27 November 2013
Hut in a Wintry Forest, signed and dated 1888.
Oil on canvas, 98 by 71 cm.
Provenance: Important private collection, France.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Aleksei Savrasov’s Hut in a Wintry Forest shows a homestead lost in the snowbound forest – an image characteristic of the artist’s landscape works in the 1880s – as he was drawn increasingly towards romantic elegy and a decorative style. Magical winter forests, nature held captive by the Russian winter, and a lonely dwelling in a forest or near a churchyard are as much tokens of the artist’s work at that time as the numerous variations of his hallmark composition, The Rooks Have Returned.
Savrasov first addressed the theme of ice-decked trees and wooden dwellings half-buried in snow in his picture The Sukharev Tower (1872), followed by the equally famous Winter Landscape. Hoarfrost. Then in the 1880s came a whole series of canvasses by Savrasov, which anticipated, and to a large extent inspired, the winter landscape themes, which would be so popular in Russian painting of the 1900s.
Hut in a Wintry Forest is among the largest in conception and most thematically elaborated works of the artist’s late winter cycle. “There has to be a theme, there has to be romance and feeling,” Savrasov once told his students at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. The choice of theme has prime importance in this picture. The image structure of the landscape is dominated by romance. One might even say that everything in the picture – from its composition to the technique, and the colour construction – is subordinated to romance.
The early evening sky, married by skilful use of light and colour to the white, frost-coated trees in the distance, melting in the snowy haze, conveys the sense of confinement of a small forest glade, intensifying the emotional impact of the picture. In the foreground the dark fir trees, beloved of the artist, with their tops disappearing beyond the canvas, are presented in their materiality, but at the same time they are like taut strings between sky and earth. The dark, delicately brushed lines of branches and trunks serve to emphasise the light airiness of the frosty forest.
Here, Savrasov conveys the frozen insensibility of nature with great insight. The theme is well chosen for the purpose, but the achievement would not be possible without a subtly elaborated colour range, which captures the pale evening light and fragile transparency of the winter air.
Hut in a Wintry Forest crystallises the aesthetic conception of Savrasov’s best forest landscapes, modest in appearance, but always illuminated by poetry. It has all the qualities of a complete artistic image.
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