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Monday, 9 September 2013

nikolai kalmakoff: 'the beardsley of st petersburg'

Angel Of The Abyss, undated
Salome Sphinx, 1928
Household Spirits, 1927
Taurus, 1927
Nikolai Konstantin Kalmakoff was a Russian-Italian aristocrat born on the Italian riviera in 1873, a symbolist painter, part of the 'visionary' movement, an eccentric, recluse, occultist and misogynist who died, long-forgotten, in poverty in Paris in 1955. Most of his paintings are lost. Those that remain were, for the most part, only found by chance at a fleamarket in the 60s. Now those paintings go for thousands at auction. Although almost as classic (and possibly repellent) as his life story in their decadent themes, filled with monstrous Medusa women and sphinxes, Salome and the minotaur, not to mention devils, Kalmakoff's art also still looks as if it really did come from another realm. Technicolour, intense, beautiful and sometimes frightening, Kalmakoff's labyrinth is definitely one where the demons are as enticing as they are menacing.

"She made me live in an imaginary world taken from the Brothers Grimm with a sprinkling of ETA Hoffmann. I devoured those tales with delight. Around the age of nine I would often wander into the furthermost room of our house, where I would carefully conceal myself. Then, alone in the darkness, I would call upon the devil to appear."

Kalmakoff on his childhood German governess (and earliest influence), from the Visionary Revue, which has the full story on his life as well as a complete gallery of his work.

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