New York, Leonard Hutton Galleries, Der Blaue Reiter und sein Kreis, 1977, no.8, illustrated
Yellow Mountain was painted circa 1913, the most brilliant period in the history of the international avant-garde. Vladimir Burliuk died young and his paintings are exceptionally rare. His legacy is a unique body of works - consistent, stylistically unified and highly valued by connoisseurs of the avant-garde. When he emigrated, David Burliuk took his younger brother's canvas as a precious memento, and later presented it to Katherine Dreier (1877–1952). An artist in her own right as well as patron of the arts, Dreier founded the Société Anonyme with Marcel Duchamp (1887–1968) and Man Ray (1890–1976) in 1920. The present work was part of her important bequest to the Guggenheim Foundation via her executor, Duchamp, which included works by Brancusi, Archipenko, Calder and Schwitters.
Yellow Mountain was painted at the birth of abstraction in Russian art, a period which saw the fusion of Cubism, Rayonism, Futurism in Burliuk's painting, together with elements of Wassily Kandinsky's metaphysical art. In the present work one can detect a dialogue with Mikhail Larionov, who in this same year published his manifesto Rayonists and Futurists and had worked closely with the Burliuks since 1907. The group took part in radical exhibitions showcasing the latest artistic trends in Russia and the West: the Link exhibition in Kiev, Vladimir Izdebsky's first Salon (December 1909-January 1910), The Jack of Spades (December 1910-January 1911), and the Blaue Reiter exhibition organised by Kandinsky (December 1911 at the Tannhäuser Gallery in Munich). Comparable works by Burliuk were exhibited in the 1912 Jack of Diamonds exhibition include Geotropism, Heliotropism and Portrait of the Poet Benedikt Livshits (fig.1).
A unique feature of Yellow Mountain is its unexpected texture: the surface is smooth and glazed in places, with thick impasto elsewhere as though the paint had been stuck to the canvas in lumps. The very concept of the 'factura' (texture) of a work of art had become an incarnation of the avant-garde ideals. Benedikt Livshits witnessed the creative process in the Burliuks' studio:
'With his monocle in his paint-spattered hand, David walks up to the landscape Vladimir has just finished: "Your surface, my dear Volodya, is too calm." And turning to me, so as not to hurt his brother's feelings, he expounds the theory of 'factura' (texture). But Vladimir has already stopped listening to him and kicks open the glass door leading into the park. A gust of fresh air bursts into the studio. [...] Taking his most recent canvas, he hauls it out to a hole in the melted snow and chucks it into the watery mud. I'm perplexed: this is a strange attitude to one's work, even if it isn't a strong piece. But David knows his brother better than I do and is relaxed about the picture's fate. This isn't the first time that Vladimir had 'worked over' his paintings in this way. He will now cover the lumps of mud and sand that have got stuck to the surface with a thick layer of paint and, similia similibus, his landscape becomes the flesh and blood of the earth of Hylea.'
The radical literary and artistic group Hylea formed by the Burliuks, promoted a specific form of Futurism rooted in the distant past and nurtured on the soil of ancient Crimea. 'Hylea, ancient Hylea, the earth beneath our feet, became a symbol; it should have become our banner. Even older layers were uncovered. Beyond Hesiod there was Homer. [...] At Chernyanka time lost its boundaries and unravelled in all directions.' (Benedikt Livshits, Polturoglazyi strelets [The One-and-a-half-eyed Archer], Leningrad, 1989, pp. 321-322.)
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