Portrait of a Gentleman in a Plaid Waistcoat, signed, inscribed in Cyrillic "Moskva" and dated 1847.
Oil on canvas, 76.5 by 61 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, New York.
With Hammer Galleries, New York, from c. 1956 (label on the backing board).
Donated to the Library of Fairleigh Dickinson University, New Jersey, c. 1959.
Acquired from the above by the previous owner in 2005.
Thence by descent.
Private collection, USA.
Vasily Tropinin is rightfully considered to be the “patriarch” of the Moscow school of painting. He produced more than 3,000 portraits in the course of a long creative life and his models came from a variety of social classes in the old Russian capital, including representatives of the aristocracy and long-established gentry (the Samarin, Obolensky, Panin, Zubov, Voeikov, Mosolov and Ladyzhensky families). Members of Moscow’s “millionairemerchant” families, such as the Kiselevs and Sapozhnikovs, were also among his sitters, and the subject of the portrait, which is now offered for sale, most probably came from the milieu of the capital’s merchants and honoured citizens, as evidenced by his clothes and hairstyle. The Portrait of a Gentleman in a Plaid Waistcoat dates from the artist’s mature period, when he discovered his own distinctive style of painting. The space in this chamber-style, half-height portrait and the positioning of the figure obey a definite scheme. The image created by the portraitist draws the eye by the sharpness of character and observation. The face of the unknown subject is not young, but its expression is not of a man ravaged or broken by life. It expresses the heartfelt sincerity and harmonic integrity that are the hallmarks of Tropinin the portraitist.
The absence of Portrait of a Gentleman in a Plaid Waistcoat from the list of Tropinin’s works (the fullest to date) compiled by Alexandra Amshinskaya (Moscow, 1970) is explained by the painting’s history. It was taken out of Russia in the middle of the 20th century and has long been in private ownership, so it was unknown to Russian art historians. Acquaintance with the work broadens our understanding of the art of Vasily Tropinin.
We are grateful to Dr Liudmila Markina for providing additional catalogue information.
Portrait of a Gentleman in a Plaid Waistcoat, offered for auction, is a typical work from Vasily Tropinin’s mature period, when the artist had reached an unparalleled mastery in combining physical resemblance with an idealization of the image.
The half-height, nearly life-size figure of the sitter fills the entire canvas. The artist focuses exclusively on the subject, whom he places against a neutral background, completely omitting the elements of interior, yet scrupulously recording the tiniest details of the man’s stylish civilian attire. This documentary approach lends the image an illusory veracity, and this effect is reinforced by the linear-sculptural treatment of form, a combination of clearly delineated contour and densely applied brushstrokes. But at the same time, this portrait, like many other works by Tropinin, is a collective image, embodying the artist’s conception of an ideal type of Moscow gentry.
Until 1959, Portrait of a Gentleman in a Plaid Waistcoat hung in the gallery of Armand Hammer, famous American businessman and collector. Then, it was gifted to Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey, where it adorned the wall of the University library until the beginning of the 21st century.