Casting the wolf, 1878 signed in Cyrillic and dated '1878' (lower left) oil on canvas 87 x 152cm (34 1/4 x 59 13/16in).
PROVENANCE: Archival material states that the offered lot was in the present European corporate collection by 1934
Nikolai Egorovich Sverchkov (1817-1898) was a famous painter of animals and people whose skill superseded his lack of formal artistic education. Interested in drawing from childhood, he received the title of free artist for his first work in 1839. In 1852, Sverchkov was ranked as an academician and in 1855 as a professor. His father worked for the palace stables where a young Sverchkov trained himself in the depiction of horses. He created a unique 'portrait' gallery of horses of different breeds and colours, perfectly representing their movements and habits. Gradually his works became famous throughout Europe; his paintings were acknowledged at the World Exhibition in Paris in 1863 and the French government awarded him the Legion of Honour. Sverchkov often worked on historical scenes as well as equestrian portraits of the Emperor (the portrait of Alexander II) commissioned by the Imperial court.
Sverchkov repeatedly depicted hunting scenes, which always attracted public admiration. Not only was he able to portray animals with accomplishment but he also captured the intense atmosphere of a hunting scene. Wolf hunting has always been the subject of Sverchkov's sketches and paintings and he was familiar with the ways of the hunter as well as the anatomy of horses and dogs.
In 1873, Sverchkov's Casting the wolf, which is now a part of the Museum of Fine Arts in the Republic of Karelia, Petrozavodsk, was shown at the Fine Arts Exhibition. With dimensions of 124 x 174 cm. and dated 1873, it is larger than the offered lot, with some differences in composition.
Casting the wolf, 1878, is slightly smaller than the painting in Patrozavodsk and the main characters and the grouping of the animals are somewhat different, but the depiction of the casting of the wolf (tying its muzzle with string while it is still alive) is similar, and with great skill captures this energetic scene.
The offered lot shows a hunter pinning the wolf to the ground, sitting on its back and holding it in a firm grip, while the other hunter approaches with a bind in his hands. Sverchkov depicts the scene so vividly that one can almost hear the bark of the dogs ready to attack the fallen wolf and the neighing of the frightened horses. The animals are portrayed with an ease which betrays a thorough knowledge of their nature.
Sverchkov made numerous sketches, drawings and studies which he used in his compositions. It is known that artist's studio in Tsarskoe Selo near St. Petersburg resembled a zoological museum; it was filled with stuffed animals and birds which helped the artist in his studies of the animal world. Sverchkov was also a master of the composition: he shows the expressive poses of the hunters, the autumnal landscape with its withered grass, yellowed bushes, and the dynamic sky with swirling clouds heavy with rain. Scenes from Turgenev's Sketches from a Hunter's Album come to life in this painting. Perhaps Sverchkov was a keen hunter himself, so convincingly does he convey the joy of hunting to the viewer.
We are grateful to Yelena Nesterova for her assistance in cataloguing this lot.