Pavel Tchelitchew

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Pavel Tchelitchew
The Embrace
Pen and sepia ink on paper.
11 7/8 x 7 15/16 inches (302 x 202 mm)
The Joseph F. McCrindle Collection.

Pavel Tchelitchew, a Russian-born American surrealist, was a highly accomplished draftsmen and figurative artist, known both for his hallucinatory paintings and whimsical stage designs. In 1919, when he was twenty-one, Tchelitchew designed his first production, The Geisha, an operetta by Ivan Caryl (1861-1921) for a theater in Kiev. From Kiev, the artist traveled to Constantinople, where he designed six ballets for the company of Victor Zimine (Windham 1944, p. 5). Tchelitchew next traveled to Berlin, quickly securing a series of design commissions for both theater and ballet productions. His work on the Russian Romantic Theater's production of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) The Wedding Feast of Boyar (1922), in which he combined constructivist geometries with Russian folk fabric patterns--captured the attention of Serge Diaghilev (1872-1929), who commissioned Tchelitchew to create a design for the Ballets Russes in Paris (Duncan 1998, p. 8). Though the commission did not come to fruition until six years later, the result--Ode (1928)-- represented a radical breakthrough for Tchelitchew. In particular, Tchelitchew developed a keen sense for light and transparency, using luminous cellulose materials for both the costumes and sets. The artist's interest in translucency--also a hallmark of his paintings and drawings--would significantly inform the majority his designs moving forward. In this sheet of 1932, presumably a costume study for George Balanchine's (1904-1983) ballet L'Errante produced one year later, Tchelitchew depicts two lovers amorously intertwined, their flowing, diaphanous costumes appearing to dematerialize their bodies.
Works cited: Michael Duncan, Pavel Tchelitchew: The Landscape of the Body, exh. cat. (New York: Katonah Museum of Art, 1998); Donald Windham, "The Stage and Ballet Designs of Pavel Tchelitchew," Dance Index 3 (January-February 1944): pp. 4-31.


Inscribed at lower right, in pen and brown ink, "Tchelitchew 32".

Julian Hartnoll, London; from whom acquired by Joseph F. McCrindle, New York, 5 March 1991 (McCrindle collection no. B0001).
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