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Alexandre Iakovleff

Alexandre Iakovleff: A Multifaceted Artist and His Journey Through Art

Alexander Yakovlev is regarded as one of the most in-demand artists in Russia. This was confirmed at Sotheby's Russian auction, where Yakovlev's sanguine Harlequin was the most expensive lot and sold for £730,000. Similarly, at Christie's Russian auction in London, Yakovlev's monumental 'Dancer in Spanish Costume' sold for £1.1m. Yakovlev's drawings, which depict kabuki theatre actors or exotic characters from his trip to Africa, have always been in high demand in the art market.

His unique creative experience, coupled with a life full of adventures, travelling and bright events, has made him a highly acclaimed artist. His artworks are held in numerous museum collections and private collections. The Malabart Gallery is excited to showcase the incredible works of Alexandre Iakovleff, including 'Peonies in a Vase' (late 1920s - first half of the 1930s) and 'The Winepress' (1937).

Peonies in a Vase (late 1920s - first half of the 1930s)
The Winepress (1937)

Alexandre Iakovleff (1887-1938) was a famous Russian painter, graphic artist, and master of drawing. He was a talented portraitist, author of genre paintings and landscapes, theatre decorator, and muralist. He headed the art department at the Boston School of the Museum of Fine Arts. 

Iakovleff was born in 1887 in St. Petersburg to a well-known engineer. He graduated from a real school in 1904, studied for two years at the school of Ya. С. Goldblatt, and in 1905 entered the Academy of Arts. Kardovsky was his teacher, and this greatly influenced his creative destiny. 

Iakovleff was part of a famous creative team that included fellow students Shukhaev, Brodsky, Lokkenberg, and Grigoriev. They studied together, spent their free time together, and were passionate about Art Nouveau and French Impressionism. Their names in the history of art almost always stand side by side. In the summer, they often lived and wrote sketches on the Volga while making plans for the future.

Self-Portrait (1917)

During his studies, Iakovleff co-operated with popular publications of the time, for which he made drawings to accompany the text. Iakovleff was an excellent artist and his images were characterised by expressiveness. Iakovleff began to show his works at exhibitions ‘World of Art’ since 1912. His work caused resonance in the press, was even noted in an article by Alexander Benois. Yakovlev was close to the art of the late Renaissance, under the impression of which he wrote the picture ‘Bath’. In 1914 he went as a pensioner from the Academy in Italy, studied the work of the old masters, wrote a lot. He presented his artistic account of the journey with several portraits at the exhibition ‘World of Art’ in 1915.

From 1916, Iakovleff was involved in creating monumental-decorative works, such as painting plafonds and walls of some Moscow mansions, decorating the interior of the lobby of the Kazan railway station, and making sketches for the painting of the Church of St. Nicholas in Italy. He was an avid traveller and collected natural materials for his paintings in the Far East, China, Mongolia, and Japan. Iakovleff was fascinated by the culture of the East, the exoticism of theatrical performances, and the colorful local people. He created numerous sketches, drawings, and photographs, which became the richest ethnographic series of his impressions.

In 1919, Iakovleff moved to Paris, where he first showcased his works on oriental themes. The exhibition's success was unexpected, and it led to an invitation to display his works in London and Chicago. Several albums of his works were published in small editions, and his friend Shukhaev designed the book 'Drawings and Painting of the Far East.' Iakovleff made an album on theatre in China in collaboration with the writer Zhu Kim-Kima, who wrote the text.

One of the most memorable events in the artist's life was his participation in the African scientific research expedition of 1924-1925. He was captivated by the bright and exotic nature of Africa, the lifestyle of the natives, and the colors of the summer heat. He created over three hundred works inspired by this experience, which were showcased in a solo exhibition with an African theme in 1926 at the J. Charpentier gallery. This journey helped him to hone his skills and diversify his images of nature. Every subsequent journey undertaken by the artist led to new heights of self-improvement. In the 1930s, his trip to Ethiopia and Pompeii marked a creative peak. Iakovleff was so impressed by the ancient Roman frescoes that he enthusiastically began copying them. This was a turning point in his work, leading to a new perception of color and a bright, vibrant range of works.

Alexandre Iakovleff was a versatile artist who expressed his desire for monumentality in paintings that trace features of the 'big style'. His works are so diverse that the study of his art is a fascinating process. His earlier works were connected with the traditions of the Renaissance, and later on, his works were filled with symbolic meanings, which are particularly evident in his portraits 'The Violinist' and 'Harlequin and Pierrot'. When it comes to his drawings, mastery and precision, virtuosity, are evident in every stroke of a pencil, revealing the hand of an outstanding artist.

Harlequin and Pierrot (1914)

In the early 1910s, Shukhaev and Iakovleff performed in the 'House of Intermedia' in St. Petersburg in the pantomime "Columbine's Scarf" by A. Schnitzler. Iakovleff played the role of Harlequin, while Shukhaev played the role of Pierrot. They created a double self-portrait as a memory of their passion for the theatre. The painting was not exhibited for many years since it was unfinished. In 1962, Shukhaev completed some of the details, and it was exhibited at his personal exhibition at the Academy of Arts in Leningrad in the same year. 

The painting depicts the artists in the costumes of Harlequin and Pierrot, the heroes of A. Schnitzler's pantomime "Columbine's Scarf," which was staged in 1911 by V. E. Meyerhold at the House of Intermedia theatre in St. Petersburg. After accidentally attending this performance, the artists became regular spectators, got acquainted with the actors and the director, and were eventually invited to perform the main roles. The idea to paint a joint self-portrait, depicting themselves as the heroes of the comedy, came to them while they were in Italy after graduating from the Academy. The painting, executed by the two masters, is so cohesive in style that it is perceived as a work created by one hand. It clearly expresses the creative credo of the authors. 

The painting named 'Violinist' was created by Iakovleff in Italy. The subject of the painting is a professional musician who posed as a seriously ill patient. The artist took great care to convey the individual features of the model while also dressing him in a costume that would suit a fairy tale. The backdrop of the painting is an architectural setting, with figures of people or marionettes in the loggia. Despite being only 37 years old, the musician had a very interesting appearance with an old face, and he suffered from progressive paralysis.

Violinist (1915)

Iakovleff and his friends, who were students of the school of Kardovsky, discovered sangina, an artistic material that they mastered to perfection. The brilliant molding of the form was completed by subtle work on light and shadow gradations. Portraits and nudes were particularly expressive in this technique. Iakovleff used the warm tonality of sanguine in all the variety of its nuances.


Sanguine (French: sanguine from Latin sanguis ‘blood’) is a drawing material in the form of a thick, unsharpened pencil or bar of red colour, which consists of a mixture of white clay, iron oxide pigments and vegetable glue. The colour of ‘red chalk’ varies from deep brown to terracotta. Sanguine drawings are lightfast, pleasing to the eye and inexpensive in terms of material cost. Chalk crumbles off the paper, so artists cover the work with varnish or hide it under glass.

The painting technique became popular during the Renaissance because sanguine was easy to spread, created translucent shades and perfectly conveyed the tones of the nude body. Baroque masters appreciated sanguine for its ability to reflect the texture of an object, to create smooth colour transitions or bright ‘dense’ lines. In the heyday of rococo and classicism artists preferred the technique of ‘three pencils’ – a combination of sanguine, black and white chalk. Masters of the XX century did not do without sanguine in drawing sketches of portraits and figurative compositions. The red bar has been an indispensable tool for artists for ten centuries and continues to be so.

You will find sanguine masterpieces among the paintings of Leonardo da Vinci ‘The Last Supper. The Apostle James’ 1495 and “Madonna with a Spindle” 1501. The master with laconic strokes and light touches of chalk creates subtly emotional, spiritualised images. Raphael Santi left his descendants the richest collection of sketches and sketches of famous frescoes. ‘Psyche offers Venus water Styx’, and ‘The Wedding of Alexander and Roxana’ 1517,  demonstrate the mastery of the use of sanguine in drawing the nude human body. Peter Paul Rubens also didn’t ignore the technique. The portraits of the artist’s son Nicholas Rubens 1621 and 1627 can hardly be called sketches. Rubens combines sanguine and charcoal drawing on paper, adds tiny touches of ink and… the drawings come to life.

The characteristic pictorial motif, the character of the preparatory drawing, the way of building volumes and space, the development of light and shadow effects and the compositional solution correspond to the creative manner of Alexandre Iakovleff.

Nude (1935)

Ballerinas have repeatedly become heroines of Alexandre Iakovleff’s works. In the 1920s, the artist repeatedly depicted the legend of world ballet and his close friend Anna Pavlova. In the 1930s, Iakovleff worked a lot on private commissions, including sketches of scenery for the ballet ‘Semiramida’ for Ida Rubinstein’s tour of the Grand Opera House in Paris (1934).

The 1935 drawing shows the ballerina and choreographer Nina Vershinina (1910-1995). In the mid-1920s, her parents sent Nina and her younger sister to Paris, where they began studying with Olga Preobrazhenskaya, a ballerina of the Imperial Theatres. In 1929 she made her Paris debut in Ida Rubinstein’s group, and in the 1930s she performed in L.F. Myasin’s ballet to music by Tchaikovsky, The Omen (1933) and B.F. Nijinskaya’s ballets in Monte Carlo. Nina Vershinina then began dancing in modern ballet in Germany, England and later in the USA. She worked as a choreographer for the San Francisco Opera and the Cuban Ballet. In 1957 the Ballet Nina Vershinina was created in Brazil and successfully existed for many years. Subsequently, she opened her own ballet studio, which produced many Brazilian ballerinas.

Nina Vershinina (1935)

Iakovleff's drawings are highly sought after in the art market, whether they portray kabuki theatre actors or exotic characters from his travels to Africa. His artworks can be found in many museum and private collections. Iakovleff's life was full of unique experiences, adventures, and bright events, which contributed to his creative expression.

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