"Everything is Decorative and Only Decorative". On the anniversary exhibition of Alexander Golovin at the Tretyakov Gallery
THE TRETYAKOV GALLERY HAS OPENED THE EXHIBITION 'ALEXANDER GOLOVIN. FANTASIES OF THE SILVER AGE", DEVOTED TO THE 150TH ANNIVERSARY OF THE ARTIST'S BIRTH. GOLOVIN'S OEUVRE, WHICH IS DISTINGUISHED BY THE INIMITABLE "GOLOVIN STYLE", ELEGANT DECORATIVENESS, INEXHAUSTIBLE IMAGINATION AND GREAT ARTISTIC TEMPERAMENT, REFLECTS THE ESSENTIAL ICONOGRAPHIC AND STYLISTIC FEATURES OF THE ERA OF SYMBOLISM AND ART NOUVEAU IN RUSSIA, AND BECAME ONE OF THE LANDMARKS OF ITS PERIOD.
The anniversary exhibition of Alexander Golovin at the Tretyakov Gallery
Golovin (1863-1930) belongs with the constellation of prodigiously talented artists, poets, composers, theatre-makers and actors who brought about an unprecedented cultural explosion in Russia in the period called the "Silver Age", which lasted from the end of the 19th century to 1920. From all the diversity of creative personalities working at that period, Golovin - "an elegant person" who captured "the subtlest nuances of thought and feeling"2 - and his art, "brilliant and refined in execution and taste"3, remains unique. There are few artists whose oeuvre reflected the culture of the Silver Age so admirably and consistently as that of Golovin. Like his brilliant contemporaries Valentin Serov, Mikhail Vrubel and Konstantin Korovin, Golovin can be also called a creator of the artistic world of that era.
An universally gifted individual, Golovin distinguished himself in painting and accomplished a great deal in applied art. But theatre was central to his creative work. Boris Asafiev wrote, as he pondered over the development of Russian art: "Golovin, the Golovin element in opera and ballet has long ago... become synonymous with impeccable taste, elegance, craftsmanship, and a bountifulness of artistic imagination. Golovin had an innate intelligence that was entirely suited for the theatre, a 'spectacularity' and theatricality - he was a man of the stage."4 Mulling over Golovin's individuality, Asafiev wrote: "Golovin was one of a handful of people in whom the theatrical element manifested itself so clearly in the nature of the man and artist, with all the pluses and minuses of this worldview... I'll take the liberty to address this trait not as a personal one but as a style which... took over the artist's entire psyche. This was the style of the times..."5
However, not all of Golovin's contemporaries shared this view of him. The cultural critic Sergei Makovsky, Golovin's first biographer, arguing that Golovin "has long been enjoying well-deserved fame as a stage designer" and, recalling that he also painted landscapes, portraits and still-lifes, went on to the paradoxical conclusion: "It seems to me that Golovin, for all his great talent in scenic design, is not 'a man of the theatre'..."
The question whether Golovin should be considered as a stage designer or a pure painter who turned to theatre work in keeping with the spirit of the times has been debated for many years. In recent decades, all researchers would start their articles and books with a caveat like this one: "Still, it would not be accurate to see in him, as most have done, mainly a theatre designer. The most essential and pivotal feature of Golovin's creative personality is that two dimensions - painting and scenic design -blended together while remaining equal to each other."6 We agree with this argument, which emphasises the backbone of Golovin's oeuvre - the product of his universal artistic imagination and creative method.
The artist's universality is based on "decorativeness" - a fetish of sorts for the Silver Age artists7: through "decorativeness" Golovin conveyed the tangible beauty of the world around him, the "philosophical" tenor of his worldview, "the subtlest nuances of thought and feeling", as well as his clear anticipation of the tragic cataclysms in Russia. It was not without reason that Golovin, when asked what art form he favoured the most, used to answer "composing an ornament"8. Even Golovin's early works reveal this inclination. For instance, in his unfinished portrait of the artist Yelena William (1890-1895, Tretyakov Gallery), his fellow student at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, the only completed element of the composition is an intricately ornamented carpet on the floor - an image carefully crafted by the artist. And when, in 1908, at a show of the New Society of Artists9, Golovin was given a room, where he displayed 98 pieces - in fact, this show was the 45-year-old artist's first solo exhibition - 72 of the compositions featuring ornaments and flowers were gathered in a section called "Fantasies". If we look at ornament as the foundation from which his style emerged and grew to fruition, we shall see in it the necessary component that enabled the artist to create his own ornamental style, which he was able to develop, in his own words, "at the outset" of his theatre work.
He writes in his memoirs that when he was asked, as often happened, the question, "How did you find your style, how did you arrive at it?", he invariably answered, "I was born with it"10. This phrase is a frank expression of Golovin's "artistic egotism" (as Makovsky put it) - he always remained true to himself in all his"reincarnations" and "improvisations" in different art forms. Substantive answers to these questions can be found at Golovin's anniversary exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery.
The show introduces all dimensions of the legacy of Golovin, who was an outstanding scenic designer; a recognised reformer of stage design; and the creator of decorative compositions and fine graphic works - all in one - that are another proof of the synthetic nature of his artistic mentality, breaking the borders of genre, and/or revealing their transparent character. The master's "painterly temperament" undermines the very principles of design and vice versa - the so-called "theatrical" means "enter" his paintings, enriching his artworks with spectacular tones of the epoch. The same can be said about Golovin's stage sets filled with painterly decorativism. One's analytical approach to his favourite motifs -fine china pieces, flowers and fabrics - help to reveal the logic of the artist's compositional and colour decisions.
The exhibition features side by side objects of applied art and paintings, sketches of sets and authentic stage costumes designed by Golovin, allowing us to trace the artist's evolution in every art form he engaged with, as well as the ways these forms interacted.
Golovin's decorative pieces serve as a preface to the exhibition. With their distinctive ethnic feel, they share many features of the European Art Nouveau. This applies, first of all, to the pieces Golovin created together with Yelena Polenova, with whom he closely collaborated from 1890, following her example in drawing on national traditions and reviving Russian arts and crafts. The things he learned as a student of architecture at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (from 1881 to 1883), during the first two years of his study there - these skills and knowledge were complemented by the techniques of ornamental art used by Polenova. In Golovin's painting "The Young Bartholomew" (1895-1897, private collection), which was located in the course of preparation for the Tretyakov exhibition11, the ornament is already laden with meaning both in the characterisations of the people depicted and in the portrayal of the artistic side of everyday life in Old Rus' of the 14th century.
In 1897 Golovin, together with Polenova, began designing a dining-room in the neo-Russian style in Maria Yakunchikova's house in Nara, near Moscow, and finished the work in 1899, after Polenova's death.
After designing Yakunchikova's house, Golovin, in partnership with Konstantin Korovin, signed up to design the crafts Section of the Russian Pavilion at the 1900 World Fair in Paris. The displays at the section, designed by him in the neo-Russian style, featured works of Russian artisans as well as objects designed by artists. The exhibits also included objects created by Golovin in the ceramics workshop in Abramtsevo, Savva Mamontov's Moscow region estate that was an artistic colony, which Golovin joined in 1898. His decorative pieces are distinguished by a weird,"haunting" fancifulness of forms, abundance of ornamental floral motifs, colourfulness, and a special, theatrical showiness.
Thus, no one was surprised when Golovin and Korovin in 1898 were recommended by Vasily Polenov and Viktor Vasnetsov to Vladimir Telyakovsky12, the Director of the Imperial Theatres, as stage designers able to help him carry through the reforms in performance design that he was planning. One of Golovin's first theatre projects was designing, together with Korovin, a new version of Dargomyzhsky's "The Mermaid" (premiered on September 4 1900 at the Bolshoi Theatre). The decor of the scene "The Palace for the Princess" strongly resembled the interior of the Russian crafts Section at the World Fair. The set was also evocative of the decor of Yakunchikova's dining-room in Nara, as well as the decor of "Teremok" - a work accomplished later, for the "Modern Art" exhibition (1903) in St. Petersburg.
Golovin's engagement with the theatre began in 1899. His designs for operas and ballets on "Russian themes" - Dargomyzhsky's "The Mermaid", Tchaikovsky's "Swan Lake", Rimsky-Korsakov's "The Maid of Pskov", Koreshchenko's "Magic Mirror" and Mussorgsky's "Boris Godunov" - reflected his deep knowledge of folk art and old Russian art, as well as his mastery of traditional artistic techniques.
Golovin's poetic and dreamy imagination was put to work in the production of Stravinsky's "The Firebird" by Diaghilev's Ballets Russes. He designed the scene "The Kingdom of Kashchey the Deathless" (1909, Tretyakov Gallery): "The set was compellingly attractive while also emanating something mysterious, elusive and disturbing, something malign and sly - there was a feeling of some symbolic impenetrability."13
The "Russian theme" at the show is rounded off with the portrait of Feodor chaliapin as Boris Godunov in Mussorgsky's opera "Boris Godunov" (1912, Russian Museum), representing an artistic and mythological symbol of the power and might of authority which was at the core of chaliapin's performance. Golovin reminisced about the days when he worked on the composition: "[chaliapin] is painted full-length, illuminated by footlights. The general outline was made very quickly, followed by a painstaking work on details, the brocade robe, etc., which was very exacting."14 As a result, chaliapin's portrait looks like a "gigantic icon sparkling with gold and gems"15, highlighting yet again the artist's craftsmanship and ability to completely immerse himself in the complex world of Russia's cultural legacy.
Yet another major project in the area of decorative art accomplished by Golovin at the turn of the 20th century was a series of clay murals for the Metropol Hotel in Moscow (1898-1901)16 - the compositions grace the hotel's walls to this day. They were commissioned by Savva Mamontov, the prominent industrialist and patron of arts, who initiated construction and developed a plan for it. The central section of the front of the building is graced by Mikhail Vrubel's composition "The Princess of Dream", and the spaces to the right and left, as well as the side walls, feature Golovin's works: "cleopatra", "Thirst", "Worshipping a Deity", "Worshipping Nature", "Orpheus Playing", "Water Nymphs Swimming". With their austere composition and the exquisite elegance of their silhouettes, the pieces resemble the "classic style" of Vrubel, with whom Golovin was then working in Mamontov's ceramics workshop. The style of the pieces is also evocative of some European modernist painters - in particular, the French group "Les Nabis". Quite naturally Alexandre Benois mentions that Golovin's oeuvre had quite a strong kinship with the "internationalists" or, as he explains later, "with the 'pan-European' group of artists"17.
The problems of integration into the pan-European artistic processes alongside the preservation of a distinctive national culture so topical for Russian artists at the turn of the century found a direct response in Golovin. The artist was very interested in the Old Rus' of the fairy tales, loved the beauty of the old Russian country estates, and the gardens and parks near palaces, but he was also well acquainted and fascinated with European art and culture. Prince Sergei Shcherbatov, a patron of the arts, artist and collector who spoke with Golovin often and frankly, said about him: "Being very Russian in spirit, he had the special capacity of Russian people (mentioned by Dostoevsky) - to feel the spirit and culture of other countries to the point of a certain spiritual reincarnation."18 All Golovin's "reincarnations" are featured at the jubilee show.
The exhibition opens with the artist's self-portrait (1912, Tretyakov Gallery), and his composition "Umbrian Valley" (1910s, Tretyakov Gallery), which became the visiting card of the show. A huge rose bush is situated, as in some beautiful dream, in the foreground, and behind it stretches out, also in a dreamlike fashion, a splendid vale surrounded by hills. But the composition has nothing artificial in it. Golovin captured the true charm of the scenery in Umbria, this "green heart" of Italy; he captured the sense of calm, comfort and harmony permeating nature. The compact, richly evocative and very intimate image becomes a symbol of Italy19. The floral motif of the rose was the most popular poetic and visual image in the art of the Silver Age, and symbolised fragile melancholy beauty, memento mori and inconceivable mystery. This delicate flower "naturally" painted with a wide variety of overtones and hues was a favourite with Golovin. Roses are to be seen everywhere at the exhibition: in one piece they form the background of a portrait, in another they are featured in still-lifes. Roses serve to decorate the gowns and robes in the ceremonial female portraits, or they form a part of the ornamental decorations in set designs or theatrical costumes, becoming a kind of a "tuning fork" in the artist's "colourful symphonies". As for the landscape "Umbrian Valley", its rose bush became a symbolic "tune" of the exhibition as a whole.
The reminiscences of Boris Almedingen, Golovin's student and assistant, about his mentor's work on landscapes serve to confirm the impression from the composition: "His every landscape is a synthesis of observations, sometimes accumulated over his entire life."20 This quality can be found in all of Golovin's landscapes featured at the show: "Willows (Silver Willows)" (1909, Yaroslavl Art Museum), "A View in a Park. Landscape with a Blue Pavilion" (1910, Russian Museum), "Sunset in Summer" (1910s, Tretyakov Gallery), "Neskuchny Garden" (1910s, Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov). Thanks to their synthetic element, Golovin smoothly incorporated his landscape compositions into his theatre work. For instance, before he undertook the design of productions of Ibsen - "The Lady from the Sea", "Ghosts" and "Little Eyolf" - in which he compellingly conveyed the distinctness of Norwegian natural scenery and everyday Norwegian life, he visited the country in order to experience its colours and the spirit of its people. His sketches for "The Lady from the Sea" sets - "Fjords", "Dr. Wangel's Garden", "Dining-room" (all accomplished in 1905, now at the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum) - are stylistically very close to his landscape compositions.
The world imagined in these drawings is life-like but also full of otherworldly harmony and inexplicable anxiety. A condensed philosophic concept of reality transpires through a thin layer of the material world. In the early 1920s the artist would again use his memories of his Norwegian trip, designing "Solveig", a ballet to the music of Edvard Grieg with a libretto from Ibsen's "Peer Gynt" (Academic Theatre of Opera and Ballet; the production was given a new life on the same stage in 1927, under the title "Ice Maiden"). It was Golovin who came up with the idea to create a ballet to Grieg's music. In the design of the sets, Norwegian scenery, with glaciers creeping down the hills and blooming gardens on the southern slopes, are lent a lofty romantic quality befitting the main theme of the production - the extolment of living and perennially resurgent nature - in sketches of the sets for the scenes "In the Forest" and "Wedding" (both now at the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum). Even in his last theatre project, Shakespeare's "Othello" (general directorial concept by Konstantin Stanislavsky, directed by Ilya Sudakov, premiered on March 14 1930, at the Moscow Arts Theatre), Golovin lent a personal touch to the image of Venice he created, even though his assignment was to produce a true-to-life recreation of Venetian life of the period.
When Golovin was at the peak of his artistic powers and signed up, in 1906, to design Bizet's opera "carmen" at the Mariinsky Theatre, he experienced, in his own words, "a rush of memories about... my first travel in Spain - this inimitable country with so much flamboyant, passionate romanticism... In 'carmen', I attempted to show a real, unembellished Spain."21 The set designs and costumes in the crowd scenes were "astonishingly rich in colour."22
Golovin strove to achieve this "richness of shades of colours" by dressing the Mariinsky's chorus girls and the women working in the theatre's workshops in "Spanish" clothes of his own making, and then painting the images of his models in his studio, representing them as ordinary Spanish people. The women were painted against the green background of the sections of the sets, which highlighted the expressiveness of the colour schemes of the costumes and accessories. The artist did not attempt to make the women more "Spanish": they were easily recognisable - homely, sometimes blunt, as unembellished as the personages and costumes in Golovin's sketches for "carmen". This is how the series of images of Spanish women came into being: "A Spanish Woman with a cigar" (1906-1907, Astrakhan Picture Gallery), "A Spanish Woman (in a Motley Jacket)" (1906-1907, Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum), "A Spanish Woman with a Bunch of Yellow Flowers" (19061907, Russian Museum), "A Spanish Woman (in a Wedding Dress)" (1906-1907, Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov), "A Spanish Woman in Green", "A Spanish Woman in Red" (both 1906-1907, Russian Museum), "A Spanish Woman in White" (1906-1908, Ivanovo Art Museum), "A Spanish Woman" (1907, Tretyakov Gallery). Golovin crafted each of these images into a richly coloured decorative piece with impeccable combinations of black with grey and hot-pink, black with yellow and white, and black with scarlet. At the same time, in each of his images the sitters' psychological characteristics were highlighted as well. Taken together, these combinations make for a harmonic sequence akin to Spanish folk melodies.
Golovin continued to paint his images of Spanish women after the production of "carmen" had premiered. His portrait "A Spanish Woman on a Balcony" (1911, Russian Museum) - a tender, pensive and graceful female image - was created during the new stage in Golovin's theatre work, when he accomplished his most brilliant productions. During this period Golovin closely collaborated with Vsevolod Meyerhold, the renowned founder of "non-realistic theatre". The main components of the creative idiom invented by Golovin in partnership with Meyerhold were the novel use of the stage frame, which became a "tuner" of sorts for the scenic design; the proscenium; and an elaborate series of curtains. He was one of the pioneers in designing the front wings and borders individually for every production and incorporating them into the composition of the sketches of the future sets. "It was an innovation, not to mention the fact that you could not but be astonished by Golovin's consummate craft and talent for ornamentation, something in which he had no rivals,"23 his student and assistant Boris Almedingen wrote.
Golovin first teamed up with Meyerhold in 1908, to stage Knut Hamsun's "At the Gates of the Kingdom" at the Alexandrinsky Theatre, and continued designing his productions until 1917, when they brought Lermontov's "Masquerade" to the Alexandrinsky Theatre stage. They shared the same understanding of the synthetic nature of theatre, as well as the ambition to use design and music on the stage in innovative and unusual ways. Both had unusually rich imaginations. Golovin called Meyerhold "a brilliant inventor"24, characterising the essential feature of the director's talent. The same could have been said about Golovin.
One of the first Golovin-Meyerhold projects was Moliere's "Don Juan" (premiered on November 11 1910, at the Alexandrinsky Theatre). The main element of scenic design was the stage frame which shone with gold and silver and fascinated the audience with its rich ornamentation, creating an atmosphere of elegant splendour and unrestrained luxury typical for the period of the French baroque, the style of Louis XIV. The decor in "Don Juan's Dining-room" (1910, Russian Museum) was designed to match this frame, and the sets in other episodes - "Sicilian Village", "Village by the Sea" (both accomplished in 1910, now at the Russian Museum), where the neat simplicity of the Italian and Spanish landscapes introduced viewers to the scenery of the places where Don Juan began his amorous adventures - were designed to stand in contrast to the frame.
In the next production about Don Juan - Dargomyzhsky's opera "The Stone Guest" (premiered on January 27 1917, at the Mariinsky Theatre) - Meyerhold and Golovin treated the subject differently, in line with the tragic denouement of the drama. Hence the scenic design with footlights painted in faded black and the set of Scene 1 "Near the Walls of Madrid" (1917, Russian Museum), with the alarming blue flashes of lightning against the Spanish greenish-yellow night sky, which seem to be preparing the viewer for the tragic finale of the drama the high point of which was the scene in the burial vault featuring the commander's statue - "The commander's Grave" (1917, Russian Museum).
In the production of Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice" (premiered on December 21 1911, at the Mariinsky Theatre) Golovin and Meyerhold were confronted with a great challenge in the spirit of the Silver Age with its penchant for mystifications and all sorts of emulation and transfiguration, and inclination for allusions. Golovin recalled: "... we decided to centre the entire production around antiquity as it was understood by 18th-century artists - that is, we looked at the play through the lens of the era in which the playwright lived and worked."25 This "internal dialogue" in the design was intelligible to contemporary viewers, who were treated to an ancient Greek, mythical reality woven from the fine threads of Gluck's melodies. "It has been long since I've last been shaken so deeply as I was at the full rehearsal of Gluck's 'Orpheus and Eurydice'", wrote one of the critics. "A veritable symphony of colours. Everything is carefully thought out, stylish, well-rounded, subordinated to the internal requirements of artistic logic and expressivity. All this is wrapped in and informed by a keen understanding of the 18th century, deep insights into that century's aesthetic experiences, but as if seen through the eyes of a great artist of today."26
The sketches of the sets for the scenes "The Temple of Eros" and "Elysium" (both accomplished in 1911, now at the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum) re-imagine a fantastic country of eternal harmony - emerald-green valleys in bloom, in delicate haze, with diaphanous silhouettes of trees on the horizon and white buildings suffused with sunlight and air. Golovin's landscapes - "Little Birches" (1908-1910), "In the Old Park" (1910s) and "Landscape. Pavlovsk" (1911, all in Tretyakov Gallery) - have surprisingly much in common with the landscaped sets.
Mikhail Kuzmin, Golovin's favourite poet who kept in close touch with him during the pre-production period, printed a brilliant critique of "Orpheus" in the "Apollo" magazine27. And in the poet's portrait (1910, Tretyakov Gallery), painted in his studio, the artist used as the background a foliaged column from the stage props of the Gluck production.
The interior of Golovin's studio, situated above the ceiling of the auditorium and a section of the stage of the Mariinsky Theatre, is easily recognisable in many of his portraits. Golovin effortlessly re-imagined the studio into a special artistic space, where the painted sections of the sets became not only the background but also an element of the sitter's characterisation. We have already mentioned the series of portraits of Spanish women: in every composition the interior was transformed to suit a particular sitter's character. For instance, in the portrait of the theatre administrator Vladimir Kankrin (1905, Tretyakov Gallery) and the "Group Portrait of Employees of the Imperial Theatres" (1906, Tretyakov Gallery) the studio is re-imagined in a realistic and businesslike manner; in Nicholas Roerich's portrait (1907, Tretyakov Gallery), the bare plank floor mysteriously turns into a nearly abstract backdrop - an environment in which a tense and elevated dialogue takes place with the sitter; in the portrait of the ballerina Yelena Smirnova, pictured against a piece of stage cloth painted all over with an ethereal, mercurial pattern, which sets off the individuality of the lively cheerful elegant woman in a fur coat and fanciful hat with feathers traced with an airy arabesque line. In "Portrait of Mikhail Kuzmin" (1910, Tretyakov Gallery) the interior of the studio acquires a special meaning. The extent of the space stretching away into the distance to the right seems infinite and invested with a spiritual meaning by a distant light; the creased piece of fabric from the sets and contraptions for painting them, looking so everyday in the portraits of the employees of the Imperial Theatres, in this composition turn into nearly allegorical "art tools". All of the portraits emanate a sense of mystery and have an aura of the mysterious life "in the wings".
Golovin's studio was not only his workplace. It had a special atmosphere, written about by many cultural figures who often visited their welcoming host - singers, musicians, actors, directors and poets. The people who sat for Golovin in his studio included painters and writers, aristocrats and society ladies. His studio became the birthplace of a special type of his theatre portraits featuring actors playing their parts, in make-up and costumes, often portrayed against a stage set - "Portrait of Maria Kuznetsova-Benois as carmen" (1908), "Portrait of the Actor Dmitry Smirnov as chevalier des Grieux in Massenet's 'Manon'" (1909, both at the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum) and, of course, the celebrated compositions featuring Feodor chaliapin.
Over the centuries, Russian artists, like Ivan Kramskoi, Ilya Repin, Mikhail Vrubel, Valentin Serov and Konstantin Korovin, had created many portraits of actors in their roles. But it was only Golovin who, creating the performers' portraits, was interested most of all in the finest details of their stage appearance - how the performer of this or that role looked in his costume illuminated by the footlights, what sort of make-up he or she wore, how this make-up changed the look and helped to accentuate the nature of the personage. In his best theatre images the artist succeeded in conveying the very essence of the performers' art. Apart from their artistic value, Golovin's theatrical portraits are, in some sense, an important piece of evidence for studying the art of the thespians he portrayed. The portraits of Feodor chaliapin are a case in point: at their very first meeting the singer won the artist's affection "with his entire figure, performance, voice"28. Golovin created several images of chaliapin as Mephistopheles (1905, Research Museum of the Russian Academy of Fine Arts; 1909, Bakhrushin Theatre Museum), Demon (1906, Museum of the Bolshoi Theatre), Farlaf (1907, St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music). The most significant among these compositions is the "Portrait of Feodor chaliapin as Holophernes in Alexander Serov's Opera 'Judith'" (1908, Tretyakov Gallery). This image conveys the very essence of chaliapin's art, the forcefulness of his transformation and the essence of Golovin's artwork.
Alexander Serov's "Judith" at the Mariinsky Theatre was designed by Valentin Serov. It was Serov who helped chaliapin to develop the gesticulation patterns for Holofernes, and created the costume and the make-up in a style similar to that of the Assyrian stone bas-reliefs featured earlier, in 1898, at Mamontov's Russian Private Opera House29. Out of chaliapin's reincarnation as the Oriental despot Golovin crafted a luxurious decorative composition consisting of a fanciful tracery in which even the face and arms of chaliapin, whose make-up was designed by Serov, are smoothly woven into the fluid rhythms of various ornaments of the dress, wooden couch and drapes. This portrait became a landmark piece of Golovin's decorative artwork, based as it was on his profound insights into ancient Oriental art and culture, as well as his keen understanding of the equivocal nature of the physical personality of the character created by the great actor. Due to its ornamental expressivity, and the novelty of the challenges taken on and perfection of craft, the image of chaliapin as Holofernes is one of the most brilliant Russian Art Nouveau pieces. If there is anything comparable in Western European art, it would surely be the oeuvre of the Austrian symbolist Gustav Klimt.
In partnership with Meyerhold, Golovin created a series of outstanding productions where directing and design were inextricably intertwined. But the main project born out of their work was the production of Lermontov's "Masquerade", with a score written by Alexander Glazunov, which took them six years to bring to the stage.
Golovin and Meyerhold produced several other plays in the interim period. Alexander Ostrovsky's "The Storm" (premiered on January 9 1916, at the Alexandrinsky Theatre) was the most significant among them. The creators of the production interpreted the play in a poetic vein "in keeping with the style of Russian romantic drama"30, and this was reflected in the design - "On the Bank of the Volga", "Ravine" and "Ruins of a church" (all accomplished in 1916, now at the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum). critics wrote that the emphatically ethnic flavour of the sets was in line with Ostrovsky's creative vocabulary.
According to Almedingen's memoirs, Golovin, working on "Masquerade", created nearly 4,000 drawings of costumes, makeup, pieces of furniture and props, in addition to sketches of the sets and details of them. Thanks to the artist's inexhaustible fantasy, as well as the whimsical tracery and finely crafted details of the costumes and props, these drawings stand out as objects of applied art in their own right. Some of the drawings featured at the anniversary show - sketches of the curtains, sets and costumes (from the Bakhrushin Theatre Museum) - give us an idea of the performance in which Golovin achieved an ideal stylistic unity of all its components while also tying up the scenic design with the architecture of the auditorium. The authentic costumes designed by Golovin (from the Alexandrinsky Theatre) and stage photographs of the productions (in the St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music) afford viewers a chance to take a closer look at the artist's vision of the plays.
"Masquerade" became the highest point in the creative partnership of Golovin and Meyerhold. The performance crowned the series of opulent productions brought to the stage by the artist and the director, whereas Golovin's design for it, rich in stylistic allusions to his own artwork, rounded off a whole period in Russian scene design. The production, which opened in Petrograd as bullets were whistling up and down the city's streets, sounded like a lugubrious requiem for a Russia that was drifting away into the past, although the performance would go on to have a long run in the Soviet theatre.
In the year when the'Masquerade" premiered, Golovin painted his "Portrait of Vsevolod Emilievich Meyerhold" (1917, St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music), featuring the great director as a sad Pierrot and his double in a mirror. The portrait closed the books on the long-running and productive collaboration of the director and the artist, these two "great inventors" who were major reformers of music and drama performance in Russia.
At the centre of the exhibition are Golovin's paintings - landscapes, portraits, still-lifes, which bring into focus his artistic idiom and signature techniques. In each of the genres the artist created an inimitable world bearing his distinctive imprint - intricate ornamentation, richness of colour schemes, and subordination of colours to a flat decorative imagery. He painted verdurous parks in the dusk or under the departing light of the setting sun, often featuring in his landscapes romantic rotundas and ruins with colonnades, as well as compellingly re-imagined fresh foliage put forth by trees in the spring, and the same trees generously painted in autumnal colours. These landscapes demonstrate an amazing integrity of imagery that has an elegiac touch and is filled with poignant musicality: "A River in a Forest" (1908-1910, Russian Museum), "Birches at Night" (1908-1910, Tretyakov Gallery), "A Pond in a Thick Forest" (1909, Tretyakov Gallery), "A View in a Park. Landscape with a Blue Pavilion" (1910, Russian Museum), "In an Old Park" (1910s, Tretyakov Gallery), "Overgrown Swamp" (1917, Tretyakov Gallery), "Autumnal Landscape" (late 1910s, National Art Gallery of the Republic of Belarus), and "Autumn" (1920s, Russian Museum).
The show features Golovin's numerous still-lifes. He used this genre to indulge his endless love for flowers, which he carefully grew at his dacha, admiring their diversity of colours: "Phloxes" (1911, Tretyakov Gallery), "Flowers" (1911, Nizhny Novgorod Art Gallery), "Still-life. Flowers" (c. 1912, Academic Museum of the Russian Academy of Sciences, Isaac Brodsky Apartment Museum). His work on still-lifes with flowers was nourished by his most unusual sense of colour, which helped him to find complex colour schemes. Golovin once wrote about becoming very upset when a critic, looking at his portrait of Alexandra Luts (1909, Perm Art Gallery), mistook the carefully crafted blue bell-flowers for lilacs: "I feel a special affection for flowers, and I paint then with a botanist's precision."31 Golovin often featured in his still-lifes items of porcelain, using their cool whiteness as the reference point in the most complex array of shades of white - the colour he always treated with great care: "Porcelain and Flowers" (1915), "A Girl and Porcelain (Frosya)" (1916, both in the Tretyakov Gallery), and "Roses and Porcelain" (1910s, Radishchev Art Museum, Saratov).
ceremonial portraits occupied a special place in Golovin's art - working on these pieces, he strove to convey as accurately as possible the sitter's individuality hidden behind the groomed appearance, like his "Portrait of Maria Voeikova" (1905, Tretyakov Gallery). In his ceremonial portraits the artist chose to give his sitters a more monumental and imposing look, using carefully constructed compositions - a case in point is "Portrait of Yevfimia Nosova" (1916, State Historical Museum), a brilliant young woman whose Moscow literary salon was attended by the artistic elite. Nosova is featured as an Amazon on a horse against the green leafy scenery of a park with pathways and a statue. One cannot but agree with the Golovin scholar Ida Gofman who wrote that the artist "theatricalised the portrait" and "shaped the composition as a frozen mise-en-scene, attempting to represent the model as the main female character in a play"32.
Golovin's legacy includes dozens of sketches of pieces of cloth, which he was fond of using in scenic design, as well as portraits and still-lifes. The artist used drapes - the ubiquitous golden scarfs and various striped fabrics - as well as porcelain as a "tuner" or, rather, a benchmark "chromatic accord" against which he adjusted the colour design, the "music of colours" in his late compositions such as "Portrait of Nadezhda Dobychina" (1920, Russian Museum), "Portrait of Ivan Excuzovich" (1922, St. Petersburg Museum of Theatre and Music), and "Portrait of Erich Gollerbakh" (1923, Russian Museum).
The legacy of Alexander Golovin showcases his contribution to the development of the Art Nouveau in Russia: the artist was able to create poetic images of nature, capturing its finest nuances, and he also conveyed its wholeness and harmony. A brilliant portraitist, he is known as a master of symbolist overtones and neat and clear imagery, while Golovin's intricately composed, colourful still-lifes are evidence that he was a master of that genre, too. Golovin's works in all art forms and genres featured at the show confirm the thesis about the inseparability and equality of the two dimensions of Golovin's creative individuality - that of the painter and the stage designer.
The Golovin anniversary exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery will run until August 24 2014. We hope that visitors will be afforded a chance not only to enjoy the beauty and originality of the oeuvre of Russia's unique exponent of Symbolism and Art Nouveau in the visual arts, but also receive a new encounter with the life of the arts in the Silver Age - this great chapter in Russian culture to which the outstanding artist Alexander Golovin belonged.
- A phrase from Mikhail Vrubel, who in the late 1890s worked together with Golovin in Savva Mamontov's ceramics workshop outside Moscow and whose art Golovin admired. Recorded in Konstantin Korovin's notebooks. ("Konstantin Korovin. His Life and Art. Letters. Documents. Memoirs". Moscow: 1963. P. 260).
- Telyakovsky, Vladimir. 'About Golovin'. In: "Alexander Golovin. Meetings and Impressions. Letters. Reminiscences About Golovin". Leningrad, Moscow: 1960. P. 294. (Hereinafter "Meetings and Impressions")
- Asafiev, Boris (Igor Glebov)."Russian Painting. Thoughts and Reflections". Moscow: 2004. P. 105.
- Pozharskaya, Militsa."Alexander Golovin. The Artist's Journey. The Artist and His Times". Moscow: 1990. P. 7.
- A quote from Alla Gusarova. (See: Gusarova, Alla."Alexander Golovin". Moscow: 2003. P. 4.)
- "Meetings and Impressions". P. 244.
- Golovin's works were displayed at the 5th exhibition of the New Society of Artists ("New Society of Artists. catalogue of the Fifth Show of Paintings". Nos. 44-242. St. Petersburg: 1908. Pp.3-6).
- "Meetings and Impressions". P. 244.
- The painting will be shown at an auction of Russian art at christie's on June 2 2014.
- Vladimir Telyakovsky was appointed Director of the Imperial Theatres at the time.
- Davydova, M."Artists Working in the Theatre at the Start of the 20th century". Moscow: 1999. P. 133.
- "Meetings and Impressions". P. 119.
- Gusarova, Alla. "Alexander Golovin". Moscow: 2003. P. 16.
- The Metropol Hotel was built (1899-1903) to the design of William Walcot with the participation of architects from Moscow and St. Petersburg. The ceramic murals for the walls were manufactured at Abramtsevo, Savva Mamontov's ceramics workshop outside Moscow. Apart from Vrubel and Golovin, Sergei chekhonin contributed to the production of the pieces.
- Ibid. P. 402.
- Prince Sergei Shcherbatov. "The Artist in the Russia that Disappeared". Moscow: 2000. P. 138.
- Golovin first visited Italy in 1895, and often travelled in the country in the early years of the 20th century.
- "Meetings and Impressions". P. 279.
- Ibid. P. 83.
- Ibid. P. 257.
- Ibid. P. 261.
- Ibid. P. 96.
- Ibid. P. 115.
- K.Ar-n (Solus).'At the Feast of Sounds and colours (Full Rehearsal of"Orpheus" at the Mariinsky Theatre)'. In: "Birzhevye vedomosti" newspaper, December 21 1911, morning edition.
- Kuzmin, Mikhail.'Gluck's "Orpheus and Eurydice"'. In:"Apollo", 1911, No. 10. Pp. 15-19.
- "Meeting and Impressions". P. 53.
- See Paston, Eleonora. "Abramtsevo. The Life and the Art". Moscow: 2003. P. 249.
- "Memoirs and Impressions". P. 129.
- Ibid. P. 99.
- Gofman, I. "Golovin: The Portraitist". Leningrad: 1981. P. 82.