10 June 2021
Forest Road, signed and dated 1896.
Oil on canvas, 110.5 by 83.5 cm.
Provenance: Collection of Sizinio Pontes Nogueira (1920–2008), Brazilian Ambassador to the USSR in 1980–1986, Brazil.
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1988.
Important private collection, Brazil.
This magnificent landscape to be auctioned is a canvas dating from the artist’s final years and is a splendid example of the Shishkin landscape, with a deserted forest path receding into the distance. Forest Road showcases one of the most important leitmotifs in the work of Ivan Shishkin. During his lifetime, the artist returned again and again to producing variations on this theme, creating a whole gallery of landscapes for different seasons and different moods.
This painting demonstrated the best artistic qualities of a Shishkin who has attained supreme mastery, and one senses the confident hand of the artist and that profound knowledge of the Russian countryside acquired over almost half a century of creative endeavour. Similar paintings by the artist enjoyed huge popularity during his lifetime and, notably, were frequently reproduced on postcards.
Shishkin painted this work in his studio based on vivid, specific impressions, which helps make it particularly convincing. Accuracy of the image is combined here, though, with broad generalisation and typification. The composition remains based on precise draughtsmanship, clarity of form and precise colour characteristics of every detail and on an amazing plasticity of the brushstrokes. Here, as in many of Shishkin’s best works, there is no pursuit of a beautiful motif or exalted tone yet, for all its apparent simplicity, Forest Road enchantingly evokes the mysterious depths of the Central Russian forest landscape so familiar to everyone, as well as the natural progression of the muted light, and the emotional and expressive quality of the artistic language.
In 1896 Shishkin spent much time painting from nature at Preobrazhenskoye and Siverskaya near St Petersburg, but it is hard to tell which plein-air sketches formed the basis for this particular landscape. The foreground is almost entirely occupied by the ruts in a run-down country road overgrown with fresh grass, and by winding paths running alongside. Then come two balancing groups of slender green trees. In the distance is an expanse of bright but overcast sky, softened by a slight haze permeated by a warm light, as if beckoning the traveller on. By having the tops of the trees cut off by the frame (a common device in his work), Shishkin reinforces the trees’ height and grandeur. Their ungainly, many-branched trunks, overgrown with moss in places, are depicted with convincing plasticity and texture.
Throughout his career, Shishkin remained a supreme connoisseur of trees: he had no rivals when it came to depicting Russia’s coniferous and deciduous forests. The fresh, green grass growing on the slopes, and the long branches, bending under their own weight, lead down to an overgrown stretch of woodland water. The soft, sunny overtones on the water glimpsed through the branches, and the daylight streaking down between the trees, convey shimmering joie de vivre, without dispelling the impression of a calm and serene summer’s day.
The riverbank on the left, with the high burdock plant and the young undergrowth springing up from the dry ground, is beautifully painted. Yet Shishkin is not trying here, as was often the case earlier, to reproduce all the botanical details meticulously: he now prefers to move on from description and detail to the creation of images of nature as a coherent whole. The grass, the trees and the summer sky dissolving into haze are not painted separately but naturally interact with one another and with the light-and-air environment around them. Varied brushstrokes revealing form and texture glide over the canvas, intertwine and, as they merge, create the impression of a living green canopy, emphasising the softness of the grass, the fluffiness of the layers of variously shaded foliage, and the dense nature of the tree tops.
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.