8 June 2011
By the Green Lamp, signed.
Oil on canvas, 133 by 107 cm.
Provenance: Anonymous Sale; Icons, Russian Pictures and Works of Art, Sotheby's London, 15 June 1995, Lot 12.
Private collection, UK.
Literature: Iskry. Illustrated Arts and Humour Magazine, Moscow, No. 1, 1910, illustrated.
This work will be included in the book on N. Bogdanov-Belsky being prepared by A. Kouznetsoff.
Bogdanov-Belsky painted By the Green Lamp before 1922, when the artist was living and working in Russia. His engaging "young witches" of the 1900s with their romantic sensuality were greatly appreciated by collectors and the public alike.
In a sense, the artist was following in the footsteps of Konstantin Makovsky, who progressed from the water-nymphs and Ophelias of the 1880s to his Nude in Black Stockings (1900s). But if the painterly element predominated in Makovsky's work, Bogdanov-Belsky was striving for a feeling of depth, which he achieved by paying more attention to the silhouette and the lighting. In fact, the artist considered the one of his main professional challenges of this period to be the conveying of the atmosphere and effects of artificial lighting. For this reason, a whole series of Bogdanov-Belsky's paintings centre on a burning lamp, the light from which gradually diffuses outwards, allowing him to employ his virtuoso technique in depicting gradations in shadow and multiple highlights glinting on the faces of his models who are sitting or leaning towards the lamp.
By the Green Lamp is one of the most effective compositions of this cycle. It is distinguished by its skilful execution and the appeal of the traditional image of the nude as created by this artist. It is as if Bogdanov-Belsky is balancing between two genres, introducing a magnificent still life into the background of the composition, in which crystal sparkles in the light and shines all the more brightly thanks to the seemingly Impressionistic lightness with which it is "placed" on the canvas. When painting the present picture, Bogdanov-Belsky was doubtlessly seeking not only subtle lighting effects but also his romantic ideal. His model - a classically beautiful woman, with wide eyes and a string of pearls in her loose hair - was the artist's favourite type. This "southern" beauty calls to mind the portraits of Maria Bauer-Sorokoumovskaya as well as of the artist's wife, who served as a model for many of his female protagonists: the sick teacher, the welcoming hostess at a village name-day party etc. This beauty, half-undressed, her hair loose, appears particularly seductive in this flickering light, which brings to this canvas that erotic element which, as a rule, does not fail to attract a viewer's attention.
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.