Lot 33
  • 33

Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka

2,000,000 - 3,000,000 GBP
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  • Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka
  • Young Designer
  • signed in Cyrillic and dated 66 l.r.; further inscribed in Cyrillic and bearing exhibition and inventory labels on the stretcher
  • oil on canvas


Acquired directly from the artist in 1966


Kursk, Kiev, Riga, Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka, 1966-1967
Magnitogorsk, Vsesoyuznaya khudozhestvennaya vystavka, posvyashchennaya 50-letiyu Magnitogorska, 1979
Moscow, Leningrad, Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka. Zhivopis', skul'ptura, grafika. Vystavka proizvedenii k 80-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya, 1980
Moscow, Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka. Zhivopis', skul'ptura, grafika. Vystavka proizvedenii k 90-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya1989
Helsinki, Kunsthalle, Aleksandr Deineka, 1990
Moscow, Russian Academy of the Arts, Exhibition of Members of the Academy, 1995
Moscow, Central House of Artists, Exhibition of Soviet Art from the Collection of the Union of Artists, 2005


Exhibition catalogue Alexander Alexandrovich DeinekaMoscow: Iskusstvo, 1966, p.14 illustrated
N.Aradi, Dejneka, Budapest: Corvina, 1967, pl.53
V.Sysoev, Alexander Deineka, Leningrad: Aurora, 1971, no.58 illustrated
U.Kuhirt, Alexander A. Deineka. Maler und Werk, VEB Verlag der Kunst, 1974, p.24, no.15 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka. Zhivopis', skul'ptura, grafika. Vystavka proizvedenii k 80-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya, Moscow: Izobrazitel'noe iskusstvo, 1980, p.32 illustrated
V.Sysoev, Deineka: Paintings, Graphic Works, Sculptures, Mosaics, Excerpts from the Artist's Writings, Leningrad: Aurora Art Publishers, 1982, no.336, illustrated pl.243
Exhibition catalogue Alexander Alexandrovich Deineka. Zhivopis', skul'ptura, grafika. Vystavka proizvedenii k 90-letiyu so dnya rozhdeniyaMoscow: Sovetskii khudozhnik, 1989, illustrated
V.Sysoev, Aleksandr Deineka. Monografia, Moscow: Izobratel'noe isskustvo, 1989, vol.1, p.238 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue Aleksandr Deineka, Helsinki, 1990, p.22, no.46 illustrated 
Deineka. Zhivopis', Moscow: Interrosa, 2010, p.266, no.300 illustrated

Catalogue Note

This superb female portrait is among Alexander Deineka’s most famous mature works and the most important canvas by the artist ever to appear at auction. Since its acquisition by the USSR Union of Artists in 1966, the year it was painted, Young Designer was widely exhibited and published in a number of monographs on the artist.

Paradoxically the subject of Young Designer is not presented in an active context or striking a powerful pose typical of his oeuvre. Instead she is set against a plain, semi-abstract background surrounded by a rhythmic combination of geometric shapes and contrasting projections, such that the young designer herself becomes the embodiment of construction and design iself.

As Sysoev notes in his monograph on the artist: ‘Joyful and surprisingly youthful in spirit, Young Designer is Deineka’s last significant achievement. It is here that he expresses his ideal of perfect harmony in man with remarkable precision...  Her head is held high with pride, her gaze is open; her poise is that of an independent young woman, confident in her own skill, expertise and daring plans… Deineka uses unexpected viewpoints and contradictory sequences of 3 dimensional and flat surfaces in his depiction of this young designer with the aim of shaking up the fixed structure of the space around her. The evolution of forms in the composition carries an emotional charge, which reflects the inner state of a girl bursting with the energy of someone who has an active and engaged relationship with the surrounding world (V.Sysoev, Aleksandr Deineka. Monografia, Moscow, 1989, vol.1, p.287, 289).

Deineka stayed faithful to the principles of his earlier work and acknowledges here the creative ideals he pursued at the very beginning of his career and his debt to the era of avant-garde movements and Constructivism. In both its subject and title, Young Designer refers to the birth of Constructivism when, together with Rodchenko, Vesnin, and Gan, Deineka founded the group Oktyabr. Boris Arvatov, a theorist of so called ‘industrial’ or ‘production’ art, wrote of this new genre that it ‘does not simply portray a beautiful figure, but really aims to raise and create a balanced human being; it won’t just represent trees, but will instead encourage the plantation of real forests and parks; it won’t just decorate walls with pictures, but will cover these very walls with paint…’  In Young Designer, Deineka realises this ideal. The subject stands against a pink wall with white quadrangle at the centre, a kind of tabula rasa from which the design of the future begins.

By combining a low viewpoint with the large-scale depiction of his subject in the foreground, Deineka immediately achieves that sense of monumentality which is a hallmark of his portraits. Critics were quick to notice this trait in his work together with a ‘striking ability to generalise genre scenes’, from the moment of his very first exhibition at OST. As early as 1925, Tugenhold spoke of Deineka’s instinctive need to paint on a large scale and ‘his compulsion to produce massive compositions.’ (Ya.Tugenhold, Po vystavkam, Izvestia, 8 May 1925). In Young Designer we find this typically full-on central figure, full, heavy, characterised by a sense of volume, but which at the same time is played off against his brilliance for graphic and geometric design, for example the use of a single colour in the dark blue stripes, or a palette limited to the most basic colour-combinations of blue, white, pink and black. In terms of composition, the techniques are no different to those he would employ for a smaller work on paper.

The background is equally laconic. A bare minimum of detail references her profession: a wooden T-square, or drafting implement, in the lower left corner of the canvas and a white sheet behind, casting a slight shadow on the wall. Deineka attributed his artistic minimalism to the period he spent working on ‘Windows’ at ROSTA and his study of graphic art at VKhUTEMAS.

The dynamism and sense of rhythm in Young Designer is created by its strong diagonals. Beginning at the sitters’ left hand, the viewer’s eye is drawn upwards across the white semi-abstract sheet she holds, through the fold on her dress – which acts as a connection between the two white rectangles – until the diagonals shifts direction, up to the right and toward the angular black ribbon that floats against the rectangular white space like Malevich’s Suprematist black cross (fig.2), higher and higher.

The key to composition, wrote Deineka, is ‘to emphasise the important elements, to identify everything which helps to create  a sense of movement, and to discard that which hinders it.’ A sense of unity ‘isn’t something static, it is linked to some kind of dynamic momentum,… because the ability to identify points of movement is the endpoint of a very long process’ (A. Deineka, On drawing in monumental studio, 1989, p. 149)

In the lower left corner the image of her drafting instrument echoes into the background as semi-abstract, red shapes, creating a powerful sense both of rhythm and perspective. Something of the outlines recalls high voltage electricity lines. The artist takes the viewer beyond the interior space to those boundless territories associated with the builders of a new society, depicted so often in art of the period, such as in the Serafima Ryangina’s painting Higher and Higher! (fig.1) or Deineka’s own At the Construction of New Workshops (fig.4). The unexpectedly sharp transition from a very literal foreground to a limitless abstract background beyond has a dizzying effect; the change in scale recalls the experiments made by Rodchenko, an artist with whom Deineka worked closely at VKhUTEMAS). Suddenly the girl becomes something more than a young designer, transformed instead into a type, a symbol of the epoch - a heroine even.

But this heroine is unlike those more commonly encountered in Deineka’s work. Instead of his typical brawny, physical massive and at times even deliberately crude subjects, here we encounter a delicate, feminine figure, who is at the same time self-confident and resilient – a femme fatale of a new society. The generalised and the specific are combined beautifully. realistically developed figure and dress of the young designer. Her features are idealised and we find them repeated for example in Deineka’s portrait of a boy In the South. The scant details that we do see are merely ideologically sound building blocks of the age of construction: her clothes, drawing instruments, and sheet fixed to the wall are all instrumental in this ‘conscious creation of useful things’, designed for a renewed and balanced race. It is an era in which art remains firmly in the service of production. Indeed, from the 1920s onwards numerous artists were involved in the design of clothes and developing fabric patters based on geometric shapes. Varvara Stepanova taught at the textile department of VKhUTEMAS while Deineka studied there, and together with Liubov Popova, Alexandra Exter and Alexander Rodchenko she designed clothing for Moscow factories (figs.6-10).

The palette of Young Designer is pure Constructivism: black, white, red and pink (as a softer version of red), with the addition of blue and yellow. The lack of complementary colours and sparing use of tone or embellishments are telling. Constructivist’s aesthetics remained at the core of Deineka’s art. ‘I understand painting and fine art, but much prefer drawing and form’ wrote Deineka. ‘While others grapple with subtle nuances of tone in complete indifference to distortion of form, I could not be more opposite. Deeply sensitive to the subtlest forms of rhythm, I am conversely satisfied by simple colour harmonies’ (Deineka. Graphics, 2009, p.100).

At the time Young Designer was painted in the mid 1960s, Deineka was as active as ever, occupied with the design of mosaics for the Moscow metro and facades of newly-constructed buildings while still teaching in Moscow at the Surikov State Academic Art Institute and the Architectural Institute, alongside, painting, drawing and making sculpture. Even so, in a certain light Young Designer can be considered his swan song: a laconic and subtle summary of his artistic legacy – a synthesis of the revolutionary avant-garde art that launched his career with the classical poetics of Socialist Realism.