ILYA IVANOVICH MASHKOV

. . . 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 Diamonds).

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 departure.

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 variety.

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 grandeur.

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 optimism.

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