura (Yu. I. Poslavskii), 'Zhivaia zemlya: Turkestan v proizvedeniyah khudozhnika Volkova' ['Living Earth: Turkestan in work of the artist Volkov'], in V. Volkov, A. Volkov, A. Volkov (eds.), Volkov: Sun and Caravan, Moscow, 2007, pp. 27-28).
This painting has always remained in the family of the artist. During the Second World War many of Volkov's works were taken off their stretchers so that the wood might be used to heat the artist's Tashkent home. The work was stored in a folder for a long period of time, which explains the very good condition it remains in today.
We are grateful to Andrei Volkov for providing this note.