MacDougall's Fine Art Auctions Important Russian Art Auction - Wednesday 5th June 2019
§ ANNENKOV, GEORGES (1889–1974) Portrait of Alexander Bozheryanov , signed with initials. Ink and collage
with paper on paper, 28 by 43 cm. Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Literature: Yu. Annenkov, Portrety, Petrograd, Petropolis, 1922, p. 111, illustrated; p. 166, listed.
The Portrait of Alexander Bozheryanov, offered here for auction, created by the model's friend and fellow artist Yury Annenkov, is part of the celebrated Portraits series, Annenkov’s best-known cycle of works on paper. Moreover, it is undisputedly a classic example of superb portraiture of Annenkov’s Russian period.
Annenkov took up the genre of portraiture in earnest only at the end of the 1910s. After successfully executing a few private commissions, he received an offer in 1921 from the publishers Zinovy Grzhebin and Yakov Blokh to produce portraits of several contemporary writers for their forthcoming books. The ostensibly one-off job generated momentum for a whole series of virtuoso portraits of his contemporaries.
Inasmuch as the commissioned portraits were to be subsequently reproduced in black and white, it made no sense for Annenkov to execute the originals in oil or watercolour: the comparative advantages of these complex, labour-intensive techniques would invariably be lost. As the artist started the series in 1921–1922, he deliberately stuck exclusively to black ink and lead pencil, creating a uniform style, which encompassed two immutable principles: no full-body portraits (just the head, or, at most, chest- high portrait of the model); and an incisive, economical drawing style with geometrical emphases and fanciful line curvatures in the spirit of European Art Deco. The portraits of writers were soon followed by those of Annenkov’s fellow artists, as well as musicians, thespians, cinematic actors, and members of Soviet government.
The portrait of Alexander Bozheryanov (1882–1959) was probably created when the sitter and Annenkov both worked on the production of Nikolai Evreinov’s philosophical harlequinade The Main Thing at the Volnaia Komediia (Free Comedy) theatre in 1921. In his Diary of My Meetings, Annenkov recalls in some detail the project that they found so enthralling: “I engaged one of my friends, the artist Alexander Bozheryanov, in the stage-design aspect of the production as my ‘accomplice’. Bozheryanov and I did all we could — legally and illegally — to get hold of the material for my curtain. That was… difficult. But in certain back alleys and on ‘black’ markets, where dealers would scatter as soon as a policeman appeared, we succeeded, through sheer patience and perseverance, in obtaining the required material.”
It is no coincidence that, as Annenkov depicts his companion, he creates not just a portrait, but rather a sociobiographical variant thereof. Bozheryanov is surrounded not only by the tools of his trade — a large bottle of ink and a tube of paint — but also by the snapshots of quotidian life of Petrograd they had witnessed. The resulting image thus conveys both the model’s physiognomical traits and the typical features of artistic life of the early Soviet years.
In just over a year, the series was completed, and Annenkov decided to present some of the best works at the World of Art exhibition, held at the Anichkov Palace in Petrograd in May 1922. The exposition made a tremendous impression on the public and the critics, and the Portraits album, released in the autumn of that year, reinforced the impact. Bozheryanov’s portrait was reproduced in the album as an illustration for Mikhail Kuzmin’s article on Annenkov’s oeuvre. Undoubtedly, it is one of the most impressive works in the series.