Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (Russian, 1831-1894) Male nude
Lot 13*
Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge
(Russian, 1831-1894)
Male nude
£130,000 - 150,000
US$ 200,000 - 230,000

Lot Details
Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (Russian, 1831-1894) Male nude Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (Russian, 1831-1894) Male nude
Property from a private collection, Southern California
Nikolai Nikolaevich Ge (Russian, 1831-1894)
Male nude
signed in Cyrillic 'G. Pr. P.V. Basina uch. Nikolai Ge' (lower right); inscribed in Cyrillic with the Academy of Art Examination Committee award citation, dated December 23, 1853 and applied with the official wax seal of the Academy (upper left)
oil on canvas
84.5 x 89.5cm (33 1/4 x 35 1/4in).

Footnotes

  • Provenance
    Submitted by the artist to the Examination Committee of the Russian Academy of Art in St. Petersburg and awarded a silver medal, First Class, on December 23, 1853
    Acquired from a private Russian collector in Shanghai, a large Russian exiled community established after the Revolution and Civil War, early 1930s
    Thence by descent to the present owner, 1975

    True masterpieces, those that humankind needs, such as Ge's pictures, do not perish but win recognition following their own course. – Lev Tolstoy

    Nikolai Nikolaevitch Ge's Male nude is a rare example of an early work by an artist primarily known for his later paintings on monumental religious themes. Ge completed Male nude during the formative years of his education at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg (1850-1857). Precisely rendered in the classical style, Male nude exemplifies Ge's technical and artistic mastery as a student of the Imperial Academy of Arts. The painting bears the official seal of the Academy and is inscribed: 'Non-matriculated student of the Imperial Academy of Arts Nikolai Ge, for the exam taking place in the Academy 23 December 1853 honoured for this study the award of the silver medal of the first distinction'. The Academy awarded the silver medal as the highest level of distinction for a work created by a pupil studying at the professional level. The gold medal was reserved solely for graduating students. Ge therefore received the greatest possible honour in artistic achievement for his Male nude, distinguishing the work as one of the cornerstones of the development of his career.

    The painting is stunning for its purist, focused approach. The sombre colour palette and neutral background draw the gaze to the partially reclined seated nude. In Male nude, Ge masterfully showcases his remarkable propensity to render a subject in the most lifelike way. Ge's realistic depiction of the figure's musculature, as well as the naturalistically rendered hair and beard are testament to his remarkable attention to detail. At the same time, the furrowed brow, downcast eyes and dark facial expression set a sombre and contemplative tone for the work.

    Tatiana Karpova, curator of the State Tretiakov Gallery in Moscow, credits Ge's early education in mathematics for his ability to depict a subject with the utmost precision and stunning attention to detail. Initially educated at the prestigious physics-mathematics department of St. Petersburg University, Ge began his professional artistic career by taking part-time evening classes at the Imperial Academy of Art. In 1850, Ge enrolled as a student at the Academy under the instruction of P.V. Basin. Male nude is signed according to the custom of students at the Academy: 'G. Pr. P.V. Basina uch. Nikolai Ge' (Mr. Professor P.V. Basin's student Nikolai Ge). The painting Achilles Mourning the Death of Patroclus (1855), which Ge also painted while he was a student at the Academy, is similarly signed (T.L. Karpova, et. al, N.N. Ge, Pinakoteka, Moscow, 2011, p.66).

    Although Basin was his official mentor, Ge considered the renowned Russian master Karl Briullov to be his true artistic influence, describing himself as the 'spiritual student' of Briullov. He credited his decision to enrol in the Academy as the result of his desire to study Briullov's paintings. Briullov's masterpiece The Last Day of Pompeii (1830-1833) became his primary artistic inspiration during his time as a student. Ge later recalled, 'From 1850 onward I became closely familiar with the Academy...I saw the painting Pompeii. For months, nearly for a year afterword I was incapable of seeing anything else; everything was eclipsed by Pompeii.' (Karpova, op. cit, p. 65).

    Ge's skillful modelling of the human form in Male nude, the interplay of light and shadows, which heighten and accentuate the musculature of the nude figure, recall Briullov's masterful rendering of the figures depicted in The Last Day of Pompeii. Indeed, Karpova suggests that the live models Briullov studied at the Academy may have also modelled for Ge's class several years later, perhaps helping to explain the older age of the subject in Ge's present work. Male nude is therefore remarkable not only for the way it demonstrates Ge's technical mastery as a painter, but for the rare opportunity to trace an early accomplishment by a historically significant Russian artist.
    Ge graduated from the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1857 with a gold medal for his painting The Witch of Endor Brings up Samuel (1856), currently part of the collection of the State Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. The medal was accompanied by a travel stipend that allowed Ge to visit Italy in order to further develop his artistic talent.

    Ge's son aptly described his father's natural talent: 'in his paintings there are no commonalities, he did not invent his subjects, he personally lived on the spiritual level, which determined the choices for his paintings, and it is because of this that they are so interesting, in a way that only something living can be interesting' (Karpova, op. cit., p.13).

    Although Ge's son was most likely referring to his later work on religious themes, the same can be said of Ge's early Male nude. The painting is rendered with such a high level of mastery and precision that it is imbued with a feeling of life, and it is this unique quality that makes it so successful.
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