St George and the Dragon

Boris Anisfeld
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Boris Anisfeld (Russian, 1879-1973)
signed in Latin (lower left);
inscribed in Latin ‘St. George and the Dragon’ (verso)
oil on canvas
77 cm x 64 cm

Provenance
Acquired in the UK from a private collector

Exhibited
Probably, Chicago, VIII Anual Religious Art Show, 1967
Moscow, Museum of Contemporary Art in Neglinnaya Street, Boris Anisfeld, 2001

Literature
Boris Anisfeld, Moscow, 2001, p. 56 illustrated
N. Semyonova, “The alchemy of colour. Work of B.I. Anisfeld,” Nashe Nasledie, no. 61, 2002, p. 121 illustrated
E. Lingenauber, O. Sugrobova-Roth, Boris Anisfeld, catalogue raisonné, Dusseldof, 2011, no. P133, p. 117 illustrated

‘I paint what I feel, not what I see,’ Boris Anisfeld once said and he adhered to this simple principle throughout his career. Mostly known as a theatre designer, Anisfeld’s vibrant paintings are are imbued with a boldness of colour and dynamic flow.

Born in Bessarabia, in 1895 Anisfeld enrolled at the Odessa Drawing School. He continued his education at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg, where he quickly developed a reputation as a serious painter and a theatre artist. Arguably, the finest work of the artist’s canon was painted in America, to where Anisfeld moved in the 1920s and became one of the first of numerous artists, composers and writers to leave their native Russia to teach and work there.

Nonetheless, as an artist Anisfeld matured differently in America than he might have done in the Soviet Union. Over more than 50 years of painting and more than 30 years of teaching, Anisfeld encouraged each artist that ultimately he must come to trust what he ‘feels…he has helped teach the spectator that in the end he must come to trust what he sees‘ (Dudley Crafts Watson, Boris Anisfeld, Retrospective Exhibition, the Art Institute of Chicago, 1958).

The offered lot St. George and the Dragon is the most brilliant example of a theme which preoccupied Anisfeld throughout his artistic career. The artist derived his self-expression, freedom and inspiration from the themes of Ancient Russia, with St. George a perennially strong image. Indeed, the coat of arms of Moscow depicts a horseman with a spear in his hand slaying a basilisk – ordinarily identified with St. George and the Dragon. St. George had been a patron saint of Moscow since the 16th century and this reference to the theme of a Christian Saint by a Jewish artist is an interesting example of the dual identity of Russian Jews.

St. George and the Dragon is a superb example of the artist’s finest work. Anisfelds’s bold colour palette with its complimentary greens and reds and its extraordinary sense of colour and dynamic composition reveals a very timeless form of artistic experience.

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