Boris Dmitrievich Grigor'ev was highly regarded as an artist throughout his life. His incredible ability and talent earned him fame as a 'great Russian artist' and 'Master of the line' both in his motherland and abroad. His paintings and graphic art were distinctive for their strong lines, bright palette and the grotesque style of his broken forms.
From 1921-1924 Grigor'ev worked on a series of illustrated publications, of which a only a small number of collectors editions were released (175-500 copies). These albums raised his international profile. Rasseia (1921-22), Faces of Russia and Boui Boui au bord de la mer (1924) were particularly popular.
The story of Boui boui au bord de la mer (In the seaside tavern) began in 1921, soon after Grigor'ev's arrival in France. In 1922 he travelled around towns on the Mediterranean coast, such as Toulon and Marseilles, keeping an illustrated diary of his impressions of his visits to poor ports and taverns. In May-June, Grigor'ev exhibited some of the works he had prepared for the series Boui boui au bord de la mer in a public show in his Paris studio. Later the series was crowned with the painting 'The Harlot of Marseilles', painted in 1923. In the same year, he decided to publish the series in an album, as a series of frontispieces to an introductory article by S. Makovskii and literary sketches by M. Ossorgin.
From the correspondence between Grigor'ev and the Berlin publishers 'Petropolis' one can conclude that some of the drawings were executed in 1923. During work on the book it became clear that there were fewer pages with illustrations than with text and that there were not enough frontispieces and endspieces: 'I beg you to send the drawings in ink which you mentioned, to the publisher's address. [...] Ossorgin's article has been split into three chapters [...] and now twelve drawings are not enough' (letter from A. S. Blok, 27 July 1923).
'The Harlot of Marseilles' is part of a series of character portraits, accentuated by traits of Grigor'ev's contemporaries. The artist's works of the 1920s were characterised by his approach to the model, whereby through the features in the portrait, one can really see the character type. The detail and grotesque naturalism of the character in the painting 'The Harlot of Marseilles' heralded the series of paintings known as Brittany, executed in the mid-1920s in the style of the Leiden fijnschilders.