Whether in the American Southwest, the Far East, or his native Russia, the artist's most celebrated canvases capture the folkways of many diverse cultures. Among Gaspard's most distinctive paintings are his lively depictions of Russian villages and their people, of which The Finish of the Kermesse is one of his most triumphant works.
Leon Gaspard was born near Moscow, Russia, in 1882, to parents who encouraged his artistic talents. He moved to Paris to study at the Académie Julian, where he was enthralled by the creative climate of the city. Gaspard stayed in France for approximately twenty years, and participated on several occasions at the Paris Salon. While in France, Gaspard met Evelyn Adell, an American who became his wife in 1909. For their honeymoon, the couple embarked on a two-year journey on horseback through Siberia, eventually reaching Irkutsk. Gaspard became acquainted with Siberia as a young man, when he frequently toured the province with his father, a retired army officer who traded for furs and fine rugs with the native tribes in the Siberian steppes. While his father conducted business, young Leon spent his time sketching the towns and villages they visited. The artist became intimately familiar with many remote and picturesque villages, and later adopted Siberia as a principal theme in his art.
In The Finish of the Kermesse, village peasants dressed in native costume fill a wooded landscape that is blanketed in snow. Using his characteristically brilliant hues of red, pink and blue, and painting in a dashing, painterly style, Gaspard creates a distinctive, celebratory atmosphere. The vibrant colors of the peasants' costumes explode against the more muted palette of the surrounding countryside. Accuracy in color was of pivotal importance to the artist: "It is frequently said of Gaspard that he never takes liberties with color, but studies values carefully so that he registers them exactly when he puts them on his canvas...His pictures, in the consensus of critics, show that he knows the importance of neutral backgrounds of settings for his jewel-like reds and greens and his intense blues among the dim browns and golds...It is rather a quality in which there is brilliance without garishness." (E.J. Costello, "Gaspard and the Posters," The Poster, March 1926, p. 16) Gaspard uses his color boldly, yet patiently applies his pigment to design subtle texture and intricate patterns on the trees, the snow and the patterning of the women's skirts and shawls. He wrote, "Every inch of the canvas must talk and so contribute to the total effect. Art does not stand still." (as quoted in F. Waters, Leon Gaspard, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 1981, p. 42)
In New York, Gaspard painted several depictions of the kermesse, perhaps as an homage to his homeland. In 1916 when Gaspard emigrated to America, he exhibited a small work titled Le Retour de Kermesse, at the winter exhibition of the National Academy of Design. The painting poignantly depicted a group of Russian peasants, and was met with critical acclaim: "The picture has attracted notice of artists and laymen alike by the skillful way the painter has arranged and harmonized the significant spots of strong color. None could mistake it for the work of anyone but a native Russian; and it had the qualities that made the work of a few really distinguished Russian painters so notable." (Leon Gaspard, p. 36) For its high degree of sophistication and sheer exuberance, The Finish of the Kermesse ranks as one of the artist's most ambitious and dramatic masterworks of village life in Russia.