Allegorical Scene, signed, insribed "Paris", and dated 1925.
Oil on canvas, 222.5 by 354.5 cm.
Provenance: Collection of Garig Basmadjian, Paris, since before 1988. Russian Art, Sotheby’s New York, 17 April 2007, lot 407. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner. Private collection, UK.
Exhibited:Vystavka khudozhestvennykh proizvedenii XVI–XX vekov iz sobraniia G. Basmadzhana, State Tretyakov Gallery; State Hermitage Museum, 5 July–25 September 1988.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Vystavka khudozhestvennykh proizvedenii XVI– XX vekov iz sobraniia G. Basmadzhana, Paris, 1988, p. 20, illustrated.
Konstantin Korovin’s large-scale fireplace panel Allegorical Scene, now presented for auction, is a rare and remarkable example of the artist’s decorative art. Painted in 1925 in Paris and probably commissioned for the interior décor of a private residence, it is full of reminiscences of the brilliant period of Russian art in the Art Nouveau period, the Abramtsevo Circle’s art studios and Diaghilev’s celebrated Russian Seasons.
Korovin, who had carried out much successful work as a theatre artist and had experience in designing exhibition pavilions in Russia, was well aware of the specific nature of decorative painting and the tasks it involved. Here he chooses a deliberately two-dimensional, symbolic treatment for his composition, extending it like a frieze and filling it with allegorical meaning. The narrative idea of the panel is based on the theme of the abundance stemming from a happy reign, symbolised by the rich basket of fruit in the centre and the two images of King David on either side. On the left, he is portrayed as a youthful, fair-haired shepherd who holds a harp and knows how to soothe Saul’s irascible soul with the sound of his music, while, on the right, he is a strong, noble young ruler who has defeated his enemies and augmented the territory and fame of his homeland. Korovin depicts his main character as if he were stepping out of the posters for the famous tours of the Ballets Russes, dressed in Bakst’s or Dobuzhinsky’s costumes, against the background of an autumnal forest aglow with yellow and ochre tints and treated like a symbolic, flat, theatrical backdrop. We see before us an artist’s nostalgic reverie, resurrecting the artistic images of the first decade of the 20th century and recalling a serene, backward- looking fascination with “art for art’s sake”.
Allegorical Scene is a painting with a remarkable provenance: it comes from the collection of Garig Basmadjian, one of the most renowned figures in the antique market of the 1970s and 1980s, whose collection included top-class works of Russian art.