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Léopold Survage (French, 1879–1968)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Russian painter, designer and illustrator. He was directed to enter the piano factory operated by his Finnish father, and besides learning the piano he took a commercial diploma in 1897. After becoming severely ill at the age of 22, he rethought his career and entered the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Introduced to the modern movement through the collections of Sergey Shchukin and Ivan Morosov, he joined the ranks of the Moscow avant-garde and by 1906 was close to the circle associated with the magazine Zolotoye runo. He also met Alexander Archipenko, exhibiting with him in the company of David Burlyuk, Vladimir Burlyuk, Mikhail Larionov and Natal’ya Goncharova. With Hélène Moniuschko, whom he subsequently married, he travelled to Western Europe, visiting Paris in July 1908. The following August the couple settled in Paris, where Survage worked as a piano tuner and briefly attended the short-lived school run by Henri Matisse. He exhibited with the Jack of Diamonds group in Moscow in late 1910, but he first showed his work in France (at the urging of Archipenko) only in the Salon d’Automne of 1911.

From 1912 Survage produced abstract compositions entitled Coloured Rhythm (e.g. ink wash drawing, 1913; Paris, Pompidou), which he planned to animate by means of film, using colour and spatial movement to evoke sensation as an analogy to music. He conceived of these abstract images as flowing together to form ‘symphonies in colour’, but he exhibited some of them separately at the Salon d’Automne in 1913 and at the Salon des Indépendants in 1914. Articles on these works were published by Guillaume Apollinaire (Paris-J., 15 July 1914) and by Survage himself (Soirées Paris, 26–7, July–Aug 1914, pp. 426–9), and in June 1914 he applied for a patent to the Gaumont film company. Had he been able to raise the funds, he would have preceded Viking Eggeling and Hans Richter who worked on one of the first abstract films in 1920.

Unable to pursue his cinematic interests during World War I, Survage turned to an intuitive Cubism influenced by concepts drawn from films. Living near Nice, during the next eight years he produced highly structured pictures linked by the repetition of a small group of symbolic elements viewed at different distances—man, leaf, house, sea, flower, window(s), curtain, bird, shadow—as if they were protagonists in a series of mobile images, for example Villefranche-sur-Mer (1915) and portrait of the Baroness d’Oettingen (1917; both Paris, Pompidou). The 32 pictures exhibited by him in 1917 at the Galerie Bougard, Paris, were signed Survage at the urging of Apollinaire, who wrote the preface in the form of ideograms. In 1919 he helped revive the Section d’or (ii), serving as its secretary. By 1922, when Survage was given his first show at Léonce Rosenberg’s Galerie de l’Effort Moderne in Paris, he had begun to move away from Cubism in favour of a form of Neo-classicism, as in Bathers (1928; see Warnod, p. 76); in this he was perhaps influenced by commissions for Serge Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes, beginning with sets and costumes for Igor Stravinsky’s opera buffa, Mavra, at the Paris Opéra, in 1922. Although principally a painter, he continued to produce stage designs (e.g. for Tristan Tzara’s Le Coeur à gaz, 1923), designs for textiles (e.g. for Chanel, 1933) and tapestries (for Gobelins, 1957), illustrated books and two murals for the Palais des Chemins de Fer at the Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne (Paris, 1937; see Warnod, p. 90). His paintings of the early 1930s reflected the influence of Surrealism in their biological imagery, as in Adam and Eve (1934; see 1968 exh. cat., p. 29). In the later 1930s, when he was in contact with André Masson, he became involved with symbolic and mystical themes (e.g. Fall of Icarus, 1939; see Warnod, p. 97). The cursive line that had previously dominated his compositions came under the control once more of strict geometrical structures, which became more pronounced after World War II, facilitating the conception of large decorative panels. After World War II he also experimented with casein. In 1963 he was inducted into the Légion d’honneur.

Daniel Robbins
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press


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