MacDougall Auctions 2-3 December 2009

2 December 2009

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

The White King


The White King signed with initials and dated 1963, also titled in Cyrillic on the reverse

Oil on canvas, 63.5 by 46.5 cm.
40,000-60,000 pounds

Provenance: Acquired directly from the artist by the father of the present owner.
Thence by descent.
Private collection, Germany.

Authenticity has been confirmed by Tatiana Sokolova-Kharitonova, the widow of the artist.

Exhibited: GorKom of Graphic Artists, Malaya Gruzinskaya Street, Moscow, 1970s.

The White King, which was painted in 1963, is one of Kharitonov’s few early works. It is hard to say exactly what evokes the grotesque image of the distant romantic country. Does it reflect numerous literary references or was it influenced by the War of Roses? Is it the enthusiasm for Symbolist poets, or perhaps the famous 1963 match between the chess kings Fischer and Benko?

The world on the canvas, made up of the most delicate brush strokes, flickering with light, which became a distinctive feature of Kharitonov’s artistic technique, is not simply bright and festive. It verges on a fairytale fantasy. The inhabitants of a magical country stroll around an enchanted park, amidst minute houses, immense trees and statues of knights; there are maidens, both semi-naked and clad in 19th-century costume, a girl with a little flag, and a pensive gentleman. This magical world exists, uninterrupted: in one house, a wise man is reading a book, while his female neighbour is busily doing her laundry. Is this reality or simply the dream of the young king seated in the armchair beneath a canopy? On this canvas, everything seems to be a blissful dream; both The White King, with his eyes closed and his golden hair gleaming, and his enchanted land, are seemingly bewitched by the prick of a magic spindle. The picture does not merely record the bright, romantic attitude of the artist, who had, at that point, already reached his artistic maturity, but it also gives glimpses as to the future direction of Kharitonov’s search for forms and subjects. The White King represents, in a sense, the credo of the young artist, whose nonconformism has, by that moment, become his existential position, connected to the category of the spiritual, and to the tradition of the so-called “metaphysical” underground, rather than to any politicised dissident movements.

The redeeming feature of Kharitonov’s artistic metaphysics, despite their apparent simplicity, is a contemplative sincerity. The refinement of the alien characters and the conventionality exuded by the magical land conceal both the conscious artistic escapism of one of the most important figures in Moscow’s “unofficial art” and an interest – typical of the period of the “Thaw” – in religious philosophy and the legacy of the Symbolists of the beginning of the 20th century. This canvas reveals to the fullest possible extent the tendency which Tatiana Sokolova-Kharitonova, the artist’s widow and renowned expert on Kharitonov, refers to as “the mysterious world of philosophical pictures”.

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.