28 November 2008
Approach to St. Petersburg on the Neva signed, dated 1879 and inscribed "St. P.", also further inscribed and numbered "A.D.M. 26911" and "N235" on the labels on the frame
Oil on canvas, 90 by 131 cm.
Provenance: Former collection of the Emperor Alexander III, Anichkovskiy Palace, No. 235.
Private collection, Latin America.
Authenticity has been confirmed by Vladimir Petrov.
Exhibited:VII Exhibition of Itinerants, St. Petersburg-Moscow-Odessa-Kiev, 1879-1880
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, VII Exhibition of Itinerants, St. Petersburg-Moscow-Odessa-Kiev, 1879-1880.
G. Romanov, Encyclopaedia of the Itinerants' Exhibitions 1871-1923, St. Petersburg, 2003, p. 37, plate 5-12 illustrated.
Alexander Begrov was one of the most renowned Russian marine artists of the second half of the 19th century. The banks of the Neva occupied a special, and predominant place in his works. He first discovered the banks as a subject for his work when he was already a mature, independent master. One of his favourite views overlooked the left banks of the Neva, from the Kozhevennaya line of Vasilievsky island, with the domes of Saint Isaac’s cathedral and of the church of St. Catherine. It was here that he began his series of St. Petersburg landscapes in 1876, and here also where he later returned to paint, constantly changing his angle as well as the ships in the foreground. Begrov inherited his father’s artistic talent, but enrolled as a naval officer. He was educated at the Naval Ministry Engineering and Artillery College. It was the unveiling of a monument to Emperor Nicholas I at the College in 1859 that proved pivotal for his future artistic career. Begrov painted the scene, and the war department was so taken by his talent that it commissioned Begrov to tour the world as both a naval officer and an artist. Moving from the frigate Oslabya to the Aleksandr Nevsky his voyage ended tragically when the frigate sank near the coast of Denmark. Together with the surviving crew, Begrov met the famous marine artist, Bogoliubov, who had been commissioned to create two works portraying the destruction of the Aleksandr Nevsky. Bogoliubov needed to use Begrov’s sketches and drawings in order to complete his works. Their acquaintance helped Begrov enter the class of Professor M. Klodt at the Academy of Arts.
In 1874 Begrov was sent to Paris, where he perfected his skills under the guidance of the famous artist Bonnard as well as his former mentor Bogoliubov. However, the death of his father forced Begrov to return to Russia, where he devoted himself entirely to his painting. He also started an association with the Society of Itinerants, becoming a member in 1876.
Begrov’s 1879 work Approaching to St. Petersburg on the Neva, is considered among his best works on this theme, capturing the classical view of St. Petersburg from the mouth of the Greater Neva. Travelling the country with the seventh Wandering Exhibition, the work was exhibited alongside another one of the artist’s masterpieces The Banks of the Neva from 1876 (currently in the State Russian Museum). Both depict the same view of St. Isaac’s Cathedral to the Church of St. Catherine. However, the sea in the foreground, which in essence is the subject of each work, is remarkably different. In the three years separating the two works, Begrov’s composition took on a somewhat more dynamic form. The quiet day to day life around the river with its classical image of the city and its natural elements, had moved into the industrial age with its creative and technical achievements and the sea fleet and industrial architecture. This clash between old and new became of utmost importance to the artist’s work. From this, the romantic atmosphere of the city emerges from the carefully recorded details of this new age. Begrov viewed the river Neva as the heart of St. Petersburg, but he always made ensured the vision of the city’s founder, Peter the Great, was conveyed effectively.
Today, little remains of the artist’s favourite view taken from the Kozhevennaya line of Vasilievsky island. On the left hand side of the work, one can observe the industrial structures of Vasilievsky island. On the opposite bank, are the Admiralty wharfs, which was once the site of the Berda factory. The view is framed by St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Church of St. Catherine, built by the architect Ton, but demolished in 1929. Both structures were built during the time of Tsar Nicholas.
Begrov’s contemporaries noted that as a naval officer, he knew all there was to know about the construction of a ship. “The masts, shipyards, sails, and every other detail were everyday items to him. He would criticise any work depicting sailing vessels which contained the smallest inaccuracy, growling “Look at that! See how that sail has been raised? How will the ship be able to sail like that, tell me that! What nonsense!”. However, such attention to detail in no way compromised his achievements and his style remained on par with that of his western contemporaries.
Notes on symbols:
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