New York, Grand Central Palace, The Russian Art Exhibition, 1924, cat. no. 429
C.Brinton and I.Grabar, The Russian Art Exhibition catalogue, listed as no.429 In the Provinces
Kustodiev sent 21 paintings to New York for the Russian Art exhibition in Grand Central Palace in 1924, including this delightful variant of his 1917 designs for an unrealised production of From Scarcity to Plenty by Alexander Ostrovsky (1823-1886).
A brilliant satirist of the merchant class, Ostrovsky's vision of the provinces was close to Kustodiev's own and allowed him to indulge in his favourite compositional leitmotifs as described on a trip to Staraya Russa, a small town south of Velikii Novgorod. 'Even as we travelled from the station, I was already enchanted by the wonderful images of 'my' provinces. There is so much of what I love here: the town square, in the middle of some comically-built shopping arcade, where there are carts with peasants, churches, monasteries and gardens, gardens and more gardens with bushy poplars, silver birches, maples, willows...' (Letter to F. Notgaft, 28 June 1921 cited in B.Kapralov, B.M.Kustodiev: Pis'ma, stat'i, interv'yu, vstrechi I besedy s Kustodievym iz dnevnikov V.Voinova, Leningrad, 1967, p.164).
Kustodiev had achieved great popularity as a set designer from his first collaborations with the Moscow Arts Theatre in the early 1910s. His use of rich local colour was well suited to the stage, a genre which complimented the natural theatricality of his style that can be seen in other depictions of provincial Russia the same year (fig.1).
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