This remarkable landscape is perhaps the most important pre-Revolutionary canvas by Konstantin Bogaevsky to come to auction in recent years. Bogaevsky studied under Ivan Aivazovsky in Theodosia and later Arkhip Kuindzhi in St. Petersburg and it is unsurprising that landscape painting, and in particular the exaltation of the untamed landscape, should have become Bogaevsky's preferred subject. However, under his brush, it was transformed into a powerful fusion of fantasy and reality.
Key to understanding Bogaevsky's art is an appreciation of his native Crimea or Cimmeria, the ancient name of the peninsula's eastern shore. Described by the artist and poet Maximilian Voloshin as a 'land exhausted by the passion of its destiny', its name is believed to derive from the ancient Hebrew word for sudden darkness, or threat, and in Homer's Odyssey it is described as the entrance to the realm of the dead.
Bogaevsky's symbolist vision was not merely an emotional response to the landscape, but rather one of the artist revealing to the viewer the hidden energy of the natural world. As Voloshin wrote in the introduction to Bogaevsky's 1927 exhibition in Kazan, the landscape, like man, is also capable of dreaming, and 'these dreams are revealed ever more clearly when they are refracted through the soul of the artist'.
Bogaevsky's correspondence betrays the deep love he felt for his homeland. During his first trip to Rome in 1909, after extolling the beauty of the Renaissance masters which he was seeing for the first time, he ends a letter to Konstantin Kandaurov, 'However wonderful Italy may be, there is no place on earth like our Crimea, Feodosia or Kenegez.[..] my sweet and wonderful Feodosia, at times like this seems like an earthly paradise' (the artist's letter to Kandaurov, 1909, cited in R. Baschenko, K.F.Bogaevsky, Moscow: Izobrazitel'noe iskusstvo, p.120).
With their bold, exaggerated forms the mountains and trees seem to possess a life of their own and like Nikolai Roerich's Heavenly Battle of 1912, dramatically reveal the secrets of an primeval world uninhabited by man, almost encouraging the viewer to seek hidden imagery within the composition (fig.3). From the intense colour scheme of ochres, reds and browns to the uniformly textured treatment of the canvas, the effect is one of a stage backdrop, which further underscores the sense of unreality.
Bogaevsky's work attracted the attention of a wider audience after he was invited to exhibit with the World of Art group for the first time in 1911. Like his World of Art contemporaries, Bogaevsky looked to antiquity as a source of inspiration, a golden age untroubled by the developments of modern technology and socio-political turmoil. He had travelled to Greece in 1907-8, around the same time as Léon Bakst, and the latter's designs for Ballets russes productions following this trip reveal the stylistic influence of Bogaevsky's landscapes, both sharing the same timeless quality (fig.2).
The year before Bogaevsky painted the present work, he completed an important commission for the merchant and collector Mikhail Ryabushinsky (1880-1960) of three large decorative panels for his house on Spiridonovka 17, formerly the home of Savva Morozov and now a reception residence for the Ministry of Internal affairs (fig.4). These impressive works, on the theme of the Romantic landscape, relate very closely to the offered lot both in scale and technique.
Bogaevsky's success was abruptly cut short in 1914, when he was sent to fight in the First World War, bringing to an end what was perhaps the most creative period of his artistic career. In 1913, he participated in his final World of Art group exhibition in Moscow, and it is possible the offered work is Autumn Landscape, 'a large oil' which had been drying in his studio, and which Bogaevsky sent on later to Kandaurov along with a group of watercolours (cited in letter to Kandaurov dated 27 November 1913)
Voloshin writes that 'Bogaevsky is truly a creation of his ancient and mournful country, but his paintings relate to the earth which has inspired them, just like the spectral floods of the rivers on the horizon relate to the arid steppe, and the palm-trees of the oases on the murky oceans at midday relate to the shifting sands of the desert'.
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