The totally unique Russian neoclassicist travel painter, Alexander Evgenievich Yakovlev. In the early 1900s, he travelled to Italy, Spain, Mongolia, China, Japan, France, Vietnam, Syria, Iran Afghanistan and Africa. His untimely death in Paris surely robbed us of so much more.
In 1938, an obscure Russian neoclassicist painter named Alexandre Yevgenievich Yakovlev died in Paris aged just 51 after unsuccessful surgery for an unknown complaint. He left behind a scattergun, neoclassical travel diary of wonderful images of Italy, Spain, Mongolia, China, Japan, France, Vietnam and Africa. In 1938, neoclassicism wasn’t anything new, the revival of the styles and spirit of classic antiquity began in Europe in 1760 as a reaction against the then dominant Rococo style.
But Yakovlev did his neoclassicism differently. He was a born traveller and he took it on the road.
Yakovlev, an ethnic Russian, studied from 1905-13 at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg and worked for art magazines like Apollon, Satiricon, Niva and New Satiricon. He befriended another Academy student, Vasiliy Shukhaev, and the pair became so inseparable they were known as “The Twins”. Then the wanderlust kicked in. In 1913 he was allowed to study abroad and, together with his “twin” Shukhaev, went to Italy and Spain. There The Twins painted an double self-portrait of themselves as Harlequin and Pierrot. Yakovlev returned to Russia in 1915. Two years later, from 1917-1919 he went to Mongolia, China, and Japan before settling in Paris and obtaining French citizenship.
In 1924, his work was part of the painting event in the art competition of 1924s Summer Olympics. Then, between 1924 and 1925 he was travelling again, as part of the Croisière Noire (Black Cruise) expedition team into the Sahara desert and Equatorial Africa organized by André Citroën as an awareness raising exercise for his car brand and to showcase the potential of opening up a regular motorized road across the African continent. His African paintings were a huge success and as a result Jacovleff was awarded the Legion of Honor by the French government in 1926.
Yakovlev’s unique painting style, whilst grounded in neoclassism, ranged from Renaissance to Primitivism and later took on African influences and a new exoticism.
Between 1931 and 1932, he was the Artistic Adviser of another Citroën expedition, this time across Asia and named the Yellow Expedition. He travelled through Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and China, and made a number of orientalist style paintings.
From 1934 to 1937 Jacovleff worked in America as the Director of the Painting Department of the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. He spent the last months of his life, still painting, in Paris and in Capri, Southern Italy.
His early death in Paris surely robbed us (and Yakovlev) of so much more.
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