Galerie Louis Carré, Paris (label on verso).
Sale Sotheby’s London, October 26th, 1989, lot 384.
Sale Christie’s London, February 9th, 2007, lot 160.
“In my childhood, I dreamed of being a clown[…]. There is nonetheless a difference between a clown and a painter: the clown puts colors on his face instead of on a canvas.” 1 Born in Moscow in 1902 into a family which belonged to the upper Russian aristocracy, Lanskoy from a very young age was fascinated with color. The stagesets of the cabarets which he frequented as an adolescent triggered his first artistic emotions. In 1917, the Lanskoy family went into exile in Kiev, where the young man took some courses in an academy of decorative arts. After a second exile to Berlin, and enrollment in the White Army, from which he returned undermined by illness and dejected by defeat, Lanskoy arrived in Paris in 1921 with his parents and younger sister.
In the Montparnasse quarter, this autodidact who admired the Douanier Rousseau realized his dream of becoming a painter. Integrated into the artistic circles of Russian immigrants, Lanskoy presented his canvases for the first time in 1923 in an exhibition organized at La Licorne Gallery by the Tcherez group in reaction to the “folkloric” Russian art of Mir Iskoustva and the Russian Ballets. He frequented Sonia Delaunay, Chaïm Soutine, and Zadkine. At the Autumn Salon of 1924, the Bing Gallery noticed his work, then exhibited and sold one of his paintings to Roger Dutilleul. The collector and his nephew Jean Masurel would become Lanskoy’s main patrons. They helped, in the course of a profound friendship, to broaden the young painter’s artistic training and assured his subsistence for nearly twenty years.
The exhibition Origins and Development of Independent International Art, organized in 1937 at the Jeu de Paume Museum, marked a turning point in the knowledge and appreciation of abstract art in France. Here the general public discovered Paul Klee and Kandinsky. The event contributed to the evolution of Lanskoy’s sensitivity as his art gradually moved towards abstraction. In 1944, Dutilleul introduced Lanskoy to Louis Carré: “You will never be mistaken with a colorist.” An ambitious man with sure taste, Carré had opened his gallery in 1938, and was certain of the trust of the most prestigious contemporary art institutions. In 1944, Lanskoy signed a contract with the gallery owner who specifically undertook to sell the painting which we present, entitled Needless Afflictions. Louis Carré and Lanskoy were very close: in 1959, the dealer commissioned six paintings for his “Maison Carré” built by Alvar Aalto in Bazoches-sur-Guyonne. Shortly after, a disagreement caused the two men with very distinct temperaments to clash. From one day to the next, their friendship came to an end and the sale of Lanskoy’s paintings in the Louis Carré Gallery abruptly ceased.
“When I take color from the palette, it is not more figurative if it is intended to depict a flower, nor more abstract if it is intended to create an imaginary form. I was a figural painter inspired by every subject. However now the abstract is the means to say more, to enlarge the battle field, to express myself more completely. […] The point of departure is always Nature and the world belongs to me as it belongs to everyone. Perhaps I am not a pure abstract painter. “Non figurative” would make more sense. However those are only words ! One must not paint the abstract or the figurative : one must paint a picture !” 2
Begun in 1937, Lanskoy’s passage to the non figurative was gradual. He executed a number of experiments in gouache which confirmed his pictorial identity. He had exhibited his first abstract works during the war in the Jeanne Bucher Gallery where he had met Nicolas de Staël.
The 1950’s, at Louis Carré’s was the decade of his notoriety. Our work, dated 1955, is characteristic of this flourishing period. Although Lanskoy was first and foremost a colorist who maintained a lyric, immediate and energetic approach to his colors, he always began with drawing and structuring his picture with a few strokes of charcoal or pastel. Drawing is “always a fairly elastic skeleton”, he wrote and continued, “Then color intervenes and the struggle has begun. Everything is gestation and the painting is not yet born. Soon, an agreement is reached between forms and colors; the picture finds its center and begins to exist.” 3 Here, the artist has juxtaposed energetically brushed and constructed splotches in a range of off whites, beige and greys. A similar manner, like a color scale, can be seen in the same period in Untitled (oil on canvas, 1955, 73 x 101 cm. / 28 ¾ x 37 ¾ in. private collection). The impasto brushstroke is heightened by a sky blue window and a pure yellow ochre: Lanskoy worked color directly out of the tube with a brush or finger and used a marble table as his palette. The dynamic is established by a large circular motion emphasized by violet, red, duck blue and black strokes.
Are the needless afflictions those of love, marrying passionate red to sad grey, or those of creation which is demanding, sometimes discouraging, with a victorious result? The rhythm of the picture is indeed that of a struggle in which an instinctive surge and an underlying balanced vision of the whole achieve harmony, a feeling shared with other paintings by the artist produced in the same period, such as In the Stormy Sky (oil on canvas, 1955, 73 x 60 cm. / 28 ¾ x 23 5⁄8 in. Thierry de Maigret Sale, Paris, October 22, 2014, lot 3).
This work will be integrated into the catalogue raisonné being prepared by the Lanskoy Committee (certificate of authenticity dated March 1st, 2016).
1) Dans mon enfance, j’ai rêvé d’être clown [...]. Il y a quand même une différence entre le clown et le peintre : le clown met les couleurs sur son visage au lieu de les mettre sur la toile
2) Quand je prends la couleur sur la palette, elle n’est pas plus figurative si elle est destinée à représenter une fleur, ni plus abstraite si elle est destinée à créer une forme imaginaire. J’ai été un figuratif inspiré par tous les thèmes. Mais l’abstrait est le moyen de dire plus, d’élargir le champ de bataille, de s’exprimer plus complètement. [...] le point de départ est toujours dans la nature, et le monde m’appartient comme il appartient à chacun. C’est peut-être que je ne suis pas un abstrait pur. « Non figuratif » aurait plus de sens. Mais ce ne sont là que des mots ! Il ne faut pas peindre de l’abstrait ou du figuratif : il faut peindre un tableau !
3) Le dessin est “un squelette, toujours assez élastique », écrivait-il, poursuivant : « Puis la couleur intervient et la lutte s’engage. Tout est gestation et le tableau n’est pas encore né. Bientôt, un accord se réalise entre les formes et les couleurs ; le tableau trouve alors son centre et commence à exister.”
Bibliography related to the Work
Jean GRENIER, André Lanskoy, Paris, Fernand Hazan, “Peintres d’aujourd’hui” coll. 1960, ill. pl. 3.
Sophie LEVY (dir.), Lanskoy, un peintre russe à Paris, exh. cat., Villeneuve d’Ascq, LaM, 2011.
Jean-Claude MARCADE, André Lanskoy 1902-1976 : pour le trentième anniversaire de la mort, exh. cat. Saint-Petersburg, Palace Éditions, 2006.
André Lanskoy : Moscou, 1902 - Paris, 1976, exh. cat., Unterlinden Museum, 2006.
Roger VAN GINDERTAEL, Lanskoy, ébauche d’un portrait, Louis Carré Gallery, Paris, Duval, Union & Mourlot, 1957.