Pont-Aven

Boris Grigoriev1923
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Watercolour, pencil and charcoal on paper

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The pastel tones and dreamy summer haze of this idyllic landscape are evidence of the influence of the French Impressionists on the early work of the Russian painter Boris Grigoriev. The subject of the watercolour is the town of Pont-Aven, made famous in the late nineteenth century by the school of artists who gathered there under Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin, and we might read this as an homage to his artistic heroes by an artist entering the most productive phase of his career. Grigoriev had first visited Brittany in 1914, and he returned regularly to the region after emigrating from Soviet Russia to settle in Paris. The tremulous beauty of this scene is captured by an artist who spent a great deal of his life in exile, driven from his homeland first by the outbreak of the First World War and subsequently by the post-revolutionary new order.

 

Grigoriev journeyed to Brittany every summer for five years from 1921 to 1926, and the works made during these trips are gathered together as his celebrated ‘Breton cycle’. This work exemplifies the idiosyncratic but nonetheless sophisticated style that Grigoriev perfected during this period, with its loosely interlocked waves of colour describing a scene at once intimate and strange. His use of a delicate, porous watercolour emphasises the sense of impermanence that permeates the scene. The delicate beauty of this landscape, its childlike simplicity, is undermined by the disorientating, irregular sweep of the planes – meadows, stream, skyline – into which it is divided.

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