VISIONARY REVUE


Three Black Women - 1912
(Trois Négresses Sereines)

LA FEMME NOIRE

      Throughout the First World War and the Russian Revolution, Kalmakoff remained in St. Petersburg. Aside from his painting and designs for the stage, he also drew 'ex-libris' plates and book covers. A few of these have been recovered, revealing an exotic as well as erotic dimension to his work. Here, wild flora and fauna abound - leopards, serpents, peacocks and palm trees (Ex-Libris for N. Teffi - c 1910).
      But more so, he is obsessed by la femme noire - black woman as primitive and primordial - which is most evident in The Negresse (1929) as well as the illustration for The Tent (1921) and his early painting Three Black Women (1912).
      As if to emphasize this contrast between 'civilized man' and 'primordial woman', Kalmakoff rendered himself as a foppish French aristocrat with a naked negresse slave. She appears both amused and aroused by the touch of his all-too-white finger on her dark skin (Self Portrait with a Black Woman c. 1923).
      At the same time that Kalmakoff painted this self-portrait, Parisiens were hailing Jospehine Baker for her all-nude show at La Revue Nègre. But, given his Baroque manner of dress, Kalmakoff may also


 
 
 


PARIS - SPRING 2004


Three Black Women Before a Serpent:
Illustration for The Tent- 1921



be trying to evoke Jean-Jacques Rousseau and his Discourse on Inequality.
      Here, the 'noble savage' is praised and preferred to the decadence of civilized man. (Indeed, passages from this book, particularly on sex and savages, read like a manifesto for Kalmakoff's work: "In instinct alone, man had all that he required for living in the state of nature; in cultivated reason, he has only what he requires for living in society... Among the passions that stir the human heart, there is an ardent impetuous one that makes one sex necessary to the other, a terrible passion that... in its fury, seems calculated to destroy the human race that it is fated to preserve." - Rousseau).
      Related to this painting is another self-portrait, dated the same year, which reveals Kalmakoff once again as a wigged aristocrat (Self Portrait as Louis XIV - 1923). However, this time he holds in his hand a strangely exotic plant, seemingly poisonous, whose triangular flower undoubtedly resembles a woman’s sex. Kalmakoff's misogyny, pronouced as ever, even extends to the plant world.
      The unusual rendering of the eyes in this portrait - serpent's eyes - is a recurring feature to be found in many of Kalmakoff's works. The serpent itself, as a sexual symbol of death and rebirth, is an obsessive motif - undulating its way through most of Kalmakoff's labyrinth.


 
 
 


<--LAST PAGE

 


NEXT PAGE -->

 
 


HOME

 


EDITORIAL

 


KALMAKOFF:
THE FORGOTTEN
VISIONARY

 


VISIONARY
ART
IN FRANCE

 


ERNST FUCHS
SPEAKS

 
 


KALMAKOFF
GALLERY

 


FRENCH
VISIONARY ART
GALLERY

 


MATI
KLARWEIN
REMEMBERED

 


KALMAKOFF
LINKS

 


FRENCH
VISIONARY ART
LINKS