Sotheby's London, Icons, Russian Pictures and Works of Art, 14 November 1988, lot 25
Sotheby's London, The Russian Sale, 14-15 December 1995, lot 309
As Boris Kustodiev's spine condition worsened during the 1910s, his art took on "a life-affirming pathos and resonant boldness" (Igor Grabar cited in M.Etkind (ed.) B. Kustodiev: Letters, Articles, Notes, Interviews. Meetings and Conversations with B. Kustodiev. Recollections of the Artist, Leningrad 1967, p.342)
Physically removed from the outside world which inspired him, Kustodiev felt compelled to represent the world of his reminiscences, almost as if to ensure he did not lose them. As the artist explained in 1916, "since my world is now no more than my room, it is so very dreary without light or sunshine. So all I do is try to catch that sunshine and seal it into my paintings, even if it's just the reflections."
Lyrical and nostalgic, Village Fair is typical of the idyllic depictions of the Russia provinces which Kustodiev turned to again and again. The dramatically low horizon encourages the perception of the painting as an integral whole and underscores how these compositions are as much a portrait of Russia, her landscape and architecture as they are of her inhabitants.
Igor Grabar has likened Kustodiev's art to the Dutch Old Masters in the way that he attempts to capture people as part of their natural environment and it is perhaps no surprise to learn that a print of Pieter Breugel's The Hunters in the Snow hung in Kustodiev's studio. Beyond their overall impression, his paintings are multi-layered panoramas, packed with characters and scenes from everyday life.
Kustodiev invites the viewer to step inside his painted universe, to become drawn in to one particular incident and then allow his gaze to be distracted by the neighbouring vignette. The artist's son recalled how he was "especially fascinated by the speed at which characters emerged from under his brush; it seemed as if I could see them move and hear their voices" K.Kustodieva, 'About my Father', idem, p.297)
The offered lot is exemplary of Kustodiev's ability to convey the sounds as well as the sights of provincial Russia. The composition teems with colours and details, encouraging the viewer to imagine the multitude of accompanying sounds, from the clatter of the horse-drawn carts and the hum of voices around the fairground stalls to the strains of an accordion and the gentle snoring of a woman who has fallen asleep in the shade of a birch-tree.
The post-Revolutionary period coincided with a surge in Kustodiev's popularity amongst Russians and Western European intelligentsia, a tendency which the art historian Viktoria Lebedeva has ascribed to the decorative and uncontroversial nature of his pictures. Reminiscent of traditional Russian souvenirs for the tourist trade, Kustodiev's paintings harked back to a gentler, bygone age at a time of political upheaval.
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