MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 8-9 June 2011

8 June 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Admissions Day,


Admissions Day, signed.

Oil on canvas, 137 by 108.5 cm.
280,000-400,000 GBP

Provenance: Private collection, Europe.

Exhibited: The 39th Exhibition of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, Moscow-St Petersburg, 1910-1911, No. 4.

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, The 39th Exhibition of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, Moscow, 1911, No. 4, p. 34, illustrated.
Iskry. Illustrated Arts and Humour Magazine, No. 1, 1913, p. 4, illustrated.
Bogdanov-Belsky. Book of Reproductions, Moscow-Leningrad, 1971, p. 10, illustrated.

This work will be included in the book on N. Bogdanov-Belsky being prepared by A. Kouznetsoff.

Admissions Day is an undisputed masterpiece within the group of childhood portraits by Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky. The artist portrays a group of children, silently sitting or standing, awaiting their turn to be admitted into the school. They are all curious, but slightly apprehensive about the school life which awaits them. Within this single theme, Bogdanov-Belsky has found multiple ways to reveal the diversity and spontaneity of the children's characters, their intelligence, inquisitiveness and, at the same time, slight bewilderment and awkwardness. The work is constructed in a deliberately fragmented way, and this little scene gives the impression of being part of a larger whole, whereby it seems as though there must be many more children out of view who are awaiting their turn. Although the artist's attention is wholly focused on these eight children indoors, we sense that it is a sunny day outside.

At this period, the village school and its pupils remained one of the most important and lyrical themes of Bogdanov-Belsky's work. His contemporaries recall that when the artist arrived in the countryside from St Petersburg, he was always among children, talking to them, observing them, trying to understand and to convey their inner world. His protagonists in these works live in relative comfort, their gaze is open and their attitude friendly, curious, attentive and eager to learn. In his paintings, we find the teacher at a piano, surrounded by children (The Voice Test, 1899); the boy at his desk, deep in thought (The Essay, 1903); three little lads learning their alphabet (Beginners, 1904) and village girls poring over their books (Reading, 1890s). He painted these works with a special affection and with great warmth towards these rural youngsters. "I spent so much time in the country, was so close to the village school, so often watched the peasant children, and was so fond of their spontaneity, their cleverness, that they somehow made themselves the heroes of my pictures."

The artist, who was himself educated at the model "people's school" run by Professor Sergei Alexandrovich Rachinsky in the village of Tatevo, constantly returned to themes of school life. Although many colleagues of Bogdanov-Belsky in the Itinerant Art Exhibitions society also reflected Russia's rural life in their canvases, it is hard to think of any other visual artist at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries who was able to portray the lives of village children with such devotion and sincerity, but without excess sentimentality. "I was always captivated by children," he confessed. "I have dedicated and continue to dedicate my whole life to them. On the one hand, there are my childhood memories and experiences of my youth, and on the other, the world of a child is just so fantastic." It is no coincidence that similar pictures by this artist, which thanks to their subject matter are understood by a wide spectrum of society, have been published many times in alphabet books and children's readers and, in the case of Admissions Day, in magazines and on postcards.

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.