Pavel Tchelitchew

Pavel Tchelitchew, “The Rose Necklace”, 1931, Oil on Board, Signed in Latin and Dated ’31 t.l.’, 29 x 21 Inches, Collection of Seymour Stein

Pavel Tchelitchew was a Russian-born artist known for his Surrealist portraits and anatomical studies. Often camouflaging human bodies and faces into geometric lines or landscape forms, the artist used both abstraction and symbolism to convey both the outer and inner appearance of an object.

Born on September 21, 1898 in Moscow, Russia, Tchelitchew and his family were forced to flee Russia during the 1917 Revolution. Tchelitchew went on to study under Alexandra Exter at the Kiev Academy. After graduating from school, the artist worked designing and constructing stage sets for theaters in Odessa and later Berlin. Moving to Paris in 1923, he fell into the intellectual circles of Gertrude Stein, leading him to incorporate Cubist and Surrealist elements into his work.

Tchelitchew went on to form a small group of artists known as the Néo Humanists, which included André Lanskoy, Christian Bérard, and Eugene Berman. By the 1930s, his work had begun employing multiple perspectives, a brighter color palette, and extremely foreshortened figures.

While still working on stage designs for ballets by Igor Stravinsky, he began to receive international recognition, and in 1942 one of his most celebrated works, “Hide and Seek”, was acquired by The Museum of Modern Art in New York. Tchelitchew died on July 31, 1957 in Grottaferrata, Italy. Today, Tchelitchew’s works can be found in the collections of the Art Institute of Chicago, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., the Courtauld Institute of Art in London, and the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“The Rose Necklace” is a portrait of Charles Levinson, known as ‘Le Vincent’, who was ‘a handsome ex-soldier with a superb necklace of tattooed flowers’ (Tchelitchew). With his nonchalant beauty and easy physicality, Levinson inspired Tchelitchew to produce a full series of tattooed circus figures. This portrait provides an earthy, sexual counterpoint to Picasso’s 1904  “Garçon à la Pipe” which inspired Tchelitchew to paint portraits of his partner Charles Henri Ford and others surrounded by flowers; only here the garland of roses is transposed to the sitter’s chest. 

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