The young girl signed in Latin (lower right) oil on canvas 55.5 x 46.3cm (21 7/8 x 18 1/4in).
PROVENANCE: With Galleria Bardi, via Brera N.16, Milan, c.1929 (according to label applied to verso of canvas) Acquired by Mr. Arthur G. Moll, silk trader in Milan and great-grandfather of the present owner Thence by descent in the family
EXHIBITED: Milan, Galleria Bardi, exhibition of works by Maliavin, March 1929 (very possibly as Devushka)
Pietro Maria Bardi, the founder of Galleria Bardi, was known to be exhibiting and offering works by Maliavin from February 1929. Bardi closed his gallery in Milan in 1930 and moved to Rome. Maliavin enjoyed success in Milan and was, by November 1932, exhibiting his works at the Institute 'Nuova Vita' on via dell' Orso.
The theme of the Russian peasant woman was central to Philip Maliavin throughout his artistic career. His painting Smekh, completed as a graduation piece upon finishing the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, gained wide recognition a year later when it received a gold medal at the World Exposition in Paris. Images of village maidens dressed in traditional costumes and dancing freely were not mere portraits of the real woman of Russia observed by the artist but more romanticized depictions of vibrant beauty, vivacious energy, and sparkling joy. The charm of Maliavin's paintings lies in their triumphant colours and sprawling energy manifested in broad, expressive brushstrokes of fiery red, brown and blue.
The present painting, probably completed by the artist for one of his exhibitions held in Italy in the 1920s, shows a charming image of a young peasant girl pausing in the midst of a dance, contemplating the next move or the world around her. Her head slightly tilted to the right, one hand raised to touch her cheek and her facial expression dreamy and contemplative, she projects an unexpected serenity and peaceful grace. The colours of her dress gain a brightness and vibrancy increasing upwards from brown and mossy green, followed by flaming mauve red and exploding into the vibrant blue of woman's blouse. The paints are laid in strokes of varying thickness, shape and direction. The movement begins at the lower right, picks up in the flowing skirt reaching its culmination in the swollen sleeves of the shirt. In 1906, the well-known art critic Sergei Glagol wrote of Maliavin '... his colour solutions invariably give me a feeling that they signify something else, something infinitely deeper than colours as such... His peasant women seem to embody an instinctive, vague guess at some peculiar quality inherent in the Russian spirit itself.'
Maliavin's work, completed in Europe after the artist left Russia in 1922, exhibits a particular nostalgia and he often produced lyrical variations of the earlier successful themes so popular with the public and art critics alike. The artist was able to create great works of art, of which the current work is a splendid example, striking in its pictorial splendour and the dignity of its human subjects. In the present work, like so many of his earlier masterpieces, the artist with the utmost force and brilliance celebrates the beauty of the Russian woman, and the glorious beauty of Russia.