15 October 2020
Summer Afternoon by the River, signed and dated 1870.
Oil on canvas, 77.5 by 110.5 cm.
Provenance: Imperial and Post-Revolutionary Russian Art and Icons, Christie's London, 18 July 1996, lot 31.
Acquired at the above by the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.
The authenticity of this work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Summer Afternoon by the River is one of Ivan Shishkin’s comparatively few genre landscapes. In this painting, as in a number of other works that the artist produced at the turn of the 1870s – e.g. A Walk in the Forest (1869, State Tretyakov Gallery) and his Landscape with People Out Walking (1869, State Russian Museum) – the depiction of nature derives an additional, narrative input from the inclusion of figures or whole groups of people in the composition.
By portraying “genteel folk” relaxing in the forest and thus giving outdoor images a refined, “gallant” tone, Shishkin strove to find a way to depict the unassuming Central Russian landscape that would not run counter to academic ideals. A broad, rutted country road is surrounded by wide-branching oaks, travellers hurrying from afar, and a gradual descent to the water’s edge, overgrown with grass, with a raft that had at some time been pulled ashore and fallen apart long ago. This provides viewers with a necessary “run-in”, allowing them to gaze and enjoy the harmonious balance between the woodland and the clear patches of a sky that illuminates the earth with the soft, summery light diffused just before sunset. The sun’s rays highlight a couple who are chatting after settling down on a small hillock by the roadside, just as though we were looking at a theatrical mise en scène. The main figures are conveyed in a generalised way, but they may represent specific persons from among the artist’s acquaintances. That technique of his is found in works dating from the period. In A Walk in the Forest, for example, Shishkin portrays himself walking arm-in-arm with a lady.
The classical balance of the composition in Summer Afternoon by the River, the delicacy of the chiaroscuro modelling, and the warm, slightly romanticised lighting lead one to feel the calm, measured flow of natural life and of the human life inextricably linked with it. Although he incorporated a genre motif in the picture, Shishkin made it subordinate to the main theme – the landscape itself. He is attracted by the opportunity to depict the tall, shapely oaks, spreading their shady boughs over the road, and also to accomplish the complex painting tasks involved in conveying the texture of the foliage, branches and trees, translucent and lacelike in the light, yet thickening into a deep, dark mass in the shade.
Such genre landscapes by Shishkin extend our understanding of the range of the talent and artistic interests of this illustrious master of forest landscapes, while substantially and importantly highlighting the outstanding landscape painter’s creative legacy.
The present lot in a frame and its verso
Ivan Shishkin, For Mushrooms, 1870, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg.
Ivan Shishkin, Rain in an Oak Forest, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Notes on symbols:
* Indicates 5% Import Duty Charge applies.
Ω Indicates 20% Import Duty Charge applies.
§ Indicates Artist's Resale Right applies.
† Indicates Standard VAT scheme applies, and the rate of 20% VAT will be charged on both hammer price and premium.