MacDougall's Russian Art Auctions 1 December 2011

1 December 2011

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Pastoral Scene

35. SAVRASOV, ALEKSEI (1830-1897)

Pastoral Scene, signed.

Oil on canvas, 65 by 54 cm.
400,000-600,000 GBP

Authenticity certificate from the expert V. Petrov.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert N. Ignatova.
Authenticity of the work has also been confirmed by the expert G. Churak.

Pastoral Scene is one of the small group of light, lyrical landscapes that Savrasov painted towards the end of his life. Very few works of this period survive and for this reason they are of undoubted interest to collectors.

The small-scale, salon-style format so beloved by Savrasov (similar to that of the celebrated works in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Rooks Have Returned and A Country Road) and the poetic nature of the motif bear testimony to that single-minded quest for artistic form which for many years was at the centre of the work of one of Russia’s most soulful landscape painters.

The juxtaposition of the expansiveness of a Central-Russian river panorama, a blue sky covered with scudding clouds and the peaceful, unspectacular beauty of a river bank and pine forest with a herd of cows come to drink at the water’s edge, is a motif which first appeared in the artist’s work in the 1850s. Even then, in the earliest days of his artistic career, Savrasov’s keen love of nature, tinged with a religious quality, was already finding radiant expression in his low-key landscapes, imbued with careful and touching attention to the details of village life.

Domestic cattle grazing peacefully by the water became the theme of a series of notable Savrasov works, so that the subject the artist elaborated in Summer Day (1850s, now in the Krasnodar Regional Art Museum) was taken further in his work of the 1860s and 1870s, including the celebrated Elk Island, Sokolniki (1869), acquired by Pavel Tretyakov. We sense definite echoes and resonances with this masterpiece in Pastoral Scene, painted two decades later, which was composed as a variation on the artist’s favourite motifs. It displays Savrasov’s usual selection of component parts: a watering-place in the foreground reflecting the intricate pattern of clouds and sky, a group of cows drinking unhurriedly, slender pine trunks suffused with sunlight, a path leading off into the distance and a far-off, evanescent church and bell-tower.

His paint is applied in thin, almost transparent layers. The brushwork is without superfluous differentiation in the texturing of forms and only serves to emphasise the details this artist considered essential — the silhouette of the distant church on the hill and the tiny figures of birds over the water. Only the copse intrudes into the expanse of sky, preventing the eye from penetrating any further, instead directing us upwards towards the sky which still shows blue between the clouds. The artist has managed to seamlessly combine the intimacy of this homely little spot with the picturesque beauty of the view. As Savrasov’s pupil Isaak Levitan wrote of his master, “What simplicity! But behind that simplicity you sense the good, gentle soul of the artist, for all this is dear to him, close to his heart... In this simplicity lies a whole world of sublime poetry.”

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.