5 Jun 2013
Gate in Volterra, Etruria, signed twice.
Oil on canvas, 209 by 142 cm.
Provenance: Collection of the Columbus Museum of Art, Ohio.
Anonymous Sale; Russian Art, Christie’s New York, 23 April 2010, lot 5
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Exhibited: Academy of the Arts, St Petersburg, 1891, No. 4.
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, Academy of the Arts Exhibition, St Petersburg, 1891, No. 4, listed and illustrated.
Gate in Volterra, Etruria is a splendid work by Alexander Svedomsky, a celebrated Russian painter of the mid 19th century and one of the greatest representatives of the Russian academic tradition.
Alexander and his brother Pavel decided to embark upon painting careers early on. Having initially studied in Germany under the renowned Hungarian artist M. Munkácsy, the Svedomsky brothers fulfilled a long-held ambition to move to Rome in 1875 and almost immediately found fame both in Europe and back in Russia. As a result they were invited to participate in the decoration of the famous Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev which the brothers worked on for a number of years alongside some of Russia’s most prominent artists of the period, including Viktor Vasnetsov, Mikhail Nesterov, Mikhail Vrubel and Vasily Kotarbinsky.
The Eternal City however remained a great source of inspiration for both brothers and they produced a large body of work depicting scenes form antiquity. The present lot is one of the most successful of these works.
The academic influence of the Svedomsky brothers’ teacher M. Munkácsy is discernable in the technical proficiency and precision of the composition, which gives an incredible sense of depth to the canvas. It can also be detected in the skilful use of colour, which despite the relatively reserved palette, creates a harmonious yet impressive effect. Svedomsky places the compositional focus on the protagonist, highlighting the drama of the action unfolding before the viewer. A hush falls over the bustling city as the captives are led through the gate by the Roman soldiers, trumpets sounding their arrival. The attention of the crowd immediately turns towards the group at the centre of the composition, which the artist achieves by visually encircling them with a supporting cast of street traders, loiterers, guards leaning from the gate tower window and a dog in the foreground.
This solemn, monumental work is a magnificent illustration of Alexander Svedomsky at the peak of his artistic career and of the Russian academic tradition as a whole.
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