Between 1918 and 1922 Mashkov was particularly enthusiastic about the techniques of drawing. He preferred to use such materials as charcoal, pastels, sanguine and coloured pencils, which was natural for him as an artist. Comparatively few of these works have been preserved but amongst those which have, there are some well executed drawings of nude models, as well as some portraits which are strikingly true to life.
The logical development of Mashkov's art was bound to lead him towards a consistent form of realism. From the years 1923 and 1924 onwards the artist evolves a sharper sense of reality, which was to remain with him until the end of his creative life. It is in this quality of realism, achieved by pictorial and plastic means alone, that one recognizes the strength of the still lifes and landscapes which he began to exhibit in the second half of the 1920s and during the 1930s.
Joy in the fullness of life and in the powerful forces of nature becomes the leading motif in the subsequent development of his art. As he once said: "Physical health, abundance, growing prosperity. . . new people-resolute, powerful, strong. . .-this is the world which nourishes my art, these are the surroundings which bestow joy in creation." "Beauty may be found," he goes on to say, "in the bronzed, weather-beaten faces of collective farm workers, in young people at a holiday home, gladdened by the sun, the sea and the south wind, and finally in the abundance of the 'fruits of the earth', by the boundless decorative possibilities of which I have always been captivated. . ."
Mashkov's attempts to work in various genres were not always successful. If the artistic method which he developed in the field of still life was scarcely suitable for portraiture, then it was even less appropriate for paintings depicting a complex theme. Far from dissuading him, however, the art critics of the time actually encouraged his efforts in this direction. In short, he tried to overreach himself, which explains the failure of a painting like Partisans, for example.
Similarly, it is scarcely possible to count those paintings depicting new industrial projects as being amongst Mashkov's creative achievements, although they do display his interest in contemporary life. Yet at the same time, in the twenties and thirties. Mashkov did paint some magnificent landscapes, remarkable for their sweeping perspectives and expressiveness of form. The studies which he made in the environs of Leningrad (1923), in Bakhchisaray (1925) and in the Caucasus are full of sunlight and warmth; the clearness of the air seems almost palpable. Mashkov was indeed as full of admiration for nature herself as for her abundant gifts of vegetables and fruit.
The most significant works created by Mashkov during the two last decades of his life are undoubtedly his still lifes. Although he continued to paint the same fruit, vegetables and flowers, his artistic conceptions were of a quite different order, as was his attitude to life in general. Amongst these paintings are the two still lifes displayed at the seventh exhibition of the AARR, entitled Moscow Meal. Meat, Game and Moscow Meal. Loaves of Bread (1924), both of which have since become widely known. Being conceived as separate works - different in size, composition and colour - they are linked by an inner unity of content. The artist wished to express in them the popular notion of abundance, wealth and beauty of the physical world. In contrast to the somewhat simplified nature of his earlier works, here decorative expressiveness and the over-concentrated use of colour are subordinated to the real characteristics of the objects, their solidity, weight and texture. Intensity of colour, far from being an obstacle to the paintings' unity, on the contrary, emphasizes it. Making bold use of contrast and placing warm colours by the side of cold ones (bright red, pink, lilac and brownish-orange in Moscow Meal. Meat, Game), Mashkov relies here on his own profound knowledge of the laws of colouring.
The painter now achieves a synthesis of great artistic skill and objectivity. He is able to transform a pile of fruit lying on a table into a festival of colour. At the same time he can reveal in objects qualities one would have thought impossible to communicate in painting. His still lifes breathe forth the fragrance of the flame-coloured oranges, the dark-red roses and the strawberries which they depict; they exude the juice of sliced lemons, pumpkins, pineapples and water-melons. . . Every time the artist conveys the heaviness of a bunch of grapes differently, according to whether they are lying on a table, in a dish or simply hanging down over the side.
During the last years of his life Mashkov did not abandon his search for new artistic possibilities. He renounced all too intense an emphasis on colour and decorativeness, giving to his representations a more tranquil and intimate form. Among his last works, two are of particular interest, namely Still Life. Pineapples and Bananas (1938) and Strawberries and a White Jug (1943). Their subtle execution, their light but deliberate brushstrokes, re-creating form and distinguishing light from shade, their dignified colours - all harmonize here with a vivid and poignant feeling for life.
However experimental the practice of his art, Mashkov remained essentially faithful to a true-to-life interpretation of nature. He devoted a great deal of his time to exploring the elements of formal expressiveness in painting, greatly enhancing our understanding of the problem. His own solutions were of considerable objective value. Some unequal results in varying genres bear witness to a certain one-sidedness in his approach, but Mashkov's position in the history of Russian art is fully assured; a leading exponent of still-life painting during both the pre-revolutionary and Soviet periods, some of his achievements in this genre possess genuine grandeur.
The vivid colours of Mashkov's canvases, his delight in the infinite variety of the surrounding world, his pronounced feeling of social reality - all conspire to make his work one of the great achievements of Russian art. Igor Grabar was to distinguish in the work of Mashkov "a profoundly independent and individual interpretation of nature, refracted through an exceptionally pictorial mind and imagination". Creating canvases of an "arch-concrete and realistic" kind, Mashkov never ceased to admire the form,texture and colour of what he was painting. He shares with the onlooker his own love of nature and life, his spirit of joy, courage and optimism.