Alexander Iacovleff, a painter and graphic artist, theatre designer and teacher, was born on 25 June in Saint-Petersburg. His father was the founder and owner of the First Russian Factory of Gas and Kerosene Engines (nowadays named “Vulkan”), which in 1896 created the first Russian automobile. The artist’s mother was Doctor of Mathematics.
In 1904–1905 he studied on Ya. S. Goldblat Preparatory Drawing Classes, then Art Academy followed in 1905–1913, and since 1908 the young man also studied in D. N. Kardovsky workshop. During the studies he made friends with V. I. Shukhaev, B. D. Grigorieff, I. I. Brodsky and V. A. Lokkenberg.
In 1912, his works were shown in Mir Iskusstva exhibition and drew a wide response in press; A. N. Benois admired them. So Alexander Iacovleff was accepted to Mir Iskusstva society. In November 1913 the artist got an Art Academy award for his picture “In the Bathhouse” painted in late Renaissance manner. In 1914–1915 he spent a year and a half in Italy with Shukhaev, visited Spain and Majorca.
In 1916 he designed the cabaret “Prival Komediantov” (“Comedians’ Halt”) with S. Yu. Sudeykin and B. D. Grigoriev, painted the plafond with nine muses for Firsanovs mansion in Moscow (with Shukhaev), designed the wall paintings for Orthodox Church of Saint Nicolas in Bari (Italy) and for waiting room of Kazansky railway station in Moscow.
In 1917 he founded, together with Kardovsky and Shukhaev, “Saint Lucas Painters Guild”, meant to revive the old masters’ professional traditions. Late summer 1917, Alexander was on a trip to the Far East to gather ethnographic material for Kazansky station decoration.
In 1918 the artist went to Beijing on Art Academy scholarship. He travelled in China, Mongolia and Japan. Iacovleff studied Chinese and Japanese theatre, made a lot of ethnographic sketches and portraits as well as took photos. He held an exhibition in Shanghai (1919).
In 1919 Alexander Iacovleff settled in Paris. His oriental works had been shown on his personal exhibitions in Paris (Barbazanges gallery, 1920 and 1921; together with Shukhaev), London (Grafton gallery, 1920), and Chicago (Art Intitute, 1922). In 1922 Lucien Vogel published and album with Iacovleff’s 50 pictures from the series “Drawing and Painting of the Far East” (150 copies, the book was designed by Shukhaev). At the same time his other album on Chinese theatre was published with the text by Chinese author Zhu Kim Kim.
In October 1924 – August 1925 the artist took part in Citroen expedition through Africa led by L. Audouin-Dubreuil and J.-M. Haard (Sahara – Sudan – Niger – Chad – Belgian Congo – Mozambique –Madagascar – Equatorial Africa). Iacovleff made about 300 paintings and drawings of African nature and life of its people, as well as a big group portrait of the expedition participants.
In 1926 he made a large personal exhibition of his African travel works in J. Charpentier gallery — it gave him 100 000 francs. The artist gained popularity and was conferred Legion of Honour (1927). L. Vogel published 1020 copies of his African album. In 1928 the artist illustrated the “negro novel” “Batouala” by R. Maran, and in 1938 P. Mille’s book “Feli et M’bala l’elephant”.
In 1928 Alexander travelled to Ethiopia with Henry Rotschild. In 1928–1930 he studied Roman painting in Pompeii and copied frescos in Naples museum. The artist painted a series of large mythological paintings in Pompeii style. He held his personal exhibition in Carnegie Institute, Pittsburgh (with Shukhayev and Grigoryev) in 1927, as well as in Paris (La Renaissance gallery, 1928 and 1930) and Brussels (1927, 1929).
In 1931–1932 the artist joined another Citroen expedition — that time to Asia (Syria – Iran – Afghanistan – Mongolia – China, from Tianjin by sea to Hanoi and Saigon; the expedition was terminated by death of J.-M. Haard). Iacovleff met in Shanghai Russian émigré painters M.F. Domrachov, B. A. Khrenov, N. E. Eltekov and G.A. Sapozhnikov. In 1933 J. Charpentier gallery displayed about 800 his works from the Asian expedition.
In autumn 1934 he came to the USA to become the head of painting department of Boston Fine Arts Museum. Alexander Iacovleff travelled about the USA and Mexico. He held personals exhibitions in Boston Fine Arts Museum (1934, 1937), National Geographic Society in Washington (1934), Knoedler gallery in New York (1936), Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh (1938), and Minneapolis Art Museum (1938).
In 1937 the artist came back to France. He died in Paris during the operation of stomach cancer on 12 May 1938. He is buried near Paris.
June 25, 1887
May 12, 1938