4 Jun 2014
Sapins et bouleaux.
Oil on canvas, 78 by 56.5 cm.
Executed in 1906.
Provenance: Collection of the artist.
Collection of Alexandra Tomilina-Larionov, the artist’s second wife, Paris.
The Everest collection, Lausanne (label on the stretcher).
The Russian Sale, Sotheby’s London, 28 November 2006, lot 92.
Private collection, Europe.
Exhibited: Michel Larionov, Acquavella Galleries, New York, 22 April–24 May 1969, No. 21 (label on the reverse).
Rétrospective Larionov–Goncharova, Musée d’Ixelles, Brussels, 29 April–6 June 1976, No. 23 (label on the reverse).
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Michel Larionov, New York, Acquavella Galleries, 1969, No. 21, illustrated and listed.
Exhibition catalogue, Rétrospective Larionov–Goncharova, Brussels, Musée d’Ixelles, 1976, No. 23, illustrated.
In the story of Mikhail Larionov’s artistic development, his landscape Sapins et bouleaux belongs on a very special page. Most of his orchards and trees were painted in the garden of his grandmother’s house in Tiraspol, where he spent his childhood. These detailed studies of nature in her various states represent one of Larionov’s first creative experiments in which he manages to rise to that superlative height with which we associate his best work.
In this painting, as with most compositions from the 1904–1906 Tiraspol cycle, Larionov is most concerned with rejecting “staged” landscape, where nature is first subjected to direction and harmonisation. He breaks with the tradition of knitting a subject to the horizon, the customary division into earth and sky. Somewhere, though, beyond the trunk and branches of the birch tree a boundary can just be discerned between the yellow of the flowering field and a light background, but he deliberately removes even this vague visual reference by introducing the regular structure of a rustic paling fence as the main horizontal feature of the composition.
In this plein-air work Larionov consciously avoids discriminating between major and minor, directing his gaze on nothing in particular and reinforcing the accidental sense of the composition, further enhancing the very vital energy of his subject. The compositional centre falls on a chink of light among the needles and foliage that quilt the sky in an overlay of supple brushstrokes. This generates a sensation of the freedom of the world of vegetation – herbage, scrub, trees breaking through the spatial limits of the painting, and the yellow haze of blossom reaching the other side of the fence. But Larionov’s aim is not merely to demonstrate spontaneity and immediacy in his choice of subject. Sapins et bouleaux represents another step on his path towards a completely new understanding of light. Despite his infatuation with the Impressionists, especially Monet, to whom he paid particular tribute in these years, he not only fails to capture changing light, of the utmost importance to the Impressionists, but he also shows no interest in specific light effects. Here the tree trunks cast practically no shadows and therefore the question of their colour simply does not arise. He was much more interested in the modulations within his chosen palette of green and yellow. Thus, the yellow in the treetops and the background does not simply enliven and supplement the muted greens that predominate in the central part of the painting: in essence it signifies and is a substitute for the sunlight the picture lacks. Larinov continued this manner of combining green and yellow throughout his career and in this respect these early works may be regarded as precursors of a kind to his radiant avant-garde landscapes of the 1910s.
Most of the artist’s canvasses from the beginning of the century have long been in great collections – both of museums and private individuals. Accordingly, the appearance of Sapins et bouleaux at auction, with its distinguished half-century exhibition history, is a definite stroke of luck.
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.