In original gulided frame with silk velvet insert chosen by the artist
CATALOGUE NOTE (Sotheby’s) Born into an aristocratic Russian family in 1898, Pavel Tchelitchev, after fleeing the Russian Revolution, arrived in Paris in 1923. There he saw the paintings of Picasso, Gris and Braque, and met luminaries such as Gertrude Stein and Charles Henri Ford, the Surrealist poet who would become his lifelong partner. In 1934, Tchelitchev and Ford moved to New York, and in 1942 The Museum of Modern Art gave Tchelitchev his first solo exhibition, which included the present work. Painted in 1939 at the height of his artistic career, Portrait of My Father is a highly personal work, which reflects the salient themes of his earlier pictures, and foreshadows what would become the artist's most celebrated canvas, Hide and Seek (Cache-cache), painted the following year, now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1938 Tchelitchev was given a studio in an 18th century farmhouse designed for him by Alice de Lamar, an amateur architect who lived in Weston, Connecticut. Here the artist became captivated by the rural landscape of New England. He made numerous highly detailed studies of the trees, leaves and hills, and gradually, images of children and animals began to emerge. The idea of metamorphosis was one that preoccupied Tchelitechev a decade earlier in Paris, encouraged in part by the Surrealists. Inspired by their interest in ambiguous images, as well as by the double-picture postcards that were popular in Russia when he was a child, Tchelitchev produced a number of works in which figures were concealed within figures, and images were compiled together to create a larger composition. In Portrait of My Father, the snow covered hills become a tiger, an image of the artist's father inspired, in part, by the snowy landscape of his childhood in Russia. James Thrall Soby writes, "Tchelitchew...has always considered that metamorphosis must contribute to fixed structure, that it must be used as a kind of interior magic, creating its own mystery and awe but never becoming the dominant illusion. He wishes the observer to be able to go back and forth easily between hidden images and the composition which contains them, never losing one in seeing the other" (Tchelitchew, New York, 1942, p. 19). The present work was given by the artist to Lincoln Kirstein, the collector and founder of the American Ballet, where it hung in his home until his death. Unusually in Tchelitchew's oeuvre there exist two paintings with the same title, Portrait of my Father. The other version is a powerful anthropomorphic allegory, an evocative rendering of Tchelitchew's early surroundings. The central figures of the children are surrounded by the forest, a symbol for Tchelitchew's father, while all around human faces and animals emerge from the wintry Russian landscape of his childhood. Images of the artist's father are embedded in the leopard and polar bear in the background, and in the cat and the boulder in the foreground, which provides several profiles. As Tchelitchew himself recalled, 'In early 1939, I made an oil painting of a snow landscape with children, the landscape itself being a composition of polar bear and leopard in combat. I perceived a great resemblance between landscapes and snowy hills and animals.' It has been suggested that many of the motifs of the work evolved from studies and sketches that Tchelitchew was creating for his monumental masterpiece, and one of his most celebrated works, Hide-and-Seek, 1940-1942, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.