Pavel Tchelitchew worked in a variety of styles but is best known for portraying the mystical forces of the human form — both inside and out. From an aristocratic family, he was educated in Moscow until the Russian Revolution forced his family to Kiev. There, the artist attended classes at the Kiev Academy and became acquainted with the work of Fernand Léger, along with Russian Constructivists such as Kazimir Malevich. He then settled in Berlin and gained recognition for his theatrical sets and costumes.
Tchelitchew went to Paris in 1923. His theatrical experience prompted a prolonged collaboration with Sergei Diaghilev, director of the Ballets Russes, and his paintings drew the admiration of Gertrude Stein. Through Stein, he became familiar with Picasso’s work, which greatly influenced his own paintings, and British poet Edith Sitwell, who would become his patron and muse. Sitwell was the model for this gouache, a study for the artist’s painting Harvester (1928). Its brown tonalities are characteristic of Tchelitchew’s work during this period and his association with the Neo-Romantics, known for their brooding, melancholic paintings. It also seems to correspond directly to lines from one of Sitwell’s poems, Harvest:
"I, an old woman whose heart is like the Sun That has seen too much, looked on too many sorrows, Yet is not weary of shining, fulfillment and harvest . . ." (1)
After 1929, Tchelitchew was often called a Surrealist, although the artist himself denounced the label. In 1934, he moved from Paris to New York City, and became a U.S. citizen in 1952.
(1) Edith Sitwell, “Harvest,” unpublished draft in notebook 57, Edith Sitwell Collection, Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin, 5.