Vladimir Donatovitch Orlovsky (Russian, 1842-1914)
'River Gnilitsa', 1885 signed in Cyrillic and dated '1885' (lower left) oil on canvas 95 x 155cm (37 3/8 x 61in).
PROVENANCE: Listed in the Album of Russian painting. Paintings by V.D. Orlovsky (Saint-Petersburg, 1888) as being in the collection of Mr. Kuznetsov of Moscow, very possibly Alexander Gregorevich Kuznetsov Archival material states that the offered lot was in the present European corporate collection by 1934
LITERATURE: F.I. Bulgakov, Album of Russian Painting. Paintings by V.D. Orlovsky; In commemoration of 25 years of his painting, St. Petersburg, 1888, no. 20, illustrated
Vladimir Donatovich Orlovsky (1842-1914) was one of the most prominent landscape painters in the Russian academy of the last third of the 19th-early 20th century. He travelled widely during his lifetime but his works mostly express his adoration and love for Russian nature and his native Ukraine. Born into the family of a landlord, Orlovsky received his early artistic education in Kiev and he was heavily influenced by the famous Ukrainian poet and artist Taras Shevchenko. In 1868, Orlovsky graduated from the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in Saint-Petersburg where he studied under another great Russian landscape painter, A. Bogoliubov. After graduating with a gold medal, Orlovsky received a scholarship to Europe which allowed him to travel to France, Switzerland and finally Italy. In 1874 he was awarded the rank of academician at the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg and in 1876 he became a professor of landscape painting. From 18701880 Orlovsky regularly took part in every major national exhibition at the academy. Already a well-known and popular artist in Russia, Orlovsky devoted his energies to landscapes. His works were carefully executed, highly decorative and at the same time naturalistic.
Orlovsky produced numerous studies while spending the summer of 1883 in the area of Podolsk. These studies were later used to accomplish his landscapes. Some of these landscapes appeared in the Album of Russian painting. Paintings by V.D. Orlovsky (Saint-Petersburg, 1888), which was published to commemorate 25 years of the artist's work. Among them are Dried up riverbed (1884), In the thickets of the meadow (1886) and River Gnilitsa (1885), the latter being the offered lot. It states in the album that the owner was a 'Muscovite Kuznetsov', most probably Alexander Gregorevich Kuznetsov, who was a successful industrialist, tea-dealer and also an art collector, very well-known for his social and charitable activities.
According to the black-and-white reproductions in the album, the paintings River Gnilitsa and In the thickets of the meadow depict a very similar view, as though the artist simply changed the angle of his vision and depicted the beauty of the landscape from both sides of the river. In both paintings it seems that one is observing the tranquility of the same river, the same clumps of trees and high meadow grass in a similar floodplain, with the figure of the hunter replaced by the fisherman. In the thickets of the meadow was shown at an exhibition held at the Academy in 1886. In a published review of this exhibition the description of the work, which also applies to the other landscape, River Gnilitsa, outlines the details of the depicted scene: 'Orlovsky should be placed at the forefront of this new direction in realistic Russian landscape painting. This year he is exhibiting two paintings depicting the same landscape, one in summertime and the other at the dawn of autumn. These thickets that take the form of islands are typical at the mouths of Pripyat and the Dnieper, where the meadows are flooded by the tributaries as well as by the small lakes formed by the remaining water. For fishermen this area is a pure treasure. The summer landscape depicts that unique moment before the storm when the sun has not yet disappeared. (...) In the other landscape, the autumnal scene... one can see the moment of transition from day to evening. ... The air, the clouds and the general composition of these paintings leaves one in envy of Orlovsky's skills.' (F.I.Bulgakov. Illustrated survey of exhibition of the Academy of Arts, 1886, pp.32-34).
The offered lot was conceived during a period of artistic maturity and high popularity of the painter. He conveys accurately the signs of early autumn and the state of transition from day to dusk. The complex lighting, which the artist excels at depicting, is achieved by a thorough combination of undertones and contrasts between the shaded and sunlit areas, and the overall harmony of colour makes this painting both elegant and decorative. Orlovsky masterly depicted the freshness of the autumn air, emphasizing that unique transparency of the day as it merges into the radiance of the evening. The depth of composition achieved by the high sky and powerful trees emphasizes the monumental aspect of the painting.
The painting River Gnilitsa epitomises the artistic quest to represent landscape during the mid-1880s. The size of the painting and its realistic depiction of this landscape ensure that it demonstrates perfectly the particularities of Orlovsky's style as well as establishing him as a master of a landscape painting.
We are grateful to Yelena Nesterova for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.