VASILY DMITRIEVICH POLENOV
The Oyat River
signed in Cyrillic and dated 83 l.l.; further numbered N171 on the reverse
oil on canvas
46 by 92cm, 18 by 36¼in.
The canvas is unlined with an inscription on the reverse and is structurally sound and secure. There are faint stretcher bar lines which are almost inevitable for an unlined canvas of this period.
The paint surface has a reasonably even varnish layer and shows just very small spots and lines of minimal inpainting. There is also an area in the sky over the hills on the left of the composition which fluoresces very unevenly under ultraviolet light. This corresponds to what is evidently pentimenti where the artist's has altered the contours of the hills and the uneven fluorescence could be caused by either the artist's alterations or perhaps later retouching.
The painting would therefore appear to be in very good and stable condition with minimal intervention in the past.
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Collection of M.N. Mazaraki
Private collection, USA, acquired in the 1930s
Thence by descent
Sotheby's New York, Russian Art, 15 April 2008, lot 49
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
Four other versions of the present view of the Oyat river belong to public collections in Russia: a large canvas in the Kovalenko Art Museum in Krasnodar and three in the collection of the Polenovo Museum at the artist’s former estate in the Tula region. Of the works at Polenovo, the earliest, and at 23 by 44cm the smallest, is a study dating from 1880. The largest version, measuring 80 by 142cm, dates from 1886. Dating from 1883, the present lot therefore comes between the two. It is interesting to note that while the general composition of all five works is the same, each differs in the details and the signature.
The number N171 on the reverse appears to be in Polenov’s hand and corresponds to the inventory preserved in the artist’s family archive at Polenovo, which lists this view of the River Oyat on page 16. The owner at the time of the inventory was a certain M.N. Mazaraki.
The artist’s very best works date from the late 1870s and the 1880s. In 1878, he paints one of his most recognisable pictures, Moscow Courtyard, exhibited at the 6th Itinerant Art Exhibition and now in the Tretyakov Gallery. Following an extended trip to the Holy Land in the early 1880s, Polenov paints his masterpiece He That Is Without Sin (1888, State Russian Museum). Paintings from this period are rarely offered at auction and the appearance of The Oyat River gives collectors the opportunity to acquire a museum-quality work by one of Russia’s finest landscape painters.
We would like to thank Natalia Fedorovna Polenova, director of the State Memorial History, Art and Nature Museum-Reserve, Tulskaya Region, for providing additional catalogue information.