'Flora' oil on canvas 165 x 100cm (64 15/16 x 39 3/8in).
PROVENANCE: Commissioned as part of a cycle of monumental works for Baron Jean de Brouwer for one of his rooms in the Manoir de Relais, Pommeroeul, Belgium Private collection
EXHIBITED: St. Petersburg, The State Russian Museum, Benois Wing, Zinaida Serebriakova. Nudes, 11 October - 22 November 2007
LITERATURE: V.P Kniazeva [ed.], Zinaida Serebriakova/ Letters. Reflections of contemporaries of the artist, 'Fine Art', Moscow, 1987, the artist's letter to A.N. Savinov [401-411], pp 204-208, 'Flora' illustrated, p.208 Vladimir Kruglov, 'Serebriakova's Nudes', Zinaida Serebriakova. Nudes, The State Russian Musueum, Palace Editions, 2007, pp.13-15, colour illustrations, pp.24-55 Nadezhda Tregub, 'The poetry of femininity', The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, No.1, 2008, pp.34-39, p.35 colour illustrations
In 1964, in a letter to Alexei Savinov, Serebriakova described her association with a Belgian nobleman, Baron de Brouwer and the murals she was painting for his house. 'The assignment was to paint decorative geographical maps in the 18th-century style, single-tined (my son did the maps); and I painted in the corners of the maps, against that background, the images of the 'four seasons' (summer with a sheaf, spring with flowers, etc.), and four figures standing in 'niches' on another wall. I painted all this in Paris and, unfortunately, did not see how all this looked on the walls, because the house was not quite ready yet, and the residents were yet to move in ... during the war the area was a battlefront, and de Brouwer's summer house was destroyed...' [Ref. Serebriakova, Zinaida, 'Letters. Reflections of contemporaries', Moscow Izobrazitelnoe iskusstvo, 1987, p. 206] from Nazdezhda Tregub, 'Zinaida Serebriakova. Nude Portraits', The Tretyakov Gallery; Heritage, No.1, 2008, pp.34-39.
In researching the lives and times of émigré Russian artists, Tamara Galeeva, the renowned Russian art historian and Dean of the Faculty of Culture and Art Studies at the Gorky Ural State University in Yekaterinburg, suggested to a colleague living in Belgium, Nadezhda Avdusheva-Lecomte, that she search for the Manoir du Relais and the murals. Astoundingly, the paintings and the Manoir had survived the war but had acquired new owners.
Serebriakova tailored the theme of this mural cycle to the interests and tastes of her patron, the Baron de Brouwer. de Brouwer, a contemporary Maecenas, commissioned Serebriakova to extol his virtues through art, as all artists under the auspices of a patron were obliged to do. de Brouwer's taste for classical art lent itself to Serebriakova's talent for the rendering of the naked human form, and for the four vertical panels she painted beautiful nudes with allegorical attributes which corresponded to the interests and talents of her patron: 'Jurisprudence', to represent his career as a lawyer; 'Flora', to illustrate his love of flowers, horticulture and plantations; 'Light', to acknowledge de Brouwer's directorships of power and gas plants, and 'Art', to represent his interest in and patronage of the arts. Serebriakova's daughter Ekaterina was the model for all four of the vertical panels and each represents a different angle, as if the sitter turns before the eyes of the viewer: en face, from the side, and from behind. Two large horizontal panels (145 x 710) were also created which depict four maps in cartouches (painted by Serebriakova's son, Alexander), illustrating places and countries which had fallen under the aegis of de Brouwer and his ancestors: Flanders, Morocco, India and Patagonia. Next to the maps Serebriakova painted half-seated female nudes which were initially intended to represent the four seasons, but she later changed their titles to the countries represented on the maps they adorned.
The monumental series is informed and inspired by the classical tradition of 'grisaille' painting where the painted image emulates sculptural forms. A visual reminder of Michaelangelo's Sibyls of the Sistine Chapel, the works transformed the Manoir de Relais into a Neo-classical villa, raising the ceiling beyond its physical height.
It is unsurprising that Serebriakova caught the attention of her rich patron. As one of the leading female artists of Russia's Silver Age, she produced a remarkable body of work identified by its unique combination of classical tradition, modern sensibilities and personal expressions. A frequent participant in art exhibitions, she established a brilliant beginning to a very promising career embracing a Neo-classical approach to modern painting. Recognized early for her harmonious and beautiful scenes depicting Russian peasant women, charming portraits of friends and contemporaries, and poetic self-portraits, Serebriakova continued to experiment with sculptural forms and classical compositions, successfully creating an unmistakable style of her own.
The turbulent years of the October Revolution and the Civil War and the personal misfortunes and tragedies of her family forced the artist to seek better opportunities abroad. Hoping for steady commissions in prosperous and bohemian Paris, Serebriakova left Russia in 1924 and settled in France. She earned a living painting society portraits but spent much of her free time exploring subjects she had first discovered in Russia. She continued to paint her children and close friends, often turning them into models. Serebriakova perfected her masterful rendering of the female form often presenting her models reclining and draped in voluminous fabrics. Regardless of the sitters and models, Serebriakova's nudes are always dignified, self-assured and classically beautiful. Creating arguably the most sensual and intimate images of the female body in the Russian art, the artist remained true to the Neo-Romantic tradition and her classical training. Nowhere is this devotion to the classical tradition more evident than in the offered lots which were created with the confidence and imagination reminiscent of the grand masters of the High Renaissance.
Recently discovered and brought back to public attention, this monumental series, of which the offered lots are part, is a ground-breaking discovery that informs and expands our understanding of Zinaida Serebriakova's exceptional artistic ability and poetic imagination. As Nadezhda Tregub says, 'These murals can be considered entirely cosmopolitan works: they were accomplished on a commission from Belgium, by an artist from Russia who worked in France, and who drew on the major achievements of all European art.' [Nadezhda Tregub, 'The poetry of femininity', The Tretyakov Gallery Magazine, No.1, 2008, p.39]
The offered lots will be exhibited at Triumph Gallery, Ilyinka Street, Moscow, from 13-17th May, 2012.