Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev

Boris Dmitrievich Grigoriev

1886 —1939

Boris Grigoriev was a major Russian avant-garde painter and graphic artist of the first half of the twentieth century, a 'master of penetrating clairvoyance' as A. N. Benois called him, and a tormented, troubled soul. Grigoriev has been famous during a large part of his career, and dozens of his works were eagerly bought and going to private collections and museums in Russia, France, the USA, Chile, Czech Republic, and other countries. The artist was born on July 11 (New Style: July 23), 1886 in Moscow as an illegitimate child of one of the directors of the commercial bank in Rybinsk, Dmitry Grigoriev and Swedish-born Clara von Lindenberg from Riga, Latvia, coming from the family of a merchant and a ship-owner. Grigoriev was adopted by his own father at the age of four and brought to Rybinsk, a fairly big city on the river Volga, in Russia, where he spent his quite unhappy childhood. The fact that Rybinsk has not been the most picturesque city as well as the artist's semi-Swedish origin and, also, his past as being a child out of wedlock, which was a heavy burden at that time in Russia, - these circumstances might have influenced Grigoriev's complex character and his critical perception of the world.

In 1903, when the artist turned seventeen years old, he returned to Moscow to pursue his artistic aspirations and entered the Stroganov Art School, an important art institution which was responsible for fostering many avant-garde artists during the first part of the twentieth century, where he studied under Dmitry Shcherbinovsky. Shcherbinovsky, and later, Kardovsky, produced an unforgettable effect on Grigoriev with their mastery of line, and, in fact, developed the artist's appreciation of drawing and instilled the importance of line as a basis for any work which is quite obvious in Grigoriev's subsequent works. Grigoriev graduated from the School in 1907 and relocated to St.Petersburg in order to deepen his artistic knowledge at the Imperial Academy of Arts, which he attended until 1913. Among his teachers are great and talented people such as Alexander Kiselyov, Dmitry Kardovsky and Abram Arkhipov. The first time, when Grigoriev discovers his Russian soul and an exhausting feeling of homesickness, is when he was invited by his Swedish side of the family to Sweden in 1909. Even though his relatives were trying to persuade him to stay in Sweden, Grigoriev was feeling himself alienated from the Swedish environment, and after a short stay, he came back to Russia. Although the artist's trip to Paris for several months in 1913 was more successful and inspirational in terms of the artistic output, he still was eager to return. This strange, ambiguous patriotic yearning, especially considering his emigration from the country and being an artist in exile, was pursuing Grigoriev for his whole life. Grigoriev has always positioned himself as a Russian artist and had this particular understanding of his motherland and increased sensitivity regarding his 'Russianness', which is specifically reflected in his 'Russian themes' works.

In many ways, Grigoriev's artistic views were different from those, that were prevalent in the Academy. In 1909 the artist became a member of the Union of Impressionists Group, an association of young artists who were ideologically close to the Futurists at that time rather than Impressionists, which was headed by N. I. Kulbin. During 1910 - 1911, Grigoriev was putting a lot of effort into his graphic works and was following The World of Art group tendencies and spirit. However, by 1912 the artist had established his own position and discovered his particular direction in art. While living in Paris at that moment, he attended the Académie de la Grande Chaumière and was affected by Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse and French Cubism movement. Although the artist started to exhibit his work from 1909, the real success only came when he became a member of the World of Art (Mir Iskusstva) movement in 1913. His work was popular, well-received and in demand, notably his portraiture, although some of his portraits might seem grotesque and overdramatised. Grigoriev created a lot of brilliant, distinctive and insightful portraits of the Russian intelligentsia amongst whom were Scriabin, Roerich, Yesenin and Akhmatova, Gorky and Chaliapin, Rachmaninoff and Meyerhold, and many others.

Grigoriev had a particularly versatile personality and was gifted in various areas in addition to visual arts. He had a literary talent and was passionate about literature. Grigoriev wrote and published a novel called 'Young Rays' in 1912. The subsequent work included his sophisticated letters, essays, memoir, and poetry. He frequently visited illustrious literary evenings as these in the cabaret 'Stray Dog' and the 'Shelter of Comedians', where Grigoriev was reciting his own poems, which were applauded by many connoisseurs including Kornei Chukovsky. Perhaps the artist's deep immersion into the literary atmosphere was helpful for him regarding his illustrations and graphic works for books and magazines such as 'Satyricon' and 'New Satyricon'. Amongst his works were illustrations for the works of A. S. Pushkin, F. M. Dostoevsky, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin and I. S. Turgenev, and V. Kamensky. Grigoriev was close to the theatrical world as well and became one of the founders of St. Petersburg Meyerhold's Studio on Borodino Street. He was so dedicated to the theatre that he attended almost every rehearsal by the great director, maestro Meyerhold. This period in the artist's life can be seen as profoundly energetic, fruitful and joyous. He was still young, not even in his thirties, but already recognised by the public, and was welcomed in all the bohemian places and elite intelligentsia circles in St. Petersburg.

In 1917 the artist began to work on his ambitious cycle of paintings and graphic works 'Raseja' (Russia), which took him several years to finish. The series depict, in contrast to Grigoriev's usual famous characters of bohemian art world, the faces of simple, hard-working peasants from the Russian heartland. The works were met with great deal of enthusiasm and curiosity, especially considering the fact, that the country was shattered by revolutionary processes and turmoil, the subject matter and this kind of reflection were extremely relevant and of great topicality. The artist infuses 'Raseja' with an overt sarcasm and obtrusive primitivism adding a preposterous, murky, even apocalyptic feel to it. Alexadner Benois agreed that, this work reflect 'the essence of Russia in the period immediately preceding the Revolution'. A famous Russian poet, Alexander Blok told about Grigoriev that he is a thoughtful artist indeed, but his thoughts are 'far-reaching and destructive'. Until 1919, the artist was interested in combining elements of Cubism and Futurism and experimenting with 'primitive' technique. Together with another Russian artist and his fellow member of the World of Art movement, Yuri Annenkov, Grigoriev was attempted to create 'New Sythetism'. The artist clearly suffered from the social and political situation in the country. He wrote in his letter on September 14, 1919 that he is confused and frustrated, and everything around him seems abnormal. Though he was actively participating in many artistic enterprises of that time, Grigoriev did not feel at ease.

No longer being able to cope with the conditions in his country, Grigoriev was forced to emigrate from Bolshevik Russia. Officially it was impossible to leave the country, and the artist daringly fled through Finland in 1919 with his wife and little son. Unlike many other emigrants, Grigoriev managed to settle down abroad quite well. He worked in France, Germany, Czech Republic, South America, and especially frequently and with a great enthusiasm visited the USA during the 1920s. Grigoriev's fame and success did not leave him in the West, and he was receiving many commissions for paintings and teaching position invitations. Grigoriev mostly lived in Paris since 1921 and was regularly exhibiting his work. He bought a charming villa in the South of France in 1927, where he spent the last twelve years of his life tirelessly working on his paintings. Grigoriev was prone to nostalgia, illusions of coming back to Russia and severe homesickness which was in a way the bane of his life. For many decades Grigoriev's captivating art was lost for Russia and only in 1989 his first solo exhibition was held in the Pskov Museum, in Russia. The artist died on February 7, 1939, at the age of fifty-three in Cagnes-sur-Mer, France.


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