Pavel Tchelitchew

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Pavel Tchelitchew
Pen and black ink with gray wash on paper.
maximum dimensions: 14 1/16 x 11 1/8 inches (358 x 282 mm)
The Joseph F. McCrindle Collection.

Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian-born American surrealist, was a highly accomplished draftsmen and figurative artist, best known for his complex allegories exploring the relationship between humans and the natural landscape. In his portraits and figure studies, Tchelitchew sought to expand the physical and emotional dimensions of the human body, and fittingly found his perfect subject matter in the theatrical and physically extreme world of circus performers. The poet Charles Henri Ford (1913-2002), with whom Tchelitchew shared an intimate relationship, first introduced the artist to a 14th Street freak show known at the time as a "Dime Museum," and Todd Browning's (1880-1962) classic film Freaks (1932) made an equally strong impression on the artist (Duncan 1998, p. 10). From 1935 onward, Tchelitchew created a large number of paintings and drawings based on these sideshow characters, striking a fine balance between the grotesqueries of the figures and the matter-of-fact refinement of his draftsmanship. Though exotic in character, these drawings do not lapse into caricature, and as Tchelitchew would explain to his dealer Julien Levy, "My dear friends are freaks. And freaks are beautiful" (Tyler 1967, p. 387). This sheet from the McCrindle collection is a study for the seated figure in the 1935 painting Leopard Boy (New York 1964, cat. 149). Leopard Boy is a portrait of the dancer Nicholas Magallanes (1922-1977), who was a close friend of the artist at the time. In this sheet, Magallanes's scantily clad, spotted body is set against an ornate armchair, the design of the chair and the figure's leopard spots subtly merging to form a single pattern. The character of "Leopard Boy" reappears in Tchelitchew's famous, later painting Phenomena (1936-38), now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow (New York 1964, #31), a work in which Tchelitchew created a sort of circus portrait gallery of his social world. Works cited: Michael Duncan, Pavel Tchelitchew: The Landscape of the Body, exh. cat. (New York: Katonah Museum of Art, 1998); New York 1964: Pavel Tchelitchew: An Exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art, ex. cat. (New York: Foundation of Modern Art, 1964); Parker Tyler, The Divine Comedy of Pavel Tchelitchew (New York, Fleet Pub. Corp. 1967).


Inscribed at lower right in pen and black ink, "P. Tchelitchew 35".

Joseph F. McCrindle, New York (McCrindle collection no. A3029).
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