Important Russian Art

1 December 2021

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Two Still Lifes

*§ 84. TSELKOV, OLEG (1934–2021)

Two Still Lifes, dated 1958, also further signed, titled in Cyrillic and dated on the reverse.

Oil on canvas, 95.5 by 80 cm.
SOLD FOR 262,283 GBP

Provenance: A gift from the artist to Muza Pavlova (1917–2006), a poet, playwright and translator.
A gift from the above to her son German Lukyanov (1936–2019), a composer and jazz musician.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.

This extremely rare work by the classic nonconformist artist Oleg Tselkov, Two Still Lifes, that is now to be auctioned dates from the early period in the career of that amazingly gifted, incredibly powerful and memorable painter. His 1955–1960 “five-year plan” period still bears the imprint of the search for individual forms, for musicality in the rhythm of the focal points of the composition and for variations in his experiments with colour. Tselkov’s typical gallery of faces has yet to emerge, and we still seem to be immersed in the experimental plastic “laboratory” manipulations that paved the way for all the artist’s subsequent work.

As Tselkov himself said, no more than fifteen canvases have survived from that period. He deliberately and systematically destroyed and painted over his early works, believing them to have been unduly influenced by other artists. He only stopped this self-destructive practice in 1960, when he concluded that he had at last discovered his unique artistic code, one that stemmed from a natural immersion in the atmosphere that he had finally established and found to be meaningful and the most auspicious for himself personally.

Nevertheless, the best of what Tselkov created in the second half of the 1950s has been preserved, albeit partially. There is no doubt that, in the works produced during that period, we can trace the influence of Russian Cubo-Futurism, as well as echoes of the professional opinions voiced by the leading lights of the Jack of Diamonds group and by members of the Constructivist movement. Yet we can see in it them green shoots of a completely new and incomparable imagery.

These canvases not only absorbed and reinterpreted everything original and advanced that had been created by the leading masters of the first quarter of the 20th century; they furnish vital evidence of the birth of a truly new art. Two Still Lifes, produced a year later, takes one by surprise thanks to the master’s almost overnight, but evidently successful, discoveries in his efforts to transform his “personal” art space and define a more ordered painterly plasticity by trying out other colouristic additions.

In the picture, bright splashes of colour, seemingly incompatible, are completely organic, majestically awakening the shoots of an art for the new reality brought into being by the long-awaited socio-political and cultural “thaw” on which the vibrant and dedicated art of Oleg Tselkov undoubtedly had an influential bearing.

Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
◎ Indicates the lot is located in Russia. Please note that permit for export from Russia has not been obtained. Successful bidders would collect their lots in Moscow after payment.
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.