The village dance, 1920s oil on canvas 116 x 81cm (45 11/16 x 31 7/8in).
PROVENANCE: Private collection, Europe
EXHIBITED: Stockholm, Milan and Paris (according to label applied to verso of stretcher)
The theme of Russian peasant women shaped Philip Maliavin's imagination from early on. His paintings were able to capture the intensity of emotions and spirit of creative freedom, with which he associated with them. When in 1899, graduating from the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, he presented Smekh (International Gallery of Modern Art, Venice) as his graduation piece, the freedom of his painterly expression troubled the academic jury to the extent that this work was rejected by the Council of the Academy. Only through the intervention of I. E. Repin, did Maliavin receive the title of artist. Nevertheless, in 1900, Smekh was the recipient of a gold medal at the World Exhibition, in Paris.
Continually returning to the theme of folk dance, whirlwind motion and uncontrollable laughter, Maliavin discovered various forms of expression for his admiration of the beauty, strength and daring of the Russian woman and it was such that his chosen technique of painting best reflected the subject of his paintings. The essayist, literary critic and philosopher V. Rozanov said that Maliavin's Three Babas depicts a timeless Russia, not purely one of a particular age: 'The brush strokes look like bricks randomly thrown at each other', he wrote, but 'these bricks are capable of conveying an extraordinary impression of prehistoric spirit as well as the overall brightness of the image.' In spite of the apparent spontaneity of his works, Maliavin's style is comprehensively planned, so that every brush stroke and colour he uses contributes essentially to the overall image.
Following his departure from Russia in 1922, Maliavin continued to work abroad, during which time he participated in exhibitions in both Europe and America. The influence of those unrestrained whirlwind-like dances, movement and laughter never lost their hold on his artistic imagination.