Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Pavel Tchelitchew

 George Platt Lyne, Pavel Tchelitchew, 1948

Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957) was born to an aristocratic family and was raised in Moscow until the Revolution in 1918 forced his family to flee to Kiev. While in Kiev, Tchelitchew attended classes at the Kiev Academy under the direction of Alexandra Exter. While the civil war carried on, he made street posters and stage sets for local theaters. 

 Pavel Tchelitchew, Deposition (Feral Benga), 1938

By 1920 he was in Odessa, escaping the advancing Red armies. He went on to Berlin via Istanbul. There he met Allen Tanner, an American pianist, and became his lover. Under the influence of constructivism, Tchelitchew continued designing for small theatre productions. Over the course of the next few years, he reached his theatrical peak with set and costume designs for plays at the Königsgrätzerstrasse Theatre, ballets at the Russian Romantic Theatre, and the opera Le Coq d’Or at the Berlin Staatsopera. Also in Berlin, he met Serge Diaghilev, with whom he continued to collaborate for many years.

Pavel Tchelitchew, Portrait Edalzhi Dinsho, 1940

In 1923, Tchelitchew uprooted himself again, this time moving to Paris where he began his first serious easel paintings. The turning point of his career came in 1925 when he exhibited at the Salon d’Automne. His work aroused the interest of Gertrude Stein and he soon became her intimate and protégé. Tchelitchew's American debut was in a group show of drawings at New York's Museum of Modern Art in 1930. In 1934 he moved to New York with his new lover, writer and critic Charles Henri Ford, and exhibited in the Julien Levy Gallery. He and Ford, best known for his editorship of the Surrealist magazine View were at the center of a social world of wealthy homosexuals, such as Lincoln Kirstein, for whom he also designed ballets. 

 Pavel Tchelitchew, Phenomena, 1936 

Phenomena, the first painting of a projected series of three major works, aroused violent reactions because of its lurid color and characterization of persons then still alive (including a self-portrait and images of Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas). The most prominent of the nude male figures in this painting is Nicholas Magallanes, a favorite model, who later became a famous dancer. 

 Pavel Tchelitchew, Hide and Seek, 1942

Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he continued designing sets for ballets, most notably those in association with George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky. His most noted painting, Hide and Seek (above), a strikingly red painting of an enormous tree composed of human body parts, was completed in 1942 and was immediately acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he also had a large retrospective the same year.

Pavel Tchelitchew, Head, 1950

In 1943 he began his first “interior landscapes”, noted for their display of a body’s interior workings while simultaneously depicting its external features. By 1950 his images were composed completely of rhythmic spiraled lines with all volumes entirely transparent; he felt that they approached the fourth dimension. Throughout his professional career Tchelitchew exhibited frequently in London, Paris, Rome and points all over the United States. Tchelitchew lived mainly in Italy from 1949 and died 1957 in Rome. You can see more of his works in my Flickr set.

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