3 June 2015 Russian Art Auctions

3 June 2015

Artist Index / Full Catalogue

Road by the Volga River

12. SAVRASOV, ALEKSEI (1830-1897)

Road by the Volga River

Oil on canvas, 55 by 43 cm.
150,000-200,000 GBP

Provenance: Private collection, Europe.

Authenticity certificate from the expert V. Petrov.

Beginning in the 1870s, the pictures painted on the banks of the Volga occupy a special place in the oeuvre of Alexei Savrasov. The great Russian river inspired him to paint boundless distances, views over flooded shores and panoramic views of surrounding areas. But at the same time, Savrasov remained true to himself, and his thoughtful love of nature, coloured by his Christian faith, finds powerful expression in these unostentatious landscapes, enriched with careful and touching attention to the details of Russian rural life.

Road by the Volga River is one of these lyrical landscape works, where nature is perceived by the artist as inseparable from the life of the people who inhabit it – the fishermen, peasants and barge haulers – each with their everyday concerns and pursuits.

The picture is of the modest-sized salon format so beloved by the artist, and almost matching that of the famous Rainbow in the collection of the State Russian Museum. This format, together with the poetic theme of the picture, is clearly reminiscent of the master’s quest for a particular artistic representation. This was always the defining feature of works by Savrasov, one of the most sensitive painters of Russian landscapes.

The apparent simplicity of composition belies the careful thinking behind the picture. Savrasov encompasses at a glance the distances of the Central Russian riverscape, the endless expanse of the sky with its moving clouds, the quiet, unassuming beauty of the high river bank and the broad track where two peasants are making their unhurried way. The composition of the picture has a calmness and clarity. The foreground is dominated by a tall tree with its branches in full leaf, by the roof of a small village house which emerges through its foliage and by the diagonal path of a well-trodden, muddy track. In the distance, we see the mast of a boat with a flag blowing in the wind and a third figure, making his way up from the riverbank. Human presence permeates the whole composition and lends warmth to this representation of nature.

The picture is a rendition of many themes beloved by the artist and a collection of details that typify Savrasov’s landscapes: the water’s surface reflecting a playful light from the cloudy sky, the large tree illuminated by the sun, the figures walking along the track and the panorama of a village, melting away into the distance. Savrasov’s painting is thin-layered, almost transparent. The artist was a master at combining the intimacy of human habitation in nature with the grandeur of landscape. With its modest, low-key subject matter and calm painting, Road by the Volga River embodies Isaac Levitan’s famous comment on Savrasov’s art: “What simplicity! But behind the simplicity you feel the gentle, good soul of the artist, for whom all this is dear and close to his heart.”

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.