ALEXANDRE IACOVLEFF (Russia, Saint Petersburg 1887-1938 / act: USA, France, Italy)

Alexandre Iacovleff Alexandre Evgenievich Iacovleff was a Russian neoclassicist painter, draughtsman, designer and etcher. Born in 1887 in Saint Petersburg, Iacovleff, the youngest of four children of a naval officer, displayed an eerily precocious gift for drawing and at 18 entered the Imperial Academy of Art (1905-1913) under Dmitry Kardovsky (1866-1943). While a student he enjoyed drawing and worked for the art magazines Apollon, Satiricon, Niva and New Satiricon. His skills were noticed early in his career by the most influential Russian painter of his teachers' generation, Alexandre Nikolayevich Benois (1870-1960), who wrote that the young man displayed a "tremendous sensibility to nature.... One cannot doubt that his talent is phenomenal." After 1912, Iacovleff was a member of Mir Iskusstva. Iacovleff's large group portrait, On Academic Dacha, was exhibited at the Baltic Exhibition in Malmö in 1912, and received praise from the critics present, including Benois. During his student days he befriended another Academy student, Vasily Ivanovich Shukhaev (1887-1973). They were almost inseparable, and received the nickname of "The Twins". While in art school, Iacovleff became fascinated with theater and dance; at the age of 23 he married a ravishing stage and cabaret performer, Bella Shensheva (also known as Kazarosa), who was particularly noted for her fiery Spanish gypsy dances. It was in 1913, three years into his marriage, that Iacovleff's career as a voyaging artist began.

In 1913, he received the rank of an Artist and a scholarship to study abroad for his paintings Bathing and In Banya. He went to Italy and Spain with Shukhaev. While together they painted their double self-portrait as Harlequin and Pierrot. Another important work of that period was Violinist painted in 1915. At that time Iacovleff attempted to integrate Renaissance art with Primitivism, particularly the Russian Lubok. In 1915, Iacovleff returned to Petrograd. The same year his works were shown at a Mir Iskusstva exhibition and caused mixed reactions. While some critics praised them, the Academy of Arts rejected them. Iacovleff painted a lot of sanguine drawings, including the Shalyapin portrait. He frescoed Firsanov's mansion in Moscow and the artistic cabaret Prival Komediantov in Petrograd. He also lectured on Women's Architect Courses and organized his own artistic movement (together with Shukhaev, Radlov and Kardovsky): the Saint Luke Guild of Painters. In the summer of 1917, Iacovleff received a scholarship to study in the Far East. He travelled to Mongolia, China and Japan (1917-1919). He subsequently settled in Paris and obtained French citizenship. Between 1924 and 1925 he took part in the Croisi-24re Noire expedition to the Sahara desert and Equatorial Africa organized by André-Gustave Citroën. His African paintings were a big success and as a result Iacovleff was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1926. In 1928, Iacovleff organized a large personal exhibition in Moscow. Between 1931 and 1932, he was the Artistic Adviser of another Citroën expedition, this time across Asia. He travelled through Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China, and created a number of exotic paintings. From 1934 to 1937, Iacovleff was the Director of the Painting Department of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, Massachusetts. He spent the last months of his life in Paris and Capri. He died in Paris in 1938, after unsuccessful surgery.

[Megakles Rogakos 01/2009]

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