Provenance: Russian Art Evening Sale, Sotheby’s London, 30 November 2009, lot 204. Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Private collection, UK.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Hut in the Forest by the celebrated Russian landscapist Ivan Shishkin, offered here for sale, is from a series of works he painted in the vicinity of St Petersburg in the late 1880s–early 1890s. It is a fine example of a composition created from outdoor impressions.
Around this time, Shishkin turned more and more often to depicting pine forest scenes. Since he had grown up in Yelabuga, among the pinewood expanses of the Afonasovskaya Ship Grove, he knew and loved coniferous forests like no other artist. Shishkin’s contemporaries called him the woodland knight, the tsar of the forest, and, according to the artist Ilya Ostroukhov, he did actually bear some resemblance to a sturdy pine tree. The master was the first to open up the subject of pine forest for Russian art, and it was given a distinctive, always technically perfect and truly poetic embodiment in his works. His Pine Forest, Woodland Path, Sunlit Pine Trees, Morning in a Pine Forest and In Countess Mordvinova’s Wood all enabled the artist not only to convey the beauty of the graceful, upward-soaring trees, but also to tackle head-on the challenges of contemporary plein-air painting and to draw closer to the principles underlying the creation of the genre of psychological landscape.
Sensitive to the pioneering tendencies in Russian pictorial art that started in the 1880s, Shishkin sought to express, in particular, the more complex and transitory states of nature that match a person’s mood, and so he concentrated increasingly on lighting – reproducing a light and airy environment on canvas. It is hard to say where exactly the picture Hut in the Forest was painted: in Sestroretsk or Pargolovo, near Siverskaya or in the picturesque spots on the Karelian Isthmus; what is certain is that it most vividly conveys these new qualities, which set apart Shishkin’s works from the final decades of the 19th century.
The elegant trunks of the pines are flecked with golden patches of sunlight, warm air streams in currents through the fluffy pine needles of the tall trees, and the space around the tiny woodland hut seems to have been penetrated by the sun and flooded with light. The branches of the trees, lit up by the sun, are executed with consummate skill. The brushstrokes glide smoothly, intertwine and, as they merge, create the impression of a living, fluid carpet of grass, slightly shrivelled in the bright sunlight, along the path. Shishkin is not seeking, as was often his wont previously, to carefully reproduce all the botanical details. On the contrary, the canvas is executed with a poetic freshness and combines an étude’s immediacy of a general impression with the inner completeness and perfection of the image. While preserving the totally natural character of a motif that he found in real life, the artist manages to achieve a harmonious completeness of the composition.
This typical yet, at the same time, inimitable natural spot has been captured by the artist with a light, rapid brush that conveys the immediacy of his gaze, as well as the vigour and freshness of a “first impression”. The sun-baked edge of the forest in the foreground, the group of graceful, bushy pines with the hut nestling in their shade in the centre, and the light, summer sky with a few clouds, that encloses the space, leave one with the sense of a quiet, serene summer’s day. By using the frame to cut off the treetops (a device often encountered in Shishkin’s works), the artist reinforces the impression of the huge size of the trees, which seem to run out of space on the canvas. Here, as in many of his best works, Shishkin is not trying merely to present a beautiful subject, or create artificially an uplifting mood. Nevertheless, despite its seeming simplicity, the Hut in the Forest encapsulates Shishkin’s profound knowledge of Russian nature that he had accumulated in nearly fifty years of creative endeavour.
It is no coincidence that these works formed the bulk of his monographic exhibition, mounted at the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1891, while many similar motifs were reflected in a series of etchings that the artist prepared and published in 1892.