Alexander Rodchenko - Collection of Corbeau and Renard assembled by Gerd Sander Part II London Friday, May 16, 2008 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Museum of Modern Art, Oxford

  • Literature

    Museum of Modern Art, M. Dabrowski, L. Dickerman, P. Galassi, Aleksandr Rodchenko, New York, 1998, p. 210; Moscow House of Photography, Soviet Photography of the 1920s and 1930s, 2004, p. 091; Corbeau & Renard, La trajectoire du regard, 2006, p. 128

  • Catalogue Essay

    In 1924 Alexander Rodchenko made a series of six photographs of Vladimir Mayakovsky. The poet dropped by Rodchenko’s studio when the photographer was experimenting with the new camera and glass plates of 9x12. The visit turned out to be in good timing and the portraits were done in the studio with an aim to use the images for future design work. These portraits were a logical outcome of their collaborative work, but they also set Rodchenko on a new trajectory and established a new kind of portrait photography within the Russian history.
    The six portraits of Mayakovsky were produced in sequence and arranged on a plain, empty background. The poet is shot close-up, with his figure or face taking full possession of the print. Mayakovsky looks straight at the camera, acknowledging the photographer. His stare is intense and determined. The simplicity and boldness of the composition looks thoroughly modern and the quality easily understandable, however in 1924 this was ground breaking. The existing tradition for the photographer was to attempt to resemble a painted portrait, rather than simplify the sitter to such concentrated essence.
    Rodchenko made these portraits in a sequence. This process later turned into a systematic technique of his. In the essay Against the Synthetic Portrait, for the Snapshot, Rodchenko denounced the traditional nature of a single photographic portrait, as he argued it was not sufficient enough. For Rodchenko was a thoroughly modern artist and, for him, the unified view of one subject was no longer viable in the times of such rapid disintegration of the old. He advised: “Don’t try to capture a man in one synthetic portrait but rather in lots of snap-shots taken at different times and in different circumstances” (H. Gassner, ‘Alexander Rodchenko’s photographic method’, Pantheon Books, D. Elliot (ed.) Rodchenko and the Arts of the Revolutionary Russia, New York, 1979, p. 109). The photographic sequence was later claimed as one of Rodchenko’s great inventions by the German scholar Hubertus Gassner. The sequence allowed a process of perception of the subject, which made the portraits deeply psychological.
    Rodchenko’s close friendship with the poet contributed to the psychological nature of the portrait. Rodchenko believed that it was best to photograph only those whom he knew personally well. Mayakovsky as the logical target. He and the poet shared many years of creative ollaboration, which started almost from the first years of the Revolution. They worked together on the design for Mayakovsky’s books, especially his poem Pro Eto, dedicated to Lili Brick. Their collaboration extended to the advertising campaign for Mosselprom and further book design.
    Mayakovsky played a role in encouraging Rodchenko’s interest in photography, supplying him with numerous photographic journals from his travels abroad and helping him with various materials. In his biographical essay Working with Mayakovsky, Rodchenko described how, desperate for the new enlarger and lacking money in his pocket, he ran into Mayakovsky on the street and hastily asked him for money, who without question handed over the missing sum.
    Due to their close bond Rodchenko was able to capture Mayakovsky just as he knew him: forceful, determined, and consumed with intense thought and poetry. The seriousness of the sitter is explained by Rodchenko’s own perception of the poet: “There is a common opinion that Mayakovsky is ‘very sombre’ in the photographs. Everyone is looking for prints where he is laughing. But when did he laugh? He was usually silent, then, he would say something so extraordinary that everyone would be laughing. We were the only ones laughing, but he only smiled and observed”. (Iskusstvo, L.F. Volkov-Lannit, Vizhy Mayakovskogo, Moscow, 1981, p. 19).
    The series of Mayakovsky’s portraits paved the way for Rodchenko’s further photographs of friends and colleagues; many of whom were connected with the editorial of the leftist magazine LEF. Mayakovsky’s portraits did serve their purpose as Rodchenko incorporated them into his designs, such as Mayakovsky’s book Razgovor s Fininspektorom o Poezii and in the edition of USSR at Construction, dedicated to Mayakovsky. But the real need for these images appeared after 14 April 1930, the day of Mayakovsky’s suicide. Newspapers were demanding the images of the poet for publication and they turned to Rodchenko. In his memoirs, Rodchenko wrote: “The mood is awful, and here, I had to spend time in the dark room where endlessly, on the white paper, appeared Mayakovsky” (A. Rodchenko, ‘Rabota s Mayakovskim’ in Mayakovski Rodchenko: The Constructivist Classics, Moscow, 2004, p. 98).



Gelatin silver print, printed 1936.
59.7 x 49.5 cm. (23 1/2 x 19 1/2 in).

£70,000 - 90,000 

Sold for £62,900

Collection of Corbeau and Renard assembled by Gerd Sander Part II

17 May 2008, 3pm