Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky
- Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky
- Country Boys
- signed in Cyrillic and dated 1916 l.l.
- oil on canvas
- 153 by 124cm, 60 1/4 by 48 3/4 in.
Sotheby's London, Icons, Russian Pictures and Works of Art, 15 June 1995, lot 14
Bogdanov-Belsky's pre-revolutionary works include some of his most striking canvases, the scale alone often an indication of his artistic confidence. The present lot is an exceptional example of the qualities that mark out these rare, early paintings - tight brushwork, vivid blues and greens, and an impact that would grow gradually more diffuse with the looser strokes and muted palette that appear at times in his later works.
In the present lot there is an unmistakable sense of resolve in the boys' expressions. Their tightly-pursed lips and concentration ground the pair to a pre-Revolutionary epoch: alert in the face of uncertainty rather than the glazed look of Soviet youth. Bogdanov-Belsky was famously interested in the expressiveness of country children: 'Perhaps [they] have qualities that will always appeal and catch our attention, unaffected as they are by city culture or those uniform standards of dress which immediately strip away any sense of character from one's face'. His use of receding fencing to create depth features in another strong canvas from the period, The Crossing (1915, The Riga Museum of Fine Arts).
Such was the popularity of this image that Bogdanov-Belsky is known to have repeated the composition in the 1930s; a version painted for his 1936 solo exhibition was subsequently acquired by The Riga Museum of Fine Arts.