Bacchanalia, signed with a cipher and dated 1930, further numbered "5" on the reverse.
Pastel and gouache on paper, laid on cardboard, 49.5 by 64 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
Literature: Yu. Balybina and J. Bowlt, Nikolai Kalmakov i labirint dekadentstva (1873-1955), Moscow, Iskusstvo - XXI vek, 2008, p. 249, illustrated.
Nikolai Kalmakov was one of the most enigmatic and controversial figures in Russian art of the first half of the 20th century. His whole life and work were dogged by extraordinary legends, in which a tangled web of truth and fiction was steeped in an aura of mystery. Kalmakov was born in Italy into the family of a Russian general and an Italian opera singer. Moving to Russia at the age of 22, the young man graduated with a degree in law from the University of St Petersburg. A self-taught artist, with extraordinary ability and rare industriousness, Kalmakov never had any desire to obtain a formal artistic education which might have exerted some influence on his standalone art and would most probably have stripped away its mystical craziness and charm. In Russia in the 1900s the artist was literally racing up to the peak of Symbolism, a movement which was just blossoming and for which Kalmakov, with his decadent inclinations, turned out to be very well suited. The hypnotic Hoffmannesque extravaganza of phantasmagorical visions and his sludgy colour palette with its sickly aftertaste gained Kalmakov a reputation as a kind of fatalistic artist-aesthete and “medium”. Against the background of the passion for occultism that had seized the whole of Europe and Russia, Kalmakov’s images made a real impression on the mood of the bourgeois bohemians of the capital. Without his art, it would have been impossible for us to imagine that other, decadent, opium-shrouded Petersburg of the early 20th century.
The Bacchanalia now offered for auction is utterly characteristic of Kalmakov, with his exceptional technical skill and the originality of his nimble imagination. Painted in 1930 after he had emigrated, this picture maintains the general atmosphere of his invented world, a world which unquestionably enriched the international fine art scene of the first half of the 20th century.