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Date: 05.04.2005 - 10.04.2005

A highly talented painter with an outstanding imagination, in 1906 Larionov appeared like a meteor in the history of Russian painting. His talent was immediately recognised by the rare Russian connoisseurs of modern art, Diaghilev foremost among them. The latter invited Larionov to the Salon d'Automne in Paris in 1906. From this stay in Paris the artist, who was already engaged in Impressionist experiment, gained a broader knowledge of French modern painting. On his return to Russia he rapidly launched into Fauvism, which was to lead him to the sublimation of pure colour. As early as 1908, his personality dominated the current scene in Russian painting. This creative genius, whose colourist temperament was quite exceptional, simultaneously appeared as an indefatigable organiser of avant-garde exhibitions and as a talent scout (Tatlin, Malewicz). He remained in this position until 1913, when the Russian Futurist movement acquired a creative dimension that far exceeded that of a single person. Larionov's exhibitions were entitled « Golden Fleece Nº2 » (1908-1909), « Knave of Diamonds » (1910), « The Donkey's Tail » (1912), « The Target » (1913) - at which he appeared at the head of a « Rayonist » group - and « The (Futurist ) Exhibition Nº4 » (1914).


His Fauvist painting quickly produced unusually violent colour, though with an extraordinary underlying lyricism. The intensity of his « anti-cultural » reaction led him as early as 1911 to an anti-academic reaction which he himself denoted as «primitivism ». To Larionov, « primitivism » meant the negation of academic canons of representation, recourse to « free drawing », and the glorification of what had formerly been considered « a-cultural » : Expressionist « ugliness » and popular imagery. At this point his talent as a colourist took him to a first apex, as shown by certain virtually monochrome paintings made in 1912 and a remarkable series of « black » portraits done in ink.


Larionov was an enthusiast of the Futurist aesthetic and lauded the vitalist energy of form; in late 1911 he began exploring the vitalist projection of colour, which he defined a few months later as « Rayonism ». He refused to paint the outside world and set himself to representing the potential charge of colours and their virtual interaction with space: their emanating rays. In parallel with Kandisky, with whom he maintained a friendly relationship, he produced abstract painting situated in the same « emphatic » line as the spiritual abstraction of the Russian master in Munich. A particular characteristic of Larionov's painting was that it took account of the specifically physical properties of the pictorial matter: the texture and dynamic charge of colour. In this, Larionov appears as the precursor of the future Russian Constructivist painting, whose issues were enunciated by him in 1912. His booklet « Rayonism » was dated June 1912, but was in fact only published in the spring of 1913 on the occasion of the first massive show of his Rayonist works. These Rayonist paintings, which were at first derived from figurative themes, rapidly turned towards pure, abstract structures. The « Pneumatic Rayonism » to which he came during the winter of 1913-1914 was of a purely abstract nature. At the end of 1913, he and the Futurist Zdanevic together published a « corporeal painting » manifesto. His social action was then at the height of its popularity, while his painting had also attained the culmination of its path: pure abstraction. At that moment, Larionov appeared as the master of a true Rayonist school.


At the highest point of development of his science of colour, he presented a show of his Rayonist painting jointly with Goncharova in Paris in June 1914. This was the inaugural exhibition of the Paul Guillaume gallery, for which the poet Apollinaire wrote the catalogue text. Larionov's work was also known at that time in Germany, where Herwart Walden had presented it in Berlin as early as the autumn of 1913.


Larionov's momentum was shattered by the 1914 war. Wounded at the front, he returned to Moscow in 1915 and attempted to re-engage in Futurist action. But his art was by then being overtaken by the « Trans-rational » Cubo-Futurism and by the burgeoning « Constructivism ». On the invitation of Diaghilev, he undertook a journey of convalescence to Switzerland, but was never to return to Russia. Closely involved with Diaghilev's ballets, he began a new life in the West. Sickly and deprived of his Russian environment, for the remaining five decades of his life he took refuge in intimist painting in a late Impressionist style. His art, which fell into oblivion after the mid thirties, was rediscovered in the early sixties thanks to an exhibition organised in London by Camilla Gray. Since then, several exhibitions have attempted to do justice to a body of painting that marked one of the high points of twentieth-century pictorial art.


Photos from the exhibition
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