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Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957)

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Personage, 1927 oil and coffee grounds on canvas 5...

Personage, 1927
oil and coffee grounds on canvas
51 x 34 1/8 inches
signed and dated

Portrait of a Man, c.1929 oil on canvas 24 x 18 in...

Portrait of a Man, c.1929
oil on canvas
24 x 18 inches

The One Who Fell, (Final Study), c.1930 gouache on...

The One Who Fell, (Final Study), c.1930
gouache on brown paper
31 x 15 1/2 inches


Costume Design for Concerto: Femmes Corps de Balle...

Costume Design for Concerto: Femmes Corps de Ballet, c.1942

gouache, watercolor and ink on paper with fabric swatch

11 3/8 x 14 1/2 inches

Untitled (Skull), 1944 ink and watercolor on paper...

Untitled (Skull), 1944
ink and watercolor on paper
11 1/2 x 8 3/4 inches / 29.2 x 22.2 cm

The Sun, 1945 tempera on Masonite 22 x 28 inches s...

The Sun, 1945
tempera on Masonite
22 x 28 inches

signed and dated 

Portrait of Fidelma (Interior Landscape),c.1947 oi...

Portrait of Fidelma (Interior Landscape),c.1947
oil on canvas
46 1/8 x 22 inches, signed

Untitled (Head), 1949 pastel on black paper 18 7/8...

Untitled (Head), 1949
pastel on black paper
18 7/8 x 12 1/2 inches, signed and dated

Tête, 1950 pastel on paper 20 x 13 3/4 inche...

Tête, 1950
pastel on paper
20 x 13 3/4 inches

signed and dated

Untitled, 1953 pastel on paper 13 5/8 x 10 inches...

Untitled, 1953
pastel on paper
13 5/8 x 10 inches

signed and dated


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Artist Information

“We are living in the midst of the most appalling and impossible not to be seen horrors and madness—everyone covers them with pretty rugs and wallpaper and chintz.”[1]

Born in 1898 to an aristocratic family, Pavel Tchelitchew was raised in Moscow until the Russian Revolution forced his family to flee. From 1918 to 1920, he studied at the Kiev Academy under Alexandra Exeter (a former pupil of Fernand Léger’s). In 1920, Tchelitchew moved to Odessa, where he worked on stage sets for local theaters, and in 1921, he moved to Germany. Settling in Berlin, Tchelitchew continued designing for theater productions including Le coq d’or at the Berlin Staatsoper.

In 1923, Tchelitchew moved to Paris where he turned away from the influence of futurism and constructivism toward “a more realistic representation of objects treated as symbols of cosmic order: eggs, cabbages and constellations of stars.”[2] As Stephen Prokopoff explains, in Paris, Tchelitchew “became the ideologue of a small band of artists, known in France by the term Néo-Humanisme, who specialized in dream-like landscapes and figures in sombre, usually blue, tonalities; they included Eugene Berman and his brother Leonid Berman . . . Christian Bérard and André Lanskoy. Such work was … greatly indebted to Russian Symbolist painting at the turn of the century and enriched by Tchelitchew’s very personal elaboration of the simultaneous perspectives of Cubism.”[3] In 1925 when he exhibited an oil painting at the Salon d’Automne titled Basket of Strawberries, which aroused the interest of Gertrude Stein, and he soon became her protégé. More importantly, his use of the basket in this composition marked the beginning of his interest in visual analysis of the underlying structures within a variety of forms.

In the mid-1920s, Tchelitchew limited his palette to earth tones and continually pared it down until it consisted only of grays and whites. He used heavy impasto and sometimes incorporated coffee grounds and house paint. In 1926, he participated in a group exhibition at the Galerie Drouet with Bérard, the Berman brothers, and Kristians Tonny. Their shared emphasis on the human figure and its placement in romantic and melancholy environments led to their being collectively labeled neo-romantic. As he began creating metamorphic compositions—in which a particular image would be created out of thematically relevant forms (for example: clowns whose faces and bodies are comprised of circus figures)—Tchelitchew’s art became more closely associated with surrealism. However, while it shares surrealism’s unsettling quality reminiscent of a churning unconscious mind, Tchelitchew eschewed automatism as a technique. Instead, like the post-surrealists of the American West Coast, Tchelitchew chose his subject matter and composed his images with conscious deliberation. 

In the late 1920s, multiple images increasingly became the focus of his art. In these works Tchelitchew sought to reveal both the organic substructure of an object as well as its place in space and time. Through a synthesis of these components, he intended to reveal “not just the illusion of [an] object as seen by [the] normal eye but the sum of inner knowledge as well.” In other words, memory and imagination form a visual field that an artist can reproduce just like he or she would an external, objective landscape, figure, or still life. As the 1930s progressed, Tchelitchew expanded his color palette and complicated his use of space. By the mid-1930s, he was creating compositions based on triple perspective and foreshortening. In 1934 he came to the United States for the first time and had his first US one-man show at the Julian Levy Gallery. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, he continued designing sets for ballets, most notably those in association with George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky. His most celebrated painting, Hide and Seek, was completed in 1942 and was immediately acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, where he also had a large retrospective the same year.

In 1943, merging his interest in alchemy with “the anatomical illustrations of the [sixteenth century] Flemish anatomist and physician Andreas Vesalius,” Tchelitchew began his first “interior landscapes,” noted for their depiction of “the human body, with its veins and arteries, as transparent, in order to suggest the transcendence of the spirit over material substance.”[4] As these figures evolved over the following years, he increasingly returned to the simplicity of his original wire basket idea so that his “overlapping forms would not seem clogged.” Use of clean spiral lines became increasingly pervasive, and by 1950 his images were composed completely of rhythmic spiraled lines with all volumes entirely transparent. Believing that these works approached the fourth dimension—that of time—Tchelitchew intended them to reveal a sense of unity through diversity and continuity in the face of change.

Throughout his professional career, Tchelitchew exhibited frequently in London, Paris, Rome and points all over the United States. He died in July 1957.

[1] Ed Grover, “A Metaphysical Painter of Human Landscapes: Review of Lincoln Kirstein’s Tchelitchew,” (Accessed November 2012).

[2] Stephen S. Prokopoff, “Pavel Tchelitchew,” Grove Art Online (Oxford University Press, 2009). Reprinted on the website for the Museum of Modern Art, New York. (Accessed October 2012).

[3] Prokopoff, 2009.

[4] Prokopoff, 2009.



Arkansas Art Center, Little Rock, AR
Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, IL
Civic Art Gallery, Southampton, England
The Cleveland Museum of Art, Cleveland, OH
Columbus Museum, Columbus, GA
Courtauld Institute, University of London, London, England
Detroit Institute of Arts, Detroit, MI
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Five College Museums/Historic Deerfield Collection, MA
Fogg Art Museum, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC
John and Mabel Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, FL
Kresge Art Museum, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, Chicago, IL
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France
Musee des Beaux-Arts, Grenoble, France
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, MA
Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY
National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin, Ireland
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, MO
New Orleans Museum of Art, New Orleans, LA
Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, Chicago, IL
Tate Gallery, London, England
Tretyakov Art Gallery, Moscow, Russia
The University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI
Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY
Yale University Art Gallery, Hartford, CT