An Artist of Hearth and Home
2010 marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Ivan Fomich Khrutsky, the Belarussian/Russian painter of the first half of the 19th century, a well-known master of the still-life genre with “fruit and flowers”. In December 2010-January 2011 the Tretyakov Gallery hosted Khrutsky’s anniversary exhibition featuring works from the Tretyakov Gallery and the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus. The show was one of the most important events to round off the Year of Culture of the Republic of Belarus in the Russian Federation.
In the history of Russian art Ivan Khrutsky falls into the category of an “average” artist1. This category, applied mostly to the art of the first half of the 19th century, encompasses quite a large group of painters and refers not so much to the level of their professional skills, as to particular features of their artwork. Students of prominent Russian masters such as Karl Briullov, Alexei Venetsianov and Maxim Vorobiev, the “average” artists usually worked concurrently in several genres considered by the Academy as “minor”, which included portraits, landscapes, still-lifes and interior scenes. Less important than historical compositions, such images, nevertheless, often had an artistic worth that was far from average. Such “minor” genres were characteristic of Khrutsky’s oeuvre; he created portraits, landscapes and interior scenes, but made his name in the genre of still-life with fruit and flowers.
In Europe in the 19th century “fruit and flowers” became practically the only subject for still-lifes, to the detriment of all other such subjects. One of the researchers in the genre believes that in European art the prominence of “fruit and flowers” was the result of the evolution of a bourgeois society, whose representatives preferred less complex and brighter images with flowers or objects relating to the dining-table and kitchen, over allegorical and “academic” compositions2. Russian art developed along similar lines. At the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts painting “different types of flowers and fruits with various insects” was often a part of the introductory curriculum. Some images of this kind, executed in the 1820s-1840s by Academy students such as Vasily Serebryakov, Vasily Golike, Foma Toropov and others, have survived to this day. However, it was Khrutsky’s “fruit and flowers” that became a benchmark of sorts for this variety of still-life in Russian art of that age.
Ivan Fomich Khrutsky was born into a noble family on February 8 (January 27 by the Old Style) 1810 in a small township called Ulla near Lepel, in Vitebsk province (today the Republic of Belarus). Soon after his birth his father, a Greek Catholic priest Foma Ivanovich Khrutsky, lost his position and was forced to move with his family to a village near Polotsk where the future artist received education at the Dei Scholarum Piarum college. By some accounts the artist came to St. Petersburg in the late 1820s, where he became a student at the Academy of Fine Arts3. The archival documents suggest that Khrutsky began to attend drawing classes in the mid-1830s, as a non-matricu-lated student4. Following academic traditions, Khrutsky copied paintings from the collection of the Hermitage. An 1833 exhibition at the Academy featured his copies of Paulus Potter’s “Cows” and Rembrandt’s “Portrait of a Pole” (the portrait of Jan Sobieski). The copy of the latter work was put up for sale in 1884 at an auction organized by the Society for Encouragement of the Arts, along with copies of David Teniers’ “Dutch Wedding” and a landscape by Alexandre Calame5.
In his original work, Khrutsky tried his hand at several genres simultaneously. An academy report from 1833 mentions his works — “two original portraits of women from nature”. An exhibition at the Society for Encouragement of the Arts in 18361837 featured his portraits, still-lifes with fruit, and two landscapes6.
Who among the professors at the Academy can be regarded as Khrutsky’s teacher? At one time it was believed that he studied under the portraitist Alexander Varnek, but this assumption was based on nothing more than the signature on the reverse of an 1836 painting featuring fruit and flowers. The signature belonged to Professor Varnek, who was supervising an exam at that particular moment7. It appears more likely that the head of the landscape and perspective painting department Maxim Vorobiev was one of Khrutsky’s teachers. In 1836, when Khrutsky submitted portraits, landscapes and “fruits” to earn the rank of a freelance painter, it was granted to him “in consideration of good results... in landscape painting...”8. But already in 1838 he gained a minor gold medal “for the picture of fruit and flowers and the portrait of an old woman”9, and a year later, he presented before the Academy’s council “two portraits, six landscapes from nature made on the Yelagin Island, and five still-lifes”10. A statement in the council’s journal reads: “To confer on painter Ivan Khrutsky, known to the Academy as the creator of excellent portraits, landscapes and especially still-lifes with fruit and flowers, the title of Academician...”11
After the death of his father in 1839, Ivan Fomich Khrutsky became the guardian of his younger brothers and sisters. In 1840, with the Academy’s permission, he “traveled for his individual purposes to Vitebsk and other provinces”12. Nevertheless, prior to the mid-1840s the artist spent most of his time in St. Petersburg. It appears that Khrutsky at that period taught drawing at a Mining Engineering Institute, a fact mentioned by one of the students of the Institute of Sculpture, Mikhail Klodt.13 In the late 1830s and early 1840s the artist’s talent reached its full realization, primarily in still-life painting.
Museums and private collections hold more than 40 still-lifes by Khrutsky today. The earliest among them date from the first half of the 1830s (“Grapes and Fruit”; “Fruit” 1834, both in the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus). However, the already-mentioned 1836 piece “Fruit and Flowers” features the subject matter and compositional techniques that would become the artist’s trademark.
In most of his pictures, the artist used the same assortment of objects, and any list of them becomes almost a story of the life of a modest city dweller, or resident of a small country house, in the second third of the 19th century. The summer freedom of life in the country is evoked by bast-fibre containers and wicker baskets filled with forest and garden berries, fruits and vegetables. They are featured side by side with articles used only indoors which symbolize domestic comfort — an ornate brass candlestick with a melted candle, a lacquered box, a decanter, a cigarette-holder with a cigar. Most noteworthy are a faience jug and a vase, which in a way became the artist’s “signature” images.
In his still-lifes Khrutsky was loyal to the European traditions of genre borrowed from classic paintings, modifying them in line with ideas about appropriate imagery prevailing at that time. Put in a modern context, the motifs characteristic for European still-lifes of the 17th and 18th centuries are stripped of their symbolical meanings. Exotic fruits — lemons, grapes and peaches — are placed side by side with fruits more typical of Russia’s heartland, such as apples, currants, cherries and wild strawberries. His flower compositions are similarly arranged, with priority given to garden peonies rather than roses and carnations. (It should be noted that European artists did not paint such flowers in still-lifes before the second half of the 19th century). The foreground of the pictures often features a characteristic element of the traditional Dutch “luxury breakfast” — a lemon with its rind half-cut in a spiral, side by side with unpretentious fruits from a kitchen garden.
The combinations of everyday realities and accessories evoking classic paintings are especially expressive in compositions where instead of tender-looking flowers and succulent fruit the “sitters” include plain kitchenware, fruit from the kitchen garden, mushrooms. One such still-life, from 1839 (“Still-life (Fruit)” Scientific-research institute, Russian Academy of Arts14), perhaps was one of the pieces that won Khrutsky his title of academician. A handful of copper coins and a kitchen knife in the foreground, while recalling the everyday preoccupations of simple folk, also represent customary attributes of Dutch “kitchens” and “markets”.
The shapes of the objects catch the eye immediately — the ceramic jug is adorned with embossed images of hunting dogs, while its handle is shaped like a fox rising on its hind legs to full height. Such items were manufactured in the 1830s-1840s at the Poskochin plant in St. Petersburg and could be found in many local homes. The Tretyakov Gallery collection includes the painting “Fruit and Flowers” of 1839 in which this object forms the centre of the impressive composition in complete accordance with the classical canons.
Connoisseurs have eagerly pointed to the connection between Khrutsky’s works and artistic traditions, praising the careful brushwork and comparing it to the manner of the old masters. In particular, a “fruit and flowers” picture purchased by the famous collector Fyodor Pryanishnikov was characterized as “the finest and most careful piece of work. The embossment on the silver vase and the craft put into the image of the water-filled glass resemble the best Dutchmen”15. While loaded with cultural associations, Khrutsky’s “fruit and flowers” also caught the fancy of his contemporaries because they gave the illusion of lifelikeness, and had the qualities of a trompel'ffiil, arousing not only visual sensations but those of sense of taste as well. Enjoying the picture and considering it a very elegant piece of art, one of the artist’s contemporaries felt like a shopper in a fruit store where the painter “used his masterful brush to lay out so beautifully, so deceitfully for the eye whole bunches of flowers and baskets of flowers and fruit. There are even glasses with water for washing down fruit, as well-mannered people do, there are knives for cutting fruit for people who do not know how to eat fruit. Here there is indeed a life of sorts, a life of plants, an appetizing elation...’16. Thus, after having catalogued the objects, the artist naturally goes on to “depict” the physical properties of each of them. The spectator can almost feel their density, weight, softness to the touch, and smoothness. Such effects are achieved not only through smooth and careful brush-work but also by the lateral “natural” light, as if it is streaming in from a side window.
Although almost stripped of allegorical undercurrents, Khrutsky’s images nevertheless continue to be fraught with meaning and evade any simple interpretation. A pair of opera-glasses is one of the artist’s most evocative such “subjects”: the properties of the optical device, its ability to enlarge or to reduce, inevitably make one think about its role as a symbolic intermediary between the world of people and the world of objects17.
As well as still-lifes as such, Khrutsky also accomplished multi-genre compositions. Two pictures of children selling fruit were submitted in 1837 by the president of the Academy Alexei Olenin to Emperor Nicholas I, “for His Majesty’s consideration ...”. The emperor rewarded their creator with a gold watch on a chain, “as an encouragement” for the young painter “to work worthily”18. In 1838, Khrutsky’s compositions “Boy with a Butterfly” and “Girl with Apples”19 were raffled in a lottery organized by the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. The same year Khrutsky accomplished his painting “Portrait of an Unknown Girl with Flowers and Fruit” (National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus20). The existing hypothesis that the images are portraits of real persons does not appear to be grounded in fact. It is more likely that the pictures were a new take on themes that interested many of Khrutsky’s contemporaries. For instance, in the lottery of the Society for Encouragement of the Arts the main prize was given to Alexei Venetsianov’s painting “A Bacchante with Fruits Atop Her Head”, while Alexei Tyranov’s “Girl with Fruits” echoes Khrutsky’s similarly-themed pictures. It can be assumed that this type of composition was a part of the academic curriculum. The imagery of natural plenty, alongside female charm in full bloom, and combined with the beauty of ripe fruit and flowers, was borrowed by Russian artists from their European counterparts. In particular, still-lifes with human figures were fairly common in the Northern Italian School in the 17th century. Vincenzo Campi’s “The Fruit Seller”, from the Brera Art Gallery in Milan, features a woman with a heap of peaches on her lap and a cluster of grapes in her hand against a landscape. The scholar of Italian art Viktoria Markova, analyzing this image, pointed out the allegorical undercurrents of what appears to be a genre scene (the cluster of grapes in the girl’s hand symbolizes innocence and purity)21. Working on a similar composition, Khrutsky supplied it with very limited allegorical overtones, although he tried to transcend the confines of the genre by fleshing out his own vision of the world22. The still-life component is very important in the “Portrait of an Unknown Girl” not only in terms of composition but in terms of imagery as well.
The genre of the portrait was another one that Khrutsky used to convey his ideas about the world and humankind, and he proved equally successful when working in it. His sitters included people from the so-called middle classes, like the clergy, clerks and intellectuals. Customers showered him with orders. An account for 1840 mentions Khrutsky’s portraits from life of the Right Reverend Anthony, the Bishop of Minsk, and the portrait of an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts Yfe. Tarnovsky. In the early 1840s the artist accomplished more than 20 such images of different people23. Khrutsky’s best works include the image of the publisher and book-seller Ivan Glazunov (1843, the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus) and the image of Nikolai Malinovsky (1847, National Museum of Warsaw). In these pictures, the no-frills “depiction” of the sitters’ appearances reveals their individual and social characteristics. In the portrait of the famous St. Petersburg publisher Glazunov, the weight of the sitter’s individuality is accentuated by the sparseness of the composition, the austerity of his costume, and the absence of accessories. The portrait betrays a certain inner contact between the artist and the model. The historian and social commentator from Vilno (Vilnius) Nikolai Malinovsky is represented in a much more official style, with an apparent “intent to create a ceremonial portrait”. The arm-chair, with its high carved backrest, in which Malinovsky is solemnly seated, and the ostentatious richness of his apparel are combined with the sitter’s plain appearance. Here human individuality is secondary to the common values of the social milieu which the model represents. These values are echoed by the air of literal figurativeness in the way the artist depicts the surroundings, by a “still-life-like” vision of the painter. This trend reaches its highest point of expressiveness in Khrutsky’s paintings from the second half of the 1840s and the 1850s, especially in his portraits of women and so-called “family scenes”. In these pictures, the individual is represented as belonging to a particular social milieu and a particular type of household, even if the viewer is afforded only a glimpse of that environment. Instead of a portrayal of the surroundings, the painter highlights details of the clothes, adornments, and coiffures, which are presented not simply as an accessory but as an important component of the pictorial characterization that merits the painter’s careful scrutiny.
The subject of private life and family values became especially prominent in Khrutsky’s art after he married. In 1844 he bought the estate of Zakharnichi near Polotsk, and in 1845 married Anna Xaverievna Bembnovskaya. Twin portraits of Anna’s parents Xavery and Alexandra Bembnovsky (both from 1845, National Museum, Warsaw), and portraits of Khrutsky’s children (“Portrait of the Artist’s Son”, 1855; “Children’s Portrait”; both in the Kursk Picture Gallery). survive to this day. Depicting the interior of the country house at the Zakharnichi estate (“In the Rooms (the boys looking at the pictures in the album)”, 1854; “In the Rooms of the Artist Ivan Khutsky’s estate ‘Zakharnichi’”, 1855. Both in the Tretyakov Gallery; “In the Rooms of the Artist’s Estate. The Children at the Easel”, National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus) the artist conveys a great charm inherent in the tenor of life led by a family of modest means. Apparently, the painter created the pictures for himself, determined not only to immortalize his home but also to express the feeling of the happy hours and minutes spent with his family. The artist seems to immerse himself within a very familiar milieu. The rooms, even when there is a back view beyond one room onto others, have an air of intimacy and feel like an enclosed space. In every picture, the viewer’s attention is focused on only a fragment of the interior, one of the cozy nooks filled with objects carefully selected and arranged as in a still-life. There are houseplants in pots, paintings in carved frames hanging on the walls, mottled pieces of fabric casually thrown on sofas and armchairs. The objects are a mainstay of the domestic world and seem to relate a story about the everyday life of the residents of the home, their joys and concerns. The presence of children lends to the interior a special charm and intimacy.
For several years starting from 1846, Khrutsky’s main client was Archbishop of Lithuania and Vilna (Metropolitan of Lithuania since 1852) Joseph (in the world Joseph Siemaszko). Siemaszko, very appreciative of the artist’s talent, eagerly used his multi-genre versatility, including his experience in portraiture and landscape painting. Occasionally the artist’s rather domineering client intervened in the work, assigning subjects for pictures, and even selected sitters for the artist. Siemaszko also commissioned Khrutsky to paint icons for churches. Although Khrutsky’s religious paintings remain poorly researched, it is known that the artist gained experience in such genres of art when he studied at the Academy. In 1837 he painted icons with images of St. Catherine and St. Luke the Evangelist for a gonfalon and lectern at the Academy’s church, while an academic report from 1840 mentions the image of St. Alexander by Khrutsky24. Khrutsky is known to have painted for Siemaszko icons for a crypt chapel beneath the altar of the cathedral church in the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Vilna; icons with images of St. Joseph, Husband of Mary for a church in Trinopol.
Khrutsky accomplished portraits of leading church figures (sometimes using lithographs or portraits of them by other artists) and copies of engravings from paintings of celebrated Western European masters, which the Metropolitan kept in his residence in Vilna and in his country house in Trinopol. Siemaszko, to use his own words, preferred to have “imitations of the most famous paintings”25, and perhaps these are the images that can be seen in the study of the Metropolitan, as depicted for posterity by the artist in “Metropolitan Siemaszko in His Study Listens to His Secretary’s Report” (Russian Museum). Portraying the spacious residence the artist gives the room a feeling of human warmth and comfort. Carefully “depicting” every detail of the environment, he conveyed through material objects a convincing portrait of the master of the place, as a learned and punctilious person used to a measured pace of life.
Landscapes occupy a special place in Khrutsky’s legacy, because in most of them his style is markedly different from the familiar visual “repertoire” found in the artist’s still-lifes and portraits. Whether all such surviving landscapes are really by Khrutsky remains an open question, not least because his younger brothers also studied landscape painting under Vorobiev. The name of one appears in the archival records as Yvstafy (Yevgraf): as a non-matriculated student, he attended drawing classes in 1835 together with Ivan26. In 1842 Yevstafy Khrutsky was granted the title of unranked landscape artist27, and in the records for 1847 and 1848 he is mentioned as a student ofVorobiev who displayed three landscapes at an academic exhibition28.
Another brother, Andrei Khrutsky, also focused solely on landscape painting at the Academy, and the archives there show that he was granted the title of a painter. It follows from the records that Andrei Khrutsky, born into a noble family on November 3 (by the Old Style) 1829, studied from 1845 “at the landscape class directed by Professor Maxim Vorobiev and was awarded in 1849 a silver medal of second degree”. The medal was awarded for a “landscape from nature”. In 1854 Andrei Khrutsky presented a view of the environs of St. Petersburg and was granted the title of unranked artist29. Several views of the environs of St. Petersburg were accomplished by one of the Khrutsky brothers in 1852-1854, that is at a time when the Ivan Khrutsky was no longer visiting St. Petersburg30.
The extant pieces attributed to Khrutsky include views of St. Petersburg and the environs of Vilna. The flowing forms and the use of contrast lighting typical for still-lifes give way to a flatness in the rendition of space, the physical depth of which is hardly felt, and to a monotonous colour design that is lacking in feeling. Only one landscape stands out — the “Pilgrimage to the Holy Place”, held in the Tretyakov Gallery (end of the 1840s). Previously titled “View of a Little Bridge and Chapel by the Brook of Cedron in Trinopol”, it belonged to Metropolitan Siemaszko, as evidenced by the signature on the reverse side. The composition of the landscape is unusual when compared to other views, in particular those of Vilna’s landmarks. Choosing a low viewpoint, the artist made the area look like a closed space, emphasizing its isolation, and used the effects of light and air perspective to convey a depth of space, while employing painterly techniques to create the impression of sunlight and airiness. The painting depicts one of the stations along the so-called “Vilnius Calvary”. “Calvary”, a devotion common in Catholic nations, symbolized Christ’s ascent to Golgotha, and along the routes for pilgrims were stops, or “stations”, related to the most important moments of the biblical story. The Calvary near Vilna, established in 1662, included 35 stations emulating the topography of Jerusalem. Khrutsky depicted a chapel on a bridge across the Boltupy creek in Trinopol, which was then a suburb of Vilna. The creek at that junction symbolized the brook of Cedron in Jerusalem, across which Jesus was led in chains31.
In the mid-1850s, after he had stopped working for the Metropolitan, Khrutsky settled in Zakharnichi for good. Until the end of his life he remained a typical artist of the middle of the 19th century, whose art had much in common with his contemporaries. Occupying a particular place in museums, and enjoying the attention both of collectors and the general public, the master’s pictures persuasively and vividly capture both the colours of nature and the quiet joys of domestic life.
- Kuznetsov, Sergei. The Painter Ivan Khrutsky. Problems of interpretation of the Art of an ‘Average’ Artist of the 19th Century. Vol. 4. In: Issues of Russian and International Visual Art of the 19th Century. Leningrad, 1990. Pp. 82-99. (Hereinafter: Kuznetsov)
- Kostenevich, Albert. Certain problems of typology of Western European still-life of the 1890s. In: A Material Object in Art: Proceedings of the Scientific Conference.1984. Issue XVII. Moscow, 1986. P. 143.
- Panshina, Irina and Resina, YeK. Ivan Khrutsky. 1810-1885. Album-Catalogue. Minsk, 1990. P. 6. (Hereinafter: Panshina, Resina)
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 1. Part II. Item 2103. Sheet 44.
- Department of Manuscripts, Russian National Library. F. 708. Item 673. Sheet 174. Listing of pictures put up for sale at an auction organized by the Society for Encouragement of the Arts on April 15 1884.
- Department of Manuscripts, Russian National Library. F. 708. Item 673. Sheet 32.
- Tretyakov Gallery. Catalogue of the Collection. Series “Painting of the 18th-20th centuries". Volume 3. Painting of the 1st Half of the 19th Century. Moscow, 2005. P. 319.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv.1. Part II. Item 2097. Sheets 66-68.
- Records and Documents Relating to the Centennial History of the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Fine Arts. In three parts. Petrov, PN., ed. St. Petersburg, 1864-1866. Part 1. P. 373. (Hereinafter: Petrov)
- Panshina, Resina. P. 9.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 1. Part II. Item 2455. Sheet 32.
- Panshina, Resina. P. 9.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv.14. Item 39-“K”. Sheet 42, reverse. The information was kindly supplied by Tatyana Reznik.
- Scientific Research Institute, Russian Academy of Fine Arts, St. Petersburg.
- Andreev, Alexander. Picture Galleries of Europe. St. Petersburg, 1871. P. 191.
- Kuznetsov. P. 89.
- Kuznetsov. P. 92.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 20. Item 9. Sheets 1-3. 1837.
- Khudozhestvennaya Gazeta. 1838. No. 8. P. 246.
- National Art Museum, Republic of Belarus, Minsk.
- Markova, Viktoriya. Italian Still-life in the 17th Century (Commentary on the Problem of National Originality)". In: A Material Object in Art. Proceedings of the Scientific Conference.1984. Issue XVII. Moscow, 1986. P. 101.
- Kuznetsov. P. 85.
- Department of Manuscripts, Russian National Library. F. 708. Item 879. Sheet 22.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 1. Part II. Item 2383. Sheet 5, reverse; Department of Manuscripts, Russian National Library. F. 708. Item 879. Sheet 22.
- Panshina, Resina. P. 11.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 1. Part II. Item 2103. Sheet 44.
- Petrov. Vol. II. P. 437.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 1. Part II. Item 2551. Sheet 2; Item 3331. Sheet 14, reverse.
- Russian State Historical Archive. F. 789. Inv. 2. Item 1. Part II. Sheets 83-86; Petrov. Vol. III. Pp. 93,224.
- Department of Manuscripts, Russian National Library. F. 708. Item 673. Sheet 27.
- Volodin, Vladimir. To Ivan Khrutsky's Holy Place. In: Mir Muzeya (Museum World). No. 9 (241). 2007. Pp. 24-27.
Detail. Oil on canvas. 65.9 × 88.8 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 65.9 × 88.8 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 40.7 × 50.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 89.3 × 71.2 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 55.5 × 43.3. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 54.2 × 71.7 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Oil on canvas. 66.5 × 87.7 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Oil on canvas. 45 × 35 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Oil on canvas. 66.8 × 58 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Oil on canvas. 80.2 × 112 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Oil on canvas. 49 × 66.4 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus
Oil on canvas. 50.5 × 40.5 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 67 × 84 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 54.2 × 44 cm. National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus