Michel Kikoïne was born into a family that was at the same time both religious and rather liberal. His maternal grandfather was a rabbi, and his father was a banker. In 1904, the family moved to Minsk, where Michel studied business for three years. In the evenings, he attended Jakov Kruger’s Art Studio, where he made friends with Chaim Soutine. In 1909, both young men went to the Vilnius School of Drawing to continue their studies. In 1912, they moved to Paris, and settled at La Ruche. When the First World War broke out, Kikoïne wanted to join the French Foreign Legion, but he was not accepted because of his poor health, and instead worked as a volunteer in Paris.
In 1919, he held his first exhibition in Paris. From 1926, he held numerous exhibitions in France, the USA, Russia, Israel, and other countries. When the Second World War broke out and the Nazis occupied France, he and his wife and two children settled in the ‘free zone’ around Toulouse. When the war ended, the whole family returned to Paris. By then, he was famous and enjoyed travelling; he visited Israel, Spain and England.
When he was young, Kikoïne was poor and could not even afford a decent studio. He spent 14 years (from 1912 to 1926) in a small studio at La Ruche, and became one of the main artists influencing the style of the École de Paris. As a young artist, he was constantly ‘in search of the best artistic expression’ (M. Kikoïne, 2004, Catalogue Michel Kikoïne, 13). As a result, his paintings include clearly visible traces of Realism, Impressionism and Cubism.
His landscapes, still-lifes, portraits and female nudes were exceptional in the context of French Expressionism, as they were especially tender and sensitive. The works radiate happiness and love of life, and are balanced and full of harmony. The compositions are rather detailed and complex, but they are designed in a constructive way. The brushstrokes are quite tortuous, and even mischievous, but also gentle, and accompanied by a multitude of soft colours. The bright sunlit mountain views, with the pink roofs of settlements, which he painted in plein-air sessions that he attended in the south of France, are extremely harmonious. They show the exceptionally close link between the artist and his surroundings. In a letter to his son, he wrote: ‘The things I paint are not mere pieces of nature. Every painting is the whole universe for me’ (1973, Hommage à Kikoïne, 11).
Kikoïne’s paintings can be found nowadays in the permanent exhibitions of world-famous museums in Western Europe, the USA, Israel and Russia. Private galleries and collectors all over the world are eager to buy them. In 2004, a gallery named after him opened in Tel Aviv.
Litvak Art in Private Lithuanian Collections. Compiler Gradinskaite, V. (2015). Vilnius: Lewben Art Foundation
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