8 Jun 2011
Female Portrait, signed.
Oil on canvas, 118 by 71.5 cm.
Provenance: Acquired at MosKoopPromTorg in 1953, No. 11134 (label on the reverse).
Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the experts O. Atroshchenko and V. Petrov.
This impressive canvas by Abram Arkhipov belongs to the particular genre of female portraiture that the artist began to produce in the second half of the 1910s. Customer demand for this type of showy "urban" portrait, in either oil or pastel, increased when this artist's talent was acknowledged by the Soviet authorities. However, when facing these new compositional challenges - which were largely different from those of his "peasant" pictures - Arkhipov remained true to himself in his mastery of colouring and its compositional use. These society ladies, painted with tremendous energy, retained a degree of generalization of form, as Arkhipov's celebrated peasant-women did, but at the same time the artist is clearly striving for a greater specificity in his subjects' attributes.
We do not know, alas, who Arkhipov's model was for the portrait now offered at auction. But in general terms, the treatment of the form - the delineation of the head, bare shoulders and arms - has similarities to the famous portrait of V. A. Lvova-Ioffe. It is both generalized and generously painted, and its colour range set in the artist's favourite reds, crimsons, clarets and pinks, which we recognise from his portraits of peasant girls. He avoids detailed and precise elaboration in his drawing, aiming to sculpt a plastic form using colour and light. Yet this use of colour does not extend into surface decoration, rather it strengthens the emotional and aesthetic resonance of the image as a hymn to the Russian woman; to the beauty of her rosy, healthy face, her soft skin and the showy attire that suits her so well. The image has features of monumentalism thanks to the very composition of the picture, in which the figure takes up almost the whole of the canvas, leaving very little space for a background with a generic interior sketched in. The model sits in three-quarter view but her face is turned in profile. The artist had previously used this angle in his "peasant-women" paintings of the 1910s.
Arkhipov was always very strict with himself and did not allow his unfinished or weaker works to be displayed, but he did value these free and fluidly-painted eye-catching portraits of his female contemporaries. It is worth noting that, for the jubilee exhibition mounted in 1927 to mark 40 years of his career as an artist, he chose to present several such works, including portraits of E.G. Grigorieva, V.A. Ioffe and A.N. Shchekotovaya, as well as the Portrait of I.S. and Portrait of N.I.I., amongst others. Unfortunately, the location of most of these is now unknown, so the appearance on the market of this outstanding example of Arkhipov's work in the same genre is undoubtedly a great stroke of luck for all connoisseurs of Russian painting.
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.