After receiving a general education in K.I. Mai's private grammar school, he entered the Academy of Arts, where from 1894 till 1897 he studied under Il'ya Repin. In February 1897, not having graduated from the Academy, Somov left for Paris, but in the autumn of 1899 he returned and settled in St. Petersburg for a long time.
While still at grammar school, Somov had been friendly with Alexander Benois, V. Nuvel and D. Filosofov, and later with Sergei Diaghilev-the founders of the 'World of Art' society.
The 'World of Art' was a heterogenous organization with contradictory ideological principles, like many other artistic groups which sprang up at the turn of the century. For Somov the most important and precious thing in painting was the 'cult of beauty', which was associated with the contemplative attitude to the world, and especially to the world of things. He observed life from a kind of artificially created 'realm of beauty'.
As Repin's pupil he revealed various sides of his talent. He was keen on portraiture, rejoiced in elegant lines and was sensitive to the beauty of nature. He painted charming harlequins and eighteenth-century ladies and bosquets, and in these small, elegant works there emerged a curoius world of the past.
Perhaps without realizing it completly himself, Somov looked at things around him with bitter irony.
The artist creates his own 'Somovian' world. His small canvases show ladies in rosy and silvery silks and crinolines, tired and lost in dreams. Lovers talk in whispers, pass secret notes and steal kisses. Somov feasts his eyes on this life and at the same time treats such 'toy' emotions with irony.
Anguish and morbidity are even more prominent features in his 'Harlequinade' series. The critic S. Ernst wrote of Somov: 'His art gives off a sharp odour of falling roses and decay'.
Somov's work displayed features that were very typical of the age-an age where Sergei Diaghilev, one of the organizers of the 'World of Art', understood and assessed with great precision: 'We live in a terrible time of change; we are condemned to die in order that the new culture, which shall take from us what remains of our weary wisdom, should live, history says so, and aesthetics confirms it. We are witnessing the greatest historical moment of stock-taking and ending for the sake of a new, unknown culture'.
Somov's art reflected the complexity and sharp contrasts of the age. Apart from works which manifested his oversensitivity and tendency to hide from the surrounding world, he produced brilliantly painted portraits and landscapes; they will always remain landmarks in Russian realist art of the turn of the century.
Konstantin Somov died in Paris in 1939.
This painting is one of the best examples of the Somovian fireworks, where characters of the Italian Commedia dell'Arte like Harlequin, Pierrot and Colombina are overpresent in the composition.
The present picture is sold with two certificates of the Tretiakov Gallery dated 14 Juillet 2000 and 11 January 2001 certifying and confirming its authenticity.
State Tret'iakov Gallery
Experts' Conclusion OE GTG 3780
oil on canvas laid on board 41.5x56
lower right 'K Somov 1914'
The painting came to the department of expertise again on account of doubts of its authenticity raised at the Sotheby's auction in London. The first experts' conclusion was no. 2 dated 15.07.00 (OE GTG 3428).
For the second expertise there was drawn additional material for visual and technological comparison with works in the collection of the GTG, and also in private collections. In addition was undertaken additional research - at the IK in x-ray and chemical analysis of the adhesive ground and coloured layer.
Comparisons of the signature and date with additional examples confirmed its undoubted authenticity.
The types of adhesive in the ground (glue of animal extraction with an admixture of oil) and in the coloured stratum (oil with added resin) are characteristic with works by K. Somov of his mature period from 1910 to the beginning of the 1920's ("Sleeping Lady in a Rose Dress" 1913 (OE GTG 3448), "Sleeping Lady in a Yellow Dress" 1914 (OE GTG 3557), "Woman on a Divan" 1914 (OE GTG 3672), "Young Lady asleep in the Park" 1922 (GTG inv. Zh-1518).
The particularities of the drawing executed in graphite pencil has direct analogies with the drawing in the paintings in the collection of the GTG ("Lady by a Pond" 1896 (inv. 5665) and "Young Lady asleep in a Park" 1922.
By comparing the x-rays, the picture under examination with a range of additional x-rays of the works "Sleeping Lady in a Rose Dress" 1913 (OE GTG 3448), "Sleeping Lady in a Yellow Dress" 1914 (OE GTG 3557) and "Young Women by a River" (OE GTG 3608), the following general factors become apparent: the degree of legibility in the x-rays of Somov, the unique principles in the compostition of the individual elements; of the textile, the greens, the subjects having solid construction; the artist's original use of the end of a small brush building a precise effect into the drawing.
A survey of additional literary sources with large illustrative materials (in particular the album K.A. Somov, Petrograd, 1916) again presents the possibility to satisfy oneself that the artist often returned to the themes "Harlequinade" and "Fireworks", which, as is evident, were very successful with the public; that he often (several times in the same year) repeated them for different clients. Consequently several "morsels" of one composition were translated practically without alteration into their works. The structure of the coloured layer in the work under examination (the absence of parget) attests that it presents itself as an artist's repeat. In addition, among the artist's repititions is preserved the connoiseurship of the mature works of Somov with his inherent jewel-like delicacy of drawing and the clear expressiveness of his images.
Conclusion: this repeated expertise confirms without doubt the authenticity of the authorship to K.A. Somov of the painting "Masquerade" 1914.
Head scientific collaborator in the department of paintings of the 2nd half of XIX century and beginning of XX century - I M Gofman
Senior scientific collaborator in the department of scientific expertise - I E Lomize