Dame voilée (Manon Lescaut), signed and dated 1928, further inscribed with an extract from Abbe Prevost's L'Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut on the reverse, also further signed and titled on the backing board.
Pencil and watercolour, heightened with white, on card, 12.5 by 9.5 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
Exhibited:Exposition d’art russe ancien et moderne, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels, May–June 1928 (label on the backing board).
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Exposition d’art russe ancien et moderne, Brussels, Palais des Beaux-Arts, 1928, p. 80, No. 882, listed.
Konstantin Somov, one of the most important members of the Mir iskusstva group, is represented here by the outstandingly refined and subtle miniature Dame voilée. Created in 1928, several years after the artist settled in Paris, this work is one of the finest products of Somov’s passionate affair with the miniature genre – a period of his work, which the artist himself referred to as his “intoxication with miniature”.
The somewhat languid expression of the young woman, fixed on the viewer through the black lace veil, her bare shoulders and the elegant and coquettish bend of her hand generate an atmosphere of refined sensuality, which is so characteristic of the artist’s best works. The masterfully placed colour accents give the work its harmony and cohesion.
The reverse of the miniature bears a fragment of a playful quotation in the author’s hand from L’Histoire du chevalier des Grieux et de Manon Lescaut, the “delightful” (in Somov’s words) 18th century French novel by Abbé Prévost, which remained banned for 20 years after its publication due to numerous scandalous passages. Somov worked intensively with this literary material during his period, painting more than 20 watercolour illustrations to the novel in 1926 for Editions du Trianon. A number of films based on the novel also came out in in 1926 and 1927, and must have been a further source of inspiration for Somov in the creation of this work, which most probably depicts the heroine of the story, the lovely and sinful Manon.
Dame voilée was shown at one of the most important exhibitions of the time, the Exposition d’art russe ancien et moderne in in 1928, which was the largest display of Russian émigré art during the inter-war period.