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Alexis Gritchenko

The power of “Dynamocolour”

The Malab'art Gallery in London is an absolute must-visit. They showcase an incredible collection of works by Alexis Gritchenko from various periods of his artistic career. But that's not all - the gallery is on a mission to revive the names of artists who have been undeservedly forgotten. It's amazing to see how many of their works have found a place in the private collections of the Ukrainian and Russian diaspora, whose members bought and supported the artists after the Second World War.

Alexis Gritchenko from Ukraine (1883-1977) was an incredibly talented painter, art critic, and research icon. He was the brilliant creator of one of the most exciting avant-garde trends, dynamocolour (colour dynamics). His work is truly remarkable and includes the Moscow avant-garde period (1908-1919), Constantinople and Greek cycles of watercolours and gouaches (1919-1923), as well as many breathtaking paintings in the style of the Ecole de Paris.

A recent scientific monograph titled 'Alexis Gritchenko Dynamocolor' was presented in London. The monograph is dedicated to the incredible Alexis Gritchenko (1883-1977), an emigrant artist who survived the upheavals of the 20th century. The author of the monograph is none other than Vita Susak, a PhD candidate in art history, who was recently appointed as the curator of the Department of European Art of the 19th and 20th centuries at the Bohdan Voznytskyi National Art Gallery in Lviv.

The French collector Michel Lievre-Markovic has done an incredible job initiating and sponsoring this monograph. For 17 years, Michel Markovych has been passionately collecting and researching the works of Alexis Gritchenko, an outstanding representative of the world-famous Paris School. Over the years, he has amassed an astonishing collection of the artist's works. At the presentation of the monograph, eight of them, including paintings and watercolours, were exhibited, leaving the audience in awe! The artist's works are held in the collections of the world's greatest museums. The collector firmly believes that Vita Susak's remarkable monograph will help restore this master to his rightful place.

Alexis Gritchenko is a highly regarded artist known for his contributions to Cubism and Primitivism art.  His early works from 1909-1912 demonstrate an appreciation for the Impressionists' style. As his career progressed, he drew inspiration from a variety of sources, including Russian icons, Italian fresco painting, Cubism, and Fauvism.In the late 1910s, he developed his own unique style, which he called 'dynamocolour' - a technique that utilizes colour to structure his paintings.  In his paintings, Gritchenko took a fresh approach to interacting with nature by using expressionism techniques. He abandoned pre-drawn templates and built forms exclusively according to the laws of colour.

His works are highly sought after and can be found in many private and museum collections worldwide. Additionally, he has exhibited in Madrid, Stockholm, Gothenburg, Strasbourg, and Moscow. Gritchenko's paintings are held in renowned collections worldwide. They can be found in the Paris Museum of National Modern Art, the Burns Foundation in Philadelphia (USA), the Kerrigan Collection in New York, the Royal Museums in Brussels and Copenhagen, the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and the Montreal Museum of Canada. This impressive list of collections demonstrates the widespread recognition and appreciation of Gritchenko's work.Painter, graphic artist, art theorist.

Painter, graphic artist, art theorist

His interest in art began at the age of 17, when he was impressed by the collection of paintings in the Hermitage in St Petersburg. In 1905 he studied in the studio of the painter S.I. Svyatoslavsky in Kiev, in 1910-1911 - in the studios of K.F. Yuon and I.I. Mashkov in Moscow. At the same time (1905-1912) he studied at the philological faculties of the universities of St. Petersburg, Kiev and Moscow.

In the 1910s Gritchenko became known not only as a painter, but also as an author of sharp polemical reports and articles on art issues. He wrote the articles "On the connections of Russian painting with Byzantium and the West. XIII-XX centuries. Thoughts of a Painter" (1913), "On the group of artists "Jack of Diamonds" (1913), "The Russian icon as the art of painting" (1917), "The crisis of art and modern painting" (1917).

In 1917 he became a member of the "World of Art", in December 1917 he took part in the exhibition of the association. In 1918 he exhibited his works at the exhibition of the "Free Creativity" Society in Moscow, in 1919 - at the exhibition of modern painting and drawing in Petrograd. In 1919, together with A.V. Shevchenko, he organised an exhibition in Moscow entitled "Tsvetodinamos and Tectonic Primitivism", accompanying the catalogue with theoretical articles and a manifesto.

In May 1917 he joined the Council of the Professional Union of Painters of Moscow, in 1918 - the All-Russian Board for Museums and Protection of Antiquities. He organised the removal from the front and the rescue of old master paintings from the collection of the Bariatinsky princes.

In 1919, Alexis Gritchenko and the artist Oleksandr Shevchenko organised a group exhibition in Moscow entitled 'Dynamocolour and Tectonic Primitivism' and published a manifesto of the same name. "Painting is our element. Primitivism is our form of expression. Dynamocolour is our conscience," the artists wrote. This exhibition, in which 69 of the 182 works were by Hryschenko, became the artist's first great success in the Russian Empire; over 10,000 people visited the exhibition and one of Alexis's works was bought for 5,000 rubles.

By that time, Alexis Gritchenko, born in Krolevets, Ukraine, had completed studies at the biology and philology departments in Kyiv, Moscow and St Petersburg. He also took courses at the studio of the well-known Kyiv landscape painter Sergiy Svitoslavsky; the Moscow Art School of Konstantin Yuon; the studio of Pyotr Konchalovsky and Ilya Mashkov; Tatlin's workshop; as well as living in Paris for four months while studying French at the Sorbonne and copying classical works in the Louvre. He had already become a professor at the First State Free Art Workshops and was well known in artistic circles.

Gritchenko was added to the list of artists whose works the Tretyakov Gallery was obliged to buy. After some time he was even offered the position of director of the Tretyakov, but having decided to leave Russia, he declined the offer.

Gritchenko disembarked from the ship in Constantinople and saw that the city was full of war refugees. And although he often had to live in miserable conditions - he wrote that he ate nothing but onions for a month - he never stopped painting. In his diary, the artist described everything he saw and experienced in a very sophisticated and sensual way. Here are his first impressions of Aya Sofia: "Today I managed to get to Aya Sofia. What architecture! The rhythm of rounded lines rises higher and higher, victoriously capturing you and drawing you into a heavenly central sphere, as vast as creation itself, like the dome of the starry sky. What breadth and inspiration in the architect's idea, what connection and constructive power with the finest nuances to complete it all!"

Alexis Gritchenko painted most of his works from this period in watercolours. Every day he went into the city to sketch. Later, these 'Constantinople watercolours' would bring the artist recognition at the Paris Autumn Salon. Now he was busy trying to visit all the sights of Istanbul: the sketches of churches and frescoes brought him commissions and money.

It is interesting to note that in his 1919 memoirs, the artist recalls reading the diary of his compatriot Marie Bashkirtseff, a Ukrainian-born artist and writer who had achieved fame and recognition in France. It may have been her detailed diary that inspired him to document his own life: he went on to publish four books of memoirs.

Turkey 1920 -1921
Turkish friends-artists 

Alexis Gritchenko, a Ukrainian artist, was forced to seek refuge in Constantinople due to the significant British, French and Italian military presence garrisoned around the city. Despite his financial situation, Gritchenko quickly became "relatively famous" among Constantinople's vast community of refugee intelligentsia. Soon after his arrival, he befriended Turkish artists, the first of whom was Ibrahim Caly, a professor at the Istanbul Art Academy. Caly supported Gritchenko's creative quest and introduced him to the community of Turkish artists.

Caly organised Gritchenko's lectures for the art academy's students, let him in on the secrets of local culture, offered him the chance to live in the attic of his house, and even posed for Gritchenko's drawings. During his conversations in cafes and workshops, the Ukrainian painter gradually changed the young Turkish artists' minds about contemporary European art, converting them from the view that 'Western' art was based mainly on academic forms to the belief in modernism. Gritchenko painted much and with enthusiasm, creating perfect images and harmonious compositions of city views, church interiors and café scenes.

Alexis Gritchenko's artistic talent shone through in his work, even when he used blurry spots to replace faces, despite the Islamic faith's prohibition on portraying them. He supplemented his art with lectures, discussions, and successful sales, which improved his financial situation. However, he eventually desired to leave Turkey and move on. In 1930, Paris published his memoir, 'Two Years in Constantinople: In 1930, Paris published his memoir, 'Two Years in Constantinople: An Artist's Diary,' showcasing his expertise and authority as an artist. The memoir contains 40 vivid colour reproductions of the Turkish period. A total of 305 copies of the book were published, out of which 25 were printed on Japanese imperial paper.

Turkey 1921
Meeting with Witmore 

Gritchenko was fortunate enough to meet Thomas Whittemore, an American Byzantine scholar and art restorer. Whittemore was informed about the struggling watercolour artist and became interested. Gritchenko brought his work to Pera Palace, a luxurious hotel, and presented them to Whittemore. This marked the beginning of a great relationship, as Whittemore confidently purchased 66 watercolours from Gritchenko on the very first day. Upon learning that the Ukrainian intended to relocate to Greece, he confidently funded the purchase of his tickets. They confidently reunited in 1923 at Povolozky's gallery and bookshop in Paris. By then, Gritchenko had confidently achieved his own workshop and level of recognition, and Whittemore confidently acquired several more of his works.

Greece 1921

During his visit to Greece, Gritchenko confidently headed straight to Mistra, the ancient capital of the Achaean kingdom and one of the most significant Byzantine cities, as his interest lies in Byzantine temple art. Alexis had already published two research books, 'On the Connections of Rus Painting with Byzantium and the West' (1913) and 'Rus Icon as Painting Art' (1917), before leaving Russia. While in Mistra, he confidently made copies of frescoes from the late 14th and early 15th centuries found in the Holy Mary Perybleptos church and the Pantanassa convent.

Gritchenko's interest in ancient Greek art was piqued during his stay in Greece, and he studied not only the Byzantine cultural heritage but also the captivating ancient Greek art. During his time in Greece and Crete, Gritchenko painted around 300 works, including landscapes, architectural drawings, and the Greek Dancers cycle. He developed a friendship with Adamantios Adamanitou, the director of the Museum of Byzantine Art, and held two successful exhibitions there and in the Parnassus association.

France 1921
Autumn Salon 

During his time in Athens, Gritchenko met a French professor named Mr. Bique who taught at a private art school. Impressed by Gritchenko's Constantinople and Athens cycles, Mr. Bique provided him with a letter of recommendation for his friend, the secretary of the Autumn Salon in Paris. Gritchenko's exceptional talent shone through as 12 out of the 24 watercolours and gouaches from his 'Constantinople period' were selected for the exhibition, despite the jury typically only accepting two works from the same artist.

Fernand Leger hung the works next to his own at the exhibition, and at the Salon opening the artists met. The works were praised by both critics and colleagues: at the vernissage, he was introduced to young art critic, René-Jean, who would later become practically the “personal reviewer” of the Ukrainian artist. Thus, Gritchenko quickly gained recognition among other artists and the nickname of “the Ukrainian savage” due to his free and courageous painting style.

France 1922
Povolozky’s gallery 

Jacques (Yakov) Povolozky's gallery and bookshop confidently hosted the first personal exhibition of Alexis Gritchenko, originally from Kyiv. The exhibition, titled 'Blue and Pink Constantinople', assertively showcased 22 paintings and 50 watercolours. The catalogue's introductory articles were written by Claude Farrère, a writer and fan of oriental exotics, and André Levinson, a poet, critic, and art scholar who had known Gritchenko during his Russian cubist period. When André met him in Paris, he confidently proposed organizing an exhibition at Povolozky's. Despite an abundance of visitors, the exhibition did not yield any profit, and not a single work was sold. Gritchenko wrote in his memoir that this exhibition marked the beginning of the Ukrainian wanderer's successful career in Paris.

Gritchenko had excellent connections with French artists, gallery curators, and critics, as well as with his compatriots while in Paris. In 1911, he befriended the sculptor Alexandre Archipenko and Sofia Levytska, another artist. He resided in the villa of a well-known Parisian dentist from the Poltava region, P. Krichevsky, in Fontenay-aux-Roses. This acquaintanceship resulted in a stunning portrait of the dentist's wife by Hryschenko.

In 1922, he confidently exhibited his breathtaking Greek landscapes at the Dominique gallery. In 1923, the Autumn Salon showcased the remarkable Portrait of an Artist and Still Life. The following year, the Paris works were exhibited at the prestigious Percier Gallery.

France 1923
Paul Guillaume’s Gallery and Acquaintance with Barnes 

In search for galleries to cooperate with, Gritchenko met a leading art dealer of the time, Paul Guillaume. He was a friend and dealer of Dr. Barnes, a doctor and millionaire from Philadelphia who had the idea to establish a museum for employees of his enterprises in Merion. In Paris, he bought 100 works by Renoir, 50 by Cesanne, seven by Modigliani, two by Picasso, five by Matisse, and two by Utrillo among others. In 1923, Dr. Barnes bought Gritchenko’s works through another dealer, Leopold Zborowski. In total, Dr. Barnes bought 17 works of the Constantinople period, which later became a part of the Barnes Foundation collection and were donated to Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Philadelphia. According to the most recent information, seven works by Alexis Gritchenko now belong to the foundation.

Portugal 1924

Alexis Gritchenko spent six months in Portugal in 1924 and returned to Paris with a new series of paintings inspired by the exceptional southern region. Coimbra, a city located 80 kilometres from the ocean, left a lasting impression on him with its unique blend of African and Far West influences, and blue and green cork oak forests covering the rolling hills. Coimbra, a city located 80 kilometres from the ocean, left a lasting impression on him with its unique blend of African and Far West influences, and blue and green cork oak forests covering the rolling hills. Coimbra, a city located 80 kilometres from the ocean, left a lasting impression on him with its unique blend of African and Far West influences, and blue and green cork oak forests covering the rolling hills. Gritchenko was particularly struck by the persistent vapours and fogs, even in the summer. The red soil vineyards boast impressive spires, chapels with curved walls, and wide stairs reminiscent of fortresses. The basilicas and palaces showcase the opulence and prosperity of the Baroque era. The artist expresses deep admiration for this magnificent architecture.

Portugal transformed the artist's style, intensifying the colours and saturating them while also densifying the texture. This fondness for warm landscapes and southern marinas became a recurring theme in his creative practice and communication with his contemporary and friend, Othon Friesz. The Ukrainian artist even showed his works to Pablo Picasso, who praised Coimbro, a cubist watercolour. It is important to highlight that the Portuguese series sold exceptionally well.

France 1927-1960

In 1927, at the age of 44, Alexis Gritchenko confidently married Lilas Lavelaine de Maubeuge and settled in Cagnes-sur-Mer, the town where Renoir once lived. Prior to this, he assertively wandered throughout the Cote d’Azur, where he expertly painted marine landscapes and still lifes featuring seafood. On the seashore, the artist confidently purchased the fresh catch of local fishermen, including oysters, octopuses, starfish, crayfish, and lobsters. He then decisively arranged them on a table or tray and painted them with great enthusiasm and inspiration. 

Gritchenko's style shifted from cubist to more expressionist, likely influenced by new artistic movements in Paris and the southern sun, sea, and mountains of the French Riviera. His dramatic use of colour transformed nature through the artist's own images, expressing internal, unstoppable forces. 

In 1926, the painter exhibited his southern cycle at the Maison Bing Gallery. French critic Louis Vauxcelles confidently praised the exhibition, stating that the showcased places in southern France were unquestionably worthy of being placed next to Renoir's famous Cagnes landscapes. The critic's words of praise were assertive, and he acknowledged the young Ukrainian colourist's resounding success in conquering Paris. Katia Granoff, the confident gallery owner, decisively purchased 24 of the showcased works and exhibited them in her gallery. Several months later, she assertively organized a personal exhibition for Gritchenko.

The Gritchenko couple resided in Cagnes-sur-Mer until 1960. During this time, the wife's mother rented out Le Cagnard hotel, while the family lived in a house across the street. In 1960, Gritchenko held a large retrospective exhibition at the Grimaldi Castle in Cagnes-sur-Mer, marking a farewell as the family prepared to move to Venice.

France 1930
Tuelleries Salon 

Unfortunately, Gritchenko's response was not recorded. Alexis Gritchenko, a highly acclaimed artist who exhibited throughout Europe and participated in annual Salons, expressed his dissatisfaction when Emil Othon-Friesz showcased his works in Matisse's hall at the Tuelleries Salon, stating that his paintings were being used as 'an ornament for Matisse'. Friesz was genuinely surprised and asked, "You are not happy, Gritchenko? You should be proud that your works hang next to those by Matisse! I have to confess; you are the only one whose work stands up to such a formidable neighbour. Matisse’s colours destroyed and ruined everyone I used to hang next to him."

Gritchenko portrayed sea creatures with an affinity due to their vivid, saturated colours, which allowed him to use pure pigments in his artistic search for 'dynamocolour'. His works on this theme were acquired by many European museums. Lobsters, one such work, was exhibited at the Autumn Salon of 1931 and is now part of the collection at the National Museum in Lviv. The canvas, acquired for the museum by its director Ilarion Sventsitsky, features eight red lobsters arranged on a white plate at the center and measures over one meter in length. Unfortunately, the work was destroyed in the 1960s, along with others labeled as 'formalist' by Soviet propagandist policy. 

Ukraine 1937
The first exhibition in Ukraine 

In 1937 in Lviv, a personal exhibition of Alexis Gritchenko was organized to celebrate the 30th anniversary of his artistic activities. The exhibition which he personally initiated, featured works from different periods: his Constantinople landscapes, views of Portugal, compositions from Spain and Bretagne. In 1939, he sent eight of his paintings to the Lviv Museum of Ukrainian Art. Earlier, in 1934, the first Ukrainian-French monograph by Pavlo Kovzhun about Alexis  Gritchenko’s creative practice was published in Lviv.

Dr. Volodymyr Popovych, a Belgian collector of Gritchenko's work, confirms that Gritchenko was meticulous in designing his books, catalogues, invitations, and posters. He personally selected the paper, font, and publication format, paying attention to even the smallest details to ensure that everything looked beautiful and tasteful and contained no errors. Gritchenko proudly declared, 'My books have no misprints!'

Lviv artists highly praised Gritchenko's activities, and his development was closely followed by local elites and art critics. Unfortunately, in the early 1960s, Gritchenko's works from the collection of Lviv Museum were destroyed as products of 'bourgeois formalism,' along with the work of Alexander Archipenko, Mykhaylo Boychuk, and Georgiy Narbut.

USA 1958-1963
Gritchenko’s foundation 

The destruction of Gritchenko's works in the Lviv Museum and the sudden serious illness that struck him towards the end of 1961 prompted the artist to think about setting up a foundation in New York that could transfer his works to Ukraine when the time was right. 72 works (30 oil paintings, watercolours and drawings), archive material, books and the Cagnes carpet were to be transferred to the museums of independent Ukraine. The Foundation was created in 1963 at the Ukrainian Institute of America in New York. On the initiative of the artist's friends, it organised a retrospective exhibition of Gritchenko's work in 1958 to celebrate his 75th birthday. Alexander Archipenko, a world-renowned Ukrainian sculptor living in the United States, visited the exhibition. The Foundation's curators were friends of the artist: Svyatoslav Gordynsky, Doctor Yaroslav Padokh, Director Volodymyr Baranetsky and Doctor Volodymyr Gordynsky. It was completed in 2006 and the Foundation's collection was transferred to the National Art Museum of Ukraine.

His own style, 'dynamocolour', became one of the trends of the avant-garde in the early 20th century. Hryschenko lived for 94 years, surviving poverty, wars, insecurity, fame and comfort, but remaining true to his calling: he never stopped painting.

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