Pyotr Konchalovsky | The Jack of Diamonds Art Group

Петр Кончаловский (1876-1956), a Russian painter, was born in the village of Slavyanka not far from Kharkov. His father was a well-known literary man and publisher and had a great influence on his son. When Pyotr was seven years old, his father was arrested for revolutionary activities. The Konchalovskies’ estate was confiscated and the family was forced to move. At the age of eight Pyotr attended an art school in Kharkov and became interested in painting. After Pyotr’s father was released from prison the family left Kharkov and moved to Moscow. In 1889 Pyotr’s father decided to publish works by Mikhail Lermontov and Aleksandr Pushkin.
Pyotr Konchalovsky - Portrait of the poet Alexander Pushkin, 1932

Many outstanding painters such as Vasily Surikov, Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov, Mikhail Vrubel and others illustrated the books. The artists often visited Konchalovsky’s home and the atmosphere of art and creation became an integral part of Pyotr’s life. The boy decided to be an artist. He began attending classes at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Vasiliy Surikov, Pyotr’s future father-in-law, appreciated Konchalovsky’s first creative efforts. He praised the colors the young artist used and predicted a great future for the boy.

In 1896-1898 Pyotr Konchalovsky lived in Paris. He studied at the Academie Julian and advanced his artist’s skills greatly. Then he returned to Moscow and entered the Academy of Arts. In 1907 he graduated from the Academy and obtained the rank of the artist. He was 31 years old, his paintings were praised by contemporaries, but he was not at all satisfied; he felt his works lacked individual style. He often painted and then washed the images away, as he realized he was unable to create a real masterpiece. Konchalovsky traveled extensively and painted the places he visited, but still it was not enough for the artist.
In 1907 Pyotr Konchalovsky attended the exhibition of works by Van Gogh in Paris. It impressed him greatly and made a significant impact on his work. Later he would write: “Van Gogh gave me the understanding of painting as art. I shall not mark time any longer; I shall go forward, as now I know how an artist should paint nature. A real artist should not just copy it, he should underline its characteristic features”. The influence of Van Gogh is very noticeable in Konchalovsky’s works of 1907-1910.

In 1909 Pyotr Konchalovsky and his close associates such as Robert Falk, Aristarkh Lentulov, Ilya Mashkov and others founded the art group Jack of Diamonds [Ru: Бубновый валет, Moscow 1909-1917]. It was a provocative name as the symbolic meaning of the card “Jack of Diamonds” is “swindler” or “trickster”. The artists of the group sought to challenge society: they denied academic traditions and praised post-impressionists such as Paul Cezanne and cubist and fauvist painters. The “Jack of Diamonds” artists also called for a return to the traditions of cheap, popular Russian print and folk art. The first Moscow exhibition of the “Jack of Diamonds” was a scandal. Visitors called it “an astonishing cultural action”. The artist Kazimir Malevich described the exhibition as “an intense volcanic explosion” and “a slap in the face of public taste”. Later Pyotr Konchalovsky recalled that the artists of the “Jack of Diamonds” were united by a strong desire to attack the old school traditions. Thus, the “Jack of Diamonds” was the largest group of early Russian avant-garde.


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