1 December 2011
Bullfight, San Sebastian, signed and dated 1912.
Oil on canvas, 59.5 by 72.5 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, USA.
Exhibited: The Boris Anisfeld Exhibition, itinerant: Brooklyn Museum, Boston Art Club, Albright Art Gallery Buffalo, Cleveland Museum of Art, Detroit Institute of Art, Milwaukee Art Institute, Minneapolis Institute of Art, St Louis City Art Museum, San Francisco Palace of Honor, The Art Institute of Chicago, 1918-1920, No. 43, titled Bullfight, San Sebastian, incorrectly dated.
The Boris Anisfeld Exhibition, The Arts Club of Chicago, 1924, No. 32, titled Bull fight, Spain, incorrectly dated.
Probably Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Boris Anisfeld, Worcester Art Museum, 1924, No. 74.
Probably Exhibition of Paintings and Drawings by Boris Anisfeld, Boston Art Club and Twentieth Century Club, 1924-1925, No. 74, titled Spanish Bullfight.
Literature: C. Brinton, The Boris Anisfeld Exhibition, New York, 1918, No. 43, incorrectly dated.
E. Lingenauber and O. Sugrobova-Roth, Boris Anisfeld. Catalogue raisonné, Düsseldorf, Edition Libertars, 2011, p. 146, P 312, illustrated.
The present work belongs to the small Corrida cycle that Boris Anisfeld painted from the impressions garnered during his travels in Spain. After spending some months travelling by train around almost the whole country, he studied the work of the Spanish masters in the Prado, saw the beauties of Toledo — the home town of his beloved El Greco, and visited bull-fights in Seville and San Sebastian. The corrida had a profound effect on Anisfeld. He was utterly spellbound by the drama and danger of the spectacle, returning to it over and over again in his canvasses.
Painted in 1912 in San Sebastian, while his impressions were still fresh, Bullfight, San Sebastian was executed during a most interesting period of the artist’s career, a time of bold and innovative experimentation. At that time Anisfeld — already celebrated in Russia and Europe as a brilliant designer for Meyerhold and for Diaghilev’s enterprises, as well as being one of the seven Russian artists elected in 1906, as full members of the Paris Salon — was recognised as one of the great masters of Symbolism. However, in the Spanish paintings he departs from the coolly flowing lines of Modernism and executes these works with pure, Expressionist energy. In his perfunctorily sketched arenas there is always a stand filled with spectators, but in this case the artist’s focus is not on the audience: it is on the interaction between man (the picadors and toreadors) and bull. This scene retains the distinctive and dynamic effectiveness of its subject matter, without conjuring up any actual physical tension; it is the sheer riot of colour which takes precedence. In Bullfight, San Sebastian, Anisfeld manages to combine the artistic abandon of his brushwork, the incredible intensity of colour and the general decorativeness of the image.
Consciously following Goya, Manet and Picasso in taking his inspiration from the bull-fight motif, Anisfeld does not in any way imitate the work of his great predecessors, but rather develops it. Neither the Impressionists, nor Anisfeld’s fellow-countrymen Vasily Surikov and Petr Konchalovsky, who had both visited Spain not long before him, ever displayed such unbound creativity in their finished works. Their composition always remained within the confines of a precisely delineated area. Anisfeld, on the other hand, happily oversteps his drawn plan. In his work, the brushstroke always takes precedence over line and colour trumps composition. A love of colour and of free, sweeping brushwork were qualities always much in evidence in his painting style.
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.