4 June 2014
Evening Light, signed and dated 1872.
Oil on canvas, 73 by 58.5 cm.
Provenance: Important private collection, Italy.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
The great Russian landscapist Alexei Savrasov painted Evening Light in 1872 when his soaring artistic genius was at its peak. It belongs in a thematic strand developed at the outset of the 1870s with the works Moonlit Night. A Marsh (1870), Sunset over a Marsh (1871) and Sunset (early 1870s).
In turning his attention towards the most outwardly unremarkable and decidedly inelegant of subjects – a marsh – Savrasov reveals in the everyday landscape of Central Russia an inherent aesthetic richness that entirely holds its own against more “picturesque” scenery.
The intrinsic value of Savrasov’s swamps at dusk, as distinct from his romantic sunsets of the 1850s, comes not from the scenic beauty of the landscape as such but from an affection for every little corner of creation as a perfectly crafted piece of handiwork which it is the artist’s greatest delight to experience. This vision is based not on simple contemplation, but an acute personal sensation of man’s connection with nature and the unseen presence of her mood in the world of human experiences thoughts and feelings.
In Evening Light, Savrasov stresses how true the painting is to nature by occupying the foreground with deliberately prosaic details: a waterlogged marsh overgrown with sedge, and seemingly unprepossessing tussocks and scrub. The only token of human presence is the curling plume of smoke in the distance (this, along with birds flying high in the sky, was always one of Savrasov’s favourite minor motifs), which creates the sense that the landscape is lived in. It communicates the feeling that human life is there, its warmth enlivening the image of nature.
The diagonal movement of the stream flowing like a ribbon into the distance is balanced on both sides by the line of the horizon at sunset and the motionless tranquillity of the glassy water on the cusp of nightfall.
Not only is the illumination arranged with great skill, the sky and water lit with subtly nuanced tints from the setting sun, but the artist attracts one’s attention to the middle ground and distance as a whole, rather than detail by detail, which endows the seemingly prosaic subject matter with romance and lyricism.
Savrasov was one of the first Russian artists to shape an essentially new figurative interpretation of nature. The marshes he painted in the early 1870s – with their inner naturalness, originality of conception and expressive artistic execution – deserve their place among the most significant landscape works of their time.
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