Painted by Baron Mikhail Klodt in 1858, a Riverside Farm, is a rare masterpiece from one of Russia's greatest landscape artists. As is evident in works such as Oak-wood (fig. 1, 1863, State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow) and On the Volga, (1880, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), Klodt was fundamentally motivated to accurately capture the eternal beauty of the Russian land. Indeed, after three years of travelling in Europe he chose to cut his sojourn short and applied for permission to return to his homeland.
A founding member of the Peredvizhniki ('Wanderers') group, Klodt's natural alliance with this movement derived less from the desire to underline the ills of society through their faithful depiction but rather to portray Russia as she was: consider the hyper-realistic rendering of the cows and trees in the present lot. The leading art critic of the time, Vladimir Stasov (1824-1906), wrote that the painter '...was attempting simply to seize Russian nature in all its simplicity and discretion, without any pretension or pomposity...' (quoted in A. Shestinikov, Zabytye Imena Russkaia Zhivopis' XIX Veka, Moscow, p. 125). Fittingly for a member of one of Russia's oldest artistic dynasties, Klodt was passionately traditional in his mindset and abhorred the increasing trend he observed amongst his countrymen for visual special effects and incompletion. He made strenuous attempts to reform the manner in which landscape painting was taught at the Academy, presiding over a dedicated class he established with Alexei Bogoliubov in 1871. His refusal to resign his post as professor at the Academy, the natural enemy of the Peredvizhniki and his impassioned criticism of Arkhip Kuindzhi led to his resignation from the group in 1880.
Reproduced and discussed in Bulgakov's 1890 volume 'Nashi khudozhniki', the author appears to have mis-titled the work, incorrectly labelling the illustration A view of Valaam Island, Klodt's earlier 1857 work for which he received a silver medal. Alexander Shestinikov compounds this error in his 2001 volume in which the work is illustrated but not discussed. The correct title of the painting is likely View of Zegevald, a region in Livonia, now part of modern Latvia: in addition to the painting's inscription on the reverse, possibly by the artist which reads 'view from the neighbourhood of Zegevald, 53 versts from the city of Riga, 1858, painted en plein air Baron M. Klodt', Klodt, who was memorably criticised by Stasov for being too slavishly faithful to nature, has clearly painted deciduous trees unknown on the Karelian island of Valaam and appears to have captured the ruins of the 13th-century Sigulda castle in the upper left corner of the picture. The physical characteristics of the land are notably similar to those depicted in Klodt's 1862 view of the Aa-river valley in Livonia (State Russian Museum, St Petersburg).
It is likely that Klodt, confident that this singular work was of sufficient calibre to showcase his talent, selected the painting for submission as his graduation piece from the St Petersburg Academy of Arts for which he was awarded a gold medal of the first class and a significant travel bursary allowing him to spend the next three years studying and working in France, Germany and Switzerland.