Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky (russian, 1848-1904) 'A kiss'

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Lot 44
Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky
(russian, 1848-1904)
'A kiss'

Sold for £ 40,625 (US$ 55,829) inc. premium
Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky (russian, 1848-1904)
'A kiss'
signed in Cyrillic (lower left)
oil on canvas
178 x 90.3cm (70 1/16 x 35 9/16in).


  • Provenance
    Private collection, Mexico
    Acquired from above by the present owner, circa 2005

    Society of St. Petersburg artists, 10th exhibition, St. Petersburg, 1902,
    no. 71 (Санкт-Петербургское Общество Художников, X Выставка,
    Санкт-Петербург, 1902, номер 71)

    Niva, no. 18, 1902, listed, p. 356, illustrated, p. 353 (Нива, номер 18,
    1902, описание на стр. 356, иллюстрация на стр. 353)
    Illustrated catalog of 10th exhibition of Society of St. Petersburg artists, St. Petersburg, 1902, no. 71, p. 11 (Иллюстрированный каталог
    X выставки в Петербурге
    ), Санкт-Петербургское Общество
    Художников, 1902, номер 71, стр. 11)

    Pavel Svedomsky, the older brother of a team collectively known as 'brothers Svedomsky', was a successful academic painter who specialized in elegant Italian genre scenes and subjects of antiquity. Educated and schooled in Russia and Germany, he settled in Rome in 1875 and became known as a passionate proponent of the European Neoclassical Revival movement. As an artist he was inspired by the beauty of the 'eternal city of Rome', its classical monuments and history, and painted scenes and subjects of the great empires of the past. While spending most of their time in Italy, brothers Svedomsky never lost touch with the Russian artistic community and continued participating in numerous exhibition in Moscow and St. Petersburg. Pavel and his brother Alexander participated in a decade-long project of decorating the Cathedral of St. Vladimir in Kiev. Working side by side with other famous Russian artists, such as Mikhail Nesterov, Viktor Vasnetsov and Mikhail Vrubel, Pavel Svedomsky further developed his penchant for monumental scale, perfected his incredible draftsmanship and mastered more refined compositions. Yet it was the classical beauty of Italy and its ancient past that came to define Svedomsky's artistic contribution to the art of the second half of 19th century. The artist actively participated in numerous academic exhibitions and quickly achieved considerable artistic and commercial success in Europe. Feodor Bulgakov, the influential art critic, commented that Pavel gained recognition from the European collectors and critics much earlier than those in Russia, and lamented the fact that Russian critics were undeservingly ignoring the artist's contribution: "Meanwhile, Svedomsky's art is poetic, moving and warmheartedly honest." (Feodor Bulgakov, An illustrated overview exhibition of the Academy of Arts, 1898, p. 39).
    Italianate style in the Salon paintings demonstrated an astonishing longevity and appeal, showcasing sensuality of the southern beauties, richness of colors, picturesque costumes and the beauty of Mediterranean landscape (E. A. Bobrinskaya, "Italian genre paintings of the first half of the XIX century , Thesis, Moscow State University, 1988). As a great proponent of this style, Svedomsky was not interested in the latest stylistic experiments and fashionable trends and was indifferent to the ideological program of critical realism. He remained true to the purity of the academic style, and was one of the most accomplished Russian artist working within that framework. His paintings Medusa, Fulvia with the head of Cicero, The school for slaves, and Messalina depict beautiful figures in stylish period interiors and scenic landscapes. The highly finished paintings are well balanced and show a profusion of beautiful narrative details.
    "The Kiss" is a tour-de-force of Svedomsky's impressive talent. Against the backdrop of cypress trees and bay receding into the distance, the viewer is presented with the scene of a romantic encounter between two young lovers. They appear paused in an intimate embrace at the foot of a marble sculpture of Artemis "Polimastos," an ancient goddess of fertility, made famous by a similar sculpture at the temple in Ephesus. Juxtaposed against masterfully rendered marble parapet carved with ram heads, griffins and classical figures, the figures have a strong presence that gives them tangible volume and vibrancy. Beautiful young woman overcame by emotions of her first kiss gracefully poses in the arms of her lover. Her voluptuous figure dressed in white chiton and veiled in pink cloak, luminous beauty of her exposed arms, a satin red ribbon and delicate pink flowers in her hair – are exceptionally life-like and alluringly sensual.
    An anonymous author for the illustrated magazine Niva described this painting as follows:
    So old and forever new story! Every new spring brings love and life. Human's habits, traditions and languages had changed, but the love and life forever remained present and dominated the entire world from its very creation.
    This beautiful scene by Svedomsky (10th Exhibition of the St. Petersburg Society of Artists) was as familiar to ancient Romans as it familiar to us. The spring arrived and colored mountains and valleys of Campania in green foliage, brought warmth of the sun and the fragrance of flowers - and in the green of the grass, amidst slender cypress trees a young couple embracing their first kiss in front of a marble statue of the goddess, a patron of love and life.
    Depiction of the present painting in Niva in 1902 and in the Catalogue of the X Exhibition of St. Petersburg Artists show that originally Svedomsky painted lush foliage around and beneath the feet of the figures. Tropical palm plants were originally placed on either side of the couple, and a profusion of flowers and grasses were spread in the foreground, overpowering the scene with excessive pictorial narrative. By eliminating these details, Svedomsky achieved compositional balance and centered the viewer's attention on the central figures and intimacy of the scene. Subtle changes were also made to the man's face. His earlier expression of salacious grin was replaced with a wistful look infusing the entire scene with quiet melancholy and tender contemplation. Changes made by the artist between late 1902 and 1904 can be detected under the paint layers and were noted when the work was examined and cleaned in preparation for sale at auction.
    Regardless of how art critics and the public later evaluated the contributions of the academic Salon painters, the goal of this group of artists was "to entertain people with captivating and alluring subjects, impress them with the virtuoso execution creating a captivating image of a 'beautiful life'. In the Art of Salon the celebration of life replaced the heroism and an attractive fantasy was substituted for historical epic... Far from reality, this art offered something like a fairy tale for adults... Looking at the paintings by Salon artists, viewers were transported away from reality, escaped into a fictional world, where even the suffering and death were magnificent and noble" (Elena Nesterova, Late Academism and Salon , St. Petersburg, 2004, p. 89).
Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky (russian, 1848-1904) 'A kiss'
Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky (russian, 1848-1904) 'A kiss'
Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky (russian, 1848-1904) 'A kiss'
Pavel Aleksandrovich Svedomsky (russian, 1848-1904) 'A kiss'
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