Painted in 1922-23, Les enfants is a powerful image that showcases Boris Grigoriev's unique abilities as a portraitist. Documented in Grigoriev's personal archive (Fig. 1), this painting is a testament to Grigoriev's skill at rendering emotional intensity and his propensity to imbue a canvas with palpable drama. Furthermore, the painting dates from Grigoriev's seminal period in New York, during which he exhibited widely with great success, was lauded by the critic Christian Brinton and enthusiastically promoted by James Rosenberg, the founder of the influential New Gallery in New York. Grigoriev's arresting figures made a profound impression upon the American public who were enthralled by the hidden narratives of his insightful portraits.
In 1922 Florence Cane (1882-1952) commissioned Grigoriev to paint a portrait of her twin daughters, Katherine (b. 1910) and Mary (1910-2003). Herself a painter, Florence and her husband, Melville Cane (1879-1980) - a copyright lawyer and published poet - were part of a thriving artistic community that included the artists Marsden Hartley, Alfred Stieglitz, John Marin, Joseph Stella, and Arthur Dove, as well as poets and novelists including e. e. cummings and Thomas Wolfe. At this time, Grigoriev was experiencing international success for his Rasseïa cycle (circa 1916-1921) which combined his gift for portraiture with a steely critical eye and looked to the Russian countryside and peasant village life for subject-matter.