VISIONARY REVUE




Self Portrait - 1924
and Kalmakoff's signature

PARIS REVIVAL

      The theme of resurrection and re-emergence continues with his Mysterious Trumpet Blast(1924). A winged centaur leaps across a mighty chasm, sounding a trumpet-call to awaken the sleeping figures below. And, from the midsts of the cloudy spiralling abyss, the sun of a new day rises. The revival of Kalmakoff is heralded triumphantly.
      From his room in the rue de la Rochefoucault, the chimerical artist had begun a new life. He shunned association with the circle of Russian émigrés living in Paris, refusing all invitations to their soirées. In one of his few remaining letters, he writes to offer his excuses: "My dear friend, it will be impossible for me to see you tomorrow evening, because of my terrible aversion towards all things Russian..." For years, the concierge of the hotel thought he was Italian.
      The Self-Portrait of 1924 (above) offers a direct gaze into the eyes of the man, aged fifty-one. "After seeing Kalmakoff's paintings," Mgebrov wrote, "you would think he was highly unusual. Nothing like it. In life, Kalmakoff was always a decent man, calm and elegant, a master over himself. He was rather small. His high forehead was framed by sparse curly hair. His placid features and small moustache 'in the Spanish style' reminded you of Renaissance painters." (KAL 21) By contrast, Anna Evreinoff recalled "He was gloomy, distant and taciturn - a tragic character, as if one possessed. He always lived in his own thoughts and visions. These, he put into his canvases, but the outside world was something he never accepted." (KAL 13)



Kalmakoff with Ivanoff's daughters, 1929.


 
 
 


PARIS - SPRING 2004


Astarte - 1926

      Despite his distance from the Russian community, Kalmakoff did renew his association with the Evreinoffs when they arrived in Paris one year later. Evreinoff put him in contact with Natacha Troukhanova, a Franco-Russian dancer who wanted to re-stage in Paris the original St. Petersburg production of Salome, complete with Kalmakoff's scandal-provoking designs.
      With funding from the Rothchilds, and Troukhanova in the lead role, rehearsals commenced at the Théâtre d'Oeuvre. Immediately, history repeated itself. Troukhanova and Kalmakoff began an affair which upset the entire production. The show was postponed to the next season, and then, entirely abandoned. The scandalous decor that rocked St. Petersburg in 1909 would not see the light in Paris of 1925.
      But, the affair did inspire in Kalmakoff a renewed vision of woman, resulting in some of his finest erotic works. His Astarte (1926 above) is charged with sexual energy: the nude goddess's outstretched arms emanate her eros across the heavens. The two griffons seated at her feet inspire majesty. The Syrian Goddess by Lucian reminds us that the original statuary of Astarte portrayed her standing on two lions (hence the gryphons) with a star or crescent moon (seen lower right) as her symbol.
      In 1928, Kalmakoff had an exhbition at Galerie Charpentier in Paris. One hundred and sixty-two works were on offer. Despite a bevy of good critiques, it would be the last exhibition during Kalmakoff's life. Around this same time, forty of his works were put in storage - and then forgotten for the next thirty-five years.
      As we have seen, they emerged when the storage keeper finally sold them 'for a couple hundred francs' to the Drouot auction house. And eventually they made their way to the Marché de St. Ouen flea market in Paris where Bertrand Collin du Bocage and Georges Martin du Nord bought them up. Thus began the revival of interest in Kalmakoff's works, and the resurrection of the artist himself.
      In December of 2001, the magazine Art Cult reported that "a gouache representing a galant scene by the Russian artist Nicolai Kalmakoff soared well beyond its offering price of 50,000 Francs ($7,000) and was finally sold for 280,000 Francs ($40,000) at an auction organized by Boisgirard."
      At the time of writing, ArtistSearch.com has listed the recent sale of a Kalmakoff pen and ink Gateway to Dreams for $26,000. Meanwhile, the watercolour The Winged Goddess of Wine has just sold for $55,000. Speculation is driving the prices of Kalmakoff's works to ever-greater heights.



 
 
 


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