2 December 2009
Femme Cubiste c. 1920
Oil on canvas, 100 by 153 cm.
Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist’s family.
Private collection, France.
Authenticity certificate from Dmitri Baranoff-Rossine, the artist’s son.
In the 1920s the “colour utopianism” of Baranoff-Rossine’s sketches of the early post-revolutionary years was replaced by a desire for synaesthesis – the merging of colour, plastic art and musical principles in one work.
In tune with the movement of the time, a period of futuristic aspirations – the “colour dynamics” of Lentulov’s canvases, the “slippery” experience of colour in Larionov’s “rayonism”, and so forth – Baranoff-Rossine’s works boldly adapted the artistic skills of the various styles characteristic of the international Parisian school: post-impressionist, cubist, and cubo-futurist. In this sense, the Cubist Nude is one of the most interesting and intellectual of Baranoff-Rossine’s works of the mid 1920s. The naked female form is interpreted here in the spirit of late cubism, where cubistic deformation affects not only the background of the image (a technique often encountered in the artist’s paintings), but sometimes also affects the body of the model itself. The pictorial surface of the canvas appears to be broken up, crushed into separate, multicoloured geometric flat spaces that amplify the pure colours and their modulation.
In the dynamics of composing new forms and transforming them into an allusion and pattern, there arise and disappear outlines of the female figure conceived in the iconography of Madame Recamier, which is traditional for classical art. Here, we can talk of one of the first intelligent surrealist games involving great museum masterpieces.
The history of the portrait of Julie Recamier, owner of a glittering Paris salon of the beginning of the XX century and a renowned beauty of her times, is fairly complicated and as such instructive. Initially, she commissioned her portrait from the illustrious Jacques Louis David. He set about the work, but was constantly unhappy with the conditions in which he had to paint. According to him, either the room was too dark or the light was coming from too high up. The work progressed so slowly that Madame Recamier could not continue, and so she suggested that another painter, François Gérard, finish the portrait. An angry David advised Gerard to accept the offer, and the next time that Julie Recamier came to the Louvre to pose for David, he said to her, “women have their whims and artists have theirs. Allow me to satisfy my whim: I will leave your portrait in its present state”. Gerard, for his part, agreed to the proposal and painted his own portrait of the impatient beauty.
In organising his composition, Baranoff-Rossine synthesises the concepts of David and Gerard, repeating not only the pose of the female figure, but also the flat area of the footstool, the motif of cascading drapes, and even the delicate curve end of the divan, from David’s picture. Baranoff-Rossine conducts a genuine avant-garde experiment with the famous portraits by David and François Gerard, wishing to “verify” the “algebra” of cubism and “harmony” of classical art and “dismember like a corpse” the ideal beauty of Julie Recamier stripped bare for this purpose. To achieve this effect, the artist uses the plastic motif of a fragmented female form disintegrating into cubist planes and ideally embodying the author’s emotive ideas of “dynamic art” and “total” musicality in the refracting features of orphism and cubism.
The features of the work’s graphic concept were dictated by the Parisian experience of the author. However, his idols were by now not so much Delaunay or Gleize as Picasso and Arp. Alongside the classically precise lines of Picasso, the rhythmic constructions of Baranoff-Rossine appear rather broken; however, in Cubist Nude we see displayed the rare ability of the artist to purify the light and coordinate shades of grey, brown, and blue (once again echoing David’s work), not only intensive in pigment but also penetrated by a deep glow. The steely bleakness of Picasso’s forms in Cubist Nude is transformed by Baranoff-Rossine, who uses the decorative spread-eagled aspect of the dismembered female form against a background of cubised articulations, pierced by a living, pulsating rhythm of forms. Here can be seen not only attempts to play with popular forms, but also a tendency towards inner self-contemplation, a sense of the absurd, and indistinctness of vision. Again, there is the exposing of colour so characteristic of the artist.
The perception of colour, ignoring stylistic differences, reflected both the unique ethereal nature and lack of substance of his colour visions (which at times resemble the handling of colour by other cosmopolitan figures of Russian art – Kandinsky and Chagall). It was not without reason that Baranoff-Rossine wrote to Delaunay describing “light dynamic painting”, convinced that “the raison d’etre of genuine creativity is painting of life evolving”.
Even more influential surrealist methods can be seen in the subsequent nude studies by the artist in the second half of the 1920s. Surrealism, an artistic movement that was growing ever more influential, did not bypass the creative oeuvre of the great “Proteus” Baranoff-Rossine, who responded to the summons of the time with his Surrealist Beauties No. 1 and No. 2. In the same vein, judging from the Woman at the Seaside in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, there was Picasso himself, who in terms of worldview was far from being a surrealist. Although in the field of surrealism Baranoff-Rossine performed the role of a follower and borrower from Salvador Dali, Joan Miro, and Eva Tangi, his early Constructivist Nude had an unexpected nod given to it by a famous surrealist masterpiece of the 1950s. The work to which we are referring is Madame Recamier by Rene Magritte – a work in which the idea of the cubist anatomical theatre of Baranoff-Rossine, which in a direct sense had created an old style of art, had been brought to its absurd logical conclusion. The coffin, which occupies the place on the sofa of the beauty Recamier, announced once and for all the death of the principles of classical art in the 20th century.
Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
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