In 1955, a Russian émigré died alone, unknown and in poverty at the hôpital de Lagny to the north of Paris. After leading a hermit’s existence in his small room at the hotel de la Rochefoucault in Paris, this former Russian aristocrat had created a fascinating body of work which, deemed eccentric and worthless, was locked away in storage and forgotten.
Throughout his solitary life, the artist had painted works that reflected his various obsessions with martyrdom, asceticism, decadence, spirituality and sexuality. Executed in a style marked by the Russian art nouveau, his imagery nevertheless transcended this movement, bearing undeniable traces of demented vision, indeed, genius.
Only in 1962 did some of his works come to light when Bertrand Collin du Bocage and Georges Martin du Nord discovered forty canvases in the Marché aux Puces, a large flea market to the north of Paris. All the works in this unusual collection were signed with a stylized ‘K’ monogram.
The Hungarian merchant who sold the lot to them included with it a poster of an exhibition held in Galerie Le Roy, Brussels, in 1924. Here, for the first time, the full name of the mysterious ‘K’ was revealed – Nicolas Kalmakoff.
After lying in darkness and obscurity for thirty-seven years, Kalmakoff’s works were finally exhibited at Galerie Motte Paris in February of 1964. This led to the discovery of twenty-four new works in Metz – including an entire series which once decorated a chapel dedicated (ironically) to the resurrected called Chapelle Fortin du Résurrectoire. Four years later, another exhibition followed at Galerie Jacques Henri Perrin.
Finally, in May of 1986, a large exhibition of his collected works was organized by Musée-galerie de la Seita, resulting in the colour monograph: KALMAKOFF, L’Ange de l’Abîme, 1873 – 1955. A documentary film by Annie Tresgot (also called L’Ange de l’Abîme) provided interviews with Kalmakoff’s contemporaries. Through these various sources (all in French), a shadowy and fragmented picture of the recluse emerges.
And yet, the works themselves – many of them self-portraits – invite a myriad of speculations onto the artist’s life and his very unique view onto the world. Did his spiritual ideals drive him towards an extreme asceticism, which then had the contrary effect of releasing onto his canvases a rich profusion of repressed eroticism, effeminism, misogyny and narcissism – culminating in delusions of Satanhood and even Godhood? The enigma of his life and works remains unsolved – a labyrinth into which the speculative writer (and curious reader) wanders at his own risk…
via VISIONARY REVUE.