27 May 2012
Before the Storm, signed and dated 1918.
Oil on canvas, 160 by 120 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Exhibited: Pervaya gosudarstvennaya svobodnaya vystavka proizvedenii iskusstva, Palace of the Arts, Petrograd, 1919, No. 1584.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Pervaya gosudarstvennaya svobodnaya vystavka proizvedenii iskusstva, Petrograd, 1919, p. 83, No. 1584, listed.
Before the Storm stands out in the oeuvre of Andrei Shilder, not only because it is rare to find a genre element in the landscapes of Shishkin’s talented pupil, but also for its particularly poetic composition. Painted in 1918, this striking, monumental work merits special attention for the light it sheds on the attitude of the new generation of Wanderers towards the aims of Russian painting of the 1880s.
In this picture Shilder consciously initiates a dialogue with Children Running from the Storm by Konstantin Makovsky, painted almost half a century earlier. Shilder’s little girls take up Makovsky’s theme, returning home from the forest with their basket filled with berries, they are caught in the elements. But if the clear-cut genre designation of Makovsky’s painting prevents us from a “landscape” reading of the work, Shilder’s Before the Storm prompts us to view nature as an equally important aspect of the composition. Undoubtedly, nature, which in its restlessness and apprehension corresponds to the human feelings and emotions, plays a major role in both works. Makovsky’s frightened children run from the terrible thunder-clouds; Shilder’s little girls hurry home to their village. In both works they will encounter on the way the narrow planks of a bridge across the stream – they must not trip on them as they run, must not fall into the dark water. In both pictures there are elements of a certain tender sentimentality, but here the resemblance ends. In Makovsky, the essence of the picture derives from the emotional state of the children, as if they themselves are narrating their adventure: how fearful the cloud was, how thorny the undergrowth, how cold the stream. In Shilder, conversely, the descriptive resonance of the canvas is achieved largely through the inclusion of the little figures of the girls in a carefully planned and precisely conceived landscape environment, of which they are a surprisingly organic element. The figures of the children do, of course, immediately draw our attention, but here they do not dominate, do not seem monumental, do not subjugate their surroundings, but rather exist in unbroken unity with the landscape. At the same time the countryside itself is depicted in a way we could consider to be the artist’s “signature” style, with the polished draughtsmanship – learned from Shishkin – of the plants in the middle ground and the extremely expressive silhouettes of the trees against a background, of vivid contrasts between the dark sky and last bright ray of sunlight. In this composition the dominant element is the emotional mood generated by colour and chiaroscuro, stimulating the viewer’s imagination and endowing the picture with particular mysteriousness. For this reason we can safely say that Before the Storm is a seminal work in the oeuvre of Shilder, an artist for whom a beautiful landscape, as a skilfully crafted work of art possessing its own means of expression, could in no way be equated with the precise rendering of the reality of nature.
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