27 November 2013
A Summer's Evening, signed and dated "Avgust 1923".
Oil on canvas, 71.5 by 86 cm.
Provenance: Private collection, UK.
Exhibited: The Russian Art Exhibition, Grand Central Palace, New York, 1924, No. 209 (stamp and label on the stretcher).
Literature: Exhibition catalogue, The Russian Art Exhibition, New York, 1924, No. 209, listed.
Igor Grabar’s picture entitled A Summer’s Evening may be considered a sort of summation of the fruitful summer the artist spent in 1923 at the village of Krylatskoye near Moscow. For almost the first time since the revolution he was able to tear himself away from rescuing artistic treasures and from his administrative work as Director of the Tretyakov Gallery and museums section of the People’s Commissariat for Education to devote himself entirely to painting, his great love. Till deep into autumn he would bring compositions to life that – in his own words – were “wisely put together in nature itself ”.
“At no time since Dugino [the former estate of the Meshcherin family, where Grabar created his famous landscapes of the years 1900–1910] had I worked so hard for so long”, the artist would avow. Still captivated by the play of light, he put his faith not in artistic technique but in conveying as accurately as he could the fleeting tints of light being cast and reflected. It comes as no surprise that most of the thirty-odd landscapes he painted at Krylatskoye have “morning”, “evening” or “sun” in their title.
Harking back to the traditions of the Russian realist school of painting at the end of the 19th century, Grabar painted “trying to forget all the ‘-isms’ in the world and just be one of the public admiring the beauty of nature”. In A Summer’s Evening he chooses the widest middle and foreground he can, almost panoramic, with the valley of the Moscow River, a broad open sky and low horizon serving as a backdrop. The palette becomes markedly darker and more intense and the paint more substantial. The artist himself believed that at this time gaining “transcendence over impressionism gave greater freedom to my brushwork, which immediately both loosened my handling of form and simplified my painting, bringing it closer to synthesis. In all my work over the last few years I have found myself a close neighbour of the Jack of Diamonds and the painters in that group”.
Among the landscapes he painted at Krylatskoye, Grabar would give prominence to A Summer’s Evening. As early as 1923, on his return to Moscow that autumn, the artist included this work among those selected for the grand exhibition of Russian art being prepared in America. In all about twenty of Grabar’s paintings went into the American show of 1924. A Summer’s Evening had a well-earned place among them, representing the latest achievements in Russian landscape painting.
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