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Leon Gaspard

(1882 - 1964)

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Biography

Leon Gaspard’s glittering paintings of the American Southwest and its indigenous inhabitants are reflective of his fascination with regional colors, costumes, and rituals, subjects which formed the bulk of his work in his native Russia.  Gaspard’s use of color and suggestive rather than definitive brushwork reflect an interest in Impressionism, yet he remained too devoted to representation to ever fully abstract the figure.  Although Gaspard was advised by John Marin to “go modern,” he chose instead to emphasize the traditional values of his old world subjects.  When combined with his lively palatte, vibrant brushstroke, and exotic settings, this trait often lends Gaspard’s work a fairy tale quality. 

Born on March 2, 1882, in Vitebsk, a small village west of Moscow, Leon Gaspard’s artistic inclinations were nurtured from early childhood by his cultured family.  His father was a retired Army officer and trader in furs and fine rugs, while his mother, an accomplished pianist, kept their home filled with music.  At the age of fifteen, his father enrolled him in a local art class, where he studied alongside a young Marc Chagall.   Eager for more formal instruction, Gaspard soon moved to Paris, and enrolled in the Académie Julian.  In Paris, Gaspard became acquainted with the work of Modigliani, Matisse, and the sculptor Rodin, whose expressive use of line impressed him particularly.   He also met and married Evelyn Adell, the daughter of a wealthy American family.  After honeymooning in Russia, the couple returned to Paris where Gaspard began to show in acclaimed exhibitions such as the annual Salon and the Salon d’Automne, as well as in international shows throughout Europe.  

When France entered World War I in the summer of 1914, Gaspard enlisted in the French Aviation Corps, and Evelyn became a Red Cross nurse.  He was seriously wounded during a plane crash, and spent two years convalescing in a French hospital, during which time Evelyn went home to America.  Despite a bleak prognosis, Gaspard left France in 1916 to be with her.   Upon his arrival in New York he quickly assimilated himself into the art scene, exhibiting at prestigious venues including the National Academy of Design and the Vanderbilt Gallery.  That summer he and his wife traveled to Santa Fe to visit Sheldon Parsons, but quickly moved to Taos.  Impressed by the Taos Pueblo, which reminded Gaspard of Mongolian architecture, he and his wife settled there permanently in 1918. 

Unlike his fellow Russian - born artist Nicolai Fechin, Gaspard was an active member of Taos’ thriving art community, and became close friends with the author D.H. Lawrence.  A passage from Lawrence’s Etruscan Places seems to be based on a Gaspard painting, and evokes the imaginative, fantastic aspect of Gaspard’s work: “It must have been a wonderful world, that old world where everything appeared alive and shining in the dusk of contact with all things.”