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 Pavel Tchelitchew  (1898 - 1957)

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Lived/Active: Connecticut/New York / Russian Federation/Italy      Known for: abstract figure, portrait, fantasy

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P. Tchetlitchew is primarily known as Pavel Tchelitchew

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Pavel Tchelitchew
from Auction House Records.
Portrait of Ruth Ford
Artwork images are copyright of the artist or assignee
This biography from the Archives of AskART:
A Russian-born painter and stage designer, Pavel Tchelitchew worked in many styles, changing several times and doing much experimentation.  He was especially "known for his almost surrealist renderings of the human body without its skin, similar to anatomical studies." (Falk, 3263).  He began as a Cubist, and did modernist figure paintings in the style of Picasso and then moved on to Neo-Romanticism and Surrealism. 

He was born near Moscow on his family's estate and was studying in that city at the time of the 1917 Russian Revolution.  He fled to Kiev and there enrolled in the Academy of Art, studying with Alexandra Exter, a pupil of Fernand Leger.

Fleeing the Communists, Tchelitchew lived in Berlin, working as a stage designer, and then went to Paris, where he abandoned modernist painting for realistic landscapes and portraits.   He also did set and costume designs for Diaghilev ballets in Paris.  In the late 1920s, he made use of perspective distortion and multiple images and at that time also began to develop his interest in metamorphic forms and New Romanticism.

The Surrealist practice of Automatism played a significant part in his metamorphic compositions of which the most famous is Hide and Seek, completed in 1942. Automatism is the technique of creating artwork without apparent thought or direction and theoretically flowed from the subconscious.

In 1939, he emigrated to the United States where he spent time in Weston, Connecticut as the guest of Alice DeLamar, a patroness of Westport artists.

Tchelitchew died in Italy in 1957.

Sources include:
Michael David Zellman, 300 Years of American Art
Peter Falk, Who Was Who in American Art

Biography from Michael Rosenfeld Gallery:
Born in 1898 to an aristocratic family, Pavel Tchelitchew was raised and educated in Moscow until the Revolution in 1918 forced his family to flee to Kiev. While in Kiev, Tchelitchew attended classes at the Kiev Academy under the direction of Alexandra Exeter, formerly a pupil of Leger’s.

While the civil war was carried on he made street posters and stage sets for local theaters. In 1921, Tchelitchew landed in Berlin where, under the influence of constructivism, he continued designing for small theatre productions. Over the course of the next few years, the artist reached his theatrical peak with set and costume designs for plays at the Konigsgratzerstrasse Theatre, ballets at the Russian Romantic Theatre, and the opera Le Coq d’Or at the Berlin Staatsopera. Additionally, he participated in a group show of the theatrical designers and met Serge Diaghilev, the Ballet Russe, with whom he continued to collaborate for many years.

In 1923, Tchelitchew uprooted himself again, this time moving to Paris where, inspired by the Paris School, he began his first serious easel paintings, The turning point of his career came in 1925 when he exhibited an oil paintings at the Salon d’Automne titled, "Basket of Strawberries". This work aroused the interest of Gertrude Stein, and he soon became her intimate and protégé. More importantly, his use of the basket signified the beginning of his examination of underlying structures extant in a variety of forms.

In the mid 1920s Tchelitchew limited his palette to earth colors and continually pared it down until it consisted only of gray and white tones. He used heavy impasto and sometimes incorporated coffee grounds and housepaint. Also in 1926 he participated in a group exhibition at the Galerie Drouet with Christian Berard, Leonid and Eugene Berman and Kristians Tonny. The artists’ shared emphasis on the figure and its placement in romantic and melancholy environments led to their collective group titled: Neo-Romantic.

Traditionally, Tchelitchew’s historians note the inaccuracy of the artist’s association with this group, calling it a “convenient label” but emphasizing that Tchelitchew could hardly be considered a Neo-Romantic after 1929. At this time Tchelitchew fell under the title of another group – the Surrealists. This alliance, however, he immediately and enthusiastically denied. There is little automatic, compulsive or accidental about his work and his fantasy elements always have an objective connection with nature as a model.

Suffice it to say that Tchelitchew was romantic but not a Neo-Romantic and that he depicted fantastic images but was not a Surrealist. In the late 1920s multiple images increasingly became the focus of his art. In these works Tchelitchew sought to reveal both the organic substructure of an object as well as its place in space and time. His syntheses of these components intended to reveal “not just the illusion of [an] object as seen by [the] normal eye but the sum of inner knowledge as well” – that is, memory and imagination.

In 1929 Tchelitchew began painting his metamorphic figure compositions in which he used objects unrelated to human anatomy but maintaining its general structure and appearance to construct his figures. For example, he created clown figures out of circus images. Circus imagery became highly prevalent and his monochrome palette expanded once again to include burgundy and blue.

As the 1930s progressed so did the range of Tchelitchew’s palette. By the mid 1930s, he was creating compositions based on triple perspective and foreshortening. In 1934 he came to the United States for the first time and had his first American one-man show at the Julian Levy Gallery. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he continued designing sets for ballets, most notably those in association with George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky. His most noted painting, "Hide and Seek", was completed in 1942 and was immediately acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York , where he also had a large retrospective the same year.

In 1943 he began his first “interior landscapes”, noted for their display of a body’s interior workings while simultaneously depicting its external features. As these figures evolved over the next five years, Tchelitchew increasingly returned to the simplicity of his original wire basket idea so that his “overlapping forms would not seem clogged.” Use of clean spiral lines became increasingly pervasive, and by 1950 his images were composed completely of rhythmic spiraled lines with all volumes entirely transparent. His intention in these works was the treatment of “union-in-diversity” and “continuity-in-change”; he felt that they approached the fourth dimension.

Throughout his professional career Tchelitchew exhibited frequently in London, Paris, Rome and points all over the United States. He died in July 1957.

Biography from Hanover Square Gallery:
Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957) was one of the most accomplished figurative artists of his generation, considered by many to rank with his contemporaries Picasso, Matisse and Leger. His works are included in many of the major private and public collections throughout the world, and his most famous work, "Hide and Seek," was for many years highly popular at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

Although he eschewed labels, he is often loosely associated with the Neo-Romantic school of painting, which included Christian Berard, Eugene Berman, George Tooker, and Paul Cadmus. His deeply personal, often quite sensuous dreamscape images, are fine examples of figurative art of the past century.

His wide circle of friends included Lincoln Kirstein, Boris Kochno, George Balanchine, George Platt Lynes, among many others in the homosexual demi-monde. He created some of the fantastic decors for the Ballets Russes during its heyday. His work was largely neglected after his death, but has regained new interest in the past several years, with several books and monographs on his art, including Lincoln Kirstein's "Tchelitchev".

Biography from The Columbus Museum of Art, Georgia:
The son of a Russian landowner who lost everything in the 1918 Revolution, Pavel Tchelitchew first gained recognition in Berlin, where he produced theatrical sets and costumes. (1)

Before going to Berlin, he had worked with the Russian constructivist Alexandra Exter at a school for painters and stage designers in Kiev.  There, Tchelitchew came to know the work of Exter’s teacher, Fernand Leger, and other constructivists, such as Kasmir Malevich. 

After moving to Paris in the 1920s, Tchelitchew worked with Sergei Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes.  In 1926 he developed his technique of showing multiple images on a single canvas, which he later combined with triple perspective.  Experimenting this way with juxtaposed objects, he sought to express the motion of the body.  He also painted a number of striking portraits, including one of Edith Sitwell.  Later in the 1920s, Tchelitchew joined Gertrude Stein’s circle, and Stein quickly embraced the young Russian and championed his art.  Through her now-famous salons, he became familiar with Picasso’s early paintings of 1905 and 1906.  These had an immense influence on his work from 1929 through 1932.  Not only did he adopt Picasso’s subject matter— the street entertainer—but he also flattened pictorial space, much as Picasso had done, by limiting himself to monochromatic variations of the same color.

In 1934 Tchelitchew was in the United States, where he had his first solo show at the Julian Levy Gallery in New York.  His works of this period were important contributions to surrealism in American painting.  The best-known painting from this period is Hide and Seek (1940–42, Museum of Modern Art, New York), which consists of three different events taking place in three moments of time and seen from three different perspectives.  Tchelitchew was making plans to return to the United States, when he died in Italy at the age of fifty-nine.

1. Tchelitchew had displayed a noticeable talent for drawing as a child.  An early influence was the art of Gustave Doré, whose penchant for fantasy and romanticism he had seen in illustrated books in his father’s library. Another important instructor was Issac Rabinovitch, who he met at the Kiev Academy.

Submitted by Staff, Columbus Museum

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