1 Dec 2011
Gypsy Girl with Flowers, signed and dated 1907.
Oil on canvas, 127.5 by 86.5 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Literature: O. Sugrobova-Roth, E. Lingenauber, Alexei Harlamoff. Catalogue raisonné, Düsseldorf, Edition A. Harlamoff, 2007, p. 206, No. 166, pl. 158, illustrated.
Gypsy Girl with Flowers is one of Harlamoff ’s celebrated Italianate portraits. The artist first approached this genre as early as the 1870s, when, returning from a European tour to France, he painted a whole series of pictures of southern-European girls. These portraits are variously titled: Mordovian Girl (Radishchev State Art Museum, Saratov), Little Italian Girl, Gypsy Girl (both in the State Russian Museum), Head (Penza Picture Gallery), Portrait of a Little Girl (Perm Art Gallery), but all have a definite kinship and bring to mind Italian works of the 17th century.
Léon Bonnat — Harlamoff ’s teacher in Paris — was then considered to be the unrivalled master of the Italianate portrait genre, and had many imitators. However, despite the fact that these latter works were entirely in the spirit of French Salon works, very few artists achieved the level of their idol. Among those who did was Alexei Harlamoff, who interpreted in an original manner the achievements of Russian art in the first half of the 19th century, particularly those of Bryullov, Kiprensky and Moller, amongst others.
Harlamoff remained true to his chosen subject for many years, adapting and perfecting it right up to the end of his life. However, we can pinpoint his creative peak as the works with flowers from around the turn of the century. In this tender and thoughtful image, painted in 1907, of a teenage girl with southern-European looks, Harlamoff strives to achieve a specific psychological portrait. The palette generally consists of brown “museum-tone” colours, but at the same time his technique is now lighter and sketchier and “pure” colours have disappeared, giving way to a fine chiaroscuro modelling of the girl’s clothes, typical of his early 20th century output. Thanks to the style of her simple clothing — a blouse and skirt with an embroidered apron — we see in this portrait a certain and recognisable “ethnic” flavour.We have, however, already come across this costume several times, with minor variations: in Sisters (1894), Gypsy Children, etc. It is possible that the model for Gypsy Girl with Flowers was one of the many female students of Pauline Viardot, a close friend of Harlamoff ’s in Paris. In any case, this sitting was certainly not a one-off, given that the same model reappears in several known portraits.
The artist Ernst Lipgart, a friend of Harlamoff and Bogoliubov from the colony of Russian artists in Paris, recalls that “everyone considered it an honour to sit for Harlamoff. In his portraits — which were splendid likenesses — the important thing to him was the overall painterly effect. Details were of no interest to him — for instance if, thanks to overhead lighting, an eye were lost in deep shadow in the eye socket, Harlamoff would make do with a half-shadow, which allowed us to see the pupil and the lively expression in the eye”. It is exactly this attention to the model’s eyes, as noted by fellow artist and contemporary, that we see in Gypsy Girl with Flowers; these deep, dark eyes that become the main focus of the painting, attracting the viewer like a magnet.
Among those who admired and bought these Harlamoff portraits were not only Russian and European aristocracy, but also some royalty, including the Empress Maria Feodorovna and Queen Victoria.
Notes on symbols:
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