RUSSIAN ART of the 19th and early 20th centuries in the Serpukhov Museum of History and Art

Andrei Pilipenko

Article: 
GOLDEN MAP OF RUSSIA
Magazine issue: 
#1 2008 (18)

The 30th exhibition of the “Golden Map of Russia”

The Serpukhov Museum of History and Art is one of the richest provincial Russian museums and the largest visual arts museum in the Moscow region. It is located in a former mansion that was built in the late 19th century by the architect Robert Klein and belonged to the textile manufacturer, the merchant of the third guild Anna Vasilievna Maraeva.

The foundation of its collection, established in 1918, came from the nationalized collection that belonged to Maraeva, a prominent figure in the circles of Old Believers and a patroness of the Serpukhov community of the Fedoseev sect of Old Believers. She owned a unique collection of artefacts of traditional Russian spiritual culture, including icons, hand-written and black-letter books, and embroidery. In 1896 Maraeva bought the collection of Yury Merlin, who was a chamberlain at the court of the Tsar and an officer for special commissions at the office of the Moscow governor. The collection included a number of splendid Western European and Russian paintings, sculptures and drawings.

The major part of the 19th-century Russian art section at the Serpukhov Museum was assembled in the 1920s with acquisitions from private collections. As a consequence, it has quite a few salon paintings and pieces in the style of the later period of academicism: very technical, eye-catching, and designed for the tastes of wealthy audiences. In this field, themes of antiquity were prominent, among them the work of the painter Genrikh Semiradsky (1843—1902), one of the luminaries of Russian art in the late 19 th century.

A general tendency of Russian visual art in the second half of the 19th century was its attention to everyday life. Characteristically, Semiradsky's paintings “Slave Woman's Song” (1884) and “Feast of Bacchus” (1890), instead of accenting the sublime and heroic, are focused on the everyday life of their subjects: the domestic life of rich Romans and the boisterous festivities of Attic wine-growers. From the 1870s onwards, such “antiquity-themed” paintings provided for the artist a sort of respite in the intervals between his work on monumental historical paintings.

The artistic heritage of Alexei Kharlamov (1840—1925) consists of dainty, pleasantly sentimental paintings of the “second rococo”. In 1869 as a “pensioner” (fellowship holder) of the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, Kharlamov came to Paris, which was to become his second home. There in 1872—1873 he studied in the workshop of Leon Bonnat (1833—1922), a past master of decorative paintings featuring “little facial portraits” (of women and girls) — and later he mostly followed Bonnat’s example in art. Kharlamov scholars prefer not to look for real-life prototypes of his “facial portraits” and systematize these pictures according to the faces' “phenotypes, external manifestations of specific genetic traits.”[1] According to this classification, “Portrait of a Lass” at the Serpukhov Museum falls into the category of pictures described by Ivan Turgenev (an admirer of Kharlamov's talent) in 1875 as the “wonderful pink girl”.[2] And the figure on the left in the 1877 picture “Italian Children” leads in an independent, so called Serpukhovian type, which includes overall 29 pieces from different collections.[3]

The artist Konstantin Makovsky (1839—1915) was a prominent figure in the Russian art world of his period; his father was one of the founders of the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in Moscow, and he came from a family with a rich artistic heritage. A participant in the famous “rebellion of 14” at the Academy of Fine Arts, over the years Makovsky became one of the notable figures of academic art in Russia. In 1876 the artist traveled across the Balkans, Egypt, and the Near East. “In a Cairo Coffee-house” is one of the paintings reflecting his impressions from the voyage. In this piece an admiration for the exotic world of the Orient is combined with the artist’s clear-headed attention to the contrasts of the foreign life, just as a vivid, shimmering colour scheme is combined with the artist's fluid, assured manner.

As a historical painter, Makovsky focused on the then very popular subject of “domestic life” of Moscow and its surrounding region of the 16th—17th centuries, introducing viewers to it in his 1890 picture “On the Eve of the Wedding” depicting the grooming of a bride in a boyar family. The bride's braid is being combed as a token of her parting with maidenhood (in old Rus, unmarried girls wore one braid, and married women wore two braids).

The artist historically and faithfully reproduced the atmosphere of the house, although he easily inserted there details of the 19th century: for instance, a girl's drawing room in a boyar house could not have had either a carpet on the floor or curtains on the windows. Prior to the period of Peter I, carpets were used to cover benches, coffers, and the like, but they were not put on the floor (except in prayer rooms, where they were never trodden, but only knelt upon). And there was simply no use for curtains, because a dim, semi-transparent mica was used instead of glass in windows. Representing the boyar's daughter not yet fully groomed, the artist quite consciously adjusted his picture to the habitual perception of the viewer — the average townsman of the late 19th century. The bride sits in front of an open chest, in a white loose-fitting chemise which we can just as easily take for a wedding dress. Makovsky could not have depicted a boyar bride in a white dress — this would have been a gross historical error, even a scandalous one: even in the 19th century in rural areas, let alone in ancient Rus, white was considered the colour of the funeral shroud, while the bride's habitual outfit would be “the red pinafore dress” celebrated in a famous romance. But the artist was also mindful of the level and interests of the mass audience, who, given the picture's title, would want to see most of all, a bride, and a bride in white.

The girl who sits on the floor reclining on the bride's knees could have been painted from a real-life subject: it is believed that Makovsky's sitter was his good friend Alexandra Dmitrievna Bugaeva (1858—1922), mother of the poet Andrei Bely[4]. If this conjecture is correct, Bugaeva could also have been the sitter for Makovsky's “Portrait of a Lass”, another piece from the Serpukhov collection. Nevertheless, the genre of “facial portraits”, which Makovsky chose for the picture, had at its core the special attitude of an artist to his subject: the sitter's real features were to serve only as a “starting point” for creating generalized, idealized images of female beauty.

The Russian tradition of critical realism, the “Peredvizhniki” (Wanderers) style, which we usually view as the antithesis of mainstream academicism, nevertheless originated at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts, in the 1840-1850s, under the influence of Pavel Fedotov's art. These paintings include, among others, a piece by Nikolai Shilder (1828—1898) “Temptation” — an interesting reproduction by the artist of his own painting, which was bought by Pavel Tretyakov. The author of “Temptation”, developing the theme of Fedotov's sepia drawing “For a Poor Girl Beauty is like the Scythe of Death” (1846, Tretyakov Gallery), interpreted the melodramatic plot fairly close to the traditions of Dutch household-themed art of the 17th century.

“Gypsy Woman” (1886) by Nikolai Yaroshenko (1846—1898) was another step in the evolution of Russian household-themed art. Yaroshenko, an active participant in the “Peredvizhniki” exhibitions, was known as a talented self-taught figure — holding a degree in military engineering, he finished the Academy of Fine Arts through distance learning; he was also known as a past master of bright, expansive semi-genre, semi-portrait paintings. In spite of its superficial closeness to the salon “facial portraits”, his “Gypsy Woman” defies the captivating “characterlessness” of those girls. The lively, assertive woman on the picture engages the viewer instantly, thanks to the complex lighting contrasts, the sharp, emotional brushwork, and the dynamic technique of double framing.

The painting of Vladimir Makovsky (1846—1920) “In a Forester's Cabin” (1886—1887) was created at about the same period. A sibling of the academic painter Konstantin Makovsky, Vladimir Makovsky, in the vein of the democratic household-themed art, was fond of lucid and placid images of “heart-warming everydayness”, domestic routines and the modest joys of common folk. “In a Forester's Cabin” was the artist's tribute to the subject of the hunt, very popular in Russian culture at the time. The episode when two “noblemen” hunters rest in a forester's humble abode became in Vladimir Makovsky's rendition a sort of mirror held up to the Russian life of that period with all its problems. Profoundly insightful and earnest are the characterisations of the cabin's sulky and overbearing owner, as well as those of his unbidden guests — the aged nobleman who is a seasoned hunter, and the smug fop from the city (the author's ironical treatment of this character is enhanced by a cheap popular print of Anika the Warrior hanging by the fop's side on the wall); and those of the tired gamekeeper accompanying the noblemen in the shooting party[5] and, finally, of the forester's cowed, featureless wife. This composition has much in common with Vladimir Makovsky's painting “Admirers of Nightingales” (1872—1873, Tretyakov Gallery) — one of the artist's first successful works, on the strength of which he was granted the title of academician.

Illarion Pryanishnikov (1840—1894), one of the founders of the “Peredvizhniki” movement, was called the “Ostrovsky of the visual arts” due to his lively domestically-themed pictures. His 1891 painting “Waiting for the Best Man” combines the artist's special qualities. The foreground is dominated by the bulky figure of a woman in a crimson dress — she fits in poorly with this plainly appointed, modest room suffused with sunlight, which has been neatly cleaned for the wedding ceremony. Given these compositional arrangements, the viewer's glance is involuntarily drawn to the deep interior of the room; further back the space continues to expand, given the doorway through which curious neighbours walk in. The artist touched upon the subject of “misalliance” then popular in society, crafting his picture's plot with great tact. Almost all of the picture's narrative takes place “behind the scenes”. Only a number of telltale details remind the viewer about it: a badge of the military order of St. George fixed on the frockcoat worn by the bride's father; a group photograph (a graduating class in a gymnasium?) on the wall; an icon with which the father blesses the bride; a lackey from a wealthy home, standing at the door with an expensive fur-coat on his hands. All are witnesses in a narrative about a family whose head managed to rise from the gutter and who now marries his daughter off to a man from the highest rung of the social ladder.

This picture, greatly appreciated by Vasily Polenov[6], can be rightfully placed among other masterpieces of Russian art of the time: Ilya Repin's “They Did Not Expect Him” (1884, Tretyakov Gallery), Valentin Serov's “Girl with Peaches” (1887, Tretyakov Gallery), and Konstantin Korovin's “At a Tea-table” (1888, Polenovo Museum).

In the evolution of Russian art towards a greater profundity of content and plastic richness, the genre of the landscape, with its variants such as the seascape, played an invaluable role — that of an artistic testing ground where the plasticity of natural forms, as well as chromaticity and light-and-shade were examined. The painting “High Tide” was created by Ivan Aivazovsky (1817—1900) in the 1870s — the period when the famed marine artist experienced a transition from the visually flamboyant and accurate manner characteristic of his work in the 1840s-1860s to the less accurate, but more versatile and rich in visual techniques manner of his later period. In “High Tide” Aivazovsky focused on the thrilling instant when the sea seems to be bringing itself closer to the viewer, rising from its depths. The silhouettes — a sailing boat racing across the waves and a modest gig unhurriedly trundling along the seaside — strengthen the sensation of two contrasting co-terminous elements: on one hand terra firma, on the other the swell of the sea...

In the early 1870s the Russian landscape finally became an autonomous genre in its own right, with the painting by Alexei Savrasov (1830—1897) “The Rooks Have Come” (in the Tretyakov Gallery) from 1871 one of its milestones. But another of Savrasov's works from the Serpukhov Museum, “Moonlit Night. A Swamp” (1870), dates back to an even earlier period in the history of the development of the lyrical landscape in Russia. Savrasov resolutely avoided all the stereotypical imagery of past art traditions: exotic locales were replaced with a nook in the remoter regions of Russia chosen as if at random; the moon is hidden behind the clouds and barely illuminates the depicted scene; instead of supporting characters, a herd of cattle roams in the night; the fire that the shepherds are making does not blaze, its smoke trails instead low over the earth... But the artist's love for this abandoned and poor land is strong and appealing for the viewer. Savrasov's landscape from the Serpukhov Museum is almost a pictorial counterpart to Nikolai Gogol's great lines: “Ah, Russia, Russia! ... In you everything is poor and disordered and unhomely ... In you everything is flat and open. And nothing whatsoever enchants or deludes the eye ... Yet what secret, what invincible force draws me to you? ... What is it you seek of me? What is the hidden bond which exists between us? Why do you regard me as you do, and why does everything within you turn upon me eyes full of yearning?”[7]

Landscape started to play a new, more prominent role in genre paintings as well. An example of this is a painting by Viktor Vasnetsov (1848—1926) “Knight at the Crossroads” — the Serpukhov Museum has an earlier version of the picture dating from 1878. Vasnetsov did not simply discover for visual arts the narratives of Russian legends, he expressed with paints the character of the Russian epos. For “Knight at the Crossroads” the painter drew his inspiration from a legend “Travels of Ilya Muromets”, although he interpreted it in a peculiar way. The picture does not show the choice of one of the three roads — instead it depicts a dramatic situation of a man facing a divide in his life. Accordingly, the picture does not show the inscription on the stone at the crossroads present in the legend: “If you go right, you will find a wife, if you go left, you will become rich.”. The stone has only this to say: “If you go right you will not stay alive, neither a foot walker nor a rider nor a flyer will pass.” So, the knight finds himself at the rim of a foreign, unknown and perilous “wild field” — and he has to get over this divide. The tenebrous colours of the landscape create an atmosphere of anxiety, although the figure of a white horse against this background seems to portend the future victory of the hero.

The picture of Vasily Polenov (1844—1927) “A Courtyard in Moscow” (1878, in the Tretyakov Gallery) was another mark of the renewed birth of the Russian school of landscape art. Polenov the painter was not in the least eager to catch the viewers' attention with a showy spectacle or to make a statement on a socially important issue; his was a special gift of simply and lovingly expressing the world that was dear to him personally. The picture from the Serpukhov Museum, “Old Mill” (1880), belongs to a series of Polenov's “intimate, Turgenev-style” (as Ivan Ostroukhov put it) landscapes, a series begun with “A Courtyard in Moscow.”

Late in life, in 1918, Polenov painted “Ice-breaker on the River Oka.” The image of this area in the vicinity of Polenov's beloved country seat Borok (now Polenovo) had a special meaning for the artist. For many years Polenov only spent the periods between May and October in Borok, but in the autumn of 1917 for the first time he wintered there. When the famine-stricken winter full of troubles was over and the ice on the Oka broke, the artist thought that he had never before seen the river, which he had long held dear, in such a state. That spring — the beginning of a new round of change in nature — coincided with a new, yet unfathomed period in his own, and his homeland's life. Polenov conveyed in the picture the sensation of the time — and this change is one of the major differences between Russian art of the early 20th century and that of the previous period.

At the turn of the centuries the Moscow school was developing Savrasov's and Polenov's tradition of “mood landscape”, mostly placing an emphasis on the colour element. Thus, Konstantin Yuon (1875—1958) from the 1900s onwards was fond of views of old Russian towns. In his paintings the solemn architectural imagery is “enhanced” with the brisk goings-on of surrounding scenes of everyday life. In Yuon's painting “Spring Evening. Rostov the Great” (1906) the luscious brushwork and the use of opaque paints mixed with white convey with equal fullness and pictorial realism the texture of thawing snow, and of the old walls, and the glimmer of a sunset sky; all these contrasting motifs are elements of a single pictorial space.

The landscape artist Stanislav Zhukovsky (1875—1944) was fond of the world of ancient country seats. The colour design of his picture “Golden Autumn” (1901) has a deeply hidden but profound lyrical undercurrent.

The work of Alexander Moravov (1878—1951), a “Peredvizhniki” artist of the later period, has the marks of the more modern pictorial culture: a some-what coarse texture and intense colours are combined with traditional themes and motifs as, for instance, in the piece “Inside the House. At a Piano” (1910).

“Gazebo” (1907), by Mikhail Yakovlev (1880—1942), resembles a theatre set given the intensity of its colours, the classic well-roundedness of the composition, and lack of narrative. The big and spare brushstrokes and juxtaposition of the splashes of contrasting rich colours recall the influence of French Impressionism.

The art of the graduate of the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts Konstantin Gorbatov (1876—c.1945) seems relatively restrained and elegant against the luscious colour schemes of the Moscow painters. Gorbatov's pieces such as “Trees in Winter Silver” (1909) and “Winter Evening. Pskov” (1910), which also show the influence of Impressionism, are marked by their equilibrium between texture and colour.

Konstantin Bogaevsky (1872—1943) is linked to his homeland, Eastern Crimea. The creator of the original concept of “fantasy landscape”, Bogaevsky reminds the viewer that the ancient Greeks called this part of the seaside stretching between present-day Sudak and the Kerch Strait, Cimmeria. Homer talked about “Cimmerians who live enshrouded in mist and darkness” in a country at the edge of the populated world, to the north of which a north-polar land of perennial cold and dark lies. And now three thousand years later Bogaevsky dared to look at the land he had known since childhood through the eyes of a stranger, an ancient seafarer who put his foot on this coastal land for the first time. The picture “Cimmerian Land”, from 1910, is dominated by pale, tenebrous colors; the heavy shapes of mountains and clouds with a light gap of the placid, steely grey smooth surface of a lake...

In the 1910s the pace of Russian life quickened, and various avant-garde art movements appeared — one of the tendencies inherent in this process was the belief that art was a free quest for new forms, geometrical and colour combinations. Not unexpectedly, the avant-garde artists felt an attraction to the world of material objects, and the still-life again became an area of conscious creative endeavour. Robert Falk (1886—1958) in his 1910 “Still-life” treats both objects and background as a single animated structure. The pattern on the tablecloth, the shimmering of the background, the curves of the plant are united by a single common rhythm. The rumpled drapes — purple-grey, pink, blue with a scarlet pattern — echo each other with exquisite reflections. Only the jugs and fruits “seem foreign” to this colour space: they are no longer objects, but rather mysterious shapes, sharply delineated, as if hidden in a shell.

Ilya Mashkov (1881—1944), Falk's fellow from the artistic society “Knave of Diamonds” (1910—1917), showed in his still-life “Begonias” (1911) traits different from Falk's restraint and refinement. “Begonias” is the image of a somewhat crude but powerful centrifugal force radiated by the flowers. Their mighty forms and luscious colours seem excessive; the crimson and orange flower heads pulsate vehemently against the amorphous grey background casting around themselves rosy specks.

Another artist from the “Knave of Diamonds” group, Alexandra Exter (1882—1949) in her 1909 still-life was already neglecting the differences between shapes and their surroundings. Her pictures are an indivisible mosaic of nimble dabs of colour. The surface of the stretched canvas appears everywhere through the freely applied paints, and this highlights the ghostly quality and volatility of the existence of the roses, bottles and fruits pictured there. In Exter's artwork the texture and the rich intense colours seem much more real than the pictorial content of her pieces.

The exhibitions of the “Knave of Diamonds” were only an introduction into the world of the avant-garde, one that set out for an audience brought up on classical European art totally different directions and priorities. In “Noon at the River Dnieper”, a 1910 picture of David Burliuk (1882—1967), the title does not have much in common with the shaky, barely decipherable spatial image. It only evokes the inimitable instance of the equilibrium of times such as midday and the text-book poetic references of the stream of the great river. Burliuk's work came from the collection of the artists Mikhail Larionov and Natalya Goncharova.

The Serpukhov Museum has an especially rich collection of the work of Goncharova (1881—1962), Alexander Pushkin's great-grandniece who left an indelible stamp on Russian avant-garde art of painting and theatre design. Starting out as a sculptor, Goncharova first tried oil painting around 1905. At that period she created “Autumn Landscape”, which shows the influence
of Post-Impressionism: it combines the classic well-roundedness of composition and an unassuming but harmonious green and blue colour scheme.In her early artistic life, Goncharova created a whole series of bold, provocative pictures such as “Bedroom” (1905, in the Russian Museum) and “Circus” (1906, in the Tretyakov Gallery). “Woman with a Cigar” (1905—1906) from the Serpukhov Museum is a part of the series. That the sitter in the picture resembles Goncharova only strengthens the shock effect of the image.

Goncharova understood perfectly well that only unrelenting effort, including work on sketches, would make her an artist. In 1906 she accomplished a series of oil still-lifes: “Lilac” (Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum), “Autumn Bunch of Flowers” (Tretyakov Gallery), and “Dahlias” (Serpukhov Museum of History and Art). The style of these pictures has neither apparitional colours in the Impressionist vein nor the heavy material element typical of the “Knave of Diamonds” artists. Goncharova's art has
both a visual catchiness and substance. At the centre, there is colour element treated as the natural property of flowers, as the expression of their inner essence. One of Goncharova's “bunches of flowers” shown at a 1908 exhibition was praised by so exacting a judge as Valentin Serov.[8]

1907 saw the artist's growing attraction to primitivism. The trademark simplification of imagery and techniques in search of pristine integrity and simplicity is a characteristic of avant-garde art in general. The peculiar trait of Goncharova's primitivist style is her attitude to content, which is highly earnest, nothing like the penny gaffs of the “knaves of diamonds”. The lumbering but sprightly rhythms of Goncharova's 1907 pictures “Peasant Women with Rakes” and “Shearing Sheep” express not only the style but the essential worldview of peasant art.

Goncharova's “Landscape”, created in 1907-1908, with its free-flowing, fluid Impressionist texture is close to her works like “Trees and Hut” (1907, Russian Museum) and “Landscape with She-goats” (1908, Tretyakov Gallery).

By the early 1910s the composition in Goncharova's pictures acquired a static monumentality; the colours became more sombre and dull in comparison to the sunny pieces of 1905-1907. Even pictures with essentially cheerful subjects, such as “Round Dance” (1910), and the spare visuals of the landscape “Autumn” (1909—1910) are marked by their austerity.

Goncharova's graphic works, both sketches and accomplished pieces in different media, are an important part of her legacy. Her graphic pieces in the Serpukhov Museum are mostly focused on biblical themes. Goncharova, who believed that faith was the foundation of true creativity, felt an affinity to Christian art: the artist ought to “know what he depicts and why he depicts and ... his thoughts ought to be always clear and precise, so that his task would be to create the most perfect, most precise form”.[9] The early 1910s sketches “Creation of Eve” and “Crucifixion with Interceding” are chastely expressive. “Young Girl with a Book” (“Mother of God”) from the same period and “Oriental Tsar”, a study for a 1911 painting that is not preserved have a more energetic style. The images of Saints Boris and Gleb are varied in style. “Saint Boris” is marked by an expressive manner typical of Goncharova's graphic pieces and “Saint Gleb” is a quieter, more lyrical image, and more in line with the tradition of Christian Orthodox icon painting. These drawings could have been sketches for cheap popular prints (in 1913 Goncharova accomplished a “Modern Popular Russian Prints” series focused on the lives of Christian saints) or even for church murals (the artist is known to have worked on murals for a church in the Moldovian town of Kugureshty).[10]

As was usual for Russian artists in the 1910s—1920s, Goncharova illustrated small-run books self-published by their writers. Her picture “Spring” — a sketch for Sergei Bobrov's collection of poems “Gardeners Over Vines” (Moscow, 1913) — is an example of such work.

After 1912 Goncharova moved in the direction of non-figurative art trends such as Rayonism and Futurism, and her painting “Letter” (1913), which was long thought lost, reminds us of that tendency. Recently, when a soiled picture on a canvas from the Serpukhov Museum was cleaned, the restorers discovered this picture, once one of the artist's most successful works. At a first glance, “Letter” looks like a conventional symbol: the white rectangular of an envelope with five round seals. We do not see the whole text, but become immersed in the elementary force of the missive. Our eye catches only fragments of the lines: “Trees in blossom... Moscow.. And we have.”; separate letters and different parts thereof. All these syntactic components are differently sized: they overlap with each other, forming a multi-dimensional spatial environment. By the side of the “trees in blossom”, there are red rings — ripe apples; alongside, there are burgundy scrolls — withered leaves.

An important milestone in Goncharova's artistic biography was her work on the set design for Rimsky-Korsakov's operatic ballet “The Golden Cockerel” produced at the Grand Opera in Paris in May 1914. That production brought the artist European renown as a stage designer, and was a true triumph of Russian art where the set designer rightfully played an active and very important role. Today the sketches for the set of the “Tent of the Shemakhan Tsarina” episode and for the costumes of the Boyar, Indian Dancer and Shemakhan Tsarina (1914) are in the Serpukhov Museum.

The works of Goncharova's alter ego and partner in life Mikhail Larionov (1881—1964) in the collection include several pastel pieces from the 1890s—1900s. Their colour design — softly monochrome as in “Evening. At the Table” or contrasting as in “Behind the Scenes” — shows that the artist put much effort into lighting effects. “A Historical Subject” with its refined colour scheme demonstrates that Larionov was influenced by artists from the “World of Art” society.

Examples of the artistic quest towards abstraction among artists in the 1910s-1920s include “City Landscape” (1918) by Alexei Grishchenko (1883— 1977), a friend and “companion in arts” of Mikhail Larionov, Natalya Goncharova, and Alexander Shevchenko.

The beginning of the 20th century was a period of the revival of Russian sculpture, a great contribution to which was made by Sergei Konenkov (1874—1971).

The Serpukhov Museum has a unique collection of the sculptor's draft pieces dating from 1913 to 1919, which offer a glimpse of his creative process with the focus on one of the most prolific periods of his career. In wood sculpture the artist’s characteristic traits as folkloric and mythological worldview come across especially strongly.

In the summer and autumn of 1913 Konenkov carved “Yeruslan Lazarevich” and “The Tsar's Daughter”: these sculptures form a single thematic group. When Konenkov was a child, Yeruslan the knight was the most popular character of fairy tales and popular prints in the Smolensk region where the sculptor came from. The sculpture “Maple Man”, for which Konenkov used as the sitter a fellow Smolensk resident, the beggar Ilya Zhitkov, dates from 1916. Like most of Konenkov's characters, the Maple Man has his roots in the archaic folklore forest where everything is animated, everything is possible, and everything is reversible. “Goliath”, a 1917 sculpture, according to some sources[11] was conceived by Konenkov in 1914 as an allegory of German imperialism. “Stepan Razin” was carved by Konenkov in 1918, probably in the course of his work on a memorial “Stepan Razin and His Rebels” mounted in Moscow on the Lobnoe Mesto, or place of execution on May 1 1919. But the sculptor had been interested in Razin even earlier, back in 1915[12], and the Serpukhov statue looks nothing like the final version of the monument (1919, in the Russian Museum). In the monument, Razin's figure is rigidly erect and static: the chieftain's harsh features have a combatant's “fatalistic smile” slit across it (the face resembles that of Goliath). The sculpture at the Serpukhov History and Art Museum, on the contrary, is perfectly dynamic: it epitomizes the defiance of unwieldy steadiness of the material. Sten'ka's (Stepan's) figure is positioned unstably, with his downcast face expressing an air of detachment and self-forgetfulness. Like the “Goliath” the headpiece “Medusa” (1919) engages the viewer openly and directly. The subject face is neither dead nor alive: it seems to be in a lethargic sleep. The glance has no direction, so it seems all-pervading. Trimmed with the “cowl” of weird timber excrescences and curly snags, the impeccably polished face with regular features looks cold and sinister.

 

  1. Sugrobova-Roth, Olga; Lingenauber, Eckart. Alexei Harlamoff. Catalogie raisonne. <Dusseldorf, 2007>. S. 97.
  2. Turgenev, Ivan. Complete works and letters in 28 volumes. Letters in 13 volumes. 11th volume. Moscow-Leningrad, 1966. P-53; No. 3600 — letter from Ivan Turgenev to Pavel Annenkov of April 1 (13), 1875: “Kharlamov's pictures of course are selected for the exhibition — and he is finishing his amazing pink girl.” Sugrobova-Roth, O.; Lingenauber, E. Op. cit. S. 188.
  3. Sugrobova-Roth, O.; Lingenauber, E. Op. cit. S. 218—235.
  4. Bugaeva, a beauty, served as a sitter for Makovsky more than once — for instance, she was the model for the bride in the painting “Boyar Wedding Feast in the 17th Century” (1883, Hillwood Museum, Washington) — see Bely, Andrei. At the border of two centuries. Moscow, 1989, P. 102.
  5. The gamekeeper was painted from a caretaker of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture who was a retired soldier often accompanying artists on hunts. In fact, he often served as a sitter for Vladimir Makovsky (a man standing in “Admirers of Nightingales,” 1872—1873, Tretyakov Gallery) and Illarion Pryanishnikov (the bride's father in “Waiting for the Best Man”, 1891, Serpukhov Museum of History and Art) — see Gorina, Tatyana. Illarion Mikhailovich Pryanishnikov. Moscow, 1958. P 146.
  6. Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov. Yelena Dmitrievna Polenova. Chronicle of the family of the artists. Compiled by Ye.VSakharova. Moscow, 1964. P 461.
  7. Gogol, Nikolai. Dead Souls / Gogol, Nikolai. Works in 2 volumes. Moscow; 1959. V 2. P. 473.
  8. Basner, Yelena. The most colour-rich artist // Natalya Goncharova. The Russian years. St. Petersburg, 2002. P. 11.
  9. Livshits, Benedict. The One and a Half-Eyed Archer. Leningrad, 1989. P. 362.
  10. Goncharova, Natalya. The Russian years. St. Petersburg, 2002. P. 186.
  11. Redkin, A.I. Folkloric and fairy-tale motifs in the art of Sergei Konenkov. <1974 n> — a manuscript kept in the archive of the Serpukhov Museum. P. 9. In the 1920s accession records the sculpture was always entered under the name of “Goliath”, sometimes with a subtitle indicating the sculpture's format: “headpiece” (Central State Archive of the Moscow Region, Fund 966, Accession record 4, Document 1058, Sheets 2, 3; Document 972, Accession record 1, Document 242, Sheets 21, 41 reverse). Later a not altogether correct attribution prevailed: the monument was called “Goliath's Head”.
  12. Konenkov, Sergei. My Century. Moscow, 1971. P 225-226.

Illustrations

Abram ARKHIPOV. Peasant Girl. 1915
Abram ARKHIPOV. Peasant Girl. 1915
Pastel on cardboard. 88 by 71 cm
Alexandra EXTER. Still-life. 1909
Alexandra EXTER. Still-life. 1909
Oil on canvas. 71 by 53.5 cm
Alexei SAVRASOV. Moonlit night. A swamp. 1870
Alexei SAVRASOV. Moonlit night. A swamp. 1870
Oil on canvas. 47 by 80 cm
Konstantin MAKOVSKY. In a Cairo coffeehouse. Circa 1876
Konstantin MAKOVSKY. In a Cairo coffeehouse. Circa 1876
Oil on canvas. 66 by 80 cm
Vasily POLENOV. Old mill. 1880
Vasily POLENOV. Old mill. 1880
Oil on canvas. 88 by 135 cm
Sergei VINOGRADOV. Peasant boys. 1896
Sergei VINOGRADOV. Peasant boys. 1896
Oil on canvas. 30 by 40 cm
Genrikh SEMIRADSKY. Feast of Bacchus. 1890
Genrikh SEMIRADSKY. Feast of Bacchus. 1890
Oil on canvas. 80 by 156 cm
Nikolai YAROSHENKO. Gypsy woman. 1886
Nikolai YAROSHENKO. Gypsy woman. 1886
Oil on canvas. 83 by 65 cm
Alexei KHARLAMOV. Italian children. 1877
Alexei KHARLAMOV. Italian children. 1877
Oil on canvas. 89 by 117 cm
Konstantin BOGAEVSKY. Cimmerian land. 1910
Konstantin BOGAEVSKY. Cimmerian land. 1910
Oil on canvas. 92 by 198 cm
Konstantin GORBATOV. Winter evening. Pskov. 1910
Konstantin GORBATOV. Winter evening. Pskov. 1910
Gouache on paper laid on cardboard. 65.5 by 48 cm
Konstantin YUON. Spring evening. Rostov the Great. 1906
Konstantin YUON. Spring evening. Rostov the Great. 1906
Oil on canvas. 70 by 96 cm
Robert FALK. Still-life. 1910
Robert FALK. Still-life. 1910
Oil on canvas. 85 by 94 cm
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Dahlias. 1906
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Dahlias. 1906
Oil on canvas. 94 by 80 cm
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Autumn landscape. 1909–1910
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Autumn landscape. 1909–1910
Oil on canvas. 93 by 103 cm
Mikhail LARIONOV. A Historical Subject. Late 1890 – early 1900
Mikhail LARIONOV. A Historical Subject. Late 1890 – early 1900
Pastel, coal on paper. 14 by 22 cm
Mikhail LARIONOV. Evening. At the table. Late 1890 – early 1900
Mikhail LARIONOV. Evening. At the table. Late 1890 – early 1900
Pastel, coal on paper. 15 by 24 cm
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Indian Dancer. 1914
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Indian Dancer. 1914
Pencil, watercolours, bronze paint on paper. 34.5 by 23.5 cm
David BURLIUK. Noon at the River Dnieper. 1910
David BURLIUK. Noon at the River Dnieper. 1910
Oil on canvas. 63.5 by 69.5 cm
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Crucifixion with Interceding. 1912 (?)
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Crucifixion with Interceding. 1912 (?)
Pencil on paper. 38 by 28.3 cm
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Young Girl with a Book (Mother of God). Early 1910 (1912?)
Natalya GONCHAROVA. Young Girl with a Book (Mother of God). Early 1910 (1912?)
Pencil on paper. 33.2 by 50.2 cm
Sergei KONENKOV. Stepan Razin. 1919
Sergei KONENKOV. Stepan Razin. 1919
Toned wood. 52 by 27 by 23 cm
Sergei KONENKOV. Maple Man. 1916
Sergei KONENKOV. Maple Man. 1916
Toned wood. 55 by 36 by 30 cm

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