'Fair (Little Russia)', 1885 signed in Cyrillic and dated '1885' (lower right) oil on canvas 113 x 180cm (44 1/2 x 70 7/8in).
PROVENANCE: Archival material states that the offered lot was in the present European corporate collection by 1934
EXHIBITION: St. Petersburg, Vladimir Makovsky; Solo exhibition, 1902, very possibly no.308
LITERATURE: Exhibition catalogue, Vladimir Makovsky; Solo exhibition, St. Petersburg, 1902, very possibly no. 308
Vladimir Makovsky started to work on scenes from the life of Little Russia in the early 1880s. For several years the artist and his family travelled to the Ukraine during summer, usually to the Poltava or Chernigov provinces. One of the key destinations of these trips was the famous trade fairs: Ilyinskaya in Piryatin, and Deymanovskaya in Poltava. A large number of farmers in festive national dress, the endless rows of carts and wagons loaded with all sorts of goods, crowds of beggars and pilgrims flocking there from nearby provinces: all of them were captured by the keen eye of the artist and depicted in his numerous field sketches. At that time both genre and landscape paintings of the fairs appeared consistently at the annual exhibitions of the Wanderers.
Though the studies created during these trips have their own independent artistic value, they are almost always seen as a preparatory material for his finished compositions of a larger scale. However, contemporaries, both critics and a wide audience, unequivocally favoured his small field sketches. This point of view was asserted by V. Stasov, who believed that 'painting scenes with a lot of people, grouping them together on the canvas has always been and will always be an unsuitable task for the artist'. In contrast to the 'weight' of such compositions, Stasov promoted the pictorial spontaneity of studies and sketches. Such ideas were dominant at the time and their influence most likely explains the almost complete absence of complex 'finished' paintings of the fairs by Makovsky at the exhibitions during his lifetime. At the XIII exhibition of the Association of the Wanderers, held in 1885, only two out of thirty-odd works were of a large size, among them being the first completed painting from the fair series by Makovsky, entitled Fair in the village of Little Russia (89 x 126.5cm; Kiev, Museum of Russian Art, fig. 1). It should also be noted that the execution of large compositional paintings always took Makovsky a particularly long time as he often returned to his finished canvases. As such, the above mentioned Fair in the village of Little Russia although dated '1882' was subsequently revisited, possibly just before it was sent to exhibition.
Certain techniques in composition such as the fluid connections between both the smallest details and the wide panoramic views help to convey the depth of the pictorial space and were later applied by Makovsky to his other paintings of a larger scale from the same series, including the present lot. One of the main compositional innovations in Makovsky's art of the time was a zig-zag line formed by the gaps between groups of peasants arranged in the centre of the canvas. The twists and turns of the road in the offered lot are analogous to this line and mirror this compositional strategy to perfection. This technique was used by Makovsky to convey the depth of the composition and the presence of highly detailed characters in the centre of the work heightens this effect by preparing the viewer for the sharp narrowing of the panoramic perspective behind them.
Interestingly, in the offered work Makovsky avoids arranging the figures symmetrically in the foreground, as he had done in earlier thematically-related compositions. This lack of adherence to symmetry is possibly the artist's response to critics who had accused him of artificiality in his paintings. As such, he shifts the road slightly to the right, upsetting the balance between two groups of seated peasants.
One of the sketches which belonged formerly to part of the collection of the State Russian Museum and which was famously reproduced on postcards (fig.2) can link the painting offered for sale and Fair in the village of Little Russia (Kiev, Museum of Russian Art). For instance, the pose of the man in a fur hat and cloak depicted in the sketch was later repeated in the Fair in the village of Little Russia, and the group of seated peasants listening to the song of the musician is replicated almost exactly in the left-hand corner of the offered lot. One can also assume that the figure of the seated woman in a white peasant coat, as well as that of the young girl in a wreath shown in profile were also perfected in the full-scale works. The artist was attempting to transfer these characters onto his larger paintings with extreme precision in order to preserve the fleeting nature of the moments when the characters first caught his eye. It is Makovsky's approach to capturing spontaneity which is what truly enabled him to unify studies from different periods into a single composition.
It was common for the artist to use his studies for different paintings on many occasions. For example, to build the composition for the present lot he used a sketch from 1882 which is currently in the collection of Kharkiv Art Museum (fig.3), from which he transferred the character of the young man leaning on the edge of the unharnessed cart together with a group of people. At the same time, pilgrims leading the group in the central part of the picture first appeared in a study executed in 1885, which forms part of the Kazan Art Museum collection (fig. 4). One can be sure that other studies were made for the characters depicted to the left of the pilgrims, such as the poor old man, the peasant with the rooster, the landlord and his wife bearing gifts for the baby, and, of course, the central character of the fishmonger, effectively placed by the artist in the foreground and surrounded picturesquely by his cooking utensils. There is also an etching depicting the awning of a tent with a keg of beer that reappears in the background of this painting, to the right from the centre (fig.5).
Makovsky worked on the theme of the fair until the 1910s. One of the largest paintings in this series, entitled Fair in Poltava (Dnepropetrovsk, Art Museum, fig. 6), has two dates: '1885' and '1910'. However, judging by the style, the latter date is the actual date of its execution. In the case of the offered lot, as well as of Fair in the village of Little Russia, one can surmise that the works were completed in the 1880s.
On only one occasion, at Makovsky's solo exhibition held in St. Petersburg in 1902, were all of his works on theme of the fairs gathered together. Due to the lack of illustrations in the exhibition catalogue and in some cases the absence of dates, researchers encounter some difficulty when establishing exactly which paintings were exhibited. Only three numbers in the exhibition catalogue can be identified with some confidence: we can determine that Fair in the village of Little Russia (Kiev, Museum of Russian Art) corresponds to no.14 in the catalogue, listed as: Fair, 1882; and that two works listed in the catalogue as Fair (Little Russia) correspond to the work in the collection of the Russian Museum (No. 101, listed with the date 1882) and to the offered lot, which is listed as no. 308, without a date.
We are grateful to Vladimir Polyakov for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.