Artist to Know: David Burliuk

Liz Catalano
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Bonhams Offers Paintings by the ‘Father of Russian Futurism’

Known as a controversial figure in early 20th-century Russia, David Burliuk took pleasure in subverting expectations. He often shouted his poetry from the street corners, painted nonsensical designs on his face, wore statement earrings and high heels, and intentionally misdated his paintings to confuse future biographers. Burliuk’s art mirrored his life. He flitted from one avant-garde movement to the next as quickly as he crossed international borders. Yet throughout his career, Burliuk was known as a powerful Futurist with global influence. 

Several works by David Burliuk will come to auction with Bonhams in the upcoming Russia Sale. The auction will start at 9:00 AM EDT on June 9th, 2021. Get to know the artist before placing a bid.

David Burliuk in 1914. Image from the public domain.
David Burliuk in 1914. Image from the public domain.

Born in Ukraine and raised in Russia, David Burliuk split his college years between Munich and Paris. He absorbed the principles of Cubism, Fauvism, and other emerging art movements while studying at the École des Beaux-Arts. Burliuk then observed the outrageous style of the Futurists after touring Europe with Vladimir Mayakovsky and Vasily Kamensky. Immediately, Burliuk felt a connection to the youth, violence, and eccentricity of the Italian-born movement. 

Burliuk could never settle on a particular style. He delighted in shocking the Russian public with his written and painted works. Burliuk helped pen a Futurist manifesto, titled “A Slap in the Face of Public Taste,” after the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture expelled him for his radical ideas. “Life has no meaning when one lives only for the sake of meat cutlets and the rewards of material success. Life assumes a meaning then, and only then, when the soul enters into the possibility of new art,” Burliuk later wrote about his philosophy.

Though Burliuk produced fewer pieces than his fellow Russian Futurists, he had an eye for up-and-coming talent. He helped fellow Futurists obtain exhibition spaces, access radical writings, and pay for groceries. Burliuk styled himself as the “father of Russian Futurism” and was known as such during his lifetime.

David Burliuk, Morning Still Life, c. 1910s. Image from Bonhams.
David Burliuk, Morning Still Life, c. 1910s. Image from Bonhams.

Burliuk favored poetry but approached art with a near academic focus. The upcoming Bonhams sale will feature a still life from his experimental years. Morning Still Life is one of the few surviving Burliuk paintings from the early 1910s. After the artist left Russia in a hurry, many of his early works fell into disrepair. Tenants in a countryside dacha allowed damage to the paintings from chickens and the elements. A friend later rescued and repaired the salvageable pieces, including the available lot. Fauvism and primitivism clash in Morning Still Life, which places a loaf of bread beside two pitchers. Bonhams will present this lot with an estimate of USD 260,000 to $310,000. 

Amid the chaos of World War I, Burliuk fled Russia for Siberia. He spent some time in the East, where he helped launch a new Japanese Futurist movement. Burliuk then settled in the United States. He supported Russian artists from afar and managed pro-communism print publications. While in America, Burliuk saw his career and popularity rise. As always, Burliuk oscillated between styles and subjects, moving from the industrialist “Radio-style” to social realism.

David Burliuk, In the Church, 1922. Image from the public domain.
David Burliuk, In the Church, 1922. Image from the public domain.

At auction, Burliuk’s Cubo-Futurist paintings tend to be the most popular. In the Church, for example, sold for $668,240 with Sotheby’s in 2007. This 1922 composition employs the muted color palette of the Cubists but keeps the figures mostly intact. Experimental Burliuk paintings typically sell for $50,000 or less. However, few pieces from Burliuk’s Russia years still survive. As Burliuk’s influence spread beyond Eastern Europe, almost all of these early works moved toward museums instead of the private market. 

Burliuk’s vivacity was well-remembered after his death in 1967. The New York Times linked the artist’s diverse oeuvre to his larger-than-life personality: “This is painting at its most high-spirited; as such it communicates the great vitality that obviously went into making it.” For an artist always chasing the possibilities of new art, this legacy is especially fitting. 

David Burliuk’s Morning Still Life and other paintings will be available on June 9th, 2021 at 9:00 AM EDT. Visit Bonhams for the complete catalog and to place a bid. 

Auction Daily regularly profiles modern and contemporary artists. Check out our coverage of Greek-American neon artist Chryssa Vardea.

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