25 November 2012
Fishermen on the Volga, signed.
Oil on canvas, 58 by 80.5 cm.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Fishermen on the Volga belongs to Savrasov’s variations on his favourite theme. Sunsets, dusk and moonlit nights over water – these are subjects with an important place in the work of romantics and academic painters alike. They might seem too refined and escapist, given Russian art’s concern in the 1870s to address social issues, but precisely at this time they acquire a special lyrical resonance in the paintings of Alexei Savrasov. In Isaak Levitan’s phrase, Savrasov, one of the founders of the sentimental Russian landscape school, was “among the most profound of Russia’s landscape painters” and the sunsets he painted throughout his life, are the best confirmation of this view.
In the painting Fishermen on the Volga everything is recognisable and familiar: the sailing boat seen in his painting On the Volga (The State Museum of Fine Arts of the Republic of Tatarstan); a plume of smoke rising from the open fire – one of Sarasov’s abiding and favourite motifs; a solitary tree with sparse foliage, flocks of birds in the sky and of course, the banks of the Volga itself.
The painting is distinguished by the peacefulness and clarity of its compositional structure. The entire, extensive foreground, is occupied by clay-like black earth, punctuated here and there by patches of green grass. There are dilapidated fishermen’s huts; with nets, boats and an open fire burning. In everything, the presence of human life can be felt, its radiance warming the face of nature. The far shore is obscured by smoke, where the distances beyond entirely disappear. The signs of human life are not lost in the dusk, but neither do they hold sway over the landscape, remaining an equal part of it in this harmoniously constructed image of a quiet evening on the Volga.
The shoreline, however, does not represent a great part of the composition, occupying only a third of the canvas. Beyond is a thin stretch of water, and the rest is sky. The last rays of the setting sun are reflected in a delicate pink and orange radiance, throwing their light on the clouds and birds. The painting glows with the bright light of the sunset, but its overall tonality is harmonious and the dark brown tones of the near shore merely underscore the distant brilliance. Everything is painted in a very fluid way, with swift, light brush strokes, imparting a sense of calm and being at peace with the world. With the modesty and unpretentiousness of its subject, as well as its even, placid execution, Fishermen on the Volga seems to be the epitome of Levitan’s famous words on Savrasov’s compositions: “What simplicity! And behind this simplicity you can feel the gentle, good soul of an artist for whom all this is dear and close to his heart”.
Composing a series of Central Russian sunsets, distinguished by such conspicuously brilliant pieces as Seashore on the Outskirts of Oranienbaum, The Thaw, Sunset, Sunset over a Marsh and Evening. Birds Flying Over, in which what is specifically expressed alters as the artist’s talent develops, and given the overall challenges of Russian landscape, Fishermen on the Volga is entirely characteristic of the last period in Savrasov’s creative life and would undoubtedly enhance any collection.
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