Nikolai Sverchkov displayed a talent for drawing at an early age and was enrolled by his parents in a school affiliated with the Academy of Arts when he was nine. At the age of sixteen, at his father's insistence, he entered government service in the Ministry of the Interior and only entered St Petersburg’s Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in 1840 after which he was able to devote himself to painting.
Regularly exhibiting from 1844 onwards, Sverchkov started to attract connoisseurs from all over Europe including Théophile Gautier (1811-1872), the French poet and art critic, who met the artist during his visit to Russia and was prompted to observe: ‘Sverchkov excels at playing with the ‘moire’ on the satiny rump of horses’ (Travel to Russia, Paris, 1867, vol.1, p. 289). Able to note the natural movement and anatomy of horses at the Imperial Stables where his father worked, Sverchkov was celebrated as one of the period’s most prominent animal painters, most notably in the Parisian salons where he started to exhibit his work in 1859. The artist lived in Paris from 1862-1864 and enjoyed considerable success; in a letter sent from Paris dated 11 July 1863, Sverchkov tells of how Napoleon III (1808-1873) purchased a painting by the name of Retour de chasse à l'ours describing how ‘by its originality and particular way of representing light, the painting drew the attention of all. During the exhibition, I received eighteen letters from collectors who wanted to acquire it […] At the end of this exhibition, I had the joy of receiving the Légion d’honneur’.
Hunting specifically plays a considerable role in Sverchkov’s oeuvre, where scenes vary from the thrill of the chase or the moment of capture to the weary but triumphant journey home. In the present work, likely a variation of the painting acquired by Napoleon III, a violent and stormy blizzard drives powdery snow into the figures, who are fighting the elements after their victory over a formidable bear. The work narrates man’s struggle against the gale, Sverchkov’s sense of drama magnificently capturing the romantic image of man and horse versus the forces of nature.