Nikolai Aleksandrovich TARKHOFF
Also known as: Tarkhov, Alexandrovh, Alexandrovitch
Nicolas Alexandrovich Tarkhoff (Николай Александрович Тархов) was born in Moscow on 20 January 1871 into a family of wealthy merchants. He showed early artistic vocation, "having always had a fervent desire to be a painter" (1). Nevertheless, he enlisted in the provincial militia at the age of eighteen to fulfil his military service obligations and subsequently found employment at the Brest-Litovsk Railways, thus delaying his entry into the world of art.
In 1894, he took the admission test for the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow, against the will of his father. The school jury, although less conservative than that of St. Petersburg, refused him admission because of his revolutionary temperament. In 1897, he joined the studio of the impressionist painter Konstantin Korovin Alexeivich (his elder by ten years) in Moscow. There he met Pavel Kuznetsov, Vasily Polenov and Valentin Serov.
The small group painted with ingenuity the nude models proposed by Korovin: "Everyone was supposed to paint with bold sweeping movements, using a wide brush before going into the details and nuances.”(2)
1894-1898: MOSCOW. FIRST CRÉATIONS, FIRST SUCCESS.
The first works from Nicolas Tarkhoff’s studio were exhibited in 1897 at the 17th exhibition of the Society of Fine Arts in Moscow, alongside those of Levitan, Korovin and Serov, and were supported by the Muscovite public. He was said to paint in an entirely new way. He also participated in the first exhibition of the World of Art (Мир искусства). Despite this early success, he decided to leave the Moscow art circle, and in 1898 took the train to Munich where a community of Russian artists lived. In December of the same year he settled permanently in Paris - the radiant centre of artistic creation - where he had previously stayed with his friend the painter Nicolas Millioti. He already spoke excellent French thanks to the French nanny of his childhood.
He first joined the studio of Jean-Paul Laurens (Académie Julian) to improve his drawing technique, but he disagreed with the master and finally drew the way he wanted. He also worked with Luc-Olivier Merson. During his academic studies he also visited galleries and salons, and became very enthusiastic about the works of Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne and Carrière, whose work, he claimed, "revealed his own hidden talents and showed him the way.”(3)
1898-1910: THE PARIS YEARS. INTERNATIONAL RECOGNITION.
The capital offered Nicolas Tarkhoff the most exciting themes of Parisian life. He rendered the swirling flow of crowds on the boulevards, the magic of the fairgrounds and carnivals, the racing hansom cabs, the flow of the Seine and market scenes with assertive style and an instinctive force. He travelled to Brittany and returned with powerful seascapes. He went out of Paris regularly by train or bicycle to enjoy the beautiful and peaceful landscape of the Vallée de Chevreuse (south of Paris) where he set up his easel.
He shaped his art day after day and even created his own theory: "Reproduce to the utmost the life of forms by the richness of their colours." (4) These forms were organised on the canvas with spirited touches that started to yield to abstraction. This “impressionist of instinct" (5) with his independent and passionate character, invented or reinvented an entire artistic universe through his own pictoral language. His rapid and incisive strokes were impressionistic, divisive or synthetic; sometimes projected in an expressionist light that brought him closer to the "Fauves". Brushstrokes always guided by his ardour and his own personal perception of painting.
The works of Nicolas Tarkhoff quickly seduced art critics (Apollinaire, Forthuny, Ary-Leblond, Mercereau). He participated in the main Parisian and European collective events: the Salon of Independents, from 1901 the Salon of the Society of Fine Arts, the Salon d'Automne, of which he became an associate in 1907, and those of Brussels, Berlin, Venice, Rome, New York (Armory Show in 1913)... He joined the Union of Russian Artists (6) and exhibited regularly in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In 1904, he met Yvonne Deltreil whom he married on 15 April 1905. This young woman, mother of a five year old boy, had accompanied him throughout his life and courageously supported his passion. In March 1905, Jean was born, followed in August of the next year by Boris. From this time on, his painting became more figurative, but expressed always in a "fragmented fashion, mobile, with drips of paint, all values entwined [...], always with the full magnificence of colour."(7) He abandoned the vast space of the street and the crowds in motion for the intimate atmosphere of his Parisian apartment. The "Portraits" and "Maternities", painted with tenderness, became the inexhaustible subjects of family happiness. He later said he preferred this theme to his other work.
In May 1906, Ambroise Vollard, who exhibited notably Cezanne, Renoir, Picasso, Matisse and Van Dongen, organised a major exhibition devoted to his work. It was a great success. The gallery even offered to buy all his production ... but at a price so low that Nicolas Tarkhoff angrily refused. The break up was brutal and the artist lost valuable support. However, other patrons, like Berthe Weill, Eugène Druet, Edouard Devambez, welcomed him to their Parisian galleries. So the success continued as did the purchases by enthusiasts.
In 1909 Nicolas Tarkhoff left the apartment-studio in rue Belloni with his family for a very comfortable one on Montparnasse (Paris). From the window of his apartment on Place du Maine, he painted the flamboyant colours of the locomotive steam in the intensity of a burning sun. He composed night scenes, in which horses and carriages came alive in lantern light... In the same year, his art critic friends Marius and Ary Leblond devoted several pages to his work in their book “Peintres de Race”, which included Gauguin and Van Gogh.
In 1910, a major exhibition was dedicated to him in the 7th Salon organised by the Apollo (Аполлон) Review (8) in St. Petersburg. His works, loaned to the exhibition by famous collectors (Zadok Kahn, Baron Rothschild, Frantz Jourdain ...) and the French State bore witness to his success and international recognition in his home country. At the Salon d'Automne of 1911 in Paris, Guillaume Apollinaire noticed his paintings: Here are "[...] the colourful paintings of the Fauves, [...] here are more beautiful paintings by Tarkhoff ". (9)
1911-1930 : ORSAY. FAR FROM THE CITY. THE “PEASANT PAINTER”.
Far from the sophisticated Parisian life, Nicolas TARKHOFF aspired to paint as close to nature as the Impressionists, side byt side with the peasants of the land (10). This environment favourable to creativity was a theme in harmony with his now appeased temperament. In 1911, he takes a major decision with serious consequences: he decided to leave Paris definitively with his wife and his children (11). They settled in Orsay, a small village in the Vallee de Chevreuse, in a house surrounded by trees, fields and animals; a place that he had painted before. There was a happy event in August 1912: the birth of his daughter Hortensia.
But this retreat gradually isolated him from the constantly changing artistic world. Only a few friends, like Chagall, Lhote and Luce, maintained occasional contact with him. Financial difficulties were beginning to develop. Then came the First World War causing a dramatic drop in sales. Moreover, the Bolshevik Revolution in Russia in 1917 - to which the couple adhered enthusiastically - damaged his relations with his Russian friends (Benois, Serov, Makovsky). His financial situation had become increasingly worrying: "[...] because of the real estate crisis and reactionary ideas of the people, I have to fight every day to survive. Add to that the crisis in the art market and the difficulty in selling my paintings."(12) He participated in the Salons less and less. Derain helped him financially by buying some of his works. He even considered the possibility of returning to in Russia. The 1920s became more and more gruelling: he was exhausted by illnesses and Hortensia’s decision in 1929 to leave her family was a real tragedy for him.
He died on 30 June 1930 in abject poverty. A retrospective of his work was organised the same year in the Salon d'Automne. This was the last spark of recognition before falling into oblivion. A Parisian gallery owner Madeleine Oury, the wife of his painter friend Marcel-Lenoir, helped Yvonne Deltreil by buying many of the studio’s works. These were rediscovered by passionate collectors around the 1960s. One of them, Oscar Ghez, devoted a whole section to him in his Museum of the Petit Palais in Geneva (Switzerland) and in 1981 organised several exhibitions in Russia, France, Spain and the United States. In 2014, the City of Orsay paid tribute to him. Today, a significant portion of his paintings is in Moscow, Russia: the country to which he had dreamed of returning.
1. Pascal Forthuny, Preface to the catalogue of the exhibition at the Galerie Druet, 1909.
2. P. Kuztnetsov, Mastera of iskusstve iskusstva, Moscow, Izd-vo Iskusstvo 1970.
3. Sergei Makovsky. Apollo Review (Аполлон), No. 12, December 1910.
4. Pascal Forthuny, Preface to the catalogue of the exhibition at the Galerie Druet, 1909.
5. See above.
6. During the crisis that had affected the Union of Russian Artists in 1910, Nicolas Tarkhoff joined the secessionists in the World of Art (Мир искусства).
7. See above.
8. Apollo Review (Аполлон) was a leading Russian monthly magazine on painting, music, literature and theatre that appeared from 1909 to 1917 in St. Petersburg. The editor-in-chief from 1909 was Sergei Makovsky.
9. Guillaume Apollinaire, Promenade at the Autumn Show, Grand Palais, 1911.
10. In his letter to A.N. Benois in December 1911, Tarkhoff wrote: "I live in solitude and work as a peasant on his plot of land." Correspondence in Nicolas Tarkhoff, Valentina Byalik, Moscow 2006. Translation by Michel Bacalu.
11. Jean-Baptiste-Eugène-Alberic, the son of Yvonne Deltreil, goes to live with his maternal grandmother in Bordeaux (France), in 1916.
12. Letter Tarkhoff to I.E. Grabar, in January 1928. Correspondence in Nicolas Tarkhoff, Valentina Byalik, Moscow 2006. Translation by Michel Bacalu.