Contrary to what a first glance might suggest, this pastel depicts a carnival scene; the elephant is not a real animal but an imitation produced by a couple of actors under a sheet in the shape of an elephant. I am indebted for this explanation to my late colleague Dora Kogan, who wrote several letters to me towards the end of the summer of 1988 with comments about the Larionov works exhibited at Frankfurt and Geneva. I excerpt the following from her letter of 6 September :
“In my old notes I fell on this interesting newspaper item clearly related to the year 1911. Unfortunately I’m unable to specify which paper the clipping in question comes from, most likely it is from the Obozrenie Teatrov [The Theatre Review]. Here is what it says :
Balls, masquerades at the Little Theatre… Sladkopevtsev, a person long known as the ‘soul of society’, never stopped warming up the atmosphere in the hall. He was physically and mentally encouraged by Urvantsev and a gramophone. When they saw that the audience coming from the buffet in the hall had already drawn level with the white elephant, the organizers had a life-size white elephant go onto the stage. Under the guidance of its trainer, Sladkopevtsev, the elephant showed that it was in no way inferior to VI. Durev’s elephant currently performing in St. Petersburg. Two charming ladies selling white elephants made an appearance in the hall… Everyone bought one as a souvenir.
Dora Kogan then added this comment : “Is there not a possibility that Pastel no. 24 is connected with this performance at the Little Theatre (Suvorskoy)? Isn’t it a depiction of the fictitious elephant and the person who rides it? It’s clearly a carnival costume covering two or three persons at the same time”.