Lot 96
  • 96

Pavel Tchelitchew

170,000 - 250,000 GBP
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  • Pavel Tchelitchew
  • Bullfight
  • signed in Latin and dated 34 t.r.; further bearing exhibition labels and variously inscribed on the reverse
  • gouache on paper laid on board
  • 105 by 75cm, 41 1/4 by 29 1/2 in.


Julien Levy Gallery (acquired directly from the artist)
Charles Henri Ford, New York
Sotheby’s New York, 11 May 1988, lot 175
Previously in the Georges Bemberg Collection


New York, Vassar College Art Gallery, Paintings of Pavel Tchelitchew, 1938
New York, Museum of Modern Art, Tchelitchew: Paintings and Drawings, 1942, no.37
Buenos Aires, Instituto de Arte Moderno, Pavel Tchelitchew. Pinturas y Dibujos, 15 February – 10 September 1949, no.11
New York, Gallery of Modern Art, Pavel Tchelitchew, 20 March – 19 April 1964, no.130
New York, Katonah Museum of Art, Pavel Tchelitchew: The Landscape of the Body, 16 June - 6 September 1998


K.Millburn, 'Taylor [Hall] Exhibits Paintings of Contemporary Artist', The Vassar Miscellany News, Poughkeepsie, New York, vol.XXII, 1938, mentioned in the review on p.3
Exhibition catalogue Tchelitchew: Paintings and Drawings, New York, Museum of Modern Art, 1942, p.54, no.41 illustrated; p.91, no.37 listed
Exhibition catalogue Pavel Tchelitchew. Pinturas y Dibujos, Buenos Aires, 1949, no.11 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, Gallery of Modern Art, 1964, p.20, pl.15 illustrated in b/w; p.61, no.130 listed
P.Tyler, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew, New York, 1967, p.409 illustrated
L.Kirstein, Tchelitchew, Santa Fe, 1994, no.40 illustrated
Exhibition catalogue, Pavel Tchelitchew: The Landscape of the Body, 1998, New York, p.50 listed; p.27 illustrated
A.Kuznetsov, Pavel Tchelitchew. Metamorphoses, Stuttgart: Arnoldsche, 2012, p.187, no.159 illustrated


The sheet has been laid on board. The top edge of the paper is uneven and has been extended in the area under the frame. There are frame abrasions along the edges with some associated paint loss. There small losses to the board at the centre of the right edge and in the top left corner. There are cracks and creases, notably to the right from the red cape and above the head of the toreador on the left. There are surface scratches throughout. There are flecks of minor paint loss in places. There is a water stain along the lower edge, visible in the catalogue image, and another to the trousers in the left side of the composition and some minor scattered water stains elsewhere. There is fine craquelure to the white mountains on the right hand side. There is surface dirt. Held in a gold painted wooden frame. Unexamined out of frame.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

The two gouaches offered as lots 95 and 96 dating from 1934 were executed after Tchelitchew's return from Spain. According to James Thrall Soby, author of the 1942 Tchelitchew exhibition catalogue, the artist executed three gouaches on the theme of bullfight. The third in the series was previously in the collection of Helen Rubinstein.

Tchelitchew travelled to Spain in the summer of 1934 with his partner Charles Henri Ford and photographer Cecil Beaton. Beaton’s memoirs and photographs document this artistic pilgrimage: they visited the El Greco museum in Toledo, ‘something that one had only dreamt of’, as the photographer relates, attended corridas in Seville and travelled extensively around Malaga, Picasso’s native province. Incidentally, Picasso too travelled through Spain that summer, avidly following the bullfights that inspired an important series of etchings and paintings on the theme. In Tchelitchew’s words, the nature and people of Spain ‘produced an enormous impression... The dry mother-of-pearl landscape, the characteristic proud faces of men and women dressed in dark clothes, the bullfights, the towns, the Arabian vestiges, all combined to induce me to a new direction’ (Exhibition catalogue Tchelitchew: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1942, p.26).

Tchelitchew's impressions manifested themselves in an unprecedented explosion of colour and exaggerated foreshortening of figures. Abandoning the grey tones of his circus works and portraits of the 1920s and early 1930s, Tchelitchew now uses ochres, blues and reds. According to Lincoln Kirstein, the range of colour reflects the lurid inks of three-sheet posters advertising the season's corrida (L.Kirstein, Tchelitchew, Santa Fe, 1994, p.64). In an open arena of a characteristically Andalucían landscape, toreadors and spectators are seen from below, above and head on, from the so-called triple perspective, applied for the first time in Tchelitchew's oeuvre on these very paintings. As Soby explains: 'the principle of the simultaneity was not to be applied to a single object... Instead, each object was to be rendered as a single image seen from a fixed viewpoint. But the viewpoint was to change from one object to the next, and within the same composition any object was to be represented as seen from any one of the three perspectives which suited his purpose' (Exhibition catalogue Tchelitchew: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1942, p.26). Later Tchelitchew would use this 'revolutionary' perspective repeatedly, applying it to his best-known works such as Phenomena (1936-1938, State Tretyakov Gallery).

As a symbol for man's triumph over the ferocity of nature, bullfights have captivated artists for centuries, from Goya and Manet to Picasso and Konchalovsky. Painters and writers have depicted the encounter of the toreador and bull as an interplay of triumph and death within the ritualized context of the bullring. In Tchelitchew’s rending the corrida transforms into an open-air theatrical dance between man and bull, and the accent shifts to the virility and sensuality of the protagonists. The theatricality of the spectacle is accentuated by the row of eerie spectators at the far right in Spain and the back of Charles Henri Ford's head at the extreme edge of Bullfight. According to Soby, the passage with the translucent ear of Ford was inspired by 'the glowing, gas-lit faces, penetrated by light coming from beneath, which Toulouse-Lautrec used in certain of his music hall compositions such as Au Moulin Rouge' (Tchelitchew: Paintings and Drawings, New York, 1942, p.26).