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Jean Pougny (Ivan Puni) (Russian, born Finland. 1892–1956)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Russian painter, illustrator and designer, active in France. He was educated at the gymnasium and then at the military academy in St Petersburg. Between 1909 and 1912 he visited Italy and France. In Paris he studied at the Académie Julian and stayed with his compatriot, the artist Yury Annenkov. He became friendly with Osip Zadkine and other Russian artists and began to experiment with Fauvism and early Cubism. Very few paintings remain from this period, although Walk in the Sun (1912; Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see Berninger and Cartier, vol. i, p. 31), painted after he returned to Russia, indicates an interest in expressive colour, surface texture and perspectival distortions.

On his return to St Petersburg, Pougny was introduced by Nikolay Kul’bin into avant-garde circles, and he exhibited with the Union of Youth group in the winters of 1911–12 and 1913–14. Breaking with them in January 1914, Pougny travelled to Paris and exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants. On his return to Russia he organized the exhibition Tramvay V: Pervaya futuristicheskaya vystavka kartin (‘Tramway V: the first Futurist exhibition of paintings’; Petrograd, March 1915) and Poslednyaya futuristicheskaya vystavka kartin: 0.10 (‘The last Futurist exhibition of paintings: 0.10’; Petrograd, December 1915). At Tramvay V Pougny exhibited works inspired by analytical Cubism, such as Portrait of the Artist’s Wife (1914; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus.), as well as his first reliefs such as Accordion (1914; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus.), which were inspired by the textural and associative potential of Cubist collage. Pougny also showed more abstract, three-dimensional works such as the Card Players (destr.; see Berninger and Cartier, vol. i, p. 195), in which materials such as tin, wire and wood were juxtaposed to create a resonant composition similar to Vladimir Tatlin’s counter-reliefs, and objet trouvé works, including a still-life that consisted of a hammer attached to a board (Still-life: Relief with Hammer; Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see Berninger and Cartier, vol. i, p. 46).

Later in 1915 at 0.10, where Malevich launched his Suprematist paintings and published his declaration of Suprematism, Pougny exhibited his first abstract three-dimensional relief sculptures, inspired by Malevich’s innovations. These comprised triangular, rectangular and cylindrical elements, painted in primary and metallic colours (with some modulations of tone) and affixed to a white ground (e.g. Suprematist Sculpture, 1915; Paris, Pompidou). Pougny issued an explanatory statement co-signed by his wife, Kseniya Boguslavskaya (1892–1972), whom he had married in 1913, which asserted that ‘a picture is a new conception of abstract, real elements independent of meaning’. Pougny continued to develop designs and ideas for sculpture until the early 1920s (e.g. Suprematist Drawing 3, c. 1920–21; New Haven, CT, Yale U. A.G.).

Despite this adherence to abstraction, at 0.10 Pougny had also exhibited a painting entitled Baths (1915; Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see Berninger and Cartier, vol. i, p. 79), comprising simply the letters of the word on a white rectangle set on a plain red background. Inspired by Suprematism and, perhaps, the linguistic experiments of the Russian Futurist poets, he also produced paintings based on combinations of abstract forms, words and letters, such as Flight of Forms (c. 1919; New York, MOMA) and Still Life with Letters (Spectrum Flight) (1919; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus.). In the following years Pougny also produced Cubist-inspired works; some were very fragmented, such as Still-life (1917–18; Amsterdam, Stedel. Mus.), others were closer to Cézanne, such as Plate with Eggs (1917–18; Paris, Pompidou). At this time he was also working on figurative pen-and-ink drawings, employing unusual viewpoints and dynamic juxtapositions of objects, sometimes destroying any coherent sense of space in the composition (e.g. Door, 1916–17; Paris, Bib. N.). These features seem to have developed from his experiments of 1915 in such paintings as Hairdresser (Paris, Pompidou) and Washing Windows (Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see 1975 exh. cat., pl. II), in which lettering is combined with objects represented entire but on conflicting scales in an illogical space.

In 1916 Pougny began to design illustrated children’s stories for the magazine Niva. After the Revolution, he painted posters and decorations for the revolutionary festivals and devised an official seal for the Supreme Soviet of People’s Commissars (1919; Paris, Bib. N.). He contributed to the artistic debates of the period in his articles for the avant-garde journal Iskusstvo Kommuny (‘Art of the commune’) and provided illustrations for Geroi i zhertvy Revolyutsii (‘Heroes and victims of the Revolution’) by Vladimir Mayakovsky, published in Petrograd in 1918 to mark the first anniversary of the Revolution. In January 1919, at the invitation of Marc Chagall, Pougny started teaching at the Vitebsk Art School, returning to Petrograd in the autumn. From there he went to Finland, eventually arriving in Berlin in 1921.

Pougny soon established contact with Hans Richter, Viking Eggeling and Theo van Doesburg as well as with Russian circles. He exhibited at the Galerie Der Sturm in February 1921, displaying a range of small works on walls that he had decorated with combinations of brightly coloured abstract shapes and enormous letters, intermingled with a few simplified figurative elements. The following year Pougny participated in the Novembergruppe exhibition with The Musician (1921; Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see Berninger and Cartier, vol. i, p. 131), which indicated his interest in synthesizing abstraction and figuration: the carefully rendered face of the musician combined with a fragmented treatment of his arms and a structuring of rectangular and curved elements in bright colours and patterns, recalling Picasso’s synthetic Cubism. After this date Pougny’s work became predominantly figurative (e.g. Still-life: Roll of Paper and Teapot, 1923; Paris, Pompidou). At the same time he made a living by illustrating journals and designing sets and costumes for theatrical productions, including Balladina for the Prague Opera (1923).

In 1924 Pougny moved to Paris, where he lived until his death. There he quickly became immersed in the artistic life of the city and established close relations with Louis Marcoussis, Gino Severini, Fernand Léger, Amédée Ozenfant and the art critics André Salmon and Waldemar George. He designed costumes for the Folies Bergère and for the costumier Granier, and in 1925 he had an important one-man show at the Galerie Barbazanges. From the late 1920s onwards Pougny’s works became increasingly descriptive (e.g. Grands Boulevards, 1929–30; Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see Gindertael, pl. 25), and he later began to employ very bold colours and a variety of painterly textures (e.g. Orange Chair, 1949; Zurich, M. et Mme Berninger priv. col., see 1975 exh. cat., pl. V). Pougny enjoyed a fair measure of success and participated in numerous important exhibitions in France and elsewhere.

Christina Lodder
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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