Russian Art

How the Author of Fathers and Sons Championed Pokhitonov

By Sotheby's

I f not for the friendship of the Fathers and Sons author Ivan Turgenev, the life of Ivan Pokhitonov might have taken a very different turn.

Pokhitonov arrived in Paris in late 1877, having decided at the relatively late age of 27 that art was his true calling. He was immediately taken under the wing of Alexei Bogoliubov who held weekly salons at his studio on the rue de Rome, known as ‘Tuesdays’. Russian émigré artists flocked to Bogoliubov’s studio. Many of the great Russian artists we know today – for example, Ilya Repin and Vasily Vereshchagin, attended these ‘Tuesdays’.

At Bogoliubov’s studio, Pokhitonov met the novelist Ivan Turgenev. Turgenev was one of the first to recognise and champion the untrained artist’s talent.



Turgenev and Bogoliubov were at the epicentre of the Russian émigré artist community in Paris. They founded a welfare society to aid Russian artists living abroad, La Société de Secours Mutuels et de Bienfaisance des Artistes Russes à Paris, which Pokhitonov was invited to join, and it was through their assistance and patronage that Pokhitonov established his reputation in France.

In the early 1880s the society organised exhibitions and Evening, Ukraine from this collection was shown at one such exhibition.

From their very first meeting at Bogoliubov’s studio, the novelist and the younger artist struck up a firm friendship. So much so, that Pokhitonov asked Turgenev to be godfather to his eldest daughter Vera, born around the time Evening, Ukraine was painted. On Turgenev’s death three years later, left this painting to his goddaughter thus returning it to the artist’s family.


The novelist was a keen collector when he could afford to indulge his interest. His collecting activities centred on the Barbizon school and his writing has often been compared with the paintings of Corot in particular. It is hardly surprising therefore that he should find much to admire in the works of ‘the Russian Barbizon’. The overlap in subject and sentiment in the art of Turgenev and Pokhitonov is such that one can only imagine how quickly their shared sympathies and nostalgia must have become apparent to each other when they met.

Turgenev and Pokhitonov both hailed from noble families in southern Russia, Turgenev from Oryol and Pokhitonov from Kherson province in present-day Ukraine. The topography of Kherson with its plains and marshland was popular with hunters and the similarity with the High Fens around Liège no doubt influenced the artist’s decision to settle there in 1893. They were also both keen sportsmen and hunting is a common motif in both their art. Turgenev frequently visited England for the purpose and Henry James reflected in a 1903 essay: ‘to wander in the woods or the steppes, with his dog and gun, was the pleasure of his heart’.


Although both Turgenev and Pokhitonov spent relatively little of their adult lives in Russia, as ambassadors for Russian culture in Europe their art was particularly accessible to a Western audience. In their affectionate portrayal of the peasantry, extolling the virtue of working the land and the joy of nature, the episodic vignettes of rural life in Russia that make up Turgenev’s Notes from a Hunter’s Album are the literary relation of Pokhitonov’s Russian period works such as Evening, Ukraine and Hunting for Quail in Zhabovschizna.


Although the subject of many exhibitions in the West, Pokhitonov’s first solo exhibition in his native Russia was not until 1963 when his grandson, the famous conductor Igor Markevitch, organised a retrospective at the Tretyakov Gallery where The Sea at La Panne from this collection was exhibited.

The Russian Pictures including the Bar-Gera Collection of Soviet Non-Conformist Art sale is in London on 29 November.

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