27 May 2012
Tailpiece to "The Princess of the Tide" by Mikhail Lermontov, signed with a monogram and inscribed in Cyrillic.
Pencil and ink on paper, 15 by 33.5 cm (sheet size).
Provenance: M. Petrova-Vodkina, the artist’s widow.
Collection of O. Desnitskaya, Leningrad.
Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert Yu. Solonovich.
Exhibited: M.Yu. Lermontov. K 125-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya (1814–1939), The State Russian Museum, Leningrad, 1939, No. 423.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, M.Yu. Lermontov. K 125-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya (1814–1939), Moscow, Leningrad, Izdatel’stvo Akademii Nauk SSSR, 1941, p. 78, No. 423, listed; p. 116, illustrated.
Lermontovskaya Entsiklopediya, Moscow, 1981, p. 414.
This small pen and ink tailpiece, executed with great artistry and elegance, illustrates the most tragic moment in Lermontov’s last ballad – the death of the Princess of the Tide. Removed from her watery element, the beautiful girl turns into a repulsive sea monster “with a tail covered in snake’s scales, All writhing coils, trembling and dying”. The young man who has made her his “catch” is the cause of the princess’s death (“look how my catch struggles”). The moment of her death is the culmination of the poem. At this instant the prince recognises in the chthonic monster a living creature suffering and dying like a human-being: “Pale hands grasping at the sand, Lips whispering an unintelligible reproach”.
The young man’s desire to remove the cloak of secrecy from existence has proved to be fatal, but the main tragedy is that the very path he has taken in his search for the truth of existence is based on mistrust for that which reveals itself to be of value. The prince finishes the ballad a changed man, not the brave and conquering hero, but doomed to remember forever the Princess of the Tide and her fate. He himself is a victim of his truth-seeking experiment. The princess’s death is thus the consequence of a false conviction that the truth must inevitably be hidden under the deceptive mantle of what is outwardly visible, and there is therefore a need to prove by direct experience, in other words that it should hold up to scrutiny even outside the natural element in which it exists.
The artist, like the poet before him, is inclined to philosophising and portrays the subject in a symbolic manner, imparting to both the illustration and the tailpiece a multiplicity of ideas and possible interpretations.
Notes on symbols:
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