SURVAGE Leopold
Born in Moscow July 31, 1879 in the Gregorian calendar, the son of a Finnish father and a Danish mother. Destined to become an architect, Survage enters the Moscow Fine Arts Academy. There he meets Lorionov, Falk, Soudekin and turns his attention towards painting. Having discovered Matisse in the Shchukin collection, Survage went to Paris in 1908 to attend courses at the Academy that Matisse had just opened in the former Couvent des Oiseaux. But he soon discovered Cézanne's work, and later he made the acquaintance of the Cubists, with whom he exhibited at the Salon des Indépendants in 1912. Although he was not one of the creators of Cubism, he joined the movement when it was still growing and the struggle waged by its followers left the door open to any development. In 1917 he came to the austere initial Cubism that bore the mark of Picasso and the Frenchmen who were its originators, among whom Braque and Léger have remained the most original. There was in element of freshness in his work that recalled his Russian origin, an inclination for imagery and light colours. What he brought to the movement was not naïveté but rather a spontaneity that did not exclude reasoning.
Survage was not really a Cubist. His art, in spite of his desire for construction, was dominated above all by a very personal concept of space. While French Cubism, also concerned with construction, applied itself chiefly to the analysis and recomposition of objects and their volumes, Survage was more drawn to spatial problems. Thus he was less attracted by still life than by landscape. In his work city streets broke into large planes that folded and unfolded like the panels of a screen. He was also concerned with the presence of man, a mysterious presence that he more often suggested by the shadow of a figure than by the figure itself. The result was a strange solitude, haunted by tranquil phantoms, and created by a close contact between nature, its atmosphere and the order that man imposes upon it.
Later, like the other Cubists, he escaped the too rigorous system to which he had originally adhered, but in all his work the same themes can be found. By temperament he was particularly suited for large decorations. Diaghilev understood this and commissioned settings for the ballet Mavra from him. In addition Survage had the opportunity to execute, for the Paris International Exhibition of 1937, large murals in which he was able to give his imagination free rein. On the largest surfaces he succeeds in preserving his qualities of freshness and gaiety, and even in his more recent production, in which he appears to have drifted away from the picturesqueness of his early work, the continuity of his thought can be followed, always directed toward a synthesis of space and movement.
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