One of the greatest 19th century Russian landscape painters, Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin was born in January 1831, in Yelabuga, Tatarstan. Having studied art for four years at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture from 1852-6, he continued on to the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts where, under Vorob'ev's tuition, he graduated with a gold medal in 1860. Awarded the Imperial Scholarship, Shishkin painted in Dusseldorf, Geneva, Zurich and Munich for the next three years. On his return to St. Petersburg, he joined a group of like- minded artists who founded the Wanderers movement. In 1865 he became a member of the Academy and a professor in 1873.
'The Forest Clearing,' painted in 1896, should be considered among the most important late works by the artist. This painting takes us to the heart of an oak wood, perhaps one not far from his dacha in Vyra, south of St. Petersburg where he lived at the time. The sun rays stream through the canopy of branches, illuminating a patch of grass and receding into the dark background. Shishkin's painting method was based on analytical sketches, which allowed him to portray the colors of the forest as they truly were seen in the environment. Two oak trees in the foreground acquire almost human qualities with their low-hanging branches, twisted by winds. The emotional effect that Shishkin is able to produce with this canvas is that of being alone in the depths of the Russian forest. At the same time as Leo Tolstoy was transcribing it with words on paper, Shishkin was mastering with paint the portrayal of the heart and soul of the vast Russian landscape full of limitless fields and forests. According to Shishkin, 'the forest is a basic element of the universe, along with the sea and the sky.'
Shishkin died on 8th March, 1898, and his obituary reported that his loss was like 'a great old oak had fallen in the forest.'