3 June 2015
Still Life with Cornflowers, signed with initials.
Oil on canvas, 67 by 52 cm.
Executed in the 1930s–1940s.
Provenance: A gift from the artist to Irina Grzhebina, a ballet dancer and director of the company Russian Ballet of Irina Grzhebina, Paris, 1940s.
A gift from the above to A. Kovalsky, a Soviet diplomat, Paris, 1986.
A gift from the above to the present owner, Moscow, 2007.
Private collection, Austria.
Authenticity certificate from the expert G. Pospelov.
Still Life with Cornflowers is indisputably the work of Mikhail Larionov. It belongs to his late period, of the 1930s–40s. In these years, the artist often painted unassuming wild flowers arranged in simple pots, even old teapots. The State Tretyakov Gallery has one such painting of a bunch of fresh, if not exactly decorative, white flowers standing in a blue teapot (Spring Bouquet). In the picture offered here for auction, blue flowers stand in a white teapot, and against which, the blue flowers resemble a pattern on the white china.
A special feature of these creations is the artist’s ability to delight in the life of nature, the fleeting freshness of the flowers and the simultaneous awareness of how ephemeral life is: one of the poppies, an intruder in the bunch of cornflowers, still glows red among the blooms of blue, whilst another has already fallen on to the table top. In this work, as well as in the work mentioned above, the flowers are seen against the austere background of a grey wall. The picture in the State Tretyakov Gallery includes a spring sky seen through a window in its upper left-hand corner, this is absent in Still Life with Cornflowers but in its place there is an angular dark grey shape, apparently the edge of a picture hanging on the wall.
Larionov’s canvasses from the first two decades of the 20th century have a great diversity of hue, but the palette that predominates his late work reached a point of refinement where the ranges of colour are restrained. In many still lifes (such as Still Life with Lemon in the collection of the State Russian Museum) and in his nudes (Life Model in a private collection in Moscow) the colours are subdued and misty, and when light blue or red inclusions appear (as in our picture), they seem to come as “an unexpected gift”. The “ashen” colours in his palette are developed by Larionov with remarkable delicacy. Moreover, the entire background of the white teapot and cornflowers consist of exquisite combinations of grey and blue tones. Our perception falls somewhere between sensations of these lively glimmer to their gloomy extinction (in the same way as the flowers themselves live a short while from the moment they are picked to the time when they inevitably wither away).
The picture has a strong provenance. In its time it was (together with other works) presented as a gift from Larionov to the ballerina Irina Grzhebina, and from her, passed to the present owners in 1986. The painting is in a satisfactory state of preservation. Now that Larionov’s late work is available for research (along with his early work), we would add that we have a fuller picture of his creativity, offering the opportunity for its development to be traced from beginning to completion.
Dr Gleb Pospelov, art historian
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.