8 Jun 2011
Returning from a Bear Hunt, signed and dated 1881.
Oil on canvas, 102 by 160 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Authenticty of the work has been confirmed by the expert T.Goryacheva.
Related literature: For similar works, see N. Chapochnikova, N.E. Svertchkov. Le Peintre Russe du Cheval, Paris, 2001, p. 42.
Nicolai Egorovich Sverchkov was a most outstanding and expressive painter of hunting scenes. He and Petr Sokolov were probably the only Russian artists to return so frequently and so fruitfully to subjects evoking the thrill of anticipation and pursuit of the beast, as well as the hard journey home with the trophies across endless fields and out of the way forest tracks. Sverchkov had a rare talent for painting horses and studied the various breeds in depth. He also knew all the subtle differences in the appearance and habits of wild life in the central Russian forests, and his studio was filled with stuffed animals. He quickly gained a reputation as a talented animal painter. For this reason scenes of hunting with guns and dogs occupy such a special place in his oeuvre, forming a significant proportion of the paintings which have come down to us.
Sverchkov's contribution to Russian art history was that he was the first to portray hunting not as a courtly entertainment, a pretty pastime, but as a brutal and realistically dangerous and masculine activity. Among the many subjects in Sverchkov's oeuvre, which reflect practically every stage of the traditional Russian hunt and all the hunting roles, we also frequently encounter the theme of the return from a bear hunt which the artist treats as a scene of winter travel, full of drama.
The hunters are returning home after tracking down a bear in the forest in the savage winter cold, tired but atisfied, leaning on their staffs and carrying spears on their shoulders. The massive creature they have bagged is hauled by two exhausted horses, harnessed to a sledge, while around them a violent blizzard rages. The jury of the Paris World's Fair awarded the artist the Légion d'honneur for a similar Return from a Bear Hunt, painted in Paris in the early 1860s, and the work itself was acquired for the personal collection of Emperor Napoleon III.
Another of Sverchkov's pictures, Bringing Back the Dead Bear, previously owned by the famous horse-breeder and collector Yakov Butovich, now adorns the collection of the State Science and Art Museum of Horse-Breeding. And lastly, a metre-and-a-half long canvas on the analogous subject, Bringing Back the Bear, is in the collection of the Pavlovsk State Museum-Reserve (until 1956 the picture hung in the Gatchina Palace). The later variation on the same theme, now offered at auction, is in no way inferior to those exemplary works in terms of the artistic execution and finish of the painting.
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