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Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Pavel Filinov

Heads, 1910, Pavel Filinov--not Cubism but not far behind it.

Pavel Filinov Self-portrait, 1921--certainly as
probing as any Picasso ever painted.
I have had the feeling at times, in teaching art history (particularly that of the early 20th century), that many people feel artists utilizing varying degrees of abstraction did so simply because they were unable to master the presumably more difficult art of Realism. Seldom do such people make that claim overtly, but the thought seems to often underlie their attitude regarding Modern Art. There's certainly nothing new in such thinking. In fact, it is undoubtedly less prevalent now than it was then, when such early experiments with Expressionism and Abstract Expressionism began shortly after the turn of the 20th century. Those, such as the Pre-Raphaelites, who labored endlessly over their anal-retentive works, felt threatened by artist such as Whistler who could "whip out" an apparent gibberish of paint in as little as a couple hours. Of course, this fear flew in the face of the fact that nearly non-representational work (such as Whistler's nocturnes) often took longer to produce than Realism, if for no other reason than chronic indecision on the part of the Abstractionist as to what "worked" and what didn't. Realism had teachable, "absolutes" of human anatomy, linear perspective, lighting, illusions of mass, familiar content, etc. It demonstrated a great deal of skill. Abstraction had virtually none of these attributes. It was, instead highly subjective as artists tried valiantly to communicate messages not lending themselves to Realism in the first place.
Banquet of the Kings, 1913, Pavel Filinov

Girl with a Mandolin, 1910, Picasso.
Of course the "king" of Expressionism and Abstraction (not always the same thing) was Picasso. However there were artists like Picasso in other countries, particularly Germany and Russia breaking much the same ground in painting. One of them was the Russian painter, Pavel Filinov. His painting, Heads (top) from 1910, was no more than three to five years behind what Picasso had been doing, and in some ways surpassed Picasso's painted images for that time. His Banquet of the Kings (above) of 1913, was likewise in no danger of being mistaken for a Picasso, but lends itself to Filinov having the title: "The Picasso of Russia." Of course Filinov would have undoubtedly not liked being compared to any other artist, even Picasso. But, in its own way, in Filinov's own style, both paintings above were no less "Modern" than those of Picasso.

Portrait of E. N. Glebova
(the artist's sister), 1915, Pavel Filinov.
We are indebted to her for the
preservation of her bother's work in
the face of years of Communist rejection.
Pavel Filinov was born in 1883, two years after Picasso. He died in 1941 some thirty years before Picasso. Early 20th century communications being what they were, its problematical whether they initially knew of one another's work. (I'd say, probably not at the time.) As Picasso's Girl with a Mandolin (above, left) from 1910 would seem to suggest, they were both moving in the same direction, if not on the same path. Both artists were academically trained (Picasso as the result of academic instruction from his father). Even a cursory look at their early works should lay to rest any doubt that both could handle Realism as well any painter of their generation. Pavel later wrote that Cubism was formulated on the principles of surface geometry whereas his "Analytical Realism" dealt with elements of the "inner sole." Filinov therefore contended that his art had moved past Cubism. It took several more years, but by the early 1920s, as seen in his Abduction Nessus and Deianeira (bottom), even Picasso himself moved past Cubism into an art that, at times, resembled that of Pavel Filinov.

Abduction Nessus and Deianeira, 1920, Pablo Picasso--moving past Cubism.

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