27 May 2012
In a Russian Banya, signed and dated 1916.
Oil on canvas, 132.5 by 105 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, Europe.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert I. Geraschenko.
Vitaly Tikhov, one of the most talented students of Vladimir Makovsky’s studio, made his entrance into art history with his pictures of bathers and nudes. In the early 1910s his magnificent, large-format bath-house paintings were especially successful and much admired, earning him the graduation Gold Medal of the Imperial Academy of Arts, having studied there on two separate occasions.
The present lot, In a Russian Banya, belongs to this series. It was painted in 1916 when, his creative talent at its peak, he became a member of the Society of Itinerant Art Exhibitions, which enabled him to exhibit in many towns around Russia. It is thus quite natural that this large-scale composition should be so accomplished, and of undoubted exhibition quality. The artist depicts the models in his distinctive free and rather fluid manner, sitting or standing in clouds of steam on the floor-boards of a simple Russian bath-house.
Despite his predilection for Classical echoes in his works – he often depicted his models standing or reclining in the poses of the Three Graces or Venus before a Mirror and sometimes, touchingly, gave his works those same titles – in his In a Russian Banya Tikhov was not thinking allegorically. Rather, this painting is an exquisite study of his models (one, his most important and most regular, was his wife), in which the artist strives to emphasise the pale beauty of their delicate skin, effectively highlighting it with the coloured reflections from the sunlight falling through the window. The most important attributes of Tikhov’s work are his impressionistic freshness and decorativeness.
It was with similar works, such as Zinaida Serebriakova’s bath cycle and Boris Kustodiev’s Russian Venus, that the genre of Classical women bathing, which had been given a new lease of life by Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, developed into an established, home-grown, iconographic tradition of Russian village bath-house pictures. The apparent simplicity of this subject, successor to the Academic Roman baths and harem pools of Gérôme and Ingres, allowed artists to concentrate on purely painterly issues. Deliberately executed in bright and resonant colours, Tikhov’s works were not only popular with patrons, and a decorative element of early 20th-century interiors, but also came to exert a considerable influence on the future of this genre, notably on the celebrated bathhouses of Alexander Gerasimov.
Today examples of Tikhov’s bathing women are represented in the State Russian Museum and in private collections worldwide.
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.