5 June 2013 Russian Art Auctions

5 June 2013

Artist Index / Full Catalogue


30. SHISHKIN, IVAN (1832-1898)

Twilight, signed and dated 1896.

Oil on canvas, 162 by 121 cm.
1,200,000–1,800,000 GBP

Provenance: Private collection, Finland. Anonymous sale; Kansainvälinen Keväthuutokauppa, Bukowskis Helsinki, 12 December 2006, lot 250.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Private collection, Europe.

Authenticity certificate from the expert V. Petrov.

Exhibited: The 24th Exhibition of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, various cities, 1896–1897, No. 140.
The All-Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition, Nizhny Novgorod, 1896, No. 391.

Literature: Exhibition catalogue, The 24th Exhibition of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, St Petersburg, N. Sobko, 1896, p. 5, No. 140, listed and illustrated in black and white.
Exhibition catalogue, The All-Russia Industrial and Art Exhibition, St Petersburg, 1896, N. Sobko, p. 14, No. 391, listed; p. 63, illustrated in black and white.
N. Pikulev, I.I. Shishkin, Moscow, Iskusstvo, 1955, p. 224, listed.
G. Romanov, Tovarishchestvo peredvizhnykh khudozhestvennykh vystavok. 1871–1923. Entsiklopediya, St Petersburg, Orkestr, 2003, p. 183, No. 2–188, listed and illustrated in black and white

Ivan Shishkin’s picture Twilight is considered one of the best of his late works. It is well known from the text and illustration in the catalogue for the 1896 All-Russia Exhibition in Nizhny Novgorod, where it was marked as sold. Few have had the fortune to see it first hand, however, because from the time of its sale until 2006 the picture remained in the confines of a private collection in Finland.

Shishkin painted Twilight in Siverskaya – a little village near Gatchina where many Russian artists and writers would spend the summer months at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. This area of dachas, picturesque, hilly, and with magnificent pinewoods, often served as inspiration for Shishkin, Kramskoy, Repin and Brodsky. “Here one can breathe easily and nature is wonderful,” Shishkin wrote of Siverskaya. Thus in 1896, leaving his post as director of the landscape studio at the Higher School of Art attached to the Academy of Arts, the master painter decided to set off “to the dacha” and paint from nature.

Shishkin’s sojourns at Siverskaya were always extraordinarily fruitful. It was here that his best known canvasses were painted – Rye (1878) and Morning in the Pine Forest (1889); here he devised new compositions and made numerous studies: Ferns in the Forest, Dacha at Siverskaya, Wood on a Riverbank, A Swamp by the Warsaw Railway. The present lot, Twilight, undoubtedly holds its own among these seminal compositions painted in and around Gatchina.

The lyrical and epic composition is characteristic of Shishkin’s work of the 1890s. Of a rather large scale and thoughtful execution, it produces an impression of monumentality, solemn magnificence and calm. The tall mast-pines soar skyward, in the foreground extending beyond the confines of the painting, then opening out in a wide glade that melts away in the limpid depths of the wood. A summer storm has just passed and the woodland track rutted by cartwheels has turned into an enormous puddle sparkling in the last rays of the setting sun and reflecting the reddish colour of the pine trunks. The majestic woods, the eternally swamped Russian roads, the stumps, the felled trees and new shoots rising in the same spot, the sparse needles of the tall northern trees through which the warm air streams, everything bathed in the golden light of sunset, and the cold lilac twilight is already forming in the distance, where gently painted tree trunks huddle – this scheme of contrasting elements is welded into a single integrated image of nature to generate great poetic expressiveness. A lyrical, intimate note sounds more strongly in Twilight than in many other of the artist’s paintings; he achieves a striking virtuosity in conveying forms without resorting to minute detail or unnecessarily pettifogging botanical descriptiveness.

In the last decades of the 19th century Shishkin turned to the subject of the pine wood particularly regularly. He grew up in Yelabuga among the pine-covered expanses of the Afonasov mast grove and knew and loved pine woods like no other artist. Contemporaries called Shishkin the “Bogatyr of the Woods”, the “Forest Tsar” and, according to the artist and collector Ilya Ostroukhov, even to look at he was a “sturdy pine”. Under his hand, the pine wood, this master’s legacy to Russian painting, became transformed into something original and genuinely poetic.

Pine Forest, Track in the Forest, Sun-Lit Pines, Morning in the Pine Forest, The Forest of Countess Mordvinova – in these works Shishkin not only conveys the beauty of stately trees soaring aloft, but also addresses contemporary problems of painting en plein air and allies himself with the principles of creating atmospheric landscape.

In response to innovative trends in Russian figurative art that started in the 1880s and in seeking to express the more complex and ephemeral natural conditions that resonate with man’s spiritual state, Shishkin paid ever more attention to light and recreating atmospheric effects on canvas.

In his best paintings there is movement of light, and the impression of air enshrouding the trees; there is a clarity and transparency to the vibrant shadows and undertones. Shishkin’s technique becomes richer and more varied, his palette more beautiful and the relationships between colours more subtle. As before however, the underlying principle of his work remains disciplined draughtsmanship and definition of form, precision in the colouring of every detail, and marvellous brushwork. In addition, his later work is characterised by a diversity of texture. His creative method – painting thick over thin – is manifest in the magnificent calm of Twilight, where the impasto in the foreground is combined with the soft, almost transparent, rendering of the background and sky. The artist’s desire to combine monumentality with elegiac reverie and to express a spiritual connection with nature is manifest.

Twilight reflects Shishkin’s particular interest in rendering atmospheric phenomena – sunset, sunrise, sheets of drizzle and misty damp air, woods wet from rainstorms. A female acquaintance of the artist recalled how running past his dacha in a downpour, she was taken aback to see him standing barefoot and soaked through in a puddle. “Ivan Ivanovich!” she cried, “Did you get caught in the rain too?” “No, I came out to be in the rain!” the artist replied excitedly, “The storm caught me indoors. I saw this marvel from my window and hopped out to take a look. What an exceptional picture! This rain, this sun, these flourishes of dripping water... the dark forest. I want my memory to register the light, the colour and the lines ...”

Shishkin longed to capture such moments. Every day he would arrive at his preferred spot and catch every variation in the air, light and elements of the natural world. He would then labour over the picture in his studio to combine the sketch-like immediacy of an impression with the finish of a studio work, which imparts to his canvasses their sense of compositional harmony and completeness.

Twilight is one such harmonious canvas. Based on sketches from life, it reproduces a corner of the famous Siverskaya pine grove that repeatedly piqued the artist’s interest with the richness of its colours and shifting light. It is no coincidence that another version of this subject is familiar from an early 20th century colour postcard, only viewed from a different perspective and at a later hour of the day than the radiant Twilight (the whereabouts of the other painting are unknown).

The typical yet simultaneously unique corner of the woods is captured in swift, easy brushstrokes that convey an immediacy of perception and the power and freshness of a first impression. This approach allowed the lively and changeable atmospheric con- ditions to be recreated on canvas and brought the artist closer to understanding nature as a unity: the sum of its constituent parts.

The waterlogged road, the trees and the hazy sky at dusk are not painted individually, in their own right, but interacting naturally with each other and the light and air around them. The plein air method of execution gives vitality to this image of nature and makes it convincing. The clear, translucent colours and the twilight permeating the entire space of the painting generate the sensation of a warm summer’s evening, heighten the emotion in the picture and make this superb example of lyrical landscape one of the most poignant works from the last years of Shishkin’s life.

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.