VISIONARY REVUE



Genuflecting Monster - 1910
(La Génuflexion de Monstre)

      Is it possible that Kalmakoff used a form of frottage, creating a mix of swirling forms, in which he then 'saw' certain figures, and subsequently picked them out and refined them with his brush? A fellow painter once remarked that Kalmakoff would "...look at the sun directly in the face." (KAL 15) Did this blinding vision produce the unusual work Chariot with Eight Horses (1911), which depicts Helios in his solar chariot?
      The other characteristic immediately recognizable in his early works is the strong stylized line which sillhouettes figures otherwise lost in waves of intense colour. As Martin du Nord has noted, Kalmakoff's early works were marked by stylistic features stemming from the Mir Iskousstva movement. Like the Sezessionist painters of Vienna and Munich (Klimt, Von Stück) or the Art Nouveau style in Paris and London (Mucha, Beardsley), the Mir Iskousstva painters of St. Petersburg (Vroubel, Bakst, Somov) placed great emphasis on line, design, and strong colours, often enhanced with Byzantine patterns and spirals in gold.
      Mir Iskousstva means literally 'art world'. The movement emerged in direct opposition to the Democratic Realism so prevalent in Slavic painting of the period. Foregoing the realistic depictions of Russian peasant life, they followed Oscar Wilde's cry of 'art for art's sake', celebrating decadent visions of chimera and femmes fatales in the swirling linear style of Art Nouveau and Jugendstil. Many of the artists from this fin de siècle movement - Bakst, Benois, Kalmakoff - also worked for the theatre. Through Diaghilev and his Ballets Russes, the works of Mir Iskousstva became known in Paris and, in 1909, throughout the world.
      According to René Guerra, a Kalmakoff collector: "Kalmakoff had in common with this group a pronounced taste for theatrical decoration, graphic art and even book illustration. He shared with them a certain aestheticism. His own style, during this time, was moved by the same spirit that animated all their works: an extremely decorative approach with violent colours, rich textures and pronounced stylization." (KAL 31)





 
 
 


PARIS - SPRING 2004



Chariot with Eight Horses - 1911
(Char à huit Chevaux)

      Martin du Nord has divided Kalmakoff's oeuvre into three periods. During this, his First Period (1908 - 1913), his stylistic involvement with the Mir Iskousstva movement is in evidence. In the Second Period (1913 - 1928), du Nord remarks that his colours lose their intensity, and the decorative sinuosity in his line becomes less pronounced. Meanwhile, the figures (which previously were rather flat) gain a greater sense of volume and relief. Finally, in the Third Period, (1928 - 1955), his Secessionist style acquires new strengths. Though briefly tempted by Pre-Raphaelite subjects and colours, he fully embraces the Italian Renaissance, and creates works with increasingly academic qualities. (Georges Martin du Nord, ‘Nicolas Kalmakoff’ in le Réalisme Fantastique, Jean-Claude Guibert, Editions Opta, Paris 1973 p. 18.)

KALMAKOFF AND THE THEATRE

      Kalmakoff's association with the Mir Iskousstva movement came about through his love of the theatre. Although a notorious misanthrope who rarely left his home, Kalmakoff made a sole exception. As Mgebrov recalls: "I never saw him leave his house, except to go to the theatre... Kalmakoff loved the theatre with a mad passion. (KAL 21)
      Through his friendship with Nicolai Evreinoff (formed at the Imperial School of Law), Kalamkoff began to work for the theatre - designing costumes and decors which many of his contemporaries could accurately recall years later, even though they'd otherwise forgotten the play.



 
 
 


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