Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin
- Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin
- Sandy Coastline
- signed in Cyrillic and dated 1879 (lower right); inscribed in Cyrillic B.76, DAZ, B. Avantso, Moscow, OAZZ on prelined verso
oil on canvas
- 53 by 33 in., 134.5 by 84 cm
B. Avantso, Moscow
Conrad Hamberg, Sale Manager at ASEA, Moscow, circa mid-1930s
Sale: Christie's London, November 30, 2004, lot 146, illustrated
Acquired directly from the above by the present owner
National Gallery of Australia, Turner to Monet, The Triumph of Landscape Painting, Canberra, 2008, no. 62, pp. 28, 172-173, illustrated
A founding member of the Itinerants and a highly esteemed master of Russian realist landscape painting, Ivan Shishkin elevated the rural Russian landscape, rendered in natural tones and realistic detail, to become worthy subject matter in its own right. His creative method was based on analytical studies and on a kind of "portrait-like" approach to nature that revealed its most typical features. The artist's insistence on the concrete rendering of every tree and botanical detail was so extreme that he became known among his students as "bukhgalter listochkov," the accountant of leaves. Artist Ivan Kramskoi once claimed, "I think he is the only artist among us who knows nature in a scholarly way... Shishkin is a milepost in the development of Russian landscape painting; he is a whole school in one man."
Shishkin also has been called the "bard of the Russian forest," for his portrayals of the Russian woodlands have much in common with the Russian epic tradition, with its elevated mood and heroic spirit. He specialized in meticulously detailed woodland scenes, in which any sense of specific location is lacking. Unlike other Russian landscape painters of the time, for example Alexei Savrasov, who preferred to depict the various seasons, Shishkin preferred to emphasize nature's permanence rather than its mutability. His style was often referred to as "monumental naturalism."
A detailed understanding of nature is always at the basis of Shishkin's finished compositions. He became one of the first Russian landscape painters of the second half of the nineteenth century to strongly believe in the importance of direct studies in the outdoors. Returning to St. Petersburg after his summers spent painting en plein air, he always brought hundreds of sketches. The play of light is beautifully conceived in his work, but is never the sole purpose of a canvas; it never obscures or transcends the material detail. The texture of every element is not sacrificed to the texture of the work as a whole, as was the case with the plein air paintings of the Impressionists.
In something of a departure from his conventional mode, Shishkin's Sandy Coastline presents an exceptionally dramatic combination of light and color. In the summer of 1879 he worked in Crimea, where this imposing image of tall pines clinging tenaciously to the sandy shore seized his attention, as evidenced by the two variations he went on to execute. The second composition, of similar size but with a male figure visible on the shore at back left, may now be found in the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus in Minsk (fig 1). In 1885 Shishkin reworked this image as an etching entitled Pines that faithfully reproduced all the idiosyncrasies of both versions, but in reverse due to the nature of the graphic medium.
In many respects Sandy Coastline recalls the work of fellow artist Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910), who courted controversy with his predilection for similar concerns of intense light effects and the radical simplicity, almost abstract nature, of his sparse designs. In choosing such a stark and arresting scene, Shishkin allows the technical and aesthetic concerns of his work to come to the fore and to display his occasionally more theatrical and inventive approach to the Russian landscape. The contrast between the bright sandy coast and the glowing tops of the abstracted and twisted pine trunks, set against a uniformly darkened sky where a storm is surely brewing, is a marvel of natural rendition that borders on Romanticism. Yet while making something beautiful and almost mystical out of mundane subject matter, Shishkin is at pains still to observe the unidealized reality of the scene: the dead and broken branches, the denuded trees, the prosaic but perpetual struggle for survival of the majestic pines in an inhospitable terrain. The whole might be seen as a metaphor for pre-revolutionary Russia's precarious viability, its meager foundations and the impending political tempest, but also the will to endure. In terms of sheer inventiveness and creative bravura, Sandy Coastline is unique amongst Shishkin's output, confirming both his reputation as a master of the genre as well as his willingness to experiment.
We would like to thank David Jackson, Professor of Russian and Scandinavian Art Histories, University of Leeds, and Elena Nesterova, Senior Researcher, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, for providing additional catalogue information.