TWO PAINTINGS BY ALEXANDER VOLKOV FROM AN IMPORTANT PRIVATE EUROPEAN COLLECTION
Aleksandr Nikolaevich Volkov (Russian, 1886-1957)
'Tomato Harvest' ['Сбор помидоров'], 1944 signed in Cyrillic (lower right); further signed and dated '1944' (on verso) oil on canvas 66 x 66cm (26 x 26in).
PROVENANCE: The family of the artist The Fine Arts Fund of the USSR, 1966 (selected with the aid of George Costakis) Acquired from the above by a distinguished European businessman in 1967 Thence by descent to an important private collection, Europe
In Volkov's artistic biography, 1944 was a period of intensive work and fruitful communication with important artists, in particular with Alexander Tyshler, who withdrew to Tashkent with the Jewish theatre of Solomon Mikhoels; Volkov was also in touch with Alexander Labas and Mikhail Chemyakin, a student of Serov and Korovin.
Volkov wielded considerable authority during this period: he was elected Chairman of the Picture Department and board member of the Union of Artists of Uzbekistan; he taught at the School of Arts and was also awarded the medal 'For Heroism in Work'. It was during this 'thaw' in the political atmosphere that Volkov gained more recognition for his achievements and yet, shortly after the war which heralded an end to the thaw, Volkov was forced to step down from his high positions and his post at the school and was confined to isolation for more than a decade.
The most important of Volkov's works of this period are: Crossing the Stream, 1944 (New Jerusalem Museum, Istra), Picking Cotton, 1944 (GMI, Tashkent), Flowers. Sill life, 1944 (Private collection, Moscow), At the Canal (Evening), 1946-56 (Private Collection), as well as a series of self-portraits and portraits of his contemporaries.
Tomato Harvest is a vivid example of the development of a theme on which Volkov had been working since the 1920s and which he called 'landscape and genre'. With the offered lot, Volkov employs the theme and yet reveals it in a completely new way. The importance of nature in his works became a characteristic feature of this period, with the figures being of secondary significance and not dominating the composition in the way they did in his paintings of the 1920s-30s. In contrast to his earlier period, Volkov's works from the 1940s to the 1950s, show the figures in an organic context within the surrounding nature.
Volkov employed a new method of painting in Tomato Harvest, as well as in portraits and still lifes of this period; this involved his alternately applying thin and thick brushstrokes to the canvas. Each touch of the brush was sensitive to the movement of the air, colour and texture, and Volkov was interested in comparing different, yet similar nuances of colour in the material world and expressing the unity of colour and light.
In the execution of the offered lot, Volkov developed the technique of the 'fused brush stroke', whereby he applied a thick amount of paint with a spatula or a piece of broken glass in order to create a mixture of colour on the canvas. This technique represented an accumulation of the artist's entire experience of life and knowledge of impressionist pictures, the traditions of Rembrandt and Titian, and the deep and dark linings in the foregrounds of the Old Masters.
Volkov's main artistic goal was the representation of the unity of colour, form and light so as to depict the 'quiver of life', thus unifying deep philosophical conclusions with the subject in hand. These genre scenes are painted with such accomplishment, that they are very often mistaken for his works painted en plein air and yet, from the mid-1940s, Volkov was primarily working from memory, using material accumulated over the many years of his experience. On occasion, he would go out to his front garden to see the play of light in the leaves of the trees: 'I don't need the whole earth just a small piece is enough' (A.N. Volkov).
Tomato Harvest is a painting about the twin subjects of fertility and harvest: the growing and the plucking. It is an image of joy, but with a thread of sadness running through it: the end of summer, the end of the season of ripening and autumn looms large. The artist lighted upon this theme a few times in his career with the following works: The Ripening of Tomatoes, 1939-40, oil on board, (Private collection); By the Canal (Evening) (Private Collection, Moscow), Evening (Tomato Harvest), 1946-56, oil on board, (GMI, Tashkent). In comparison with other paintings on this theme, the offered lot should be considered as reflection of the mature age of the master.
Tomato Harvest is painted on canvas, which illustrates the great importance of the painting, as during the war every piece of canvas was treasured and most works created at this time were painted on cardboard or plywood and large-scale canvases were often made out of various scraps of fabric. In winter, stretchers were often used as wood for the fire and canvases were unstretched and rolled up. That Tomato Harvest retained its original stretcher, demonstrates its particular importance for the artist.
Andrei Volkov, 2013
We are grateful to Andrei Volkov, grandson of the artist, for providing this note.