Lot 18
  • 18

Konstantin Egorovich Makovsky

500,000 - 700,000 GBP
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  • Konstantin Makovsky
  • Ivan Susanin
  • oil on canvas
  • 301 by 464cm, 118 1/2 by 182 3/4 in.
  • Executed in 1914


The artist's granddaughter, Marina Flamant, Paris
Sotheby's Parke Bernet New York, 19th Century Paintings, 15 October 1976, lot 93
Acquired from the above sale by the present owner


London, Spring Gardens Gallery, Exhibition of Russian Art. Paintings by Prof. Constantin Makowsky and others, 1926


Structural Condition The canvas is unlined and is attached to a fixed wooden stretcher. There are triangular wooden corner supports attached to the reverse of the stretcher. The canvas has been adhered to the vertical stretcher-bars and this has caused distortions close to the upper and lower edges of the composition. There are stretcher-bar lines associated to the vertical stretcher members. Paint Surface The paint surface has a relatively uneven varnish layer. There are two lines of repair running through the upper part of the figures in the lower left of the composition, a diagonal line of repair running through the lower centre of the composition, a further diagonal line of repair within the background in the upper right quadrant, some thin lines of repair in the upper right corner, and some small crease lines with associated minor paint losses within the lower right corner of the composition. There is a line of paint loss within the snow in the lower left of the composition and some further small scattered losses including close to the centre of the upper edge. Inspection under ultra-violet light shows scattered loosely applied retouchings, the most significant of which are: 1) within and around the figures in the lower right, 2) a diagonal line of retouching in the centre and lower centre of the composition, 3) retouchings above the left side of the lower edge, 4) two horizontal lines within the upper parts of the figures in the lower left corresponding to the repairs mentioned above, 5) scattered retouchings in the upper right and in the upper right corner corresponding to repairs mentioned above,trees, and 7) a few lines of retouching just in from the centre of the left edge. It should be noted that all of the retouchings are crude and excessive and could be considerably reduced with more careful inpainting. There are other scattered retouchings. Summary The painting would therefore appear to be in good condition and would benefit from cleaning, restoration and revarnishing including the removal and careful replacement of any existing restoration.
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Catalogue Note

Completed in 1914, just a year before the artist's death, Ivan Susanin is the final large-scale historical canvas produced by Konstantin Makovsky, and is testament to his exceptional talents and proof that his creativity was stronger than ever in his mature work. The present work is one of three monumental historical canvases painted towards the end of the artist’s life that have a nationalist, patriotic nuance: The Appeal of Minin (1896, Nizhny Novgorod Art Museum) and ten years later, The Death of False Dmitry (Private collection). The choice of such a patriotic subject as the legend of Ivan Susanin is most likely connected with the celebrations surrounding the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty which took place in 1913. The political events leading up to the First World War were no doubt influential as well.

The hero of this masterpiece, Ivan Susanin is a legendary liberator, seen by many as the saviour of the Russian people from Polish intervention. In the spring of 1613 the Zemsky Sobor elected Mikhail Romanov (1596-1645) as Tsar of All Russia and founder of the Romanov dynasty. In the autumn of the previous year, a good six months before he was named ruler, the young Mikhail Romanov was staying with his mother at their family estate in the village of Domnino near Kostroma. The two of them subsequently moved on to Kostroma itself where they took refuge in the Ipatevsky monastery. According to legend, in the winter of 1612-1613 a party of Polish noblemen asked the local peasant Ivan Susanin to guide them to the village of Domnino, where they guessed the pretender to the throne was hiding. Susanin agreed to show them the route, but frightened for the fate of Russia and her future Tsar, and wishing to avert disaster, he deliberately led the Poles into an impenetrable and marshy forest for which the Poles punished him.

His heroic actions survive today in the form of numerous folk sayings and his story is recorded in literature. Most famously of all, his legend is preserved in Mikhail Glinka’s 1836 opera ‘A Life for the Tsar' with a libretto by von Rozen, which remains as popular today as when it was first performed in 1836. The premiere took place in the Bolshoi Theatre in St Petersburg with the famous singer Osip Petrov in the role of Susanin. Konstantin Makovsky twice painted the portrait of this bass-baritone in 1870 (State Tretyakov Gallery) and 1871 (State Russian Museum).

It is not unusual to find historical events depicted in Konstantin Makovsky’s painting through the prism of opera. Indeed, his contemporaries noted that his sense of history was often shaped by famous literary works and theatrical performances. Famously musical, Makovsky had a good round baritone voice and had performed on the professional stage. Music was his second element and it is safe to assume that he had listened to Glinka’s opera. Just as in Act IV of the opera, Makovsky sets the scene of the attack in a forest with the exhausted Poles asleep by a campfire waiting for the snowstorm to end. On waking, they begin to suspect that perhaps Susanin is tricking them. He admits that he has led them astray, upon which his enemies fly into a rage and murder him. In the epilogue to the opera the final chorus sounds ‘Slavsya’, as the people of Moscow greet the Tsar in Red Square to the sound of chiming bells.

Makovsky ingeniously conflates both scenes into the present canvas, with the dramatic death of Susanin in the foreground and the ceremonial welcoming of Mikhail Romanov in Red Square top right. This unusual compositional device, the complex illumination and the slightly theatrical expressions of the characters, together with the realistic costumes and ‘props’ show the immense professionalism of this great master even towards the end of his career.

The impressive dimensions of the present work suggest that the artist would have painted it in his Paris studio which was specially equipped to accommodate large-scale canvases. Both the size of the painting and Makovsky’s demise soon after completing the picture most likely prevented him from exhibiting the work in Russia, which explains the lack of any responses to the painting by contemporary Russian critics. After Makovsky’s death in 1916, plans were underway to mount a large retrospective of his work in the Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. Although the exhibition never took place, a list of works intended for the show survives which notes the titles of three works on this subject: Sketch for Susanin (no.115), Susanin in the Forest (no.222) and Susanin (no.280). It is not known whether or not the present lot was one of these three. We do know however, that in 1926 it was exhibited in London in Spring Gardens Gallery (fig.1). The exhibition was comprised largely of important paintings by Makovsky, though other Russian artists were also included: Vladimir Orlovsky, Franz Roubaud, Nikolai Fechin, Nikolai Dubovskoy, Rudolf Frentz, Andrei Schilder, Nikolai Samokish and others.

The re-appearance of Makovsky’s last large-scale canvas is a major rediscovery. 

We are grateful to Elena Nesterova for providing this catalogue note.