25 November 2012
At the Gates of the City, signed and dated 1923.
Oil on canvas, 41.5 by 97.5 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, New York.
Anonymous sale; Russian Art, Sotheby’s New York, 15 April 2008, lot 103.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Private collection, USA.
In 1923, when Korovin and his family emigrated from Soviet Russia, he had already achieved eminence as a painter and was an acknowledged master in the art of theatre design. He had behind him a wealth of experience from 40 years of theatre work for Savva Mamontov’s Russian Private Opera and the Imperial Theatres in Moscow and St Petersburg, where he had designed more than 100 productions. His decorative images of Ancient Rus, seen in sketches for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas The Snow Maiden and Sadko (Jetty at Novgorod, Novgorod Town Square, 1906), for Modest Mussorgsky’s Khovanshchina (Red Square, 1910) and others, were a brilliant manifestation of the national and historical aspect of the Russian Style Moderne, which had begun to take shape in the artist’s work as early as 1896 in his designs for a pavilion at the All-Russian Exhibition of that year.
It is to this aspect of the development in Russian painting that the present lot, At the Gates of the City, belongs. The influence of the artist’s theatrical and decorative design work is keenly felt. Here Korovin uses the flat, graphic painting style he had developed earlier, inspired by his interest in linear rhythms, carefully drawn contours and flat areas of colour. The composition unfurls in conjunction with the surface of the canvas. The large-scale figures of churchgoers returning from a service at the monastery appear like a sublime choir, with their unhurried, reflective movement along three divergent axes. The nominal division of space into planes and the greatly elongated three-dimensional panorama of the monastery allow the artist to preserve the flatness of the overall structure of the picture. As in most of Korovin’s works of this kind, no light source is shown, but the colouring here becomes more notional, more restrained, retaining however a decorative elegance in its colour combinations and a general impression of the somewhat austere northern environment.
Artists of the late 19th and early 20th century dreamed of creating a new and great national style. The dream turned out to be impossibly utopian, yet it enriched the art of the Style Moderne with vivid portrayals of Russian life as celebrated in the ancient sagas; and Konstantin Korovin’s At the Gates of the City can be considered an outstanding representative of the genre.
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.