30 November 2016
On a Black Background, signed, also further signed, titled in Cyrillic and dated 1976 on the reverse.
Oil on canvas, 50 by 80 cm.
Provenance: A gift from the artist to the previous owner.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.
The painting On a Black Background, offered for auction, is one of the finest still lifes in Gely Korzhev’s oeuvre. Painted during his best period, this masterpiece showcases all the outstanding qualities of Korzhev’s distinctive style, fully developed by that point in his artistic career. Though small in size, the canvas has the emotional impact of a monumental painting because of the effect of spatial depth achieved through the positioning of the objects, which seem to expand the boundaries of the work’s perimeter. The artist attains an exceptional harmony in his use of white and crimson, and dark and light shades of ochre on the velvet-deep, luminescent black background, which literally enshrouds the outlines of a tin jug, clay pot and drapery, on which he places an egg – symbol of creation and the foundation of life. The “centre” of the composition is moved to the right, which immediately grabs the viewers’ attention, keeping them in suspense.
Gely Korzhev stands at the very heart of the history of Russian Realist painting in the second half of the 20th century. He is associated with the emergence and burgeoning of the ideological basis of the Severe Style, which dominated Soviet art in the 1960s. Korzhev was one of the cornerstones of this artistic movement. Moreover, this remarkable artist defined the very philosophical essence of the immense cultural transformation of Soviet society.
The heyday of this conflicted yet undeniably exceptional master coincided with the Khrushchev Thaw, a time of remarkable release of the creativity of many talented artists, who would later become legends of their time. Whereas many artists relished an opportunity to finally place themselves in opposition to the official doctrine in art, Korzhev proceeded by expressing on his canvasses the incessant pain of Russia’s most tragic generation, which had stoically accepted it and readied themselves for the most difficult trials and tribulations. Korzhev’s heroes are people “of the earth”, people of physical toil; they are harsh, reticent and uncompromising. They are like Michelangelo’s titans, whose tough, monumental bodies are contrasted with the contrived, saccharine beauty of Raphael’s protagonists. These heavy, utterly earthly “gods” stoically bear their burden. Korzhev’s work is testament to the fact that his personal values are in fact the eternal values; they are clear and unshakable, the result of first-hand experiences of a genuinely sincere and uncompromising artist.
Korzhev’s exceptional professionalism and absolute mastery over the technical aspects of his work – a skill honed over long decades – ensured that he stood out even among the finest artists of the Soviet era. His art, made unique by his inimitable style and idiosyncratic materiality, is ever alive and vibrant, despite the presence of hyper-realistic devices. In his masterfully arranged still lifes, Korzhev uses ordinary household objects to tell dramatic, harsh stories of the post-war generation, ascetically yet vividly emphasizing the details of the arduous existence of the individual, inhibited in by the rigid societal constraints.
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.