3 June 2015
Forest Clearing, signed and dated 1878.
Oil on canvas, 35.5 by 55.5 cm.
Provenance: Russian Pictures, Christie’s London, 30 November 2005, lot 9.
Russian Paintings, Sotheby’s London, 25 November 2008, lot 425.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
Private collection, UK.
Authenticity of the work has been confirmed by the expert V. Petrov.
Forest Clearing is one of the landscapes Ivan Shishkin painted at the peak of his artistic career. In all probability, the composition was created in the winter of 1898. At this time the master painted his beloved pine forest, made drawings of the individual trees and worked on studies of corners of the woodland. That year, as throughout the 1890s generally, most of the artist’s work was devoted to conifer woods.
Pines are a recurrent symbol in all of Shishkin oeuvre. In Forest Clearing, however, it is difficult to single out a “main subject”. There are trunks of giant pines reaching beyond the confines of the painting, a trio of little firs beneath in the under wood, there are shadows from the treetops falling across the ground in vague silhouettes – and the ground itself – spreading out beneath the trees, strewn with pine needles and overgrown with woodland vegetation. But in this canvas, the artist was not interested in delineating the botanical details of each individual leaf. In Forest Clearing, the particular and authentic elements, so painstakingly recorded (and Shishkin was always rightly called a master in this respect) do not detract from the key component of the work: the overall atmosphere of a fine summer’s day and the sensation of warmth and light which so pervades the painting.
Shishkin was not fond of desultory or transient states of nature, but was brilliant at recording the effects of high summer. He managed to achieve an impressive tonal cohesion, with a palette dominated by the tones used to render the bright light of a summer’s midday. The artist also paid serious attention to finding the right textures; skillfully combining under-painting with glazing and body colour, and applying a variety of brushstrokes with different brushes.
A monumental and romantic image of nature in the North of Russia is generated in the fine gradations of adjacent shades of colour, in the freedom and variety of painterly techniques Shishkin employed, whilst meticulously preserving the accuracy of representation – his trademark device. He achieved mastery in the use of colour first and foremost in his studies – in the process of directly communing with nature. It therefore comes as no surprise that his Itinerant friends often found Shishkin’s studies fresher, more vibrant in colour and more interesting than his finished paintings. For who, other than Shishkin, the – “true son of the thickets of the Russian North, in love... with these pines and firs that reach up to the heavens” (A. Prakhov), could capture and convey their character and somewhat severe Nordic beauty?
Notes on symbols:
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