Refusing to treat the problem of perspective in a traditional manner, Mashkov reduces the elements of modelling to a bare minimum, as if stretching the image out over the canvas and thereby achieving some intense combinations of colour, largely independent of the representation of light and shade.
In other portraits of this early period-for example, those of V. Vinogradova (1909). E. Kirkaldi (1910), Rubanovich (Portrait of a Lady with Pheasants, about 1910), Mashkov is not only searching for expressiveness of colour, but is also concerned to organize his canvas on two-dimensional lines. In these portraits perspective is almost ousted by surface design. In his Model Seated executed in 1909, for example, the two-dimensional effect disappears under the accumulation of contrasting colours, the artist deliberately avoids exaggerated ornamentality, the picture's thematic and spatial elements remain dominant, the vital connection between model and still life is preserved.
Inspired by the principles of folk art, Mashkov sought to express the immutable essence of thing's through form, dimension and colour. The medium he most consistently used for these endeavours, as well as for his attempts to discover new principles of composition, was the still life. He did not aim at thematic variety; portrayals of fruit and berries on a round dish or plate are frequently encountered in his work. In some instances the artist would strictly adhere to such motifs, as in Still Life with a Pineapple or Still Life. Fruit on a Dish (both about 1910). Sometimes the motif becomes a detail in the total composition, as in Still Life. Berries with a Red Tray in the Background (about 1910), Still Life with Begonias (before 1911), Still Life with Grapes (early 1910s), etc.
The emphatically naive, "primitive" method of portrayal revealed in Still Life with a Pineapple, the bright intensity of its colours, and their use in simplified combinations, bear witness to Mashkov's attempt to view the world through the eyes of the masters of folk art. In his yearning to penetrate the essence of things, to reveal their fixed, "eternal" qualities, he acted decisively, sacrificing subtlety of design and colour and achieving considerable decorative expressiveness. He moved on to various experimental techniques, combining the representative functions of painting with certain qualities inherent in the applied arts. The "fortuitousness" of impressionistic composition was opposed by a blunt emphasis on "structuring". Everything was subordinated to the principles of symmetry and rhythmic alternation. The oval shape of the frame is often repeated both in the disposition of objects and in the outlines of some of them. A plate with a pineapple surrounded by apples, is placed in the centre of the canvas and enclosed by a number of large, multicoloured fruits. The point of view chosen by the painter looking down on his subject from above, allows him to gain an effect of "spatial compression", while the individual objects are portrayed three-dimensionally. The black outlines emphasize the depth of objects and create an impression of stability, subduing the illusion of perspective.
Mashkov came gradually to renounce the effects of light and shade, so fundamental to the Impressionists. In his Still Life with a Pineapple, where the decisive importance of colour is obvious, light plays only a secondary role in the creation of form. In the still-life painting, Fruit on a Dish, the material qualities of the object are conveyed by a single splash of colour. Form is determined by clear-cut outlines; along with others, the black colour becomes obligatory.
For all Mashkov's desire to assert the sensuous materiality of things, one detects in his early works a certain indifference towards the real nature of his chosen subject; the material world appears there in a generalized form. This is the case, for example, in the above-mentioned portraits of E. Kirkaldi and Rubanovich, where there is a conflict between different orders of reality; the live models are set in opposition to the figures depicted on the panel and carpet, but nothing seems com-pletely authentic. It is the same in the painting Russia and Napoleon (The Russian Venus) (1912, Moscow, private collection), where the model is shown against the background of a carpet depicting Napoleon in a sleigh, while the Emperor's troika seems about to run her over.
At this point Mashkov was to some extent influenced by European Cubism. However, he interpreted the ideas of Cubism in his own particular way, linking this new passion with his old enthusiasm for folk toys and the lubok. In his portrait of the poet S. Rubanovich (1910), the artist renounces colour and represents the subject through geometric forms. But living rhythms manage to burst in upon this geometric world, enlivening the grey-black abstractions. Fascinated by Cubism, Mashkov still sought expressiveness in his art; retaining his interest in the distinctiveness of the figure he wishes to paint, he exaggerates the likeness to the point of caricature. Mashkov's humour, alien to the abstractions of Cubism, is what links his portraits here with the products of folk art.
Folk expressiveness of form was henceforth to remain the artist's ideal, but about 1913 he was on the edge of new ventures. At this time his artistic idiom becomes noticeably more complex. However, in the still life entitled Loaves of Bread (1912) this new complexity is not yet apparent. The whole surface of the canvas is more or less filled by the representation of the loaves, ornamental both in their detail and in their total effect; perspective is narrowed, surface is compressed. One feels the artist's passion for the primitive, particularly for sign-painting.
In the still life Camellia (1913), the artist is aiming at a synthesis of decorativeness and materiality. He directs his attention here to the problem of rendering the effect of light, which, however, never becomes an end in itself, as it was for the Impressionists. The camellia plant with its sharply drawn, rigid leaves stands out against a background vibrating withlight; the knot-shaped bun, the fruit and the glass bowl with fancy cakes are both decorative and substantial at