Leon Gaspard 1882 - 1964
- Leon Gaspard
- Manchurian Forest
- signed Leon Gaspard and backdated 1921, l.l.
- oil on canvas
Private Collection, Chicago, Illinois, circa 1925
By descent in the family to the present owner
Leon Gaspard's paintings of Eastern Europe and Asia were in such high demand after World War I, that in 1921 he began a two and a half year journey through China, Mongolia, Manchuria, Russia and the Himalayas in search of subject matter. He immersed himself in the native culture, traversing over three thousand miles of trails across the great steppes, desolate mountain ranges and deserts inhabited largely by regional nomadic tribes. This was not Gaspard's first visit to the region; as a child as he accompanied his father on fur trading expeditions through the Siberian steppes. The exotic cities, landscapes and peoples he encountered on these journeys fascinated him and were some of his most popular subjects.
Gaspard sought to capture images of vanishing cultures amidst the advancing modern world. Frank Waters has described Gaspard's renderings of nomadic peoples and places as "a barbaric, brilliantly beautiful world that no longer exists, but which has been caught and held out of the remorseless stream of time by the strikingly colorful palette of Leon Gaspard.... This is a limitless wilderness of steppe, desert, and mountain, and across it, into ancient villages and teeming marketplaces, trek the native clans and breeds and tribes who have known it from time immemorial...and snow. A patch of snow is the signature on Leon Gaspard's best paintings" (Leon Gaspard, 1981, pp. 1, 2).
Given its monumental size and difficulty in transporting such materials on his solo trip through Asia, Manchurian Forest was most likely painted upon his return to Taos. Rick Stewart writes that Gaspard had "returned with hundreds of sketches, and thousands of memories.... [and that] by 1924 Gaspard was back in Taos, anxious to distill all that he had seen" (Leon Gaspard, 1926, p. 6). Manchurian Forest is an elegant synthesis of Gaspard's Asiatic travels and his impressionistic technique. Rather than depicting a particular scene or specific individuals, Gaspard's images capture the general environment, characters and atmosphere of his time on the Asian continent. In Manchurian Forest, towering trees envelop a small caravan of travelers who trudge along a snowy trail, while pockets of dappled light reflect off the white bark of the birches creating a luminous backdrop. Gaspard's emphasis on the mass of tall trees imparts the magnificence and grandeur of nature and the vastness of the Siberian Forest. These trees would become characteristic of his work, as they resemble those in some of Gaspard's other landscapes, particularly Twining Canyon (Private Collection), a Taos scene which was painted thirty years later. Fred Maxwell describes Gaspard as an anomaly: "His work represents a delightful and curious admixture of his Russian and French heritage, yet the story of his life clearly reveals that his first love was for the Asian world of his youth. It is to this world that he turned for solace and inspiration. Even his Taos work retains the Asian-Russian flavor so characteristic of his Siberian tribesmen" (Leon Gaspard, 1967, p. 24).