Lot 9
  • 9

Tair Salakhov

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  • Tair Salakhov
  • D. D. Shostakovich
  • signed and dated 1987; signed, titled and dated 1987 on the reverse
  • oil on canvas
  • 133.5 by 113.5cm.; 52 1/2 by 44 3/4 in.


Collection of the Artist
Istanbul, Ramko Sanat Galerisi, Tair Salakhov, 1992
Private Collection, Istanbul (acquired directly from the above)


Istanbul, Ramko Sanat Galerisi, Tair Salakhov, 1992


Nelly Podgorskaya, Ed., Tair Salakhov: Paintings, Moscow 2008, p. 153, illustrated in colour

Catalogue Note

Azerbaijani artist Tair Salakhov divides his time between Baku and Moscow.  He studied art in Baku at the Azimzade Art College and during the war years as a teenager he found work drawing billboard posters and writing public notices on the paving stones in a public park.  Later he entered the Surikov Institute in Moscow, graduating in 1956.  He quickly became a major figure in the cultural life of the Soviet art world, settling more permanently in the Russian capital in 1973 when he was appointed First Secretary of the Soviet Union of Arts, a post he held for twenty years.  During the 1980s and the dawn of the perestroika era he brought many cutting edge Western artists to Moscow, such as Rauschenberg and Bacon.  Salakhov had his first solo retrospective in 2009 at the Ekaterina Cultural Foundation, Moscow.

As a public figure, it is impossible to talk of Salakhov’s art without addressing the politics of his day.  The Soviet cultural intelligentsia lived and worked in between the light and shadow of official culture; their works were marked by repression, covert messaging and ambiguity.  Salakhov has said: "There was a strong undercurrent of opposition though few dared to express it openly".  This cultural fabric was woven from collective experiences with suffering and repression at their heart.  At the same time there coexisted an equally strong desire to express, unencumbered, genuine artistic freedom, but they were bound to their milieu, as art historian Alexander Rozhin observes: "Salakhov and the artists of his circle were both a creation of their time and a challenge to it".

The 1960s brought Khrushchev’s 'Thaw' and a loosening of artistic repression.  Thus was born the ‘Severe Style’ in Russian painting, which found its inspiration in the art of the pre-War Soviet painters, such as Deineka, who were a direct link to the avant-garde movements.  Salakhov was a major representative of this stylistic movement, and the offered painting bears all the hallmarks of ‘Severe style’.  Although still a figurative trend, these artists used more formalism than Soviet Realist academic art, employing simplified and generalized forms and colour schemes.  Salakhov developed a dark, sombre palette, almost monochromatic, which later he said probably on a subconscious level expressed something of the tragedy of the times.  This colour scheme can also be seen as a rejection of the saccharine optimism of the colourful Soviet Realist palette.  His works were often described as ‘depressing’ for which during the Soviet period, despite his official posts and accolades, he attracted criticism.

Salakhov and Shostakovich were of different generations as two decades divided the men in age, but both had experienced first-hand the terror of Stalin’s purges of the 1930s. Salakhov’s father had been arrested and shot in 1938 when he was only nine, and later he was rejected from entering the Leningrad Academy of Fine Arts because his family had been considered an enemy of the people. The elder of the two, Dmitry Shostakovich (1906-1975) was denounced personally by Stalin, and was reinstated twice in his career.  The second time after the premiere of his Ninth Symphony, he lost his job as professor at the Moscow Conservatory, was sidelined, and until Stalin’s death in 1953 lived in increasing poverty and isolation.  It was his 10th symphony that reestablished the composer on the public stage.  The composer’s muse at this period and an inspiration behind some of the works’ most memorable passages, was Elmira Nazirova, a talented Azerbaijani pianist and composer who had studied under Shostakovich in Moscow.  According to Nazirova, Shostakovich used code embedded in the musical notation to create a passionate dialogue between himself and Elmira: alphabetical letters of their names representing musical notes.

Portraiture is a genre which lies close to the soul of Salakhov’s artistic genius.  Among these, some of his most enduring and powerful works are portraits of his artistic contemporaries.  Seeing the cultural elite as a multidisciplinary world of common experiences, possibly more than any other artist of his day and with a shared sense of identification, Salakhov sought heroes from the world of Soviet music. His portrait of the Azerbaijani composer Gara Garayev (1960, The State Tretyakov Gallery), is one of the most important works in this group.  Showing the composer in profile, he employed this stern perspective once again in the offered portrait of Shostakovich. Salakhov had initially painted him in the final year of the composer’s life, completing the portrait in 1976 a year after the artist’s death (now in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow).  The offered lot was painted a decade later, some time after the death of the composer, yet it is as powerful and expressive as the first.  Salakhov has said that he tries to convey the sitter’s character in his portraits, and how Shostakovich posed a particular challenge: "It depends on the mood...on the personality...and you think how to convey the character...Shostakovich was difficult".  And on his general approach to such portraits, he has commented: "My friends included cultural figures who defined the face of Soviet times ... For me it made no difference if they were dead or alive, it was always the creative idea and image of the person that mattered.  I have always painted a portrait on impulse.'" Other portraits of celebrated composers by Salakhov include Uzeir Hajibeyov and Mstislav Rostropovich.