Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944): From Cubism to Surrealism (St Petersburg Gallery, London)


The Sphinx of St Petersburg(1909) © St Petersburg Gallery

If every ground-floor window on Cork Street is alive with the lure of artworks, St Petersburg Gallery’s is ablaze with a kaleidoscope of colours and styles. Dazzling variety is indeed one’s first impression of Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné’s work, an impression strengthened by the exhibition’s title, From Cubism to Surrealism.

Indeed, from the realistic style of Mansions (1907), to the Cézannist landscape Red Roof (1910) via the impressionistic touches of Barges on the Dnieper (1907) and the green shadows of Nude (1909), Baranov-Rossiné’s early paintings seem to chronicle the discovery of the French avant-garde in Russia. Influenced by the artistic discoveries of the group ‘World of Art,’ these works seemingly reflect the international climate of turn-of-the-century St Petersburg, where Baranov-Rossiné studied. Yet despite their formative importance, these works are relegated to the gallery’s lower ground floor.

Baranov_Politech Sculpture2

Polytechnical Sculpture (1915) © St Petersburg Gallery

Greater prominence is given to works displayed on the gallery’s ground floor. With one exception, these are all from the period between 1910 and 1915, when, under the alias Daniel Rossiné, the artist was living in Paris among the well-known émigrés of the creative colony La Ruche.

Placed on each side of the entrance, Still Life with a Shell (1910) and Maternity (1910) reveal the impact of post-Impressionism and synthetic Cubism on Branov-Rossiné’s work. Unfortunately, excessive emphasis on these works prevents the viewer from seeing Baranov-Rossiné’s career as a unitary development, eventually presenting him as an eclectic creator without a personal style. On the contrary, sculptures such as Polytechnical Sculpture (1915), Rhythm (1913) and Dance (1914) are original experiments with three-dimensional form and unconventional sculptural materials such as polychrome metal, cardboard and even crushed eggshell.


Counter Relief (1917) © St Petersburg Gallery

The later Counter Relief (1917) manifests the same interest with three-dimensionality, yet employs a very different style. Marking the artist’s return to Russia after the Revolution of 1917 and directly borrowing its title from Tatlin, this work reveals Baranov-Rossiné’s willingness to embrace a new art for a new order. In fact, Baranov-Rossiné gained immediate recognition upon his return to Russia and obtained important official positions such as Head of Painting at the Petrograd Free Studios.

Despite Baranov-Rossiné success in Bolshevik Russia, no other work of this period is included in the show. Lack of information on this period is all the more regrettable for it is in Russia that the artist perfected his Octophonic Piano (1920-1923), a silent instrument which, when played, projected ever-changing coloured patterns through a magic lantern. Yet for all its whimsical appeal, little importance is given in the exhibition to Disk for Colour Music (1921-1922), now but a cracked and inert memorabilia of the artist’s life.

Around the disk, the artist’s earlier and later works are juxtaposed in a synthesis that is often hard to follow. Certainly, the resulting exhibition has striking visual dazzle; but fascination can all too easily turn into disorientation, as the viewer is offered no contextual information to decode this catalogue of heterogeneous styles.

Constanza Beltrami is a third-year BA student at the Courtauld.

Vladimir Baranov-Rossiné (1888-1944): From Cubism to Surrealism is at the St Petersburg Gallery, London until 29 March 2014.

Daumier: Visions of Paris (Royal Academy of Arts)

DaumierposterSince its founding in 1768, the Royal Academy of Arts intended to create a venue to promote the exhibition and education of visual art. The Academy continues to teach the public with their new exhibition, Daumier (1808-1879): Visions of Paris.

Honoré Daumier is displayed as a documenter of everyday life in nineteenth century Paris. He observed the people on the streets and the changing reception of art around him. Amidst the political and social climate, Daumier picked up his pen and created comical caricatures of the bourgeoisie for newspapers. Censorship was particularly adamant at this point, and while his images were continually published, it was not without consequence. His depiction of King Louis Philippe as Gargantua (1831) placed him in jail for six months. This dedication to art, despite public or authoritative opinion reflects Daumier’s pursuit for artistic expression. Visions of Paris enables the viewer to explore Daumier’s Paris in various media.

Man on a Rope, c. 1858 Oil on canvas Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Man on a Rope, c. 1858
Oil on canvas
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Even though Daumier didn’t create pictures from direct observation, his keen attention to human expression and behavior is readily apparent in his oeuvre. Each line, whether painted or etched is filled with such emotion that it begs the viewer for a second glance. At close range, the lithographs’ lines overlap and crisscross to create realistic, but also expressive, subjects. The technique used to shade every dip and curve transform a subject into an expressive gesture, like a string of letters that are linked to create a descriptive word. Each mark has its purpose, and even in his paintings, Daumier’s attention to line is clear.

In The Miller, His Son and the Ass (1849), Daumier’s brush strokes are deliberate.  The use of pigments starts to parallel the cross-hatching of lines in Daumier’s lithographs. This is especially seen in figures’ flesh, which creates a landscape of shapes on the forearms. The flesh of the laborers begins to shimmer and become more than just a record of everyday life. As the exhibition notes in its pamphlets, Daumier makes memorable pictures of ordinary moments.

Salon de 1857, Triste Contenance de la Sculpture Lithograph, second state, album impression, hand-coloured Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Salon of 1857, Sad expression of sculpture
Lithograph, second state, album impression, hand-coloured
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The lithographs are show-stoppers in the gallery despite the fact that they might be the reason why Daumier wasn’t considered a fine artist during his life time. A particular lithograph, Salon of 1857…Sad Expression, printed in Le Charivari, 1857, can serve as a metaphor for Daumier’s place among his contemporaries. In the image, the crowds at the Paris Salon are so overwhelmed with the paintings on display that they ignore the sculpture even though that it is coming to life. Sculpture, was placed lower on art’s totem pole, like Daumier’s caricatures. At last, Daumier receives the attention his caricatures in the Royal Academy.

Daumier’s wide-ranging talent is recognized in the display of 130 works. Two hundred years later, Daumier’s caricatures still seem relevant to contemporary viewers (I continually found myself silencing a few chuckles throughout the exhibition). The opportunity to see this didactic survey that emphasizes the artist Daumier as a painter, draughtsman and caricaturist for the first time in more than fifty years is not to be delayed.


Aimee Rubensteen is an MA student at the Courtauld.

Daumier: Visions of Paris is at the Royal Academy of Arts until 26th January 2014.