Philip Andreyevich Maliavin (Kazanki, Samara province 1869 - Nice, France 1940)

Head and Torso of a Woman in a Kerchief

signed ‘PhMaliavian’ (centre right)
pencil and black chalk, with touches of red and blue chalk, on paper
44.4 x 32 cm (17½ x 12⅝ in)

Studio of the Artist;
Zoia Bounatian, daughter of the artist;
purchased from the above by the father of the previous owner.

Head and Torso of a Woman in a Kerchief is an excellent example of the peasant drawings which Philip Andreyevich Maliavin returned to throughout his career. A middle-aged woman stares just past the viewer’s shoulder, her head slightly tilted, seemingly lost in thought. Her expression is intriguing and engaging as the viewer wonders what is on her mind. Around her head she has wrapped a kerchief, which is coloured by small spots of red and blue, and she wears a simple, coarse blouse. Maliavin has made this quick drawing with light pencil and chalk marks, modelling the woman’s features in soft tones. The rapid chalk marks endow the drawing with a very real sense of spontaneity and it is clear from the position of the woman on the page that Maliavin originally intended to make a full-length portrait, before deciding that the head and torso was a more immediate and effective composition. The drawing is an excellent example of how, with relatively few marks, Maliavin was able to create a portrait of great psychological depth.

Maliavin’s Pensive Peasant Woman (Private Collection) is very similar to the present work both in subject matter and style. Although the woman is more overtly lost in thought in Pensive Peasant Woman, both works reflect Maliavin’s desire to capture his subject’s mood, and his fondness for drawing and painting simple rural Russians. The faces in both works are depicted with the softest of marks, whereas the clothing is expressed using slightly sharper lines. Ryazan Woman,, is also comparable and illustrates what Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) called Maliavin’s ‘Bacchic feast of colour’.¹

Maliavin’s talent as a draughtsman was evident from an early age and the villagers he lived amongst funded his artistic education in a monastery famous for its icon painting. He managed to obtain a scholarship to the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg where he studied under, and was hugely influenced by Ilya Yefimovich Repin. In the years preceding the Russian revolution, Maliavin became one of the country’s most renowned artists, with work that celebrated his humble origins through expressive line and exuberant colour. Although, as he was born a peasant but had an international reputation as a painter, he was in many ways the ideal prototype for the new Soviet artist, he left Russia in 1922 never to return. However, his work continued to reveal a profound nostalgia for the traditional rustic life of the Russian peasant. To quote Benois once more, his depictions of Russian peasant women ‘mock all the canons of pulchritude and have yet a peculiar beauty’.² The present work is an excellent example of this summary realised.

¹ Benois, A., The Russian School of Painting, trans. Yarmolinsky, A., (A.A. Knopf, New York, 1916), p.185.
² ibid., p.186.

Philip Andreyevich Maliavin