Church of St Nicholas. Inner Entrance to the Monastery, signed, also further signed, titled in Cyrillic and numbered “N 39” on the label on the stretcher, further inscribed “razmer bolshoi” on the stretcher.
Oil on canvas, 73.5 by 60 cm.
Executed in 1928–1929.
Provenance: Acquired by the previous owner in the 1930s.
Private collection, Switzerland.
Thence by descent.
Private collection, South Africa.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Exhibited: Possibly, Sergei Vinogradov, Riga, 14 April–5 May 1935, No. 39 (label on the stretcher).
Literature: V. Sinaisky, Pskovo-Pecherskii monastyr. Obshchii kulturno-istoricheskii ocherk, Riga, Riti, 1929, illustrated on the cover.
N. Lapidus, Sergei Vinogradov, St Petersburg, Zolotoi Vek, 2001, p. 170, illustrated.
The paintings by Sergei Vinogradov offered here at auction – Church of St Nicholas. Inner Entrance to the Monastery and Pechersky Monastery. The Belfry – belong to his renowned series of works from 1928 to 1929, dedicated to the age-old and exceedingly beautiful Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery of the Holy Dormition.
The artist had long been interested in the subject of the quiet monastic life running its course against a background of old, majestic church architecture. Even at the very outset of his creative journey Vinogradov had painted several canvasses depicting pilgrims in Orthodox holy places: Coming out of Church, By the Chapel (both 1893), Paupers near a Church Wall (1899), In the Monastery Cell (1916). Nor did Vinogradov abandon his beloved churchly subjects after the revolution. Even when the artist set out to the United States with an exhibition showcasing young Soviet art, he took several pictures of monasteries with him. One such work – The Marfo-Mariinsky Convent (1922) – was bought right after the opening of the exhibition by the composer Sergei Rakhmaninov, who in the early 1920s had settled with his family in a house on the Hudson River.
When Vinogradov left the United States in 1924, he did not return to Soviet Russia, but based himself in Riga, where he soon opened a studio. His workshop received many eager visitors, and among the students was a well-known professor of jurisprudence, Vassily Sinaisky, who had also come over from Moscow to Riga. The acquaintanceship between these two talented individuals soon grew into friendship, and in the summer of 1928 Vinogradov and Sinaisky set off for neighbouring Estonia to paint the Pechersky Monastery en plein air.
By a quirk of fate this ancient Orthodox religious convent had also ended up as a Russian émigré. Under the treaty of 1922, the male monastery of the Holy Dormition was passed over to bourgeois Estonia, thereby avoiding closure and ruination. The monastery, spread out at the bottom of a deep ravine, with most of its cupolas at a lower height than the foundations of its walls, made a very picturesque view. In fact, the monastery had grown out of a cave hermitage (pechora is actually “cave”), where in the 14th century fugitive monks from the Kiev Pechersk Lavra had prayed. The site was on land then subject to a dispute between Pskov and Livonia and was constantly changing hands, so that it was scarcely less dangerous than the territory in the South being ravaged by Tatars.
The hermitage gradually expanded, miracles were reported and incorruptible relics obtained. In 1473, the monastery was officially established, and in the 16th century, under Abbot Cornelius, the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery grew into a mighty fortress, replacing the “morally obsolete” Izborsk. The monks acted as missionaries, christening the local people. By the time of Ivan the Terrible, the monastery, born on foreign soil, had made that very soil Russian.
Over the two summers of 1928 and 1929 Vinogradov and Sinaisky prepared an album dedicated to the Pechersky Monastery, reproducing on the cover the painting Church of St Nicholas. Inner Entrance to the Monastery, offered here at auction; other paintings by the artist were also used as illustrations. The book was published in Riga in 1929 to significant acclaim, becoming a bibliographical rarity and bringing its authors great renown. In the footsteps of the publication, Vinogradov had a one-man exhibition in Riga in 1935, held in a hall on Kalpaka Street, where “pictures of the architectural ensemble at the Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery formed a harmonious view”. As newspapers wrote at the time, “Vinogradov is an astonishing artist: whatever he tackles suddenly starts to shimmer and shine. All these canvasses are suffused with joy, affection and delight; this is a world one wants to live in”. There were paintings of the strong monastery walls erected long ago “for the sake of defence”, the old church of St Nicholas standing at the entrance, the monastery ensemble’s chief place of worship wallowing in green foliage – the Cathedral of the Dormition with its blue lazurite cupolas. In some canvasses one can also recognise the ancient bell tower of white stone, which was built in 1523 and is believed to this day to be the largest in the Pskov region. Its impressive masonry, which is easily recognised in Nicholas Roerich’s well-known painting Monastery near Pskov, has often inspired artists captivated by the spirit of old Russia. Vinogradov wrote of working at the Pechersky Monastery: “When entering the monastery I always experienced an astonishing feeling – all modernity, every aspect of “today” fades away completely, and the heart is filled with a glorious delight”.
It comes as no surprise that Vinogradov and Sinaisky conceived the Pechersky cycle of works, inspired by their favourite author, Fyodor Dostoevsky, who wrote that culture is the worldly embodiment of a divine principle. In other words, for culture to be preserved, it must have its “holy ground”, a spiritual soil where Christ can descend again. For Vinogradov, the Pechersky Monastery was just such a place.