Gorbatov’s paintings of St. Petersburg are rarely seen on the market, particularly compositions on this scale and depicting such a familiar vista. The Fontanka, St. Petersburg is perhaps the most important work from Konstantin Gorbatov’s pre-emigration period to be offered at auction in recent years.
Painted in 1919, it exudes a renewed enthusiasm for the Russian landscape as experienced by the artist on his return from his scholarship to Italy from 1912-13. Gorbatov’s experiences of sketching en plein air had visibly lightened and ‘cleaned’ his palette and his artistic enquiry had been influenced by a more aesthetic approach.
Gorbatov came to fine art unusually late in his career. Having trained initially as an architect, he completed his studies at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts aged thirty-five. Amongst his teachers were Alexei Kisselev and Nikolai Dubovskoy. Despite early artistic links with St. Petersburg, however, Gorbatov also shares many traits with his contemporaries from the Moscow School of the World of Art movement, such as Yuon, Petrovichev and Zhukovsky. Principally, as Lyudmilla Denisova argues, in the quest for a National Russian landscape as evident in his choice of subject – the medieval towns of Novgorod and Pskov (L.Denisova, Konstantin Gorbatov: K 125 letiyu so dnya rozhdeniya, Moscow: Novyi Ermitazh, 2001, p.3).
Gorbatov’s treatment of the Russian landscape has been described as ‘breathing substance into the everyday’. Indeed, one of the motivations behind the artist’s emigration to Europe in 1922 was his disappointment with the Revolution, and the fact that it debased everything which he poeticised in his landscapes. In The Fontanka Gorbatov has infused the embankment with an almost magical quality. Architectural detail is used to lend depth and perspective to the composition. Combined with the interplay of light and shade on the pastel-hued facades, the artist has created an idealised vision, harking back to the World of Art movement.
This work has been authenticated by the State Tretyakov Gallery and Grabar Institue, Moscow.
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