Portrait of Olga Andreeva signed, titled and dated '1966' in Cyrillic (on verso) oil on canvas 79.2 x 69.5cm (31 3/16 x 27 3/8in).
PROVENANCE: With Art Moderne Cultural Centre, 39 Bolshaya Ordynka, Moscow Purchased from the above in 1992 by the present owners (Private collection, France)
I am primarily an artist of one concept alone, the concept of breakthrough, of freedom [Erik Bulatov to Andrei Erofeev in Erofeev, 'Erik Bulatov as destroyer', Exhibition catalogue: Erik Bulatov 'Vot', Tretyakov Gallery, 19 September- 19 November, 2006, pp. 9-14.]
The offered lot is a striking and very rare example of an early portrait by the leading Moscow Conceptualist, Erik Bulatov. Painted in what is known as the artist's 'Falk period', the strucure imparted by the bold colours of the work foreshadows the central role of colour and perspective in the artist's later, graphically-inspired, conceptual pictures. The combination of the striking red of the sitter's clothing and its tonal diffusion throughout the space of the painting illustrates the influence of Robert Falk and the Knave of Diamonds on Bulatov's early canon of work, while at the same time bisecting the canvas and importing a sense of perspective. The symmetry of the painting is also remarkable, with the triangle shape of the woman's upper body contrasting with the triangle shape cast by her legs. This is a figurative work imbued with a modernist reading of colour, shape and light and reveals Bulatov as the heir to the formalist concerns of the Russian avant-garde, so contrary to the confines of the school of Soviet Realist painting.
Bulatov's subject is Olga Andreeva, granddaughter of the famous writer Leonid Andreev. An artist and writer herself, Andreeva was the perfect sitter for an artist who subverted and commented upon the dictates of the state in his work, for she would later be renowned for her efforts to help Solzhenitsyn smuggle his manuscripts out of the Soviet Union and publish them in the West. Born to a family of emigrés in Paris in 1930, Andreeva's mother was the adopted daughter of Victor Chernov, leader of the Socialist Revolutionary Party, and while growing up in exile, Andreeva met many leading Russian cultural figures who passed through her family home in Paris, including Marina Tsvetaeva and Isaac Babel. In 1951, Andreeva married the American novelist Henry Carlisle and moved to America, making frequent visits to Moscow, during one of which she would have sat for this painting.
1966, the year in which the offered lot was painted, was a liminal year for Bulatov stylistically. He painted Horizontal I & II and Diagonal I & II and other works which illustrate his increasingly abstract and conceptual style. It is interesting to consider the offered lot in the context of City at Night, 1967 [fig. I], from the Igor Tsukanov Collection of Russian Art, which cites the offered lot in its composition. In terms of tracking Bulatov's artistic progression, one could argue that City at Night nods referentially to his 'Falk' period while incorporating it into a reconstitution of his objective artistic vision.