Summer at Gurzuf signed and inscribed 'Gurzuf, 1917' (lower right) oil on canvas 86.5 x 66 cm. (34 x 26 in.)
'Colours and form combine to give harmony of beauty...colours can be a celebration for the eyes, and your eyes speak to your soul of joy and delight...' (Konstantin Korovin)
'Korovin's painting is the embodiment in imagery of the artist's happiness and joy of living. All the colours of the world beckoned to him and smiled at him.' (Konstantin Yuon)
Born in Moscow in 1861 Korovin began his artistic training aged fourteen in the architecture department of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. His strength however, lay in landscape painting and he transferred to the painting department two years later to study under the renowned landscape painter Alexei Kondratevich Savrasov. In 1881 he travelled to St Petersburg to complete his training but returned, less than a year later, disappointed with the outdated teaching methods. The episode marked a turning point however. His new teacher in Moscow was Vasily Dimitrievich Polenov, who had a great appreciation and knowledge of contemporary Western art, particularly that from France. Russian art students were not ignorant of artistic developments in the West frequent shows of Impressionist painting in the major cities meant that Russian artists were often better informed than their European counterparts. Polenov also introduced Korovin to Savva Mamontov, the progressive art patron and through him to the Abramtsevo circle which included Ilya Repin, Mark Antokolsky, Ilya Ostroukhov, Victor and Appolinari Vasnetsov, and others; artists who shared an interest in Russian themes and who were the first to stage operas, produce experimental architectural works and design books in the new 'neo Russian' style. Mamontov was also to employ Korovin to work for the private opera he established in 1885, beginning a love of the theatre that would the artist producing stage designs for many of the major theatres across the globe throughout his life, most famously for Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakovs The Golden Cockerel at the Turin Opera House.
In 1885, the money earned working for Mamontov enabled Korovin to travel to France and Spain, journeys which were to have a profound effect on his artistic development as he was brought him into direct contact with the work of the Impressionists and their milieu. Many of his works from this time show direct parallels with those of the great painters he had been studying and an increasing fascination with cities such as Paris which was to become one of his favourite themes.
From 1910 to 1917, Korovin and his family would spend the summer months in Gurzuf in the Crimea in their dacha 'Salambo', a cottage-workshop built to the artist's own innovative design in a geometric style strongly influenced by the developing contemporary architectural theories. 'Salambo' became something of an artistic retreat, and they were visited by many of the most prominent artists of the day, including Ilya Repin, Maxim Gorky, Vasily Surikov, and Feodor Chaliapin. The Crimea and the quality of the seaside light were also to influence Korovin's painting, and from 1910 onwards, his canvases become noticeably more colourful and exhibit a broader, freer manner of execution.
By 1917, the year in which Summer at Gurzuf was painted, Korovin was already a renowned artist. He had exhibited with the Peredvizhniki between 1889 and 1899, and with the Mir Iskusstva from 1901 to 1906, and had participated in exhibitions around the world for about twenty years, including the World Exhibition in Chicago and the Exposition Universelle in Paris, where he was awarded a gold medal for his designs for the Russian pavilions.
Summer at Gurzuf is a superlative example of Korovins style at the time; the bright colours and bold brushstrokes, characteristic of many of the works from this period, and is a canvas produced when Korovin was at the peak of his talent. Although the identity of the sitter remains a mystery, from his attire and stance it is likely he was a fellow artist, come to visit Korovin at 'Salambo'.
Summer at Gurzuf, also represents the end of an era. The idyll of balmy summer days and comfortable lifestyle would soon cease, and just a few months later Russia would become irrevocably embroiled in revolution. After the summer of 1917, Korovin did not return to 'Salambo', and for the next six years remained in Moscow working primarily for the theatre.
In 1923, although chronically ill himself, Korovin took his invalid son to Paris for medical treatment, and he was to spend the last fifteen years of his life in France, primarily working for the theatre. He died in Paris in 1939. Shortly after arriving in Paris he was left virtually penniless when paintings sent to Paris for a large exhibition were stolen before it could take place. This catastrophe marks a turning point in his career, thereafter, Korovin produced an endless stream of 'Russian Winters' and 'Paris Boulevards', churned out with little artistic flair in an attempt to make ends meet, and his works from this Paris period bear no comparison with those produced in Russia.