12 October 2015
Behind the Curtain, signed and dated 1933.
Oil on canvas, 75 by 54.5 cm.
Provenance: A gift from the artist to his friend Fedor Bogorodsky (1895–1959), a Soviet artist (inscription on the work).
Collection of the Bogorodsky family
Important private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert T. Zelyukina.
Aleksandr Deineka, the recognised master of official Soviet art, is represented by a unique canvas, Behind the Curtain. The painting dates from 1933, when the artist was at the height of his creative career.
Deineka is best known as a tireless proselytiser of his socialist homeland, which he glorified in awe-inspiring images of war, patriotism, labour, and sport. Deineka’s masterpieces, such as The Defence of Petrograd (1927), Mother (1932), Future Pilots (1937), The Defence of Sevastopol (1942) and In the South (1966) have become essential classics for generations of Russians. It would be hard to point to an artist who was more recognizable or definitive of the Soviet era. His images, full of optimism, have become fused with the Soviet past, as remembered by those who lived through it –a past that may be partly fictitious, which varies from the sublime to the tragic, but which is undoubtedly unique and vibrant. The art of Aleksandr Deineka is much more than evidence that such a way of life once existed: it is a precious artefact and one which affirms the essence of that life.
The theme and mood of the work, which is offered at auction, is extremely rare, not only for Deineka, but for most artists of the time. Of course, works with an erotic component continued to be produced, even in the darkest days of artistic restriction (for example, the works of Sergei Eisenstein or Ivan Yefimov). However, most of such works were only brought to the public gaze after the collapse of the totalitarian system.
Other “subdued” nudes by Alexander Samokhvalov and Vladimir Lebedev were never exhibited at the time. Deineka, however, is a special case. His paintings used to headline the most prestigious Soviet art exhibitions, and the inclusion of Behind the Curtain in an exhibition would have inevitably caused scandal. The decadent eroticism of Konstantin Somov and Boris Kustodiev was no longer tolerated, and totalitarian morality allowed no deviations.
Deineka donated this unique work, presumably in 1933–1935, to his fellow artist Fedor Bogorodsky, in whose family it remained for many years (as confirmed by the inscription on the canvas, “Deineka to F. Bogorodsky”).The two artists were firm friends at the time and travelled together on painting expeditions. It is known, for example, that they visited the Crimea together.
The painterly and artistic merits of this chamber work are in no doubt. The rich, pulsating brush strokes, the exquisite silver-ombré colouration expressive of the early morning, the model’s expression – that speaks wordlessly but unmistakably of the circumstances – all of these elements give Deineka’s painting a lively, sincere, even frisky aura.
The quirky character of the details of the work – few in number yet skillfully captured – reminds us that simple human hedonism lived on, underlying Verses on My Soviet Passport, factory machinery, combine harvesters and coal mines – with no regard for an artificial and false morality.
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.