MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 1 December 2011

1 December 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Female Portrait

89. FALK, ROBERT (1886-1958)

Female Portrait, signed twice, once with an initial.

Oil on canvas, 116.5 by 89.5 cm.
150,000-200,000 GBP

Provenance: Private collection, UK.

The female portrait always occupied a special place in the art of Robert Falk. Indeed, in the whole collection of his images of women there is virtually nothing that is second-rate: each new stage of Falk’s creative experiments and passions, of his personal and artistic concerns, was reflected most vividly in his approach to interpreting the model he was painting.

The work now offered for auction, a splendid example of Falk’s mastery in this genre, is a sui generis, perfectly-resolved concept in terms of both form and emotion, which is characteristic of the artist’s mature style. Although we cannot identify the woman in a brown dress with any degree of certainty, we can discern in her face a certain similarity to the features of Angelina Shchekin-Krotova, the artist’s last wife and companion of many years.

The portrait before us is abstracted from the realities of a concrete time and place. The totally neutral background and the heroine’s inward focus — as though she were in a state of deep self-absorption unrelated to the world around her — immediately casts us back to Falk’s portraits of the early 1920s, when this kind of portrayal first appeared. However, later, in the 1940s and 50s the artist returned once more to this same artistic approach, now tinged with further conceptual overtones for the Soviet intelligentsia. He deliberately rejects any unnecessary elements and locks in the world of his protagonists’ inner feelings in a vague, unspecified environment, isolated from everything around them. This kind of portrait allows the imagination to play a part in the reconstruction of real life without imposing total verisimilitude. It comes as no surprise that Falk never considered the meticulous reproduction of actual facial features to be his main task. At times it even seems that the female image the artist had painted cannot have a real-life counterpart, so much is everything in the portrait subject to poetic invention. Falk often said that, when painting portraits, his first concern was to assimilate the physical features of the subject, transforming the face into an iconic image embodying the ideal.

In the present painting, the slim figure is seated in profile, but the woman’s head is turned to the viewer so that we can see the expressive eyes, cast down and full of pain and sadness. It is as if she is frozen, withdrawn and aloof, and only her arm, continuing the S-shaped line of the turning head, brings an element of movement to this rather sculptural composition. In the whole portrait — in its painting, in its composition and in the principles governing the relationship between figure and space — there is an asceticism that corresponds with the model’s character and state of mind. In this image, as in many of Falk’s works, there is a secret paradox to be read not only in the nagging, yet intriguing contradiction between the model’s inner asceticism and her clearly “dressy” gown and coiffure, but also in the colour palette chosen; for there is an uncommon parsimony in the colour selection that is paradoxically linked to the richness of the colour tones. Apart from the brown and similar grey-green and grey-yellow, with a small injection of dark claret, there are no other colours in this canvas. There are however a great many different tones. They are so closely related and so helpful in reinforcing the resonance of the brown dress and the model’s pale face with its slightly feverish flush, that a real clamour of colour seems to amplify into a conceptual metaphor.

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.