25 November 2019
Portrait of my Father, signed and dated 1939.
Oil on canvas, 48.5 by 61.5 cm.
Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist by Lincoln Kirstein, an American writer and philanthropist, especially renowned as a co-founder and the director of the New York City Ballet (1946–1989).
A gift from the above to the previous owner.
Private collection, USA.
Impressionist and Modern Art Sale, Sotheby’s New York, 6 May 2010, lot 381.
Private collection, USA.
Exhibited: Tchelitchew. Paintings, Drawings, Museum of Modern Art, New York, September 1942–January 1943.
Dramatic Choice. The Theater Collects, Albright Art Gallery, Buffalo, 4 November–1 December 1950, No. 63.
Pavel Tchelitchew, Gallery of Modern Art, New York, 1964, No. 23 (label on the frame).
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, J. Soby, Tchelitchew. Paintings, Drawings, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1942, p. 73, pl. 50, illustrated; p. 92, No. 58, listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Dramatic Choice. The Theater Collects, Buffalo, Albright Art Gallery, 1950, p. 29, No. 63, listed as New England Landscape: Portrait of My Father.
Exhibition catalogue, Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, Gallery of Modern Art, 1964, p. 28, No. 23, illustrated.
L. Kirstein, Tchelitchev, Santa Fe, Twelvetrees Press, 1994, pl. 54, illustrated; p. 173, listed.
A. Kuznetsov, Pavel Tchelitchew. Metamorphoses, Stuttgart, Arnoldsche, 2012, p. 46, illustrated and mentioned in the text; p. 210, No. 179, illustrated; p. 297, listed.
In the history of the 20th century art, the name of Pavel Tchelitchew is linked to more than a few painterly revelations. Although an heir to the Russian artistic tradition, Tchelitchew had to bring all his artistic concepts to fruition whilst an émigré. Sofia, Berlin, Paris, London, New York, Rome — this is far from complete list of the world’s largest cities where the artist was destined to cultivate his rare talent and create his matchless works.
Tchelitchew could count on the support of many influential figures from the cultural establishment of the first half of the 20th century; amongst the avid admirers of his genius were Gertrude Stein, Edith Sitwell, Helena Rubinstein, James Joyce, Edward James, Monroe Wheeler and Ruth Ford. The artist is also represented in the world’s foremost museums, and his renowned Hide and Seek (1940–1942) brought lustre to the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Portrait of My Father, offered here for auction, is dated 1939 — a year prior to the creation of the famous New York canvas — and in which all the principles of Tchelitchew’s metamorphic vision are incorporated. The late 1930s was the heyday for Tchelitchew’s zoomorphic and anthropomorphic landscapes, which the artist himself called “metamorphic”. At the time, the artist was living in Weston, Connecticut, at the house of his friend, Alice de Lamar, which he used as a studio-workshop. Here, he would create hundreds of drawings and watercolours of the hilly pastures and woodlands, captivated by the variety of shapes in the leaves of the beeches, maples and black American birches, by the meadows, as they turned green and by the snow-covered plains. All this was conveyed, with an amazing degree of fantasy, to paper and canvas.
In the hilly landscapes he depicted were intimations of people’s heads and figures, the faces of wild animals and of trees coming to life. Portrait of My Father is in this same vein, consisting of surprising, magical transformations, in which elements of the landscape are transformed into a giant, snarling tiger’s head. Possibly, this winter landscape at Weston may have reminded the artist of his native village of Dubrovka and the complicated relationship with his father, in faraway Russia.
Portrait of My Father comes from the collection of a close friend of Tchelitchew, Lincoln Kirstein, the founder of the New York City Ballet. The impresario greatly appreciated the artist’s creativity and possessed a major collection of his work, most of which he bequeathed to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. In the last years of his life, he wrote a remarkable — and to this day the most influential monograph — on the creative œuvre of this great master.
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.