VISIONARY REVUE


Evening Light - 1915
Lumière Vespérale

WAR, REVOLUTION AND EXILE


      Though Kalmakoff preferred a cloistered existence in order to pursue his timeless visions, he could not help but respond to the ravages of war which were breaking all around him. One response was to produce a series of five lithographs. The profits gained through the sale of these postcards were donated to the Society of St. Eugénie, the Russian version of the Red Cross. These four images possess an undeniable beauty. The angel of The Sleeping City(1917) calls upon the inhabitants to awaken. But, in the Evening Light(1915, above), three angels look down from a flaming red sky with unease and disarm at the spectacle below. Then, in The Heavenly Wrath(1915, right) another angel flies across the sky with the city below in flaming ruins. Still, it points its sword towards victory in the future. In the last of the series, called Paradise (1915), a sole angel smiles as she promenades through the promised paradise.
      If, in 1915, Kalmakoff's vision of the war was patriotic and hopeful, by 1917 this view had deteriorated considerably. His painting The Wrath of War(1917) manifests unquestionably his rejection of patriotism and bitter recognition of war's brutalities. Amid a wasteland of smoke and burning ruins, a canon-creature aims its deadly fire. It has the legs of an insect and two eyes atop its canon mouth, while her menacing brood of cannonballs huddle just beneath. Finally, in the foreground, an ignited bomb is about to explode. This anti-war statement is fantastic and nightmarish, a form of Surrealism before its time.
      If the ravages of war were not enough, the outbreak of Revolution in 1917 finally sent Kalmakoff abroad. He did not leave immediately, lingering in St. Petersburg until the early 1920's. But, when he left, it was never to return. Though he brought his canvases and paints with him, the noted misanthrope left his wife and children behind. "He abandoned his family in Russia," recalled Ivanoff, a later acquaintance of Kalmakoff from his Parisian period. "But, to accomplish great works, musn't a true artist remain solitary?" (KAL 15)




 
 
 


PARIS - SPRING 2004


Heavenly Wrath - 1915
Le Courroux des Cieux





      Kalmakoff left to posterity a canvas which reflects his personal views on marriage. Bitter, sarcastic, a parody at most, The Wedding Couple(1922) is perhaps the blackest 'wedding portrait' ever executed. The couple stand at the altar with their wedding candles in hand - he, a slobbering drooling corpse with lascivious eyes; she, a heap of flesh so immense that her cheeks and mouth seem more like ass and anus. The painting was executed around the same time that he left his wife behind. "It all belonged to the past," recalled Mme S, his last intimate, "a past of which he never spoke at all." (KAL 7)
      At first, Kalmakoff spent several years in the Baltic states, hovering around Russia's borders as if hopeful that the Revolution would somehow blow over and he could finally return home. April of 1922, in the Esthonian city of Reval, he staged an exhibition of his theatrical decors. One year later, he had another exhibition at Strindberg's in Helsingfors. But otherwise, he remained solitary and reclusive, painting some of the darkest works in his oeuvre.
      In 1924 he left Esthonia for the Riviera. But this sojourn was cut short after Kalmakoff killed his lover's husband in duel. "Whenever we were together" recalled Ivanoff, "he never mentioned his relationships with women. And yet, I heard that he had often fought duels, and had even killed the husband of one of his conquests." (KAL 15) The blood-stained handkerchief from the duel was found among his personal belongings after his death.
      The artist fled to the north of France. At first, he may have settled in Brussels, given his exhibition there at Galerie le Roy in June of 1924 (where one hundred and thirty-three works were displayed - the majority now lost). But he soon found his way to Paris, settling into the hotel de la rue la Rochefoucault on the borders of Pigalle and Montmartre, not far from the Musée Gustave Moreau. He was fifty-three years old, and would remain there for the next twenty-one years.


 
 
 


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