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Илья Иванович Машков

Илья Иванович Машков


. . . These fruits, loaves and meat are depicted with

a skill almost comparable to that displaced by the

masters of the Dutch still life in their achievements

hitherto unsurpassed. Mashkov's canvases are not only

truthful to the point of illusion but are possessed

of a rare beauty and radiance. His use of colour

resembles the swelling chords of an organ.

A. Lunacharsky

THE NAME OF ILYA IVANOVICH MASHKOV is associated above all with still-

life paintings remarkable for an elemental intensity of colour which verges

at times on the violent. Displaying a scope and boldness unusual in his

contemporaries as well as an acute feeling for the materiality of things,

Mashkov's bright canvases are striking for the breadth of their pictorial

range, for the deep sonority of their colours.

Mashkov was one of the boldest innovators in Russian painting at the

beginning of the twentieth century, an outstanding painter whose works

contributed to the development of Soviet art, an experienced teacher who

passed on his skill to many who would later become famous artists. Each of

these aspects of his creative activity is instructive and deserving of

special attention. Mashkov developed as a painter in the years preceding

the Revolution, at a time when artistic life in Russia was unusually

complex and full of contradiction. In the field of art there were clashes

between various principles and ideas, manifested as a struggle between

numerous schools. Painters of an older generation, — members of the Society

for Circulating Art Exhibitions (the Peredvizhniki), the World of Art and

the Union of Russian Artists, — were still active. At the same time a host

of aesthetic and artistic conceptions, precarious in their theoretical

foundation, were receiving wide attention. The overthrow of traditional

forms, aesthetic nihilism, the loss of firm links with reality could not,

however, delay the development of art. The search for new paths and new

creative principles went on, and Russian art was enriched by some

remarkable achievements. Just in this period there appeared a number of

talented young artists.

Despite the diversity of the new ideas and trends, one may clearly

discern in Russian painting of this time a general tendency towards the

perfecting of artistic form. Artists were striving for a certain synthesis,

they wished to reveal the generalized meaning of phenomena not susceptible

of concretization in time, and therefore not infrequently they refused to

represent movement and action in their work. As a result of this loss of

interest in the subject painting, the still life became the dominant genre.

Landscape and portrait also occupied an important place. And particular

attention was paid to the renewal of painterly techniques.

The evolving of a new system of pictorial representation advanced

through a series of agonizing explorations, which were often far from

successful. The principle of verisimilitude, which had prevailed in

nineteenth century painting, was supplanted by that of conventionality.

This testified to the inner bond linking the new trends in Russian painting

with Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism, for the

exponents of those schools sought support not in the traditions of European

Post-Renaissance realism, but rather in principles adopted from the visual

arts of different peoples and ages. The search for formal solutions

appropriate to these new stylistic norms was of decisive importance. This

tendency is not difficult to perceive in the works of such artists of the

late nineteenth — early twentieth centuries as Ruble, Servo and K. Korovin.

It was characteristic of the members of the World of Art and the Blue Rose

associations, but most strongly developed in the work of artists of the

Jack of Diamonds group and other representatives of the so-called avant-

garde in the beginning of this century.

In the artistic movements at the beginning of the twentieth century

there was much romanticism, much anarchic rebelliousness. Inner

contradictions were most sharply revealed in the various trends of the

avant-garde movement where subjectivism, having reached the limit of non-

representational depiction, was opposed by the real achievements of a few

artists of the Jack of Diamonds group, like Konchalovsky, Mashkov, Falk.

Lentulov. Kuprin, Larionov and others. These painters discovered a

successful balance in which expressiveness of colour, plasticity and

decorative composition helped express a particularly intense, yet at the

same time integral perception of reality.

Ilya Ivanovich Mashkov (1881—1944) was born in the village of

Mikhaylovskaya in the Don area. His parents were of peasant origin. At the

age of fifteen he lost his father, who had pursued various trades and had

had to endure constant poverty. From an early age Mashkov displayed an

aptitude for handicrafts; he also liked to draw. However, the cruel and

degrading existence he was forced to lead (in his early youth he had been

placed in the service of some local traders, supposedly as an apprentice)

was least likely to further his attachment to art. He was already in his

eighteenth year when he first heard that painting was something to be

learned. In 1900 he entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and

Architecture. After completing his life class, he transferred to the studio

of Servo and Korovin. A little earlier Mashkov had begun to give private

lessons himself. During his first years in the School he studied avidly and

diligently. Then there followed a period of doubt and disillusionment with

the creative principles of his teachers, a period which ended with a

complete change in his artistic orientation, as a result of which he was

expelled from the School in 1910.

This liberation from "academic chains" was to a great extent prompted

by Mashkov's first acquaintance with the Hermitage in 1907. In 1908 he went

on a trip to Germany, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Italy and Vienna,

during which he got to know the masterpieces of classical art as well as

contemporary French painting. Before his departure he had already become

familiar with the Shchukin and Morozov collections, where fine examples of

the most recent French art were represented, and in 1909 he visited the

Golden Fleece Exhibition, which was displaying works by the Fauvists.

Mashkov's answer to his expulsion from the School was to take an active

part in the creation of the Jack of Diamonds. The spirit of epater le

bourgeois which accompanied the activities of this group prevented critics

of the time from discerning the genuine artistic merit of the work produced

by its members. The emergence of a new trend in Russian painting and the

organization in 1911, by a number of young Moscow artists, of the Jack of

Diamonds exhibition society was connected with an eager movement towards

expressiveness, decorative quality and the concentrated use of colour — all

entirely characteristic of the age. Their experience of European art

enabled the artists to pass on boldly towards a generalized representation

of nature, refusing to follow the principles of Impressionism. Opponents of

narrative painting, illusion and aestheticism, they relied on experiment in

pictorial techniques. Hence their impulse towards the detail and their

preference for the still life, which was indeed to become the "laboratory"

of their new endeavours.

Their fidelity to a constructive line of artistic thought allowed the

painters of the Jack of Diamonds group to achieve a synthesis of colour and

form in their representation of objects from the surrounding world. They

profited by the experience of Cezanne and the Cubists, Cubism being for

them not so much a system as a means of enhancing artistic expressiveness.

This exploitation of formal expressiveness, as well as the concentrated use

of all the resources of painting, led to innovations in the pictorial

structure and style of their works. Many artists of the time were attracted

to the problem of creating in painting a sui generis artistic equivalent of

what was distinctively national in Russian life. Members of the Jack of

Diamonds group interpreted this problem as the return of Russian painting

to traditions preserved over the centuries in folk art. This link with the

principles of folk art and the desire to appropriate its expressiveness of

portrayal determined the character of their endeavours. They were full of

enthusiasm for the Russian lubok (popular print), the house-painter's sign,

the decorated tray, the folk toy. These painters thus enriched contemporary

art with the achievements of Russian folk art. The strength of their work

lay in the exaggerated emotionality and distinctiveness of their

portrayals, in the intensity and concreteness of their colour and in their

powerful optimism.

It is well known that the struggle carried on between the Jack of

Diamonds and its various opponents did not in fact unite the members of the

group. Harmonious as their first public appearance seemed to be, it was

quickly followed by a number of internal disagreements, which eventually

led to the society's dissolution in 1917. The first signs of Mashkov's

divergence from the group date from 1911, the year of his initial

rapprochement with the World of Art. In 1916 both Mashkov and Konchalovsky

simultaneously went over to this latter association.

By the beginning of the First World War Mashkov was already an

acknowledged artist. This was the time of his greatest popularity.

During the years of the Revolution Mashkov was engaged in strenuous

social, organizational and pedagogic activity. There was scarcely any time

for his own creative work. He was a professor at the Free Studios (the name

of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture since the

autumn of 1918). Attached to his studio were A. Goncharov, A. Deyneka and

other subsequently famous Soviet artists. It was only in 1922, when art

exhibitions began again, that the painter's creative activity regained its

former scope. He took part in the exhibitions organized by the revived

World of Art group and the Society of Moscow Artists (the former Jack of


On his own admission, the years 1923 and 1924 mark a perceptible

turning-point in his views on the aims and purposes of art. This coincided

with the general impetus of Soviet artists towards realism. In 1922 a new

artistic group, the Association of Artists of Revolutionary Russia (the

AARR), had already made its appearance, and this society was to play a

positive role in the formation of realistic art. At the end of 1924

Mashkov, along with his pupils, went over to this organization where he set

up art classes. Although he continued to participate in exhibitions held by

the Society of Moscow Artists, his creative output in the second half of

the twenties is mainly associated with the AARR. He took part in

exhibitions of the AARR and was a member of its Board. He left the

association in the spring of 1930, when its historical role had already

been accomplished. In 1928, for his services in the realm of

representational art, the Soviet government awarded Mashkov the title of

Merited Artist of the RSFSR. In 1930 he left for his home in the village of

Mikhaylovskaya where he lived almost continuously until 1938. He completed

his last works in 1943, one year before his death.

Despite the vividness of his style, it is no easy task to define the

individual quality of Mashkov's art in so far as it was the product of a

whole movement, many features of which were characteristic of their age and

common to a fairly wide circle of Russian painters.

Mashkov differed from those close to him in creative disposition by the

extreme spontaneity of his artistic talent and by his fervent attachment to

the world of objects. These are not, however, the only factors which

determined the painter's style. Reflecting the personal element in his

creative work. his style is clearly perceived through the plastic features

of his pictures. Yet while emphasizing the strong side' of his talent, it

is essential not to neglect the painter's weaker aspects, which are-of no

small importance where Mashkov is concerned.

In the works completed before 1909, there is as yet no evidence of

completely independent talent. Nevertheless, his Model (end of

1907—beginning of 1908), painted! in Serov's class, is well above the

average for an apprentice's work.

The still life Apples and Pears on a White Background (1908) was the

first won I to be completed after his journey abroad and is close to the

principles of late Impressionism. Indeed, it suggests some knowledge of

Cezanne's artistic conception. A work dating from the same time, Two

Models against a Drapery (1908, Leningrad, private collection), seems to be

a compromise between the principles of Impressionism and an impulse towards

two-dimensionality and generalized decorativeness.

Mashkov first achieves an individual style in the works of 1909 and

1910. These were portraits, still lifes and landscapes, some of which were

shown in Moscow during 1910 and 1911 at an exhibition of the Jack of

Diamonds group, while other-were displayed in Paris at the Autumn Salon in

1910. In the paintings of this time-he proclaims a new and unusual

conception of beauty. The exaggerated quality of their expression, the

careless sweep of their contours, often painted in black, their

polychromatic intensity—all this testifies to his denial of the artistic

principles of an older generation. The striking starkness of method, the

deliberate simplification of technique, reveal an attempt to invest the art

of painting with pristine energy, to overcome the refined aestheticism of

the fin-de-siecle, with its wavering forms and its faded colours, in short,

to restore art to both youth and health. Inspired in his work by the

products of folk art, Mashkov was guided largely by the formal

expressiveness of the lubok

The Portrait of a Boy in a Patterned Shirt was painted in March, 1909.

It is one. of the works which mark the beginning of Mashkov's creative

career. As well as demonstrating Mashkov's habit of heaping his early

canvases with contrasting colours. this painting already displays a

disregard of psychological realism very close to the polemical spirit which

would later characterize the works of the Jack of Diamonds group. The

artist makes no use of local colour. The pinkish hue of the boy's face is

reinforced by the gold of the forehead and the greenish tint of the eye-

socket. The hands are painted in contrasting reds, pinks and greens, while

a cold shade of pink is also introduced into the dark-green leaves which

form a pattern in the background.

Refusing to treat the problem of perspective in a traditional manner,

Mashkov reduces the elements of modelling to a bare minimum, as if

stretching the image out over the canvas and thereby achieving some intense

combinations of colour, largely independent of the representation of light

and shade.

In other portraits of this early period—for example, those of V.

Vinogradova (1909). E. Kirkaldi (1910), Rubanovich (Portrait of a Lady with

Pheasants, about 1910), Mashkov is not only searching for expressiveness of

colour, but is also concerned to organize his canvas on two-dimensional

lines. In these portraits perspective is almost ousted by surface design.

In his Model Seated executed in 1909, for example, the two-dimensional

effect disappears under the accumulation of contrasting colours, the artist

deliberately avoids exaggerated ornamentality, the picture's thematic and

spatial elements remain dominant, the vital connection between model and

still life is preserved.

Inspired by the principles of folk art, Mashkov sought to express the

immutable essence of thing's through form, dimension and colour. The medium

he most consistently used for these endeavours, as well as for his attempts

to discover new principles of composition, was the still life. He did not

aim at thematic variety; portrayals of fruit and berries on a round dish or

plate are frequently encountered in his work. In some instances the artist

would strictly adhere to such motifs, as in Still Life with a Pineapple or

Still Life. Fruit on a Dish (both about 1910). Sometimes the motif becomes

a detail in the total composition, as in Still Life. Berries with a Red

Tray in the Background (about 1910), Still Life with Begonias (before

1911), Still Life with Grapes (early 1910s), etc.

The emphatically naive, "primitive" method of portrayal revealed in

Still Life with a Pineapple, the bright intensity of its colours, and their

use in simplified combinations, bear witness to Mashkov's attempt to view

the world through the eyes of the masters of folk art. In his yearning to

penetrate the essence of things, to reveal their fixed, "eternal"

qualities, he acted decisively, sacrificing subtlety of design and colour

and achieving considerable decorative expressiveness. He moved on to

various experimental techniques, combining the representative functions of

painting with certain qualities inherent in the applied arts. The

"fortuitousness" of impressionistic composition was opposed by a blunt

emphasis on "structuring". Everything was subordinated to the principles of

symmetry and rhythmic alternation. The oval shape of the frame is often

repeated both in the disposition of objects and in the outlines of some of

them. A plate with a pineapple surrounded by apples, is placed in the

centre of the canvas and enclosed by a number of large, multicoloured

fruits. The point of view chosen by the painter looking down on his subject

from above, allows him to gain an effect of "spatial compression", while

the individual objects are portrayed three-dimensionally. The black

outlines emphasize the depth of objects and create an impression of

stability, subduing the illusion of perspective.

Mashkov came gradually to renounce the effects of light and shade, so

fundamental to the Impressionists. In his Still Life with a Pineapple,

where the decisive importance of colour is obvious, light plays only a

secondary role in the creation of form. In the still-life painting, Fruit

on a Dish, the material qualities of the object are conveyed by a single

splash of colour. Form is determined by clear-cut outlines; along with

others, the black colour becomes obligatory.

For all Mashkov's desire to assert the sensuous materiality of things,

one detects in his early works a certain indifference towards the real

nature of his chosen subject; the material world appears there in a

generalized form. This is the case, for example, in the above-mentioned

portraits of E. Kirkaldi and Rubanovich, where there is a conflict between

different orders of reality; the live models are set in opposition to the

figures depicted on the panel and carpet, but nothing seems completely

authentic. It is the same in the painting Russia and Napoleon (The Russian

Venus) (1912, Moscow, private collection), where the model is shown against

the background of a carpet depicting Napoleon in a sleigh, while the

Emperor's troika seems about to run her over.

At this point Mashkov was to some extent influenced by European Cubism.

However, he interpreted the ideas of Cubism in his own particular way,

linking this new passion with his old enthusiasm for folk toys and the

lubok. In his portrait of the poet S. Rubanovich (1910), the artist

renounces colour and represents the subject through geometric forms. But

living rhythms manage to burst in upon this geometric world, enlivening the

grey-black abstractions. Fascinated by Cubism, Mashkov still sought

expressiveness in his art; retaining his interest in the distinctiveness of

the figure he wishes to paint, he exaggerates the likeness to the point of

caricature. Mashkov's humour, alien to the abstractions of Cubism, is what

links his portraits here with the products of folk art.

Folk expressiveness of form was henceforth to remain the artist's

ideal, but about 1913 he was on the edge of new ventures. At this time his

artistic idiom becomes noticeably more complex. However, in the still life

entitled Loaves of Bread (1912) this new complexity is not yet apparent.

The whole surface of the canvas is more or less filled by the

representation of the loaves, ornamental both in their detail and in their

total effect; perspective is narrowed, surface is compressed. One feels the

artist's passion for the primitive, particularly for sign-painting.

In the still life Camellia (1913), the artist is aiming at a synthesis

of decorativeness and materiality. He directs his attention here to the

problem of rendering the effect of light, which, however, never becomes an

end in itself, as it was for the Impressionists. The camellia plant with

its sharply drawn, rigid leaves stands out against a background vibrating

with light; the knot-shaped bun, the fruit and the glass bowl with fancy

cakes are both decorative and substantial at the same time.

This concentration on the material substance of things and, to a lesser

extent, on the problem of light, involved a certain danger, that of

illusion, which Mashkov did not altogether avoid even in his Camellia. This

feature would occasionally reveal itself in some of his later works. A

feeling for the three-dimensional quality and texture of objects as well as

for light effects is particularly marked in the Still Life with Brocade

(1914). Although the colours are vivid, the painting lacks sharpness of

form; faience dish, plums, plate of strawberries, pumpkin, carafe of red

wine-all are equally exaggerated in mass, although the position of these

objects in perspective is not the same. Their outline is retained, but

their expressiveness is lost. Mashkov's tendency towards an ever greater

complexity of artistic expression is obvious in other respects as well. The

artist begins to be attracted by projects of a monumental nature, though

remaining loyal to easel painting. This may be seen in works of different

genres. In the landscapes painted between 1910 and 1915, the fragmentary

and rather static method of portrayal typical of Л Town View and Л Town

View in Winter gives way to complex three-dimensional arrangements aimed at

conveying majestic images (Italy. Nervi, 1913; Lake Geneva. Glion, 1914).

His portraits display a similar attempt at resolving the problem of

monumentality. Though less successful and thorough-going, his searches here

led him in various directions. In the portrait of Fiodorova-Mashkova (Lady

with a Double-Bass, 1915—16), the artist's interest in problems of style

brings him close to the painters of the World of Art group. Like them, he

was fascinated by the problem which confronted Russian portrait painters in

the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries — namely, that of combining

decorative appeal with a feeling for detail and subtle modelling. However,

Mashkov aimed not at creating deeply psychological portraits, nor did he

take any great interest in the objects surrounding his models. His

portrayal of man and his surroundings is no departure from the conventions

of still-life painting. Imitating the naive manner of old portraiture, with

its peculiar ostentation, he tries not to conceal the model's pose, indeed

he emphasizes it, though making only outward use of this device. A

different approach to the problem of monumentality is apparent in the

portrait of N. Usova (1915), which is comparatively simple in design, j

Although the portrait is executed in a strictly stylized manner, the artist

does succeed in conveying the living features of the model. Here, too, one

is aware of the element of pose, but this time Mashkov, as in his Cubist

experiments, takes the expressiveness of the folk toy as his point of


The still lifes painted by Mashkov between 1914 and 1917 are amongst

his most remarkable creations. He probes more and more deeply the problem

of conveying in art the tangible substance of things. This may be seen in

such works as Pumpkins (1914), Still Life with a Horse's Skull (1914) and

Still Life with a Samovar (1916), where his tendency to experiment gives

way to the achievement of a powerful synthesis, and where what was

problematic in his artistic vision is renounced in favour of a forceful

affirmation of life. In his earlier works a somewhat generalized method of

portrayal tended to conceal the concrete nature of objects. Now, he manages

to convey more convincingly than ever before the material character of

things, their full diversity of colour, density, texture and weight.

Some of the above-mentioned still lifes (Still Life with a Horse's

Skull, Still Life with a Samovar) reflect the dramatic tensions of the

period. With the sharpness of his artistic vision, Mashkov noticed how

useless everyday household articles had become, like so much scrap metal.

With their uneasy rhythms and their dark, harsh colours, his still lifes

symbolize the spirit of those difficult and restless times. Mashkov's rare

talent for expressing the mood of his age reminds one of the words uttered

by Mayakovsky in 1914: "You are no artist if you do not see reflected in

the shining apple of a still-life composition an image of those that were

hanged at Kalisz. You may choose not to depict the war, but you must paint

in the spirit of the war."

The forceful perception of reality displayed in Still Life with a

Horse's Skull and Still Life with a Samovar testifies to the artist's

attempt, well before the October Revolution, to reveal the inner essence of

his subjects.

Mashkov tried to reflect the reality of Soviet life in works of

different genres. Although he painted some interesting portraits and

landscapes, his talent manifested itself most clearly in the field of still

life, where he would attain the true artistic realism so typical of the

second half of his creative career. The few works produced by Mashkov

between 1918 and 1922 revealed his desire to express that special

optimistic mood which was characteristic of Soviet society in its early

years. Mashkov's paintings of this period, such as Model (1918), Still Life

with a Fan (1922) and the Portrait of N. Skatkin (1921—23), show great


In his Model the principles underlying Mashkov's painting of still

lifes of the 1914—1916 period are replaced by a search for monumentality

and expressiveness. The emotional quality of his work reflected the new

mood of a free society, which was very different from the dramatic outlook

of the previous decades. Now the artist was interested not so much in

conveying the tangible substance of things as in expressing the energy of

life itself, and he indulged in bold combinations of colour and form.

Monumentality was achieved by means of compositional devices, as well as by

the manner of pictorial representation as a whole. The small size of the

canvas brings the portrayal of the model into greater prominence, while the

strong build of her body is sharply emphasized. Mashkov was not at all

concerned with depicting her body, the draperies or the furniture in their

real colours. His brushstrokes are vigorous and unconstrained; he does not

divide his canvas into separate areas of colour, however, but rather

juxtaposes various shades of pink, red, lilac, golden-brown, blue and

green. The darkish gold of the body is spotted with emerald and lilac with

a sprinkling of a cold, dark blue. He abandons full verisimilitude of

colour here so as to enhance the expressive value of the portrait.

In Still Life with a Fan a feeling of energy and animation is conveyed

by it? very design and richness of colour.

Mashkov's desire to achieve an ever fuller expression of his age is

also apparent in the portraits. The method developed in still-life

paintings, however, was scarcely appropriate to the demands of portraiture.

Of poor compositional design, the portraits of this period are usually

overloaded with accessories; the artist was interested in depicting the

kind of object which he would often introduce into his still lifes. This

was a temptation which he could not resist even in the portraits of A.

Shimanovsky (1922) and N. Skatkin (1921—23). But in these paintings the

still- life approach doe's coincide with an attempt to convey the living

features of his subjects.

Between 1918 and 1922 Mashkov was particularly enthusiastic about the

techniques of drawing. He preferred to use such materials as charcoal,

pastels, sanguine and coloured pencils, which was natural for him as an

artist. Comparatively few of these works have been preserved but amongst

those which have, there are some well executed drawings of nude models, as

well as some portraits which are strikingly true to life.

The logical development of Mashkov's art was bound to lead him towards

a consistent form of realism. From the years 1923 and 1924 onwards the

artist evolves a sharper sense of reality, which was to remain with him

until the end of his creative life. It is in this quality of realism,

achieved by pictorial and plastic means alone, that one recognizes the

strength of the still lifes and landscapes which he began to exhibit in the

second half of the 1920s and during the 1930s.

Joy in the fullness of life and in the powerful forces of nature

becomes the leading motif in the subsequent development of his art. As he

once said: "Physical health, abundance, growing prosperity. . . new

people—resolute, powerful, strong. . .—this is the world which nourishes my

art, these are the surroundings which bestow joy in creation." "Beauty may

be found," he goes on to say, "in the bronzed, weather-beaten faces of

collective farm workers, in young people at a holiday home, gladdened by

the sun, the sea and the south wind, and finally in the abundance of the

'fruits of the earth', by the boundless decorative possibilities of which I

have always been captivated. . ."

Mashkov's attempts to work in various genres were not always

successful. If the artistic method which he developed in the field of still

life was scarcely suitable for portraiture, then it was even less

appropriate for paintings depicting a complex theme. Far from dissuading

him, however, the art critics of the time actually encouraged his efforts

in this direction. In short, he tried to overreach himself, which explains

the failure of a painting like Partisans, for example.

Similarly, it is scarcely possible to count those paintings depicting

new industrial projects as being amongst Mashkov's creative achievements,

although they do display his interest in contemporary life. Yet at the same

time, in the twenties and thirties. Mashkov did paint some magnificent

landscapes, remarkable for their sweeping perspectives and expressiveness

of form. The studies which he made in the environs of Leningrad (1923), in

Bakhchisaray (1925) and in the Caucasus are full of sunlight and warmth;

the clearness of the air seems almost palpable. Mashkov was indeed as full

of admiration for nature herself as for her abundant gifts of vegetables

and fruit.

The most significant works created by Mashkov during the two last

decades of his life are undoubtedly his still lifes. Although he continued

to paint the same fruit, vegetables and flowers, his artistic conceptions

were of a quite different order, as was his attitude to life in general.

Amongst these paintings are the two still lifes displayed at the seventh

exhibition of the AARR, entitled Moscow Meal. Meat, Game and Moscow Meal.

Loaves of Bread (1924), both of which have since become widely known. Being

conceived as separate works — different in size, composition and colour —

they are linked by an inner unity of content. The artist wished to express

in them the popular notion of abundance, wealth and beauty of the physical

world. In contrast to the somewhat simplified nature of his earlier works,

here decorative expressiveness and the over-concentrated use of colour are

subordinated to the real characteristics of the objects, their solidity,

weight and texture. Intensity of colour, far from being an obstacle to the

paintings' unity, on the contrary, emphasizes it. Making bold use of

contrast and placing warm colours by the side of cold ones (bright red,

pink, lilac and brownish-orange in Moscow Meal. Meat, Game), Mashkov relies

here on his own profound knowledge of the laws of colouring.

The painter now achieves a synthesis of great artistic skill and

objectivity. He is able to transform a pile of fruit lying on a table into

a festival of colour. At the same time he can reveal in objects qualities

one would have thought impossible to communicate in painting. His still

lifes breathe forth the fragrance of the flame-coloured oranges, the dark-

red roses and the strawberries which they depict; they exude the juice of

sliced lemons, pumpkins, pineapples and water-melons. . . Every time the

artist conveys the heaviness of a bunch of grapes differently, according to

whether they are lying on a table, in a dish or simply hanging down over

the side.

During the last years of his life Mashkov did not abandon his search

for new artistic possibilities. He renounced all too intense an emphasis on

colour and decorativeness, giving to his representations a more tranquil

and intimate form. Among his last works, two are of particular interest,

namely Still Life. Pineapples and Bananas (1938) and Strawberries and a

White Jug (1943). Their subtle execution, their light but deliberate

brushstrokes, re-creating form and distinguishing light from shade, their

dignified colours — all harmonize here with a vivid and poignant feeling

for life.

However experimental the practice of his art, Mashkov remained

essentially faithful to a true-to-life interpretation of nature. He devoted

a great deal of his time to exploring the elements of formal expressiveness

in painting, greatly enhancing our understanding of the problem. His own

solutions were of considerable objective value. Some unequal results in

varying genres bear witness to a certain one-sidedness in his approach, but

Mashkov's position in the history of Russian art is fully assured; a

leading exponent of still-life painting during both the pre-revolutionary

and Soviet periods, some of his achievements in this genre possess genuine


The vivid colours of Mashkov's canvases, his delight in the infinite

variety of the surrounding world, his pronounced feeling of social reality

— all conspire to make his work one of the great achievements of Russian

art. Igor Grabar was to distinguish in the work of Mashkov "a profoundly

independent and individual interpretation of nature, refracted through an

exceptionally pictorial mind and imagination". Creating canvases of an

"arch-concrete and realistic" kind, Mashkov never ceased to admire the

form, texture and colour of what he was painting. He shares with the

onlooker his own love of nature and life, his spirit of joy, courage and


G. Arbuzov

V. Pushkariov


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