Aristarkh Lentulov, a founding member of the pioneering Jack of Diamonds group, moved to Moscow in 1909 and soon fell in love with the bustling metropolis. Consequently, the majority of his compositions from this early period are phantasmagoric cityscapes. In the 1930s however, his painterly style adjusted to reflect the drastic changes occurring around him, and the resulting works from his "Industrial Period" are counted among his strongest and most emotive. Lentulov was witness to Moscow's extensive overhaul, fueled by Stalin's ongoing "Master Plan for the Reconstruction of the City of Moscow." The 800-year-old city was completely transformed; thousands of laborers were hired for a number of projects, for example the construction of over fifteen million square meters of new housing, sixteen major highways, the Moscow metro and the Moscow-Volga Canal. Lentulov was amazed at the evolution of the city and commented in a letter to his family, "Only the Soviet Union could be capable of such scale and pace" (Marianna Lentulova, Artist Aristarkh Lentulov: Vospaminaniya, p. 66).
Throughout this period the artist took to the streets, working en plein air to capture the city's rapidly evolving landscape, then returning to his studio to transform his sketches into oils. Most of his canvases from this decade are massive in size, for Lentulov sought to echo the significance of the revolution in the scale of his work. His daughter once recalled him propping "...huge canvase[es] on his sturdy, oak easel, and [they] filled almost the entire studio" (Ibid.). He traveled outside Moscow as well, visiting such cities as Dnipropetrovsk, Batumi and Kerch in order to observe and document the country's progress—in the form of industrial plants filled with boiling steel and blasting furnaces. He wrote, "The largest cities, collective farms, state farms, new industrial centers...There is no end in sight! There are so many themes for the contemporary artist who seeks, in short, to document this unprecedented step in the history of building and construction" (Ibid.).
The laborers at the heart of the revolution figure prominently in Lentulov's paintings from the 1930s. Their faces dominate these monumental canvases and, like the peasants featured in Boris Grigoriev's Faces of Russia (fig 2), their immediacy emphasizes a sense of psychological intensity in each composition. The present lot is accentuated by a particularly rich palette suffused with deep browns and reds, further evoking the soot and soil of each individual's strenuous contribution.
Few works from this series are documented and their whereabouts are generally unknown, so the appearance at auction of a large-scale painting like Faces of a Generation is absolutely unprecedented, representing an exceptional opportunity to acquire a significant work from Lentulov's rarest and most intriguing period.
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