'On the river-bank (Spring)', 1927 signed in Cyrillic and dated '1927' (lower right) watercolour on paper, heightened with white 29.5 x 22.5cm (11 5/8 x 8 7/8in). unframed
PROVENANCE: Formerly the collection of Simon Alekseevich Belits (b.1895)
EXHIBITED: Leningrad, Posthumous exhibition of the works of Boris Kustodiev, 1928, no.745
LITERATURE: Red Panorama, 24 June 1927, no.26, pp.12-13 illustrated Exhibition catalogue for posthumous exhibition, 1928, no. 745 E.F. Gollerbakh, The drawings of B.M. Kustodiev, Moscow and Leningrad, 1929, p.58 M.G. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev St. Petersburg and Moscow, 1960, p.209 M.G. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev, Moscow, 1982 p.387. Cat.2781
On the river-bank (Spring), is not only a rare example of Russian graphic art of the 1920s, but also a work of great interest to art historians interested in this period, not least because this watercolour is 'the last work of the artist, created shortly before his death', as stated in the editorial comment in Red Panorama magazine, where this watercolour was illustrated on 24th June 1927. Kustodiev, who died on 26th May 1927, was bed-ridden for the last ten years of his life, but, according to his contemporaries, was creating bright and joyful works which conveyed his optimism and will to live whilst struggling with a serious illness. That such a colourful and appealing image was chosen for illustration in a popular magazine is not surprising.
In his last years, Kustodiev was engaged in the creation of a concept of new folk painting, experimenting with the 'Soviet lubok'. His well-known engravings of the period, such as To the tune of the maiden's harmonica and Gathering strawberries (1927), were not produced in imitation of the old Russian lubok, but were inspired by some of its traditions and techniques. Kustodiev promotes this concept by highlighting the glee of the young people, idealising the landscape, new ways and fashion, such as the striped sweater of the girl which echoes the striped shirt of the athlete in A.N. Samokhvalov's well-known painting of 1932. Last, but not least, Kustodiev employs an excessive romanticism in the details liberally scattered throughout the composition: a bouquet of lilacs, the drooping branches of a birch, the silhouette of the city and a group of tourists resting near the water. The adaptation of a semi-decorative style together with some popular aspects of contemporary art indicates that Kustodiev was an artist searching for a new path in the development of art. His mission was, unfortunately, interrupted by serious illness.
On the river-bank (Spring) was part of the famous Parisian collection of Simon Alekseevich Belitc (b.1895), a famous collector of Russian art as well as a friend of A.N. Benois, I.E. Grabar, S.A. Vinogradov and I.E. Repin. His collection was especially renowned for including some of the finest of Repin's paintings. On the river-bank (Spring) is cited as part of this collection in the most comprehensive catalogue of B.M. Kustodiev's canon by M.G. Etkind (M.G. Etkind, Boris Kustodiev, Moscow, 1982. p. 387. Cat. 2781). The offered lot was also included in a posthumous exhibition of Boris Kustodiev's works in Leningrad in 1928 (according to a faint inscription on the verso).
We are grateful to Ildar Galeyev for his assistance in cataloguing this lot.