The present gouache is from the second set of illustrations Stelletsky made for The Tale of Igor’s Campaign
, the famous 12th
century epic poem. The set consists of 54 works, 24 of which were shown at the Exposition d'Art Russe ancien et modern
in Brussels in May 1928. Stelletsky and Dobuzhinsky worked on the decor of this exhibition. The present lot is listed in the catalogue under no.911 as belonging to Henry Le Bœuf of Brussels, a famous banker, patron of the arts and music lover, who financed the construction of the Palais des Beaux-Arts designed by Victor Horta.
The art critic Sergei Makovsky (1877-1962) regarded these illustrations for The Tale of Igor’s Campaign
together with the decoration for the Church of St Sergei of Radonezh as Stelletsky’s two major accomplishments. The fact that the remainder of the second version was stolen from Stelletsky when he was living in Sainte-Geneviève-des-Bois, makes the works acquired by Henry Le Bœuf especially rare.
The inscription in pencil on the reverse may either be the artist’s own hand or dictated by him, relate to the mighty warriors of Prince Igor on parade in the present work. Many elements follow the traditions of icon painting and are taken from Russian illuminated manuscripts, as well as from paintings from the old monasteries of Central and Northern Russia dating from the 12th
to the 16th
centuries, which the artist has studied first-hand before the Revolution.
Stylistic details such as the isocephalic arrangement of the pointed helmets; the treatment of the faces, hands and drapes which recalls icon painting; the horses' bodies made up of flat planes with strong outlines; the economy of form and the free treatment of the faces and details; the restrained colours and the flexible bodies; and the unrealistic colours of the horses’ robes lend this icon work a certain magic.
We are grateful to Cyril Semenoff-Tian-Chansky for providing this catalogue note.