MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 27-30 May 2012

27 May 2012

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Flowers on a Veranda

*§ 25. LARIONOV, MIKHAIL (1881-1964)

Flowers on a Veranda, signed with initials, further inscribed with the artist's name and dated 1902 on the reverse.

Oil on canvas, laid on board, 54.5 by 97.5 cm.
1,000,000–2,000,000 GBP

Provenance: Alexandra Tomilina, the artist’s widow, Paris.
Private collection, Europe.

Exhibited: Larionov-Gontcharova, Galerie Beyeler, Basel, July–September 1961 (label on the reverse).
Michel Larionov, Acquavella Galleries, New York, 22 April–24 May 1969, No. 6 (label on the reverse).

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Michel Larionov, Acquavella Galleries, New York, 1969, No. 6, illustrated.

Flowers on a Veranda is an outstanding example of Mikhail Larionov’s early work. This idiosyncratic piece has an impeccable provenance which can be traced back to the estate of the artist’ s widow, and is a rare example (even for museum collections) of his works in oil from the early 1900s. Unlike his works in pastel and gouache, very few oils of this period have been preserved, so each is particularly precious.

It is most likely that the artist painted Flowers on a Veranda after his year-long exclusion from the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture for sending pieces featuring “obscene content” to an exhibition of student work. Captivated by the experiments of the Impressionists which he had seen in the Moscow collection of Sergei Shchukin, Larionov was then beginning to consider himself a truly independent artist, liberated from academic didacticism. Every summer he would leave Moscow for his maternal grandmother’s home in Tiraspol, Bessarabia, where he had spent his childhood and where he now wholly devoted himself to painting from nature. The significance of these works in the artist’s creative development cannot be overestimated.

He converted a wing of his grandmother’s house, with its enormous garden planted with apricot trees, into a studio, and there produced a series of canvasses, paeans to the everyday life unfolding outside his window. His best works of the first half of the 1900s are full of sunshine and greenery and depict pots of flowers, lilac bushes, geese and turkeys strolling about the yard. Stylistically these pieces, including Flowers on a Veranda, are reminiscent of his early works in which we recognise the influence of Borisov-Musatov and the plein air approach to rendering phenomena. Yet these are not studies, in the 19th century sense of the word, but finished pictures painted from nature, which are absolutely consonant with the art of the new century. In Larionov’s work of the 1900s, the question of distinguishing between a preparatory study and a finished picture does not even arise. Rather orangeries, acacias, roses wet from the rain and even pigs grow from the primary elements of a study into an autonomous painting, whilst retaining both the typically small dimensions and the dynamic paint application of a study.

Flowers on a Veranda is similar in composition to the well-known 1904 work now in the Russian Museum, Still Life with Beer, in which the characteristic traits of Larionov’s celebrated works of the 1900s first appear. Despite their simplicity, the objects arranged on the veranda create a feeling of dynamic equilibrium. The pot holding the plant with luxuriant foliage emphasises the centripetal movement of the composition towards the corner of the veranda, literally dividing the picture into two practically equal halves. At the same time, the general structure of the picture is defiantly fragmentary: the flowerpots in the bottom row barely protrude from the edge of the canvas and the right-hand corner of the composition is dramatically cropped along both edges. The framing is extremely tight. It is as if the scene has entered the artist’s field of vision quite by chance. Larionov was not sitting down at a table to paint his still life, as Cézanne had done, but standing, and because of his significant height objects seem to retreat downwards, beyond the confines of the picture area. By doing this he creates the impression of dynamism, so important in avant-garde art of the early 20th century, of the motion of the human eye as if it were skimming across the line of plants by the window. The artist has placed an analogous counterpoint in the paint layer of the picture: He counters the firm, stationary mass of the ochre clay pots, the blue table and solid, wood-clad terrace wall, dappled with a pattern of shadow, with the Van Gogh-style light that streams through the window, seemingly “quilted” in thickly-impastoed, multi-directional brush-strokes.

The composition is based on two main colours, red and yellow, with the addition of blue and green to reinforce the contrast. Almost everywhere, the blue serves to demarcate the yellow from the red zones. Only where light dominates completely, flooding into the room through the window panes, does a fiery red abut directly on to a bright yellow injecting an extraordinary colouristic force into the composition. The pot plants seem to be indoors but at the same time bathed in bright, exterior daylight. According to Gleb Pospelov, a renowned expert on the artist, “the light in Larionov’s works seemed to shine through a flattened reality. It somehow issued from the phenomenon of life itself… a radiance animated from within which permeated all living things: this was the defining essence of his art. The whole of Larionov’s oeuvre was a benediction on that which was alive and living, the like of which was completely absent from the work of other Russian painters at this time.”

Larionov’s paintings were truly unique in European Post-Impressionist art. His dedication to “the living world” was inseparable from his extremely perceptive experiments in “liberating the paint layer”. It is no coincidence that in his pictures of the 1900s the “element” of paint confronts the elements of nature. The energy in Larionov’s best canvasses of the period is created from this very desire for equilibrium in the confrontation of these forces and this is clearly seen in the present lot.

In Flowers on a Veranda, with its tendency to generalise the impact of the palette, its fusion of individual brushstrokes into one splash of colour and its decorative resolution of the whole, we clearly see Larionov establishing himself as one of the founders of the Russian avant-garde and as a major artist of the 20th century, head and shoulders above his contemporaries.

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.