Aleksei Petrovich Bogoliubov (1824-1896), the renowned maritime artist, lived in Paris for almost three decades and played an important role in the development of Russo-European cultural relations. A large number of his canvases are devoted to the Venetian landscape as the artist loved to visit Venice and paint its many romantic views.
During his time in Europe, Bogoliubov completed nearly fifty paintings and drawings depicting Venice which today can be found in both Russian museums and private collections worldwide. Bogoliubov's impressive knowledge of the architecture of Venice's monuments and the precision with which he depicted them was always combined with authentic, professional and exact representations of different boats and gondolas. In all of Bogoliubov's Venetian landscapes we see the animated, lively figures of gondoliers, people on boats and on the banks, and we really feel the artist's romantic, heightened perception of the particular way of life of this city on the water.
In Bogoliubov's autobiographical book 'Notes of a sailor and artist', it is clear that the distinctive landscape and architecture of Venice made a strong impression on the artist: 'The beauty of Venice struck me so deeply and was etched on my mind, that I painted every view at every time of day and I will continue to paint it until the end of my life [...] I made precise drawings of every column, pediment and cornice of the palaces and buildings; making a whole list of drawings taught me how to design architecture, for which I always had a passion'.
Bogoliubov's first extended visit to Venice was in 1854, when upon finishing the Academy the young artist embarked on a sponsored tour of Germany, Belgium and Switzerland, arriving in Italy at the end of September. Having visited Rome and Milan, Bogoliubov spent over a month in Venice and rented an apartment in the town centre, near the Palazzo Ducale, with his friend Prince V. Maksutov.
The next long trip to his beloved, inspirational Venice was from January to April 1863 (due to his wife's illness, Bogoliubov spent the whole winter in Venice). In the summer of that same year, the artist painted Santa Maria della Salute, Venice for the King of Denmark, which depicted a view of the Grand Canal in the evening with a procession of gondolas. The painting was displayed as part of the King's collection at the Amalienborg Palace, Copenhagen.
Bogoliubov's Venetian landscapes can also be found in the collection of Russian art formed by Emperor Alexander III, with whom the artist had been friends for many years. View of Venice at night decorated the Anichkov Palace, and Venice on a moonlit night hung in the Emperor's dining room in the Alexander Palace. During the turmoil of the 1917 revolution these two works were lost.
Many of Bogoliubov's Venetian landscapes, freely and masterfully drawn, date from the early 1870s. Bogoliubov exhibited many of his Venice scenes at their second exhibition of the Peredvizhniki in 1870. In the journal 'Notes from the homeland', the famous Russian writer A. Maikov praises his landscapes highly, writing 'Mr. Bogoliubov depicts every damp element perfectly'. The ability of Bogoliubov to capture this peculiar climate is evident in the work Venice. View of the Grand Canal, dated 1870 (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg).
The present painting, Venice, which has been in a private European collection for over fifty years, was probably painted during this period. The landscape shows a view from the side of the Lagoon to the so-called Dogana di Mare, where the Grand Canal meets the Giudecca Canal. We barely see the Dogana di Mare tower. However, in the centre, amidst the fog, we can see the famous Church of Santa Maria della Salute (the festival of Madonna della Salute is celebrated on November 21st). Spread out on the Giudecca Lake to the left, we can see the outline of the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, one of Andrea Palladio's most beautiful creations. There is a close portrayal of Santa Maria della Salute, but another, more closely depicted, can be seen in the watercolour Venice (fig. 1; 1872, Perm Picture Gallery).
Comparing the Venetian views with the artist's best works, it is easy to come to the conclusion that while living abroad, Bogoliubov involuntarily looked for and depicted in his Venetian landscapes those patterns of nature and moods that he remembered from his childhood. Often, in the silhouettes of the Venetian architectural monuments, we can see the outlines of some of St Petersburg's important buildings, and the animated figures on the banks of the canals remind us of those commonly found on the banks of the Neva, the Gulf of Finland, or the endless expanses of the Volga.
Venice displays all the strength and subtlety of Bogoliubov's oeuvre which was frequently praised by his contemporaries for its: '...remarkable strength of composition, perfect distribution of detail, exceptional palette, superlative drawing' and 'strong poetic feeling'.
We are grateful to Liudmila Pashkova the Curator of The Radishchev State Art Museum, Saratov, for preparing this note.