Elena Polenova (1850-1898)
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Elena Polenova (1850-1898)

After the bath

Details
Elena Polenova (1850-1898)
After the bath
signed and inscribed 'Hélène Polenoff/Moscou' (lower left)
watercolour, heightened with white, on paper
25¼ x 16 in. (64.1 x 40.6 cm.)
Provenance
Purchased by subscription and presented to The Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts, Art Department of Washington University in 1893.
Lent to the City Art Museum, St. Louis.
Acquired by the father of the current owner circa 1970.
Literature
Exhibition catalogue, Revised Catalogue/Department of Fine Arts/With Index of Exhibitors, World's Columbian Exposition, Chicago, 1893, p. 421.
The Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts, Art Department of Washington University, Catalogue Part I/Paintings on Permanent Exhibition/Illustrated, St. Louis, 1901, p. 60-61, illustrated.
City Art Museum, St. Louis, Illustrated Catalogue of Paintings/with Biographical Data and Descriptive Notes, St. Louis, 1917, p. 133.
City Art Museum, St. Louis, Illustrated Catalogue of Paintings/with Biographical Data and Descriptive Notes, St. Louis, 1924, p. 71.
Exhibited
Chicago, Palace of Fine Arts, World's Columbian Exposition, 1893, Gallery 19, no. 33.
Special notice

VAT rate of 5% is payable on hammer price and at 17.5% on the buyer's premium.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

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Lot Essay

Elena Polenova was born into a gentry family with artistic leanings; her father was an amateur archaeologist, and her older brother was the famous painter Vasilii Polenov. After a failed romance, she threw herself into nursing work during the Russo-Turkish War. In 1879, at the relatively advanced age of 29, she entered the school of the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts where she studied watercolour and ceramics.

The turning point in Polenova's artistic career came in 1885 when she took charge of the wood-carving workshop at Abramtsevo, the artists' colony outside Moscow dedicated to the revival of Russian folk handicrafts. She began to design and create furniture incorporating folk elements (see lots 47-50, 52, 53, 63, 69 and 71-73). She continued to produce watercolours, and her confidence was bolstered when several were purchased by the leading Russian art patron Pavel Tretyakov.

The present watercolour celebrates not Russian folk art but rather Polenova's virtuosity in handling the medium. The fact that Polenova signed this work in Latin script suggests that it was created specifically for the World's Columbian Exposition, which opened in Chicago in 1893 to mark the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America. It was purchased by subscription and presented to the Saint Louis Museum of Fine Arts, at that time a department of Washington University.
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