Artist: Pavel Filonov
Date: 1913–14
Media: Oil on canvas
Dimensions: 79 x 99 cm
Ownership: Russian Museum, St Petersburg
Property of the artist’s sister, Yevdokia Glebova, Leningrad (until 1974)


This picture is an excellent example of Pavel Filonov’s deep and natural perception of Russian folklore and his genuine interest in the expressive beauty of national folk customs. The canvas was painted between 1913 and 1914, when Filonov was closely studying traditional folk creativity and working on his Made Pictures manifesto.

In the list of works drawn up by the artist, this painting is entitled Shrovetide: Departure from Winter to Summer.

Shrovetide is known in Russia as maslennitsa or “butter week”. This is the national version of Mardi Gras – a week of festivities celebrating the transition from winter to spring.

Shrovetide is a time of mass fêtes, entertainments and amusements, including the customs of troika rides, swings, riding on sleighs, burning straw effigies and rolling burning wheels down hills as a symbol of the sun.

Shrovetide was originally a pagan festival, symbolising the endless chain of life and death in nature. In folk art, the motif of death and the end of one thing and the start of another lacks any sense of tragedy.

Masters of Russian folk art indulged in acts of fantasy, audaciously depicting such “non-objective” concepts as good, evil or sin. They borrowed elements from the life of man and beast, freely combining the real and the imaginary.

Such combinations were equally natural for Pavel Filonov. Portraying a festive troika, the artist paints rocking horses which look like children’s toys. Their galloping is expressed in a naive plastic “formula” typical of folk art – or Futurism (several pairs of additional legs).

The human faces of the animals introduce notes of dissonance into this world of toys. Their sorrowful facial expressions contrast the common revelry.

This clash reveals the meaning of the entire oeuvre of Pavel Filonov, which lacks concrete heroes and invokes common human values, the sense of which emerges in the battle of good and evil and darkness and light.

Pavel Filonov developed the theoretical tenets of his Made Pictures manifesto in 1913 and 1914, deriving much inspiration from Old Russian icons and folk art. The subject of the traditional multi-coloured and vocal Russian festival permits the artist to achieve a more organic realisation of his own creative ideas.

The figurative structure of the painting is based around the colours, which “eat” into the flesh of the canvas. The colours expose and enrich the plastic form of the painting, which is fluid and mobile. The grounds multiply, couples race past in decorated troikas, horses fly as if on a carousel.

The festival of life and the world of painting are intertwined and mutually reflected by the creative will of the artist, who creates “made” works that do not so much imitate matter as manifest the deep processes of the construction of the world.

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