Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev (Russian, 1887-1938) Loge de Théâtre à Pekin

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Lot 41* W
Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev
(Russian, 1887-1938)
Loge de Théâtre à Pekin

Sold for £ 302,500 (US$ 404,767) inc. premium
Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev (Russian, 1887-1938)
Loge de Théâtre à Pekin
inscribed in Chinese 'Yakovlev. Painted by a Russian in China. Beijing. 1918' (on banner within painting); applied paper label inscribed 'Iacovleff/Baron Lambert/9 ru de la Baume/non payé' (on verso)
tempera on canvas
107.5 x 118cm (42 5/16 x 46 7/16in).


  • Provenance
    Baron Lambert de Rothschild, c. 1928.
    George Lebert, Belgium (acquired from the above).
    Private collection, Belgium (gift from the above, c. 1972).
    Thence by descent.

    Paris, Galerie Barbazanges, Alexandre Iakovleff, dessins et peintures d'Asie, 18 April – 1 May, 1920.
    London, Grafton Galleries, Catalogue of paintings and drawings by Alexandre Iacovleff, Mary MacLeod, C.S. Meacham, E.LL. Norris, S.P. Wood., T.P. Wood, 28 May-19 June, 1920, no. 104.
    Paris, Galerie La Boëtie, Exposition des artistes russes à Paris en 1921, 1921.
    Brussels, Le palais des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles, Exposition d'Art Russe Ancien et Moderne, May-June 1928, no. 719.

    Catalogue of paintings and drawings by Alexandre Iacovleff, Mary MacLeod, C.S. Meacham, E.LL. Norris, S.P. Wood, T.P. Wood, exh. cat., 1920, p. 7, under no. 104.
    Victor Golubev, Les Dessines et Peintures d'Extrême-Orient d'Alexandre Iacovleff, Paris, 1922, pl.15.
    Tchou-Kia-Kien, Le Théâtre Chinois: Peintures, Sanguines et Croquis d'Alxandre Iakovleff, Paris, 1922.
    Chu-Chia Chien and Alexandre Iacovleff, The Chinese Theatre, London, 1922, illus. p. 4 as 'Peking Men's Box.'
    Exposition d'Art Russe Ancien et Moderne, exh. cat., Brussels, 1928, p. 73, under no. 719.

    In 1917, the young Russian painter, graphic artist and theatre designer Aleksandr Yakovlev used a fellowship he was awarded by the Imperial Academy of Arts to visit China, Mongolia and Japan. While the October Revolution forever transformed the social and political system of Russia, Yakovlev immersed himself in the culture of the Far East, and the impressions and experiences from this journey laid the foundation for his remarkable career and the unparalleled success he achieved as an artist.

    Theatre occupied an important place in Yakovlev's oeuvre from the onset of his career. He was an active member of 'Mir Iskusstva' and collaborated with Sergei Diaghilev to design sets and costumes for the Ballets Russes. Yakovlev saw theatre as an intricate combination of music, fine art and choreography, which had the power to transform the real world into a playful masquerade, to entertain and educate its audience. It is therefore unsurprising that the timeless beauty of the Chinese theatre particular captivated Yakovlev, who sought to capture the colourful costumes, ceremonies and rituals of the ancient culture. During the two years he spent in China, the artist filled numerous notebooks with sketches inspired by his observations and produced an enormous body of work, which continued to inspire him long after he left Asia. Beguiled by the customs and traditions of China's ancient culture, he adopted a Chinese 'chop mark' to phonetically represent his name as 'Ya-Ko-Lo-Fu,' subsequently using it as an alternative signature.

    In Loge de Théâtre à Pékin, Yakovlev expertly captured the arresting effect of this ancient art form. Choosing an unusual viewpoint, he depicted a men's box in a traditional Chinese theatre, without depicting the performance itself. The trellised balustrade and ceiling beams frame a group of twelve spectators, engaged in intense observation of the action on stage. Dressed in typical northern Chinese clothing, they differ in ages and appearances. Hardly just passive spectators, the men in the box are an active part of the performance through their impassioned engagement; they brilliantly convey the drama, emotions and theatricality of the performance to the viewer. In Loge de Théâtre à Pékin, Yakovlev transforms the audience into yet another character in a centuries-old spectacle of theatrical magic. Effectively engaging the viewer in a fascinating intellectual interplay of the observant and the observed, he comments on the very nature of the relationship between art and its audience. In a unique self-referential gesture, the artist included his signature on the red banner draped beneath the box; translated from traditional Chinese, it reads: 'Yakovlev. Painted by a Russian in China. Beijing. 1918.'

    Yakovlev came to regard Chinese theatre as an extraordinary art form 'at once filled with simplicity and wisdom' and as a window which allowed him to understand both China's heritage and modernity. In the book that he illustrated and co-wrote with Chu-Chia Chen, an expert on the history of Chinese theatre, Yakovlev eloquently expressed his fascination with this dramatic art:

    It was at Peking, whose countless walls one after the other reveal the phantoms and ancient mysteries of the autocratic East, where the profane hands of the traveller may touch the abandoned throne of the Celestials, that I entered into contact with modernized China and that I attempted to understand and comprehend the charm of her thousand year old culture...Conventional and profoundly human, created by a people, this art has since assumed a divine form...We are transported back to the earliest times and see China as painted by Marco Polo, or as we divine her in the works of Confucius (Chu-Chia Chen, The Chinese Theatre, London, John Lane, The Bodley Head Limited, p. 6).

    Yakovlev must have been aware of his ambivalent relationship to the dramatic art he was observing: even though an outsider to the culture, he possessed a keen sensitivity to the expressiveness and vitality of art, later vividly describing his own impressions of the Chinese theatre:

    The scarlet beams of the monumental porch, a sort of miniature triumphal arch, the gay and brilliant mosaic of the posters, the lanterns ornamented by letters with living forms, the crowd, the tumult of ceaseless coming and going, all form a varied symphony of sound and colour. The sound of the tam-tam, the sound of hard wood beating the measure, guiding the orchestra and the movements of the actors, irritates the nerves and produces almost morbid sensations. At times the sharp voice of the little serpent skin violin or the shrill flute dominate all other noises. The rhythm of this strange orchestra produces a visual impression of measure similar to that created by music (ibid., p. 6).

    Later in the book, Yakovlev and Chu-Chia Chen explained the customs of traditional Chinese theatre, as well as its cultural significance. Public theatres were not meant to simply entertain a public, but rather to educate the society in morals and values:

    But being a place of moral uplifting, the theatre is expected to stimulate virtuous sentiments by picturing on the stage great historic acts of bravery and patriotism. It must condemn vice by showing the punishment of traitors, evildoers, the ungrateful, wives who are untrue, etc. (ibid., p. 20).

    The present painting is the brilliant culmination of Yakovlev's experiences from his pivotal artistic journey through the Far East. Although Yakovlev continued to travel extensively for the rest of his life, no trip affected him as profoundly as did his first visit to China. He never returned to Russia, ultimately settling Paris. In 1920, Yakovlev exhibited the paintings inspired by his trip through China at the fashionable Galerie Barbazanges. The exhibition drew tremendous acclaim from the public, and Yakovlev's paintings were quickly acquired by various collectors. A visitor to the show praised the artist's ability to depict the Chinese culture:

    Without any attempt at neo-Orientalism, with no endeavor to imitate or evoke Eastern art forms, the pictures...represented Chinese scenes and people: the spectators at the play, actors and dancers, faces hallucinatingly disguised or the sad, wrinkled features of the peasantry and the poor, the life of the streets and of the country, figures and landscapes. Purity in execution, the uncompromising character of the masterly drawing, the clean intensity of the vivid colours, the absence of light and shadow opposition and of everything illusory or accidental, brought the fifteenth century masters of Italy, Germany and Flanders to mind at once. No concession of the slightest order was made to chance, no claim made on any faculty save that of sheer accomplishment (M. Ciolkowska, 'Iacovleff—Civilized Painter, 'International Studio, 1922, pp. 159-160).

    Some time after the successful 1920 exhibit at the Galerie Barbazanges, Loge de Théâtre à Pekin was acquired by the prominent banker and art collector Baron Lambert de Rothschild of Belgium and has since remained in private collections.
Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev (Russian, 1887-1938) Loge de Théâtre à Pekin
Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev (Russian, 1887-1938) Loge de Théâtre à Pekin
Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev (Russian, 1887-1938) Loge de Théâtre à Pekin
Aleksandr Evgen'evich Yakovlev (Russian, 1887-1938) Loge de Théâtre à Pekin
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