27 Nov 2013 Russian Art Auctions

27 November 2013

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

The Temptation of St Jerome

* 27. SEMIRADSKY, GENRIKH (1843-1902)

The Temptation of St Jerome, signed and inscribed "Roma".

Oil on canvas, 74.5 by 179.5 cm.
500,000–1,000,000 GBP

Executed c. 1886.

Provenance: Collection of the Scheibler family, the prominent Polish industrialists, collectors and patrons of the arts, Lodz, from c. 1901.
The painting is believed to have been displayed at the Scheiblers’ palace (currently Muzeum Kinematografii), Lodz, until 1944.
Private collection, Munich, c. 1980s–1990s.
Private collection, Krakow.
Anonymous sale; Aukcja Dziel Sztuki, Rynek Sztuki, Lodz, Poland, 20 September 2009, lot 72.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

Authenticity certificate from the expert T. Karpova.
Authenticity certificate from the expert V. Petrov.

Exhibited: Vystavka pyati kartin G. Semiradskogo, Lviv, May–June 1888.
Vystavka pyati kartin G. Semiradskogo, Krakow, July 1888.
Vystavka pyati kartin G. Semiradskogo, Imperial Academy of Arts, St Petersburg, 1889.
Personal’naya vystavka Semiradskogo, Warsaw, April 1892.
Pervaya vystavka kartin istoricheskogo soderzhaniya, Moscow, March 1895, No. 35.
Charitable exhibition, Ogolnokrajowa Kwesta Ratujcie Dzieci “Kropla Mleka”, Juliusz Heinzel Palace (currently City Hall), Lodz, 11 June–6 July 1916.

Literature: Vsemirnaya illyustratsiya, 1889, No. 1052, p. 202, mentioned in the text.
F. Bulgakov, Al’bom russkoi zhivopisi. Kartiny G.I. Semiradskogo, St Petersburg, 1890, p. 8, mentioned in the text.
G. Semiradskii, Perechen’ osnovnykh moikh rabot, 1890, Manuscript Department, Russian National Library, St Petersburg, fund 127, file 3939, pp. 1–2, No. 49, listed.
Tygodnik illustrowany, 1895, No. 26, pp. 416, 422, illustrated.
Exhibition catalogue, Pervaya vystavka kartin istoricheskogo soderzhaniya, Moscow, March 1895, No. 35, illustrated and listed.
S. Lewandowski, Henryk Siemiradzki, Warsaw–Krakow, 1904, p. 106, mentioned in the text.
J. Dużyk, Siemiradzki: Opowiesć ́ biograficzina, Warsaw, 1986, pp. 423, 426, 447, mentioned in the text.
T. Karpova, Genrikh Ippolitovich Semiradskii, St Petersburg, Zolotoi vek, 2008, p. 142, illustrated; p. 168, mentioned in the text; p. 386, listed.

We are grateful to Dr Wojciech Niewiarowski, the director of the Rynek Sztuki gallery, Lodz, and the secretary and treasurer of the Association of Polish Antiquarians, for providing additional cataloguing information.

Semiradsky included his The Temptation of St Jerome in a list of his chief works, which is evidence of the importance the artist himself attached to this painting. The Temptation of St Jerome was painted during a year of surging creativity for Semiradsky: it was in 1886 that he also worked on the Aurora ceiling for Yuri Nechayev-Maltsev’s house in St Petersburg and completed Christ at the House of Martha and Mary (State Russian Museum). He also began work on the painting Phryne at the Feast of Poseidon in Eleusis (State Russian Museum) at this time.

The Temptation of St Jerome has often been mentioned and reproduced in written sources and was shown at exhibitions in Semiradsky’s lifetime. In particular, this painting was exhibited in 1889 at his one-man show in the rooms of the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg at the same time as Phryne at the Feast of Poseidon in Eleusis (undoubtedly the main feature of the exhibition), Before the Bathe, By the Fountain and Following the Example of the Gods. A watercolour study for this painting exists, entitled Woman Playing the Lute (c. 1886, National Museum, Warsaw).

The group of bacchantes in the centre of the picture, dancing energetically to the tambourine, was used later, with variations, in a number of Semiradsky’s works, notably in the paintings The Judgement of Paris (1892, National Museum, Warsaw) and Roman Dances(c.1897, whereabouts unknown).

One of the undoubted ingredients in Semiradsky’s success – an erotic shimmer cast over many of his works – is present in The Temptation of St Jerome. Semiradsky is a virtuoso at striking a balance between Christian values and the joys of the senses, erotic titillation and the pagan cult of the naked body.

There is also an inventiveness evident in The Temptation of St Jerome that is intrinsic to the way Semiradsky handles his compositions. The canvas is narrow but powerfully extended in breadth, allowing the artist to paint in the figure of Jerome at prayer and the multiple figures in his vision – the half-naked maidens in their frenzied dance, and the shades of pagan philosophers and writers. From the dark boulders of the desert of Chalcis we are transported to the Roman Fora bathed in sunlight. The drama in the painting’s composition comes from the contrast between the dark and the light parts of the picture, its cold and its warm tones. St Jerome (c. 341–420) is well known for translating the books of the Old Testament into Latin. He came from a noble Roman family in Dalmatia and after being christened in 375 set off to the desert of Chalcis to lead the life of a hermit.

As distinct from many of his predecessors in the history of European art, who depicted St Jerome as a gaunt, profound old man with a grey beard, Semiradsky is guided by the facts known about the life of a holy man who retreated to the desert of Chalcis when he was 33 years old. It is as though Semiradsky illustrates the saint’s famous words from his letter to Eustochium: “O how many times did I, having retreated into solitude in this vast desert, ... imagine myself amid the delights of Rome... Yet I, who for fear of hell had condemned myself to this prison, I, with wild beasts and scorpions as my companions, would often dream I was surrounded by troops of dancing girls. My face was pale with fasting but, though my frame was chilled, my mind was burning with desire and the fires of lust flared up while my flesh was barely alive. And so, helpless, I threw myself at the feet of Christ, washed them with my tears, wiped them with my hair, and I subdued my rebellious flesh with whole weeks of going without food... And I, bitterly angry with myself, had come away into the desert alone. And when I saw the deep valleys and the rocky crags – there was my place to pray, the dungeon in which to punish my unhappy flesh.”

Dr Tatiana Karpova, art historian.

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.