The present work was executed circa
1915, one year after Bogdanov-Belsky was formally elected as an honorary member of the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg. Bogdanov-Belsky became a highly accomplished painter from an early age, working almost exclusively in oils. A perennial student, Bogdanov-Belsky enriched his life with intense study of world art. At the turn of the century, like so many of his fellow artists, Bogdanov-Belsky studied in Paris at the private Colarossi Academy, attended by the likes of Gauguin and Modigliani, among others. Among Bogdanov-Belsky’s Russian influences, masters such as Ilya Repin, Vassilii Polenov and Vladimir Makovsky had a profound effect.
Bogdanov-Belsky was a master of informal portraiture. The present portrait of a woman reading in a garden showcases Bogdanov-Belsky’s skill at conveying a most elegant and peaceful reverie; the deftness of his short brush-work, the subject of leisure and the interest in capturing the vibrancy of summer light associates this work with that of his Russian and French Impressionist colleagues (figs.1 & 2). Bogdanov-Belsky incorporated Impressionist tenets early in his portraits and genre scenes of peasant life. Women at leisure, reading in the garden or basking in light were some of the most popular recreational subjects among Impressionist painters. Bogdanov-Belsky combines en plein-air
subject matter, color and stroke into an academic framework. The beautiful model, relaxed and absorbed in her reading material sits peacefully amid the most verdant of landscapes. Although the model is unlike any typical peasant, she is nonetheless adorned with brightly colored peasant shawls. On the bench next to her journals with naïve, child-like, covers occupy the remaining bench.
With the imminent threat of industrialization and the displacement of the population to the cities, there was a movement to preserve a vanishing peasant culture. Bogdanov-Belsky combines both the rural and the urban in the present portrait of the young woman. Reading in the Garden
conveys a sense of ease and privacy. Although the woman is depicted with traditional accents, she remains thoroughly modern. Bogdanov-Belsky touches upon the complexity of Russian identity.
The vibrant landscape plays a critical role in the this composition. Yellow chrysanthemums in full bloom beautifully convey optimism within a private sanctuary. Reading in the Garden
is one of Bogdanov-Belsky’s most impressive impressionistic masterpieces, painted by a most brilliant colorist.
Reading in the Garden was on the cover of St. Petersburg journal Stalitsa i Usadba in 1915.