Lot 9
  • 9

Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky

300,000 - 500,000 GBP
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  • Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky
  • symphony
  • signed in Cyrillic l.r.
  • oil on canvas
  • 160.5 by 141cm., 63 by 55 1/2 in.


Riga, The City Fine Art Museum, December 1921-January 1922, cat. no.3
Berlin, Exhibition of Russian Art, January 1930, titled At the piano
Riga, The Latvian National Art Museum, Classic Latvian Art , 2008


Ausstellung Russischer Malerei und Graphik, January 1930, cat. no.48
Z.Ligers, Bogdanoff-Belsky, Riga, 1943, p.8 (ill.)


Structural Condition The canvas is unlined on a conventional wooden keyed stretcher. This is ensuring an even and secure structural support. Paint surface The paint surface has a rather uneven varnish layer and inspection under ultra-violet light shows how discoloured the varnish layers have become and how beneficial cleaning would be. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows a number of retouchings which do seem to have been rather crudely applied and I would be confident that should they be removed many would be found to be excessive and the total amount of retouching could therefore be reduced. The most significant of these retouchings are: 1) Three thin horizontal lines running across the lower part of the composition, across the dress of the girl seated in the foreground and into the dark background in the lower right, 2) a number of very small retouchings in the dark shadows of the piano and other small scattered retouchings. Summary The painting is therefore in essentially very good and stable condition and the overall appearance should be transformed by cleaning and revarnishing.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue.

Catalogue Note

This intimate musical scene is a delicate work from Bogdanov-Belsky's late Russian period, before he left for Latvia. When Symphony was exhibited in Riga in 1921 it was praised by the capital's newspaper Today for its "measured Impressionism" but since its acquisition by a private collector after an exhibition in Berlin in 1930, it was never again shown in public until now.

Four young Russian girls gather round a piano in their best white dresses, each bathed in the soft rose-yellow candle-light that unifies the group. The fresh, clean tones of the roses in the simple vase complement the quartet, drawing attention to their youth and vitality. Bogdanov-Belsky studied in Paris at the early 1900s and his clear appreciation of French artists, in particular Pierre-Auguste Renoir, is evident in the atmosphere of this musical scene (fig.1). It has been suggested that Bogdanov-Belsky might have drawn his inspiration for this group portrait from Russia's iconic Grand Duchesses when he spent time sketching Nicholas II in the early 1900s, but the visual dissimilarities imply that this is probably unlikely.

The setting for this musical scene appears to be the summer room of the dacha 'Seagull', a house built by the artist Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya on Lake Udomlya in Tver province, an area where Bogdanov-Belsky lived and worked from 1907-1920. He would travel to St Petersburg in the winter to carry out commissions for society portraits, but he felt his real work lay elsewhere: "I was drawn towards the countryside. I felt that it was there I would paint something important and meaningful".

In 1918, workshops were opened at the dacha to teach the local children crafts. Pupils would also hold musical evenings here, which Bogdanov-Belsky often took part in, playing the piano, balalaika and singing in a rich baritone. The aspirations of the local children towards education, art and music became a frequent subject in Bogdanov-Belsky's most famous compositions, but it is rare to find such a finished, large-scale work from his pre-emigration years, which harks back to the idyllic lost age of Russia's intelligentsia.

We are grateful to Nina Lapidus for researching this note.