Art: The Bestiary of Pavel Filonov

Speaker: Lauren Warner

Pavel Filonov is arguably as prodigious an artist as Goncharova, Kandinsky, Malevich or any other of the 20th century Russian greats. But, at least in the West, he is far less known. And his work has been referred to as ‘frightening’, ‘realistic to the point of horror’, filled with ‘morbid despair’, ‘offensive’ and simply ‘ugly’. Such descriptions and the general complexity of Filonov’s imagery, along with the air of mystery that still clings to the ‘myth of Leningrad’, as Filonov was once called, have contributed to his reputation as an incomprehensible figure.

This lecture investigates the man behind the myth and seeks to uncover some of the meaning of Filonov’s imagery by showing that his works are a part of the broader Russian avant-garde network. The lecture focuses on the artist’s use of animal imagery, his apparent creation of a bestiary: a reference in part to the totemic values found in Russia’s cultural heritage but also to the animals transformed by Filonov into his own, peculiar, Filonovian beasts.

Unlike the dreamy, familiar animals of Marc Chagall’s art, the animals in Filonov’s bestiary are decidedly earthbound and are, for the most part, unfamiliar to Western viewers, with only a handful of his works seen outside the former Soviet Union. Filonov’s creatures, sometimes set in jumbled cityscapes, range in expression from the expected to the shockingly anthropomorphic. Their forms are portrayed according to an engaging but bewildering spectrum of styles ranging from almost illustrative to avant-garde.

Lauren Warner

Lauren is a London-based art historian. Her research areas of interest include the Russian Silver Age, cultural iconography and Russian graphic art, especially popular prints and avant-garde books.

Upon completion of her MA in Russian art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art in June 2013, Lauren joined the Russian department at Sotheby’s London as the paintings and works on paper cataloguer for the November 2013 sales.

A staff writer for Russian Art and Culture, Lauren writes exhibition and book reviews, which have also been published in The Burlington Magazine and elsewhere. She has given talks on Russian art at places such as Pushkin House, the Courtauld Gallery and Sotheby’s. She has volunteered for the Hermitage Foundation UK and uses the Twitter handle @Bear and Goat, focusing on Russian art and culture.

Previously Lauren worked as a UK-qualified lawyer specialising in Russian dispute resolution work. Prior to that, she travelled, studied, and worked in Russia and Ukraine for several years. Lauren also obtained an MA in Russian from Bryn Mawr College.

She is currently writing a book on Pavel Filonov and his art.

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