View of Argentat, signed and indistinctly dated, bearing the artist's studio label on the stretcher.
Oil on canvas, 65 by 81 cm.
Painted in 1929.
Provenance: Collection of A. Chudnovsky, Leningrad. Private collection, Europe.
Vasily Shukhaev’s painting View of Argentat belongs to a series of canvasses that the artist painted during his trip in the summer of 1929 round the old French towns on the western edge of the Massif Central, along the banks of the Dordogne River. One of the most beautiful places in France – a land without roads, fashionable hotels or golden beaches – the Tulle district and the Auvergne attracted the artist with their untouched picturesque beauty. The wide upland expanse with its huge number of extinct volcanoes, its many short mountain ranges, narrow river valleys, green woodlands and pastoral villages still
held the spirit of “La vieille France” with which Shukhaev’s landscapes are imbued.
Having practically never painted views of the cities of Paris or St Petersburg, and now finding himself in the depths of the French countryside, Shukhaev creates, one after another, paintings of his beloved towns of Turenne and Argentat and their environs. He was captivated by the measured rhythm of provincial life, the charm of the 16th and 17th century architecture, the
colours of the little houses with their turrets and balconies, hiding their roofs darkened with age in the dull greenery of their gardens. All these paintings are without dynamism – with scarcely a human being – but they delicately portray the special contemplative and harmonious atmosphere of human history in coexistence with the majestic world of nature.
In View of Argentat Shukhaev’s attention is drawn to the old paved embankment, overgrown with greenery, of the Dordogne River skirting the town where a whole row of houses has grown up with neatly whitewashed walls and tall roofs tiled in grey slate. The present work was in all probability painted by the artist from Le Pont de la République, as the bridge that crosses the Dordogne downstream from the scene is called. The palette is of silvery-olive and the landscape is immersed in the slumber of a summer’s afternoon, but despite its emptiness it breathes a deep tranquillity. The artist painted the fine view that opens out from the bridge on to the right bank of the river on several occasions. Thus, the two-storey house seen in the foreground, with its suspended wooden balcony and high, pointed roof, on the promontory immediately by the bridge, may
easily be recognised in another view of Argentat also dating from 1929. Painted as a pair with the present lot, and on a canvas of a similar size, it shows the same landscape but from a different, closer viewpoint (Argentat, 1929).
Shukhaev painted provincial Argentat, so dear to his heart, in at least two other works. One of them, also of the embankment, is in the collection of the I.V. Savitsky Museum of Arts of the Republic of Karakalpakstan in Nukus, and the second, of a grey-brown blind alley deep in the embankment, unpopulated and with a gloomy cluster of houses under grey skies, is in the V.V. Vereshchagin Art Museum in Mykolaiv.