27 May 2012
Porcelain Figures and Flowers, signed.
Oil on canvas, 92.5 by 71.5 cm.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert A. Kiseleva.
Literature: G. Romanov, Mir iskusstva. 1898–1927, St Petersburg, 2010, p. 967, illustrated.
Porcelain and flowers: the decorative potential of this combination had at one time been appreciated for its full worth by the Flemish painters. With the passage of time, however, this kind of still life fell out of favour and was glimpsed only rarely in the pages of art history, until a new wave of enthusiasm for porcelain and floral motifs engulfed the culture of Art Nouveau. The vulnerable frailty of picked flowers and fine china literally became an obsession in passéiste culture as the 20th century moved from its first decade into its second. Their fragile beauty was forever being rhapsodised in Symbolist and Acmeist poetry and they were depicted in a flood of still life work by the recent Blue Rose and World of Art painters.
The most vivid and coherent embodiment of the theme of porcelain and flowers can be found in the creative work of three outstanding Russian painters of the period: Sergei Sudeikin, Nikolai Sapunov and Alexander Golovin. The exquisite, almost ornate, images they painted, inspired by the desire – in Abram Efros's well-turned phrase – “to depict beautiful things beautifully”, always bore the recognisable stamp of each artist’s individual creativity.
This composition of Sergei Sudeikin’s Porcelain Figures and Flowers is one of the most original and refined images of this group. In painting his canvas it is as if the artist were weaving the objects depicted into a fanciful pattern, thereby emphasising the decorativeness and deep symbolic significance of the composition. The vase with two artificial roses and the little porcelain figures are portrayed against the background of a piece of wallpaper, or upholstery material, in the Chinoiserie style. The density and impasto of the brushwork in the background, however, differs from that used for the objects, which makes the surface of the painting start to vibrate, and the delicate lilac gauze, its tints soaking up the white of the glazed china, creates a special magnetic, contemplative atmosphere. If in other compositions by Sudeikin, such as Saxon Figurines (1911, The State Russian Museum), Flowers and Porcelain (1910, private collection), Flowers and Statuette (1900s, The State Tretyakov Gallery) or the Still Lifes (1909 and 1911, both in the State Russian Museum) the objects often conceive a game among themselves, and the china marquises and shepherdesses play out scenes that are almost theatrical, then in this composition lethargy reigns in a static and enchanted slumber. The porcelain figurines sleep in each others’ arms, the naked nymph who only a second before had been pulling on her stocking is motionless, as though pricked by a spindle, the water in the tumbling, sparkling stream painted on the backcloth has frozen, and the paper flowers in the vase exude a passionless, timeless beauty. Through this painting Sudeikin transmits the quintessential aestheticism of the World of Art – an illusory world populated by ephemeral images. Their life is only a magical dream created by the artist’s fantasy – enchanting precisely because of its impermanence, and ready to vanish like a sleeping vision. The artist casts a sort of haze over these still lifes, a gauze that insists the painting be perceived as a beautiful reverie.
The way the painting is resolved in terms of structure rests on the play between plane and depth, pattern and object. On the one hand the artist affirms the substantive reality of a flower, using every means to define it, but at the same time he creates a certain feeling of deception to the flowers in their arrangement and colour, a sort of sense of mystification. This makes the still life seem like magic exposed, a conjuror’s trick with its artifice laid bare. Sudeikin creates a world of image in which artificiality, fabulous invention and the exposure of these qualities act in uninterrupted communication and become the intrinsic idea and content of the entire composition.
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.