VLADIMIR POLUNIN Russian British oil on canvas

UK - Collection Only


press here to see a second video / a follow up video;-

Video Addendum ; the author of the Russian book is Mikhail Alpatov .

VLADIMIR POLUNIN (1880-1957) Figural scene depicting a man on his knees before another man in a garden landscape, signed lower right, oil on canvas, 80cm x 44cm.

Video is a general video showing 2 paintings. Only one is included in this sale.

Video Addendum ; Russian Ballet not Royal Ballet.

Text below   [ for information purposes ] relates to the Picasso portrait of Polunin .Sold for £200,000 on 05 February 2020 • London by Sothebys.

Picasso, Polunin and the Ballet Russes . Born in Russia, Vladimir Polunin married British artist and designer Elizabeth Hart in 1907, in St Petersburg, before moving to London in 1908. The couple worked together as scene painters for several theatres before becoming the principal set designers for the Ballets Russes, an itinerant ballet company conceived by Sergei Diaghilev, which was widely regarded as the most influential ballet company of the 20th century. During 1917-24, Pablo Picasso collaborated with the Ballets Russes, and in the summer of 1919, spent ten weeks in London. Polunin worked with his wife Elizabeth in a top floor room of an old warehouse at 48 Floral Street in Covent Garden. Reached only by a narrow ladder, it was the repository for the Ballet’s sets and it was here Picasso worked on his set designs for the company. It was largely because of the Polunins’ technical mastery and enthusiasm for the project that Picasso’s collaboration with Diaghilev was able to realise its full potential. Picasso’s initial iconic work for the Ballets Russes relates to the 1917 production of Parade, for which he produced elements in two distinctive styles: a magnificent cubist stage and a neoclassical curtain. In 1919, he then collaborated with the Polunins on the production of the Spanish-themed ballet Le Tricorne (The Three-Cornered Hat) and a fruitful and happy friendship ensued. Even when their respective work caused them to travel, the three of them kept up an amicable dialogue via letters and postcards. Vladimir Polunin is widely credited for introducing to Britain the continental way of painting large backdrops for dance and theatre productions; mixing the colours with long-handled brushes, he and his assistants would paint the curtains while they were laid flat on the floor. In 1927, Polunin published a manual on the ‘continental’ method of stage painting, becoming the foremost exponent in England and, two years later, established the theatre design course at the Slade School of Fine Art. While Picasso’s colourful private life and notorious fiery temper reflected his Spanish origins, the artist developed a taste for all things English which, from his first time in London in 1919, lasted his lifetime. He would ask his friend, the art critic and curator Clive Bell, to take him on shopping trips to Savile Row and the East End – resulting in a style of dress that changed his appearance from that of a Bohemian artist to an English gentleman, accessorising three-piece suits with bowler hats, pipes and canes. This portrait of the Russian scene painter Vladimir Polunin was made in gratitude for his expert repairs to the damaged set of Parade (Picasso’s first project with the Ballets Russes) as well as for his work on the sets and curtain designed by Picasso for the ballet Le Tricorne. Executed in deft lines of pencil, the present work depicts a man deep in thought, sitting casually in a cross-legged pose, smartly dressed in a suit and tie. The combination of his charming bow-tie and almost finished cigarette in his right hand suggests Polunin’s enjoyment of a well-deserved break during a hardworking day in the studio. Evidently comfortable in Picasso’s presence, his expression suggests a calm and friendly temperament. For Picasso, portraiture remained a favourite genre and it was the human figure that was the prime subject of his œuvre. A quintessential example of his earliest portraits, Portrait of Vladimir Polunin reveals Picasso’s precocious ability to catch a likeness of his subject and to suggest a character or state of mind. The drawing captures Polunin’s long, handsome head, his tall figure and facial features that exude a certain melancholic introspection. Picasso was thrilled to work alongside a specialist in theatre design, an unfamiliar process that had its own aesthetic and technique. During Picasso’s stay in London, he came to Polunin’s studio daily, interested in the methods of the scene painters and to check that his works retained their originality when translated from his own studies into stage sets or curtains. The rapport struck between Picasso and Polunin resulted in this highly sympathetic portrait, which lacks the teasing wit and caricature elements present in many of Picasso’s drawings of his more intimate male friends.



Mary Fedden studied at the Slade School of Art in London from 1932 to 1936 under the theatre designer Vladimir Polunin, who had worked with the Ballets Russes. She painted sets for professional performances at Sadlers Wells, but decided against stage design as a career.

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