ILYA IVANOVICH MASHKOV
. . . These fruits, loaves and meat are depicted with a skill almost comparable to that displaced by the masters of the Dutch still life in their achievements hitherto unsurpassed. Mashkov's canvases are not only truthful to the point of illusion but are possessed of a rare beauty and radiance. His use of colour resembles the swelling chords of an organ.
THE NAME OF ILYA IVANOVICH MASHKOV is associated above all with still-life paintings remarkable for an elemental intensity of colour which verges at times on the violent. Displaying a scope and boldness unusual in his contemporaries as well as an acute feeling for the materiality of things, Mashkov's bright canvases are striking for the breadth of their pictorial range, for the deep sonority of their colours.
Mashkov was one of the boldest innovators in Russian painting at the beginning of the twentieth century, an outstanding painter whose works contributed to the development of Soviet art, an experienced teacher who passed on his skill to many who would later become famous artists. Each of these aspects of his creative activity is instructive and deserving of special attention. Mashkov developed as a painter in the years preceding the Revolution, at a time when artistic life in Russia was unusually complex and full of contradiction. In the field of art there were clashes between various principles and ideas, manifested as a struggle between numerous schools. Painters of an older generation, members of the Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions (the Peredvizhniki), the World of Art and the Union of Russian Artists, were still active. At the same time a host of aesthetic and artistic conceptions, precarious in their theoretical foundation, were receiving wide attention. The overthrow of traditional forms, aesthetic nihilism, the loss of firm links with reality could not, however, delay the development of art. The search for new paths and new creative principles went on, and Russian art was enriched by some remarkable achievements. Just in this period there appeared a number of talented young artists.
Despite the diversity of the new ideas and trends, one may clearly discern in Russian painting of this time a general tendency towards the perfecting of artistic form. Artists were striving for a certain synthesis, they wished to reveal the generalized meaning of phenomena not susceptible of concretization in time, and therefore not infrequently they refused to represent movement and action in their work. As a result of this loss of interest in the subject painting, the still life became the dominant genre. Landscape and portrait also occupied an important place. And particular attention was paid to the renewal of painterly techniques.
The evolving of a new system of pictorial representation advanced through a series of agonizing explorations, which were often far from successful. The principle of verisimilitude, which had prevailed in nineteenth century painting, was supplanted by that of conventionality. This testified to the inner bond linking the new trends in Russian painting with Post-Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism and Expressionism, for the exponents of those schools sought support not in the traditions of European Post-Renaissance realism, but rather in principles adopted from the visual arts of different peoples and ages. The search for formal solutions appropriate to these new stylistic norms was of decisive importance. This tendency is not difficult to perceive in the works of such artists of the late nineteenth early twentieth centuries as Ruble, Servo and K. Korovin. It was characteristic of the members of the World of Art and the Blue Rose associations, but most strongly developed in the work of artists of the Jack of Diamonds group and other representatives of the so-called avant-garde in the beginning of this century.
In the artistic movements at the beginning of the twentieth century there was much romanticism, much anarchic rebelliousness. Inner contradictions were most sharply revealed in the various trends of the avant-garde movement where subjectivism, having reached the limit of non-representational depiction, was opposed by the real achievements of a few artists of the Jack of Diamonds group, like Konchalovsky, Mashkov, Falk. Lentulov. Kuprin, Larionov and others. These painters discovered a successful balance in which expressiveness of colour, plasticity and decorative composition helped express a particularly intense, yet at the same time integral perception of reality.
Ilya Ivanovich Mashkov (18811944) was born in the village of Mikhaylovskaya in the Don area. His parents were of peasant origin. At the age of fifteen he lost his father, who had pursued various trades and had had to endure constant poverty. From an early age Mashkov displayed an aptitude for handicrafts; he also liked to draw. However, the cruel and degrading existence he was forced to lead (in his early youth he had been placed in the service of some local traders, supposedly as an apprentice) was least likely to further his attachment to art. He was already in his eighteenth year when he first heard that painting was something to be learned. In 1900 he entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. After completing his life class, he transferred to the studio of Servo and Korovin. A little earlier Mashkov had begun to give private lessons himself. During his first years in the School he studied avidly and diligently. Then there followed a period of doubt and disillusionment with the creative principles of his teachers, a period which ended with a complete change in his artistic orientation, as a result of which he was expelled from the School in 1910.
This liberation from "academic chains" was to a great extent prompted by Mashkov's first acquaintance with the Hermitage in 1907. In 1908 he went on a trip to Germany, Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona, Italy and Vienna, during which he got to know the masterpieces of classical art as well as contemporary French painting. Before his departure he had already become familiar with the Shchukin and Morozov collections, where fine examples of the most recent French art were represented, and in 1909 he visited the Golden Fleece Exhibition, which was displaying works by the Fauvists.
Mashkov's answer to his expulsion from the School was to take an active part in the creation of the Jack of Diamonds. The spirit of epater le bourgeois which accompanied the activities of this group prevented critics of the time from discerning the genuine artistic merit of the work produced by its members. The emergence of a new trend in Russian painting and the organization in 1911, by a number of young Moscow artists, of the Jack of Diamonds exhibition society was connected with an eager movement towards expressiveness, decorative quality and the concentrated use of colour all entirely characteristic of the age. Their experience of European art enabled the artists to pass on boldly towards a generalized representation of nature, refusing to follow the principles of Impressionism. Opponents of narrative painting, illusion and aestheticism, they relied on experiment in pictorial techniques. Hence their impulse towards the detail and their preference for the still life, which was indeed to become the "laboratory" of their new endeavours.
Their fidelity to a constructive line of artistic thought allowed the painters of the Jack of Diamonds group to achieve a synthesis of colour and form in their representation of objects from the surrounding world. They profited by the experience of Cezanne and the Cubists, Cubism being for them not so much a system as a means of enhancing artistic expressiveness. This exploitation of formal expressiveness, as well as the concentrated use of all the resources of painting, led to innovations in the pictorial structure and style of their works. Many artists of the time were attracted to the problem of creating in painting a sui generis artistic equivalent of what was distinctively national in Russian life. Members of the Jack of Diamonds group interpreted this problem as the return of Russian painting to traditions preserved over the centuries in folk art. This link with the principles of folk art and the desire to appropriate its expressiveness of portrayal determined the character of their endeavours. They were full of enthusiasm for the Russian lubok (popular print), the house-painter's sign, the decorated tray, the folk toy. These painters thus enriched contemporary art with the achievements of Russian folk art. The strength of their work lay in the exaggerated emotionality and distinctiveness of their portrayals, in the intensity and concreteness of their colour and in their powerful optimism.
It is well known that the struggle carried on between the Jack of Diamonds and its various opponents did not in fact unite the members of the group. Harmonious as their first public appearance seemed to be, it was quickly followed by a number of internal disagreements, which eventually led to the society's dissolution in 1917. The first signs of Mashkov's divergence from the group date from 1911, the year of his initial rapprochement with the World of Art. In 1916 both Mashkov and Konchalovsky simultaneously went over to this latter association.
By the beginning of the First World War Mashkov was already an acknowledged artist. This was the time of his greatest popularity.
During the years of the Revolution Mashkov was engaged in strenuous social, organizational and pedagogic activity. There was scarcely any time for his own creative work. He was a professor at the Free Studios (the name of the Moscow School of Painting,