Pavel Tchelitchew was a painter and stage designer of Russian birth, who lived and
worked in Russia, France, and the United States. Educated by private tutors, he
from an early age and attended art classes at the University of Moscow from 1916
1918. Moving south in 1918 to avoid the Revolution, he studied at the Kiev Academy
until 1920 and worked with Alexandra Exter. In 1920, he moved to Odessa, where
worked in the theater, and then, in 1921, to Berlin, where he again supported
himself with theater work and began to paint still lifes, figures, and portraits.
From 1923, Tchelitchew lived in Paris, where he abandoned the brightly colored
Cubo-Futurist influence of Exter in favor of a more realistic representation of
objects that served as as symbols of cosmic order, a style that was greatly indebted
to Russian symbolist painting. He became the ideologue of a small band of artists,
who became associated with the term Néo-Humanisme in France (Neo-Romanticism in
United States). The group specialized in dream-like landscapes and figures in
tones; they included Eugene Berman and his brother Leonid Berman, Christian Bérard,
and André Lanskoy.
Tchelitchew was introduced to the writer Edith Sitwell in the salon of Gertrude Stein
and their relationship became one of the most influential in Sitwell's life. He
captivated by Edith's presence and later painted her portrait several times. Over
many years she served him as muse, mother, and impresario in a tumultuous and
her, likely unfulfilling) platonic relationship.
Tchelitchew sought to define an imagery of the soul's journey to immortality. Basing
his model of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise on the vision of Renaissance
Neo-Platonists, he created an allegory of the spirit in a lengthy sequence of
pictures. The series was still unfinished at his death. In Hide and Seek, Tchelitchew's most celebrated canvas, he related the
seasons to procreation and growth by merging plant and human forms.
From 1919 to 1942, Tchelitchew also earned a reputation as one of the most innovative
stage designers of the period. His work was particularly admired for its novel
of new materials and dramatic lighting effects.
Tchelitchew lived in the United States beginning in 1934 and became an American
citizen in 1952, just before moving to Italy. His fragile health kept him abroad
until his death on July 31, 1957.