25 November 2019
Chilean Girl, signed.
Oil on canvas , 70.5 by 55.5 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert T. Galeeva.
Boris Grigoriev’s Chilean Girl, offered here for auction, features among the works painted during one of his trips to Latin America in 1928 or 1936 and expresses the artist’s wish to show “the national soul” through his portraits of local people.
Grigoriev did not embark upon his famous South American tour by accident. In 1926, at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris, he met the Chilean artist and director of the National Academy of Arts, Carlos Isamitt, who was much impressed with the Russian painter’s work. Acting on his recommendation, the Chilean government embarked on negotiations with Grigoriev to see if he would come to the Santiago de Chile School of Art as a visiting teacher. A year later, a three-year contract was signed, and the artist and his family arrived at the port of Valparaiso.
However, his career as head of a painting class did not work out. Grigoriev managed to give only 37 lessons, after which the educational establishment’s governing body terminated the contract, shocked by the liberality of his “extravagant” creative principles and by his self-willed behaviour, which rode roughshod over the Chilean Academy’s conservative principles.
Nevertheless, Grigoriev remained one of the leading figures of “artistic modernism” in Chile, and his international standing and teaching at the School contributed to the onset of changes in the development of that country’s art. In any case, the artist himself was in no hurry to return to Europe, and he took the opportunity to make a journey across the South American continent. He spent three months in Argentina and visited Brazil, Ecuador and Uruguay. Everywhere throughout the trip, Grigoriev painted local people and landscapes. These portraits of people from various places whom he met on the way — people from different social strata and of different ethnic origins — form an extremely valuable, if little known, part of the artist’s legacy.
In 1936, the artist again visited Chile and Ecuador, as well as Peru and Cuba. Grigoriev brought back from this trip a huge cycle of gouache paintings (300 sheets), which he showed at a solo exhibition in 1937 at the Galerie Charpentier in Paris, captivating Alexander Benois with their “miraculous virtuosity” and “vibrant colourfulness” (A. Benua razmyshliaiet, Moscow, 1968, p. 242).
Apart from the items brought by Grigoriev to France, a huge proportion of his Latin American works are now dispersed among museum and private collections in North and South America and are, in particular, displayed in the Chilean state collections at the National Museum of Fine Arts in Santiago, the Museum of Contemporary Art run by the University of Chile and the Municipal Museum of Fine Arts in Valparaiso.
Evidently, Latin America’s scenery and the range of human types found there fully gratified the artist’s penchant for grotesque, unusual and striking shapes. The portraits of the indigenous Indians and the numerous descendants of European settlers that he painted in Chile, Peru and Ecuador often betray the influence of the South American primitive art forms that Grigoriev encountered during his travels. Like many of his predecessors, he was inspired by the local artists’ archaically coherent perception of the world and by the decorative expressiveness of their vivid, terse compositions. Accordingly, the synthesised traces of these impressions can easily be seen in the portraits Grigoriev painted during those years, e.g. the female student of the artist María Tupper de Aguirre, the Uruguayan girl and in Chilean Girl, offered for auction. The portrait is a rare and expressive testimony to Grigoriev’s wish to be, quoting him, an “artist of peoples”.
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.