Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin - Still life with lilac (1928)
Kuzma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin, Russian: Кузьма Сергеевич Петров-Водкин (November 5, 1878 – February 15, 1939) was an important Russian and Soviet painter and writer and one of the leading lights of Russian early-20th-century art. He is best known today for his brazen palette of primary colours, unconventional high-angle viewpoints, and his mastery of optical illusions. Still Life with Lilac — painted at the height of his career in 1928 — is a powerful example of his signature style. It also offers, thanks to infrared technology, a fascinating glimpse of how the artist tailored his style to the post-revolution Soviet regime.
The composition is dominated by a freshly cut lilac in a glass of water, and includes a crystal inkwell, a copy of the January 1925 issue of L’Art Vivant — a Parisian bi-monthly art magazine in which Petrov-Vodkin gave an interview about his artistic innovations — fallen leaves, a matchbox and a letter, all arranged on a deep-blue tablecloth.
The picture bears a striking resemblance to a later, well-known painting by the same artist, Branch of a Bird Cherry Tree in a Glass (1932), which is in the collection of The State Russian Museum in St Petersburg.
Branch of a Bird Cherry Tree in a Glass is not only one of Petrov-Vodkin’s most recognisable works, it is also a very familiar image in Russian art (largely thanks to its usage as a postcard). Up until recently, the St Petersburg painting was thought to be the only version of this composition.