PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE COLLECTION, GERMANY
By adopting the stylistic conventions and the manner of naïve (self-taught) painters, children's drawings, and indigenous Russian art forms such as the icon and the lubok (popular print), Larionov attempted to create works infused with an innocence of vision and a vitality of expression. Voyage en Turquie, a series of thirty-two gouaches conceived in 1906-07, painted in 1907-09, and finally published with the aid of a stencil as a portfolio in the late 1920s, exemplifies such an approach.
According to the scholar Anthony Parton, while Larionov was a student at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, he was awarded a grant to travel to Turkey, but instead journeyed to the provincial town of Tiraspol (in Moldova), where he was born and had spent his childhood. It was there that he created works on Turkish themes. Parton noted that Larionov's interest in Turkish ethnography was reflected in his library, which included among its holdings a work by the seventeenth-century French physician Jacob Spon describing his travels through the Turkish Empire.
The motifs and images of many of the pochoirs in Voyage en Turquie are closely linked to Larionov's early Neo-Primitivist period. Katsap Venus is a variation of a painting of the same name from the artist's Venus cycle (1912, Nizhnii Novgorod Museum of Art). A similar composition was also included in the 1913 album of lithographs 16 Dessins M-e N. Goncharoff et M. Larionoff. The female figure in Manya Kurva is a direct quotation from Soldier Relaxing (1910-11, Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), a painting from Larionov's Soldier series, featuring a similar image depicted on a fence in the background.
Among the major influences on Larionov's Voyage en Turquie were lubki, which inspired the generalised manner of the artist's linear drawing and the paintwork falling outside the contours of the drawings. Larionov reduced the figures to a basic schema, rejecting superfluous detail in favour of simple and bold compositions. According to Parton, Larionov may also have been inspired by some pornographic graffiti, which attracted him because their execution was lively and without set rules. Another source of inspiration was the prehistoric statuettes of the Cucuteni and Proto-Cucuteni peoples that inhabited the Dnestr Valley, in which Tiraspol is situated. Stylistically, images in Larionov's album, such as the one depicting Manya, also invite comparison with the small wooden dolls that the Siberian Eskimos carve for their children or use as amulets.
Parton also argues that Voyage en Turquie reflects various aspects of the mystical religion of Buryat shamanism—a claim supported by the fact that Larionov's library included an important study on the subject by the noted ethnographer M. N. Khangalov. One of the most important pochoirs in the portfolio depicts Larionov in profile, smoking a pipe, an image suggesting that Voyage en Turquie should be seen as an "imaginary voyage" in the context of the mystical shamanic journey. The work suggests that its subject is in a trance-like state; the bird signifies the guardian spirit that guides shamans on their journeys into the heavens or the underworld. It is an imaginary journey that the shaman undertakes—hence Larionov's title for the pochoirs.
Finally, Voyage en Turquie may be related to a major contemporary Western development: Fauvism. The figurative distortion, simplicity of contour, and flattening of form in the portfolio were to a certain extent shaped by Fauve influences. Fauvism, and Matisse in particular, had an important impact on Larionov's artistic development around the time he created the album. The June 1909 issue of the journal Zolotoe runo published a Russian translation of Matisse's essay "Notes of a Painter," in which Matisse advocated simplicity and a purely instinctive use of colour. Matisse was in Moscow in October 1911 to inspect the installation of his two panels, Music and Dance, executed for the merchant-art patron Sergei Shchukin. Larionov met Matisse during his visit. Several years after Larionov painted the gouaches, his selection of Turkey as exotic subject matter was paralleled by Matisse's interest in Morocco, depicted in many paintings and drawings produced during Matisse's visits in 1912 and 1912-13.
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