MacDougall Auctions 2-3 December 2009

2 December 2009

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Castle, Version of</i> Castle. Twilight. 1898

* 228. LEVITAN, ISAAK 1860-1900

Castle, Version of Castle. Twilight. 1898 signed

Oil on card, 17.5 by 22 cm.
100,000-200,000 pounds

Provenance: Important private collection, USA.

Authenticity has been confirmed by Vladimir Petrov.

The unique easel painting Castle is a study for one of the artist’s last major works, The Castle. Twilight, which is currently to be found in the collection of the Lvov State Picture Gallery.

Its small “intimate” format has been dictated by the creative credo of the artist, who had a fundamental lack of patience for large scale studies: “…never chase after size when it comes to studies”, he wrote. “In a large study there are more lies, whereas in a small one there are very few indeed, and if you genuinely, seriously feel what you have seen when you were working on the study, the painting itself will also convey a true and complete impression of what has been seen.”

In all probability, Levitan, who set high standards for himself, was perfectly content with the composition and colour of Castle. In any case, the artist not only transferred it to a larger canvas without any changes, but also, shortly after the work had been completed, presented Castle. Twilight at the First International Exhibition of the journal Mir iskusstva (The World of Art) for which only the best, “agreed-upon” canvases were carefully selected.

This work, which was shown to the public for the first time in 1899, immediately attracted attention and won such plaudits that two years later the organisers of posthumous Levitan exhibition in Moscow decided to include The Castle. Twilight once again. Twilight as a topic suggestive of the end of life purturbed Levitan greatly at the turn of the century.

Reflections on the dwindling of life, the implacability of fate and yearning for the beauty of the world which he was about to leave for good – all this was embodied in his works The Last Rays of the Sun (1899, the State Tretyakov Gallery), A Moonlit Night in the Country (1897, the State Russian Museum), Twilight. The Haystacks (1899, the State Tretyakov Gallery), Twilight. The Moon (1899, the State Russian Museum) and Twilight (1900, the State Tretyakov Gallery), many of which have been recognised as genuine masterpieces of Russian painting.

They are joined by The Castle. Twilight, which was painted in the summer of 1898 on the estate of Sergei Timofeevich Morozov, which was known as Uspenskoye. The brother of the renowned patron Savva Morozov, Sergei Timofeevich was, according to the recollections of those who knew him, not as expansive as his brother, more refined in his perception, reserved, and loved nature and art. Throughout his life he was a devoted admirer of Levitan, from whom he had taken painting lessons and whom he would from time to time accompany when he was making studies. Sergei Timofeevich created a magnificent art studio in a wing of his Moscow home on Trekhsvyatitelskiy Lane, which became Levitan’s constant refuge during the last eight years of his life.

Levitan also made frequent and extended visits to Uspenskoye, where the local scenery inspired him. In the summer of 1897 he painted On the River Moskva there, and, later, most likely in the following year, he created a series of studies which were similar to the present work in terms of their colours, composition, and mood. At Levitan’s invitation, Anton Pavlovich Chekhov made a visit to Uspenskoye on 16 June, 1897. However, Morozov’s castle and the host himself made an unfavourable impression upon the writer, which Chekhov described in characteristically acerbic style: “The other day I was on the estate of the millionaire Morozov. His house is like the Vatican, with lackeys in piqué waistcoats with gold embroidery on the stomach, tasteless furniture, disgusting wine, and a host with a completely expressionless face. I fled”.

When Morozov bought the Uspenskoye estate, which was situated along what is now known as the Rublevo-Uspenskoye Highway, it was already in its final form. During the time of P.M. Apraksin, the baroque church of Uspeniye Bogoroditsy had already been erected, giving its name to the entire village. Between 1881 and 1884, the architect Pyotr Boitsov built a two-storey brick house for the former owner, Prince B.V. Svyatopolk-Chetvertinskiy, in the “English style” in the form of a “gothic castle” with corresponding internal decoration. In the intentionally heavy and almost coarse decorative elements characteristic of the Victorian neo-gothic style – flanking towers, crucifixes, pointed arches, and other gothic features – it is already possible to discern the elusive asymmetrical compositional harmony that would subsequently evolve into dazzling modernism. It takes one a moment or two to make out the vertiginous roof of the “castle” behind the ancient trees and the path depicted by Levitan that has also grown over. However, on the whole, the appearance of the country estate has not greatly changed. The landscaped park has also been preserved, consisting of a mixture of species of tree that descend towards the Moskva river from the main house situated on the high bank.

For Levitan, the last years of his life were a period of intense artistic search. At the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, impressionism and modernism made an appearance in Russian art. In these years the master’s style becomes more delicate and refined. In a sense, it heralded the work of the Symbolists and the Blue Rose movement. A Moonlit Night. The High Road, Twilight. The Moon, Twilight. The Moon and Twilight. The Haystacks were executed in this style. “No one has achieved the astonishing simplicity and clarity of motifs that Levitan has achieved in recent times, and I do not know whether anyone will achieve it after him”, Chekhov wrote about these works. It is quite obvious that Castle also belongs to these works of the turn of the century. It contains features of both impressionism and modernism (in the style of painting, primarily in the presentation of the foreground, and in the decorative nature of the colours employed). Cold dark green and greyish-blue shades which dominate the palette have been mixed by the artist into a multitude of different hues. The sky and clouds in the background have been executed with delicate, sweeping strokes, and small pinkish red touches have also been introduced. Random application of brush strokes creates the impression of movement, of clouds sailing with the wind. In portraying the house with its outlines melting into the violet gloom, fading away like a ghost in the blue grey night-time mist, which produces the impression of radiating a quiet light, the artist, using apparently simple motifs, has saturated the principal colour planes with a multitude of vibrant, living and breathing hues and achieved an unprecedented level of expression of meditative oneness with “something divine with which everything is filled”, approaching the limits of the possibilities of transference of universal poetic experiences onto canvas in a realistic landscape.

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.