27 May 2012
Irakli Vyrubov. Illustration for Maxim Gorky's "The Cemetery", signed and inscribed in Cyrillic.
Pencil and watercolour on paper, 28 by 22 cm (sheet size).
Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the experts E. Zhukova and V. Silaev.
Literature:M. Gorky, Izbrannye proizvedeniya, Moscow, Gosudarstvennoe izdatel’stvo khudozhestvennoi literatury, 1932, illustrated.
The illustrations for several short stories by the classic Soviet writer Maxim Gorky, published in the 1932 volume of his selected works occupy a special place in Petrov-Vodkin’s oeuvre. The artist selected five tales to illustrate: Mother, from Tales of Italy; Lullaby and The Cemetery from the collection Through Russia; Fire and A Girl and Death. In each of his illustrations Petrov-Vodkin endeavoured to capture the most distinctive and vivid images from the story.
The watercolour Irakli Vyrubov is one of two surviving examples from this notable series. It reveals Petrov-Vodkin to be a mature artist who well understands both the specific requirements and the possibilities of book illustration, deploying with an easy hand his media of choice: pencil and translucent watercolour, which allows no margin for error. Irakli Vyrubov, the hero of Gorky’s short story The Cemetery, stands at the gate of his house, looking just as the author had imagined him: “enormous, stooped and clean-shaven like a cook, Vyrubov was always anxiously hoisting up his trousers which slipped off his belly – a belly stuffed, probably, with watermelons. His thick, greedy lips were slightly open and in his colourless eyes was a frozen expression of insatiable hunger”.
However, the artist visibly softens Gorky’s stern characterisation with his fluid drawing style and delicate, blue-ish palette which lends the scene a gentle hint of detached irony rather than social censure. In his illustration for The Cemetery, Petrov-Vodkin is not only anxious that the drawing should fit the story: he is also in a way preparing the reader for the text. Like Gorky, he too had grown up in the Volga region and had travelled a great deal around Russia. Therefore, he could convincingly recreate the living conditions, landscapes and, primarily, the distinctive appearance of the various protagonists in his illustrations, which were at times based on his own experiences.
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