Born near Moscow, Leon Gaspard studied at the art school in Vitebsk–alongside Marc Chagall–and went on to train in Paris, where he met and married an American woman, Evelyn Adell. During World War I, Gaspard joined the French Air Corps. As a result of the serious injuries he sustained when his plane was shot down, Gaspard’s wife urged him to seek treatment in America. By 1916, Gaspard was in New York, recuperating and making a name in the rough-and-tumble of the city’s art scene. He exhibited scenes from the war in France and Russia at Reinhardt’s, one of the most important galleries of the era. The New York Times called these works, “fresh and brilliant and infinitely the better for complete lack of sentimentality.” Gaspard’s new artist friends described the healthful climate in Taos, and in 1919 he moved there. To him, the people and landscape of Taos echoed the Tartar countryside in the Russia of his boyhood. Like his classmate Chagall, Gaspard builds layers of broad strokes, creating vivid dreams on canvas. Other similarities between the two crop up in their swirling and spiky impastos, daring colors, and an approach to composition, apparent in problems of perspective, that deliberately integrates a folk art naiveté.
Russian Peasants, Mountains and Snow is a dramatic, bravura painting. A thin line of people and pack animals finds a narrow pass through a forest at the base of two distant, purple peaks. Without any obvious reference, you can hear a New Testament murmur from the King James Bible: Matthew 7:14: “Because strait is the gate and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.”
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