Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin
- Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin
- At the Edge of the Pine Forest
- signed in Cyrillic and dated 1897 l.r.
- oil on canvas
- 109 by 162cm, 43 by 63 1/4 in.
Collection of the artist Charles Defreyn (1851-1929), Belgium
Thence by descent to the present owner
I.Shuvalova, Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin: Perepiska, dnevnik, sovremenniki o khudozhnike, Leningrad: Iskusstvo, 1978, p.224, mentioned in letters 245 and 246
I.Shuvalova, Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin, St Petersburg: Khudoznik Rossii, 1993, p.94 mentioned in the text
G.Romanov (Ed.), The Society of Itinerant Art Exhibitions, 1871-1923, An Encyclopaedia, St Petersburg: Sankt-Peterburg Orkestr, 2003, p.195, no.259 illustrated in b/w
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One of the very last major works Shishkin painted, it forms a pair and counterpoint with his 1878 masterpiece Rye (State Tretyakov Gallery, fig.3) and the earlier work is the key to reading the present lot. The setting for both is the rye fields of Lekarevskoe, at the edge of the pine forest outside Elabuga, which look down over the tightly winding River Kama. Rye was painted from material Shishkin gathered in 1877 while visiting the region with his daughter Lidiya, his only surviving family member following the recent deaths of his wife and two young sons. In this work the two figures in the cart riding towards the viewer on the path cut through the fields are commonly held to be the artist and his daughter. In At the Edge of the Pine Forest, which was painted after what would be the artist’s final trip to the region in 1895, we see the bearded figure of a lone, elderly cart driver, only this time with his back to the viewer, driving along the very same path but in the opposite direction. The viewer appears to be placed in the same spot in the same field; in the earlier work the view is out across the fields and in the present lot down into the valley below. Within this paean to the richness and variety of the Russian landscape the artist has embedded a self-portrait and a sort of artistic summation, placing himself in the land of his birth in his final years.
Irina Shuvalova notes that ‘throughout his whole life he regularly returned to the land of his fathers, from which he seemed to draw creative strength’. In Shishkin’s work the rye field often stands as a symbol for bread, for man’s activity but also his nourishment. The little huts just visible at the edge of the field are the only other sign of human life and activity in this painting but they too are dwarfed by the sheer vastness of the landscape.
Elabuga was a centre of the grain trade in Russia and famed for its wealthy merchants, of whom the Stakheevs were the most famous and successful, exporting their grain as far afield as England, France and Germany. Nikolai Dmitrievich inherited a fortune of some 5 million rubles from the family business which he increased many more times over. This allowed him to build a formidable art collection, including more than one painting by his uncle, despite losing millions more at the tables in Monte Carlo. After the Revolution the Stakheevs’ former residence in Moscow was nationalised along with its contents and when Nikolai Dmitrievich returned in the 1920s in an attempt to retrieve the family silver which had been squirreled away, he was apprehended by the secret police. During Stakheev’s interrogation he is supposed to have reached a deal with Dzerzhinsky that in return for revealing where he had hidden his remaining possessions he would be allowed to leave and would furthermore receive a pension for the remainder of his life, which he did. The satirical novelists Ilf and Petrov got wind of the story and are said to have based the character of Ippolit Matveevich Vorobyaninov in The Twelve Chairs on Stakheev.
By 1897 when the present lot was painted Stakheev had already moved to Moscow from Elabuga and this painting was presumably a hugely symbolic reminder of his family’s origins and both Shishkin and Stakheev’s native soil. That the family took it with them when they emigrated lays testament to its personal as well as artistic importance to the family.