Artist’s Widow, Kiev
Tatlin’s Dream– London, Fischer Fine Art November 1973 – January 1974, Cat. No. 12 (ill).
Oleksandr Bohomazov – Recognition – Antikvar, Kyiv – June 2022 (p.65, ill.)
Alexander Bogomazov and the Self Portrait
By 1916, Bogomazov had reached the apogee of his creative genius, and this Self Portrait was drawn whilst the artist was teaching in Gerusiya in Armenia. Permanently impecunious, Bogomazov had travelled to the Caucasus in the autumn of 1915 and was, for a time, separated from his spouse and muse, Wanda.
There would appear to be 20 or so known Self Portraits by the Artist, the majority in museums, of which 3 are in oil, two of which are from the Caucasus period, but none of them come close to the sheer power and dynamism of this staggering piece.
Bogomazov’s perception of himself was interesting. This shy, diffident man only revealed his full creative powers after his marriage to Wanda Monastyrska in August 1913 and his early self-portraits reflect this. It took marriage to Wanda to set free the creative in Bogomazov.
“Sometimes it seems to me that painting is like a fine surgical operation, where everything is based on precise judgement and knowledge, so that even the smallest mistakes may ruin the whole’. Alexander Bogomazov 1916
‘His work, unique in its manner, inscribes itself in the foremost ranks of Futurism and, apart from Balla, Boccioni, and Franz Marc, we are hard-pressed to find other artists whose colouristic and pictorial quality, as well as sheer originality, can bear comparison.’ Andrei Nakov 1991.
In 1915, the impecunious Bogomazov set out for Goris in Nagorny Karabakh in south east Armenia. ‘For the entire period of his stay in the Caucasus,’ wrote his daughter later, ‘Bogomazov experienced considerable financial difficulties’. Nonetheless, the period was incredibly fruitful and punctuated by a visit from his wife whom, despite having been turned over in the carriage taking her there, arrived to be, again the support her husband required. History does not relate whether or not she returned to Kiev with her husband, but Wanda is in this picture.
It is unclear what is the symbol emerging from the artist’s mouth, but I believe that he is in the act of kissing his wife. This intimate act, taking place in a riot of dynamics and movement, could denote joy at meeting, or sorrow at parting, the inference is not made, but the semi-circular form that is attached to the artist seems similar to the headdress which Wanda wore regularly.
The artist may be embracing his wife, the palette he holds in his right hand is certainly thrust forward. Meanwhile, at the base of the painting, lower right, are the words, ‘Self-portrait’, clearly inscribed, one of the few times when Bogomazov permitted himself such an act. This would appear to be a conscious statement, to leave the viewer in no doubt, that this confident, futurist piece is indeed the work of this artist.
Self Portrait 1916 must rank as one of Bogomazov’s finest works.