This enchanting scene was exhibited at the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts in the early 1870s together with his other early genre paintings, The Beggars, Drinking Tea, and Old Woman Feeding Chickens. Up to this point Vasnetsov had principally produced pencil sketches and illustrations for children's books and magazines such as Pchela, but these first bright experiments in oil caught the attention of critics and launched his career; in 1874 he won a medal at the World Fair in London and exhibited for the first time with the Itinerants, whose cause he supported.
Vasnetsov loved the people 'not in some populist, lordly or artificial way from on high,' wrote Stasov, 'but genuinely, as one loves friends and acquaintances'. His village scenes are free from the social anger and satirical bite in those of his contemporary, Vasily Perov for example, and recall instead the fairy-tale childhood described in his memoirs growing up in the countryside of Viatka region, where Shishkin also painted some of his most famous forest landscapes in the 1870s.
In his monograph on the artist, Morgunov describes the present lot as a scene painted with great 'naturalness and warmth'. A sketch in The State Tretyakov Gallery relates closely to the eventual composition (fig.1); a second sketch on the same theme in The State Russian Museum shows the group of children scrambling up a steep slope to reach the nest. Morgunov writes that the present work was sold in an antique shop in Moscow in the late 1930s.
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