1 December 2011
Carcass of Beef, signed and dated 1946, also further signed, numbered "1463" and dated on the reverse.
Oil on canvas, 116.5 by 89 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
Literature: Konchalovsky. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1964, p. 149, listed as “zhi 1173”.
Carcass of Beef, painted by Konchalovsky in 1946, together with the renowned The Floor Polisher (1946, The State Tretyakov Gallery), is a rare example of the avant-garde expression, typically found in the artist’s earlier works, bursting through the academic style in which his later works were executed.
In 20th century art the flayed carcass of an ox, a subject so characteristic of 17th century Dutch still lifes, unexpectedly acquired a new interpretation, often imbued with inner tragedy. The starting point for numerous variations were Rembrandt’s studies of beef carcasses of 1643 and 1655. The latter work made such a powerful impression on Chaim Soutine that he executed six versions of his own in the 1920s. Equally renowned is Mark Chagall’s Flayed Ox (1947), a culmination of his numerous takes on the subject, such as The Butcher (1910, The State Tretyakov Gallery) and At the Butcher’s (1923).
The choice of a similar subject enabled Konchalovsky to reveal his talent for genre painting and his ability to combine a masterly rendered “static” still life with a passionate, expressive palette. However, the contrast between the apparent brutality of the subject and the lyricism of its refined colours — the light blue of the flayed skin, the warm yellows of the sinew in the freshly butchered flesh and the landscape, barely touched by early autumn — allowed the artist not merely to create a sophisticated figurative composition but to “see beauty in simple mundane events and find a grand style to express this beauty”. This fits nicely with the artist’s own admission that cosmic order and beauty reside first of all in “the individual’s experience of living among other objects”.
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