Portrait of Anna Sergeeva, signed and dated 1921, further inscribed in Cyrillic with a dedication to Anna Sergeevna Sergeeva, signed and dated "Paris 921" on the stretcher.
Oil on canvas, 92 by 73 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, France.
Exhibited:Exposition des artistes russes à Paris en 1921, Galerie La Boétie, Paris, 1921, No. 46.
Literature: T. Galeeva, Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev, St Petersburg, Zolotoi Vek, 2007, p. 132, illustrated. Exhibition catalogue, Exposition des artistes russes à Paris en 1921 organisée par les membres et exposants de la Société Mir isskousstva (Monde artiste) à la Galerie “La Boétie”, Paris, Édition “L’Art russe” A. Kogan, 1921, No. 46.
This portrait of the poet Anna Sergeeva was painted during the most fruitful and successful period of Boris Grigoriev’s life. Executed in 1921, shortly after the artist moved from Berlin to Paris, it became a kind of first milestone on the road to European recognition of his talent.
As early as June 1921, the finished portrait of Sergeeva appeared in a World of Art exhibition at a renowned gallery in the rue La Boétie, in a fashionable area of central Paris. Although Grigoriev joined the World of Art group primarily to solve his financial problems, exhibiting side by side with the stars of the group — Bakst, Larionov, Goncharova, Sudeikin, Benois, Somov, Roerich and others — brought the artist real success.
Grigoriev was noticed at the exhibition, not only thanks to the large number of works he showed (more than 40), but above all thanks to the “Realist audacity” that so struck the critics, and the “great expressiveness and conviction in his picture of Russia, its people and its way of life” of the new cycle, Faces of Russia (Visages de Russie). As a result, most of the exhibition reviews highlighted Grigoriev as one of the brightest talents of contemporary Russian art.
These pictures from the series People (Les Hommes) that were shown in the exhibition, and the female portraits among them, including that of Anna Sergeeva, mark a new stage in Grigoriev’s career. In them the acute individuality of the subjects combines with a vivid decorative structuring of the canvasses. A grotesque element, which had previously served as a stylistic principle of Grigoriev’s creative ideas, has not disappeared from his work entirely but has been partially neutralised and transformed under the influence of the Neoclassical trends that then seized European art. However, the characteristic “showiness” of the portrait concept remains.
Grigoriev strives to penetrate the mystery of the individual human form with his vividly expressive sense of colour, he presents it extremely perceptively and with an affected deliberateness, emphasising the crucial features, surfaces and lines.
In Grigoriev’s portraits of this period, designed to be taken in at a glance, we can recognise this artist’s hand even from a distance. But in this portrait of the Russian poet Anna Sergeeva, the distancing effect of the general detachment from real life, which was also the source of the cool, elegant brilliance of the artist’s work of the 1920s, comes together with the theme — common to all Grigoriev’s portraits of notable figures in the arts — of virtuosity. This would, some years later, be further developed in his dazzling cycle depicting actors from the Moscow Art Theatre.