Crane acquired the present lot in February 1902, along with six other works sold by the Art Institute of Chicago on the artist's behalf. The canvas is listed as No.53 Portico of church in Russian village in a letter from the Institute to Ambassador Crane (The Bakhmeteff archive, Columbia University, New York); at $1,000, it was one of the most expensive of the works he purchased and is perhaps a reflection of his deep interest in Russian religious art and music. He was a delighted host to Gretchaninoff when the Russian composer of church music visited the States after the Revolution.
In a letter to V.Tretyakova on 29 February 1896, Vereshchagin describes his series of paintings of wooden churches in northern Russia as some of his most successful works. According to a contemporary historian who met him in Yaroslavl, he would set up his easel in museums, churches and monasteries and paint quickly: 'Once he decided to record his native art in paintings, (he) not only became well acquainted with it but devoted himself entirely to its comprehensive study' (M.Semevsky, 'Putevye ocherki, zametki i nabroski', Russkaya starina, October 1889, p.204).
The rich frescoes and unevenly tiled floor in the present lot are thought to belong to the interior of the Church of St John the Baptist in Tolchkovo, near Yaroslavl, which Vereshchagin is known to have painted in 1888 (Portico of the Church of St John the Baptist in Tolchkovo. Yaroslavl. The State Tretyakov Gallery). The warm glow, illuminated details and shafts of sunlight are characteristic of his finest church interiors.
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