After graduating from the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in 1904, Petrov-Vodkin, like most of the Russian art students at the time, left Russia to visit Europe extensively. Living in Paris between 1906 and 1908, he was deeply influenced by the French Symbolists and especially by Puvis de Chavannes.
Back in Russia, he later exploited the traditions of Russian icon painting which were fully expressed in his canvas Girls on the Volga shown at the 1916 World of Art exhibition in Petrograd.
After the Revolution, he took an active part in the Petrograd artistic life and concentrated on still lifes working on the problem of conveying the material essence of objects and their relationships on canvas.
He sought for better ways of showing a simultaneous view of the object from different angles of vision and worked out methods of representing space using the inclined axis device. At the same time, he evolved his three-color scheme based on the tradition of Russian icon painting.
The present painting is a pure and perfect example of what he was trying to express throughout his still lifes between 1918 and 1920.
Like most of his still lifes, the viewpoint is from above and include his favorite still life elements like the matchbox, the prism, and the apple on the mirror which can be found on similar works like Still life with Mirror, 1919 (Art Gallery of Armenia, Erevan), Still life with Ashtray, 1920 (V.Kunin Collection, St. Petersburg).
Petrov-Vodkin still lifes are basically all in Russian museums or in private collections in Russia and appear extremely rarely on the market.
The present painting has been carefully examined by the Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow and is sold with two certificates dated July 7, 2000 and February 27, 2001, certifying and confirming the authenticity of this work.
Translation of the State Tretiakov Gallery, February 27, 2001:
State Tretiakov Gallery
No. K 11/16
Certified by the chairman of the Attribution Committee...L.I. lovleva
Expert conclusion of the OE GTG
The Attribution Council of the State Tretiakov Gallery at a session of the Council on 2 February 2001 with the participation of the head of the sector of expertise of the State NII of Restoration M.M. Krasilin confirm the authenticity of the work by K.S. Petrov-Vodkin "Still-life with a Prism" 1920.
The decision is based on the deliberation of the results of the art-historical expertise of the art-historical candidate N.L. Adaskina, the technological researches carried out independently by the collaborators of the department of scientific expertise of GTG L.I. Gladkova and V.A. Liubavskaia, and also the head of the scientific collaborators of the State NIIR candidates V.N. Kireeva and S.A. Pisareva.
It was established: By the character of the composition, colouration, imposition of oils, the assembly of the representation of the subjects and the means of their interpretation on the canvas - by the whole complex of particularities - the given work corresponds to the artistic ideology and artistic manner of Petrov-Vodkin.
The visual comparison of "Still-life with a Prism" with works by Petrov-Vodkin of the 1920's in the collection of GTG ("Still-life with a Candle", "Still-life with Letters", "By the Samovar" and others) are convincing as to the authenticity of the work. In consequence of the results of the research, all the materials of the painting by Petrov-Vodkin "Still-life with a Prism" correspond to a likely date of its composition to the 1920's. The signature in a dry coloured-layer by the artist is consistant with the paint craquelure of age. It corresponds to the autograph of the artist.
The canvas of expert production is illustrative with the works of Petrov-Vodkin. The ground was investigated with the application of microchemical, histochemical analysis and thin-layered chromatography, and their results are identical with the standard.
The particularity of the drawing, executed with graphite pencil, has direct analogies with the drawing in the paintings in the collection of the GTG.
The technological works in all stages, starting with the priming of the canvas, the retouching, the drawing to the crowning of the upper layer correspond to the characteristic indications of a painting by Petrov-Vodkin showing the standard models.
Comparative analysis with x-rays of the standard [examples] from the archives of the above department of scientific expertise of the GTG confirms the hand of this artist and manifests the following general instances: the degree of legibility with the x-rays, the unique process of the structure of the forms, all noted as the work of the artist.
The possibility of an attempt to imitate this work of Petrov-Vodkin in the 1920's are excluded in the principles of historical-artistic and biographical data.
Head of the department contemporary graphics of the candidate of art history - N.L. Adaskina
Head of the department of scientific expertise - L.I. Gladkova
Head of the department of scientific expertise candidate of chemical science - E.A. Liubavskaia