Gouache and watercolour on cardboard, 48.5 by 86 cm.
Provenance: Collection of the renowned bibliographer and publisher Alexander Burtsev (1869–1938), St Petersburg. Russian Pictures, Works of Art and Icons, Sotheby’s London, 6 December 1989, lot 157.
Acquired at the above sale by the father of the present owner.
Thence by descent.
Important collection of an English gentleman, UK.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert T. Galeeva.
Literature: A. Burtsev, “Khudozhnik Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev i ego khudozhestvennoe tvorchestvo”, Moi zhurnal ne dlya vsekh, vol. 6, ed. XVI, 1913, illustrated and listed.
Before the Storm is typical of the early painting of Boris Grigoriev, who was widely known in Europe and America in the 1920s and 1930s for his expressionist Russian themes. Whilst still a student at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, Grigoriev created this painting in 1913 – a momentous
year when he spent four months in Paris visiting classes at L’Académie de la Grande Chaumičre, working from life and developing his original style of draughtsmanship.
Recurrent themes in Grigoriev’s “pre-Parisian” painting from 1912–1913 are of outdoor festivities, people strolling and women bathing. For Before the Storm the artist uses a horizontally elongated composition, the figures are arranged in a plane across its breadth, rendered in profile and shown with sharp convulsive movements. The parade of amusing female characters with umbrellas is both of a flatly decorative nature and yet filled with exceptional energy. The dynamics are those of puppet theatre, where the puppets move in a mechanically arbitrary way.
The handling of colour is driven by decorative art principles and built on the skilful juxtaposition of “glaring” colours to create unexpected harmonies reminiscent of theatre scenery. The female images contain grotesque and ironic features, which imparts a unique character to the style. In his deliberate exaggeration of personalities with distorted proportions, unexpected gestures and random movements, the artist was using impressions he had drawn from life and “translating” them with ease into decorative art.
Before the Russian Revolution of 1917, this work belonged to a collector from St Petersburg, the bibliophile and ethnographer Alexandr Burtsev (1869–1938). He was a consistent supporter of the young artist, commissioning him to illustrate Russian fairy tales, proverbs and songs.
Burtsev also bought works from Grigoriev and reproduced many of them between 1910 and 1914 in various publications that he ran. This particular work was published in 1913 amongst a selection of illustrations from the collection of Alexandr Burtsev. It belongs to the significant oeuvre of an artist who was very soon to become renowned in Russia and the wider world.