30 November 2016
Flowers on a Blue Background, signed, also further signed and dated 1908 on the reverse.
Oil on canvas, 69 by 45 cm.
Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist’s family by the previous owner in the 1990s.
Russian Art Evening Sale, Sotheby’s London, 30 November 2009, lot 226.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Private collection, UK.
Literature: Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1964, p. 95, listed as “zhi 121” under works from 1910.
Flowers on a Blue Background, dated 1908–1910, reflects a crucial period in the oeuvre of Petr Konchalovsky. It was painted in France or shortly after the artist’s return from 18 months of travel in Europe, a period when he was under a direct influence of French modernists.
Konchalovsky arrived in Paris in the autumn of 1907 and promptly visited the exhibition 100 Works by Van Gogh. The young Russian artist was so impressed by what he saw that he would carry the exhibition catalogue everywhere with him. He wrote enthusiastically of his acquisition of the catalogue in a letter to Ilya Mashkov, specifically pointing out that much could be learnt just from reading Van Gogh’s letters. The Dutchman’s floral still lifes and thoughts on painting from life were particularly relevant to Konchalovsky: “I constantly get nourishment from nature. Sometimes I exaggerate, altering what I have seen, but I never invent a painting. On the contrary, it already exists in nature and only needs to be discovered.”
These words can be used to describe the course of Konchalovsky’s work from that time onwards – no wonder he would constantly repeat them. The artist abandoned the impressionistic style that characterised his earlier years and immersed himself in a quest to reveal expressive properties of colour. “The works of Van Gogh,” Konchalovsky would write many years later, “opened my eyes to my own painting. I realised that I was no longer going around in circles, like before, but moving forward, and that I now knew how I, as an artist, should approach nature. I should not replicate it, but instead persistently look for the typical; and not hesitate to alter the reality if my artistic vision requires it. Van Gogh taught me, as he himself said, “to do what you do, surrendering to nature”, and this revelation was a great joy ... ”
Artistic discoveries that Konchalovsky made during that trip to Europe prompted a transformation in his own artistic vision. In Paris, Konchalovsky befriended Nikolai Tarkhoff, who had emigrated there a while ago. Tarkhoff was instrumental in introducing him not only to Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne, but also to the “trendy” Fauvists: Henri Matisse, André Derain, Georges Braque and Maurice de Vlaminck.
Konchalovsky’s enthusiasm for these painters is palpable in Flowers on a Blue Background. Even the subject of this and his other floral still lifes from the end of the 1910s owes a debt to his French contemporaries. Discovering his own individual style, Konchalovsky strives to integrate the most progressive artistic discoveries. As a result, his works often exhibit a complex mix of various stylistic influences integrated into one whole. Dramatic contrasts and reflections of colour, and the concise, expressive artistic language are complemented by a compositional symmetry and balanced colour combinations. Konchalovsky liked to reconcile the contrasting styles of his favourite artists, feeling that this challenging task opened up numerous possibilities for his very own artistic pursuits.
Olga Konchalovskaya, commenting on another painting by her husband from the same period as Flowers on a Blue Background, famously said that a work created at the start of the 20th century as an imitation of the manner of contemporary French artists, 50 years later will no longer be viewed this way; rather, it will come across as the “most genuine”, characteristic and brilliant example of Konchalovsky’s output at the time of his bold and innovative artistic quests and experiments. Without a doubt, these words can be applied to Flowers on a Blue Background, offered here for auction.
Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.