MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 1-2 Dec 2010

1 December 2010

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

View of Blagoveschensky Bridge and Nikolaevskaya Embankment

* 404. VOROBIEV, MAKSIM 1787-1855

View of Blagoveschensky Bridge and Nikolaevskaya Embankment signed, c. 1850-54

Oil on canvas, 66.5 by 98 cm.
400,000-600,000 GBP

Authenticity has been confirmed by the expert A. Kiseleva and L. Gelienek.
Authenticity has been confirmed by experts I. Lomize and S. Usacheva.

A founding father of Russian romantic landscape painting, Vorobiev carved out a glittering artistic career for himself. The son of a janitor at the Academy of Arts, Vorobiev attended classes at the Academy from the age of ten, and his hard work and talent earned him the full complement of honours and awards available to an artist in Russia in the first half of the 19th century. In 1814 he was made Academician, in 1815 a lecturer of the Academy, in 1823 Professor of the Academy, and in 1843 an Honoured Professor.

Vorobiev’s works invariably received an enthusiastic reception from both public and critics, and regular clients who appreciated his talent included Emperor Nicholas I, Count Benkendorf and Prince Vorontsov. At their request the artist frequently repeated compositions which he had painted previously. The most valuable part of his legacy is represented by his St Petersburg landscapes, which were for the most part executed at a time when his abilities were at their peak. Vorobiev’s work was to influence many of his pupils including Aivazovsky, Bogoliubov, Lagorio, Lebedev and Chernetsov amongst others.

View of Blagoveschensky Bridge and Nikolaevskaya Embankment is one of the last of Vorobiev’s famed series of St Petersburg landscapes. Throughout his life he painted architectural views of his beloved St Petersburg and its environs. They brought him fame, the recognition of his contemporaries and advancement in the Academy. Thus in 1809, upon graduating from the Academy of Arts with his completed project View of the Newly Built Church of Our Lady of Kazan and its Environs, Vorobiev was awarded the large Gold Medal, which conferred on him not only personal nobility but also a pension. In 1823, for his work View of the Neva from the Embankment by the Troitsky Bridge in Moonlight the artist was awarded the title of Professor of Perspective Painting. As a master of topographical precision, Vorobiev spent many years executing prestigious high-level commissions, creating a “snapshot” of a Moscow as it was reconstructed after the 1812 war, together with a portrayal of the Christian saints of Palestine and the military theatre of the Russo-Turkish front. In such circumstances the artist was frequently constrained in his choice of subjects, periods and techniques. However, when he returned to St Petersburg he found he could work freely, and devoted an increased amount of his attention to lighting effects, including those of the evening and nighttime, and to conveying the life, atmosphere and essence of the city itself. The appearance in St Petersburg of new buildings, embankments, bridges and walls – everything which adorned the capital of the Russian Empire and transformed it into a lovely classical metropolis — was recorded with great talent on his canvases, which communicated the artist’s delight in his subject. He would often depict the same location or architectural motif at various times of the day or during various seasons of the year and in varying weather conditions. The compositions of his works were carefully thought out. The harmonious relationships between sky and earth, expanses of water and architectural forms invoked a sense of the serenity, beauty and natural poetry of the material world. At the same time Vorobiev was one of the first Russian artists to unify the subjects of his works into tonal and colour images. He incorporated soft silvery and bluish shades of sky into his depiction of water and of the walls of buildings, and even into his green tones. His was an innovative portrayal of Russian landscapes for those times. The most romantic and emotional of his works were his mature and late images of the Northern Capital such as Sunrise over the Neva, 1827, An Autumn Night in St Petersburg, 1835, in the Tretyakov Gallery; Sunset in the Environs of St Petersburg, 1832; The Neva Embankment with the Sphinxes of the Academy of Arts, 1835; both held by the State Russian Museum, Building St. Isaac’s Cathedral, and Peter and Paul Fortress. They also include View of Blagoveschensky Bridge and Nikolayevskaya Embankment.

The artist had already used this location as the subject of one of his 1830s watercolours. The old pontoon bridge which had been built a century before still crossed the river Neva from the more contemporary St Isaac’s Square to Vasilievsky Island. But now the view had fundamentally changed: in place of the floating bridge, Vorobiev depicted one of the principal sights of St Petersburg in the 1850s — the newly built eight arch cast iron Blagoveshchensky Bridge.

At the time it was, at 300 metres, the longest bridge in Europe, and idle tongues used to say that during the building of this engineering marvel (there was a swing bridge at the right bank, for which a rotating swing system was employed in Russia for the first time) Nicholas I promised the architect, Kerbedz, that he would be promoted in rank for each arch, and for this reason the engineer supposedly speedily revised the project in order to incorporate an increase in the number of arches. Far down on the right bank can be seen the tented roofs of the Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, which had been built by Konstantin Ton for the Life-Guards Cavalry in 1849 and which had recently been consecrated. The dominant architectural feature in the composition is the five-domed structure of St. Isaac’s Cathedral which rises dramatically up behind the bridge, the basic structure of the cathedral having been completed in 1842.

The meticulous topographical detail which was, without exception, characteristic of every one of Vorobiev’s canvases not only enables this work to be dated with a high degree of certainty to between 1850 and 1854 (the period between the opening of the bridge and the year the Chapel of Nicholas the Miracle Worker was constructed, which does not feature in the work), but also allows us to refer to this landscape as a unique historical document of the time on which there is imprinted a lovely, but long lost St Petersburg scene (the Church of the Annunciation was demolished in 1929 under the pretext of making way for a tram system, and the bridge was rebuilt at the beginning of the 20th century). However, its value is not only historical. A romantic artist, Vorobiev not only recorded the achievements of the capital’s town planning work in the mid-19th century, but was also able to perceive the city in a new way — in harmony with its dynamic vibrancy, the boats gliding along the Neva river and even one of the first steamships which as a back-up measure was also equipped with sails, in the vacillating, ever changing atmosphere of sunset.

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.