Konstantin Makovsky left a monumental artistic legacy. An accomplished portraitist and a master of large historical canvases, Makovsky was also a skilled genre and landscape painter. However, in addition, he frequently returned to the subject of the nude. In his later work, the nude played an important role. From the end of the 1900s to the beginning of the 1910s, Makovsky depicted allegorical images of bacchants, forest fairies, and referenced mythology in such subjects as The Birth of Venus. He also painted nude models who came to pose in his chic studio on the Petrograd side of St Petersburg. For a brilliant master, as Makovsky was in the early twentieth century, this focus was not so much in pursuit of knowing and depicting the anatomical structure of the female body, but rather a desire to satisfy the new tastes of bourgeois society, which began to dominate many spheres of social life.
Konstantin Makovsky often exhibited his nudes at exhibitions held by the St Petersburg Society of Artists, of which he was elected a member in 1899 and where, until his death, he exhibited annually. It is very likely that the present work was shown at the XVIII Exhibition of Paintings of the St Petersburg Society of Artists in 1910 and was included in the catalogue under no. 121 with the title Étude (Nu). The stated cost of the painting was a considerable sum - 2000 roubles. Of the twenty-three works shown by Makovsky at this exhibition, this picture was one of the most expensive (in second place by value). All other works by the artist were priced at a significantly lower price level.
Reclining nude was reproduced in the Moscow edition of the exhibition catalogue. The same reproduction was illustrated in the free supplement of Peterburgskaya Gazeta [St Petersburg Newspaper] called 'Nashe vremia' [Our Time], no. 4, 21 January 1910, p. 27. The accompanying article is devoted to the exhibition of the St Petersburg Society of Artists and states: 'The peculiarity of the current art exhibitions is the abundance of the ‘Nu’ genre [...] For various reasons, this genre was hardly cultivated here. [...] Now all art exhibitions, not excluding even mobile ones, have opened the doors to 'Nu', and nude female figures can be seen from almost all angles at the exhibition of the Petersburg Society of Artists'.
If we compare the published image with the present work, it is evident that the bedspread which lies beneath the model is completely different. It appears that Makovsky repainted this part of the canvas after the exhibition, replacing the bedspread with a fur cape, effectively emphasizing the contrast of the light, smooth naked female body against the dark soft fur. It is also possible that the black and white reproduction was retouched to avoid the lower segment of the composition being perceived as a solid black shadow.
A coloured postcard of the painting was published in the mid-1910s by the Luban Society for the Care of the Poor (which existed from 1900 to 1917) and there, the image completely coincides with the present painting. These postcards were published for charitable purposes and were primarily printed by the famous printing house Golike and Wilborg Partnership. The postcards were very high quality, and Konstantin Makovsky repeatedly provided his works for publication thereby participating in charitable activities.
The striking features of the blonde model with magnificent curls, moist parted lips with a translucent strip of snow-white teeth and languid blue eyes were repeatedly exploited by Makovsky, giving a tangible hint of erotica to his works. In the later period of his career, the artist often painted with a dry brush, imitating pastel using the medium of oil. This technique is employed in the present work. The wall of the interior is adorned with a tapestry from the rich collection of antique objects owned by the artist himself. The image of a sprawling palm tree in a tub is consistent with the trends of the modern era. Étude (Nu) perfectly illustrates not only Konstantin Makovsky's late oeuvre, but also the time in which it was created. It is not by chance that in 1910, in connection with the 50th anniversary of the artist’s career, the magazine Iskorki (no. 49) featured a photo of the maestro against the background of this particular canvas.
George A. Rubissow was born in 1897 in the city of Konotop, in northeastern Ukraine, which was a stronghold of the Zaporozhian Cossacks for much of the 17th and 18th centuries. Rubissow’s father Alexis was a surgeon and his mother, Larisa, was a descendant of the writer Ivan Kotliarevsky (1769-1838), author of the well-known epic poem Eneida. Composed in 1798, the work is a parodic adaptation of Virgil’s Aeneid portraying the fate of the Cossacks following the suppression of the Zaporozhian Sich, and is widely considered as the precursor of modern Ukrainian literature.
George Rubissow studied at the Moscow Imperial Technical College until 1917. Shortly after the outbreak of the October Revolution, under the guidance of his father, Rubissow joined the Red Cross based in Kiev, and directed the sanitary train to Berlin, where he would eventually emigrate. In Berlin, Rubissow continued to work with the Ukrainian Society of the Red Cross, and continued his studies in engineering throughout the early 1920s. In 1921 he married Hélène Fedorovna Geitmann (1897-1988), a Russian artist whose works were included in numerous exhibitions in the 1920s and 30s, including with Mir isskustva, the Salon d’Automne, Salon des Indépendents, with Vladimir Girshman (1867-1936), among others. In 1924 George and Hélène Rubissow emigrated to France and in 1938, they moved to the United States. Throughout these years, George would work as an engineer and businessman with various firms.
Mysticism had long played an important role in the lives of both George and Hélène Rubissow. Inspired by the teachings of spiritualists such as Nicholas Roerich (1874-1947), Georges Gurdjieff (c.1866-1949) and Paramahansa Yogananda (1893-1952), both would publish various esoteric writings on the metaphysical state and development of humankind, such as theHouse of Life, published in 1951 by George, and numerous articles and texts by Hélène, who, during this period focused much of her energy on this area.
George Rubissow’s interests spanned various categories; including philosophy, music and art, which led him to develop relationships with various thinkers and mystics, to study music with renowned musicians such as Wilhelm Kempff (1895-1991) and Feodor Chaliapin (1873-1938) and to compose various notable works for piano. George Rubissow also collected exceptional works of art, such as the outstanding Reclining nude by Konstantin Makovsky. The fine quality of execution and stunning magnetism of the painting led Rubissow to acquire it. With its uncanny resemblance to Francisco de Goya’s infamous La maja desnuda, the painting carried additional meaning for Rubissow, not only as an art historical parallel, but also because it ignited a semantic link to the ancient Vedic concept of “Maya”, which was of great importance to him. A work of perpetual beauty, Makovsky’s Reclining nude remained a cherished painting in Rubissow’s collection, and for the first time in over sixty years, this work is being presented to the market.
We would like to thank Professor Elena Nesterova, author of the 2003 Konstantin Makovsky monograph, for providing this catalogue note.