Portrait of a Chinese Man in Profile and Study of a Hand
Alexandre Iacovleff (1887-1938)

Portrait of a Chinese Man in Profile and Study of a Hand, 1918

Red chalk and charcoal on paper., H. 0.75 mm; W. 0.52 mm

Signed, dated with title and location lower left.

Provenance: Private collection, France.


Alexandre Iacovleff, Itinérances, Boulogne-Billancourt, Musée des années 30, 31 March – 14 August 2004, n°22, p.57 (ill.).

A painter and draughtsman, Alexandre Iacovleff was born in Saint Petersburg where he began his training at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts as a pupil of Dimitri Kardovski. In 1913 he travelled to Spain and Italy with Shukhaev. Then between 1917 and 1919 he travelled around Mongolia, China and Japan, bringing back many paintings and drawings of cultural themes, street and theatrical scenes.

The October Revolution prevented his return to Russia, so he settled in France where he became friendly with the journalist and writer Joseph Kessel, who regularly frequented the Russian milieu of the French capital. His participation in various exhibitions earned him some renown.

Iacovleff was part of the expeditions organized by André Citroën, the famous car expeditions using halftracks, first to sub-Saharan Africa in 1924-1925, and then through Asia in 1931-1932. His task was to record “with the pencil and the brush” indigenous manners and customs studied during the expeditions. In the tradition of the great draughtsmen who accompanied the expeditions of the 19th century, he became simultaneously an ethnologist and anthropologist and provided a view of sub-Saharan Africa of a rare intensity. His series of drawings and paintings were published in albums recording the two journeys, in particular Dessins et peintures d’Asie et Expédition Citroën 1932-1934, which contains about fifty colour plates. In 1933, he published “la croisière jaune” [the yellow journey”] in L’Illustration, a series of ten drawings and paintings in colour.

The following year he went to the United States of America to direct the drawing and painting school that operated within the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He returned to Paris 1937, where he died of cancer.