The Property of a Private European Collector
Vasilii Polenov (1844-1927)

The river Oka in flood

Vasilii Polenov (1844-1927)
The river Oka in flood
signed in Cyrillic 'Polenov' (lower left)
oil on canvas
17¾ x 36¾ in. (45.3 x 93.5 cm.)
Painted in 1918
Elena Katul'skaia (1888-1966), a popular Soviet singer and actress who was awarded the title of National Artist in 1965.
By descent to her husband, Anton Katul'skii.
T. V. Iurova, Vasilii Dmitrievich Polenov, Moscow, 1972, illustrated p. [131], listed p. [130], no. 44 as 'Razliv na oke'.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

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Lot Essay

'How I long to show you our Oka, for it was we who together first discovered her beauty and choose a place to live. Well I have lived here now for 22 years [...], but the beauty and the harmony remain the same.'

Vasily Polenov writing to Konstantin Korovin in 1914

In 1890 Polenov acquired a small estate in the Tulskaya region. Once the spot had been selected, a house, which included a studio, was built to the artist's specifications. Polenov had long desired to move to the country, likely inspired by the idyllic times he spent painting at Abramtsevo, the home of his great friend Savva Mamantov. Polenov wrote to his wife in 1887, 'I want so much to go to the countryside, as only you can understand [...] Working on the land in the countryside will, I am certain, repair our shattered nerves and reinvigorate us'.

The effect of the move on his work was profound: the surrounding landscape proved a source of endless inspiration as the numerous canvases on the subject, including The first snow (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 1891), Golden autumn (House Museum of V. D. Polenov, Tulskaya Province, 1893) and The Oka. Evening (Kharkov Art Museum, Kharkov, 1903) suggest. Prevented from ever tiring of the subjects by the changing weather and seasons, the present lot depicts the Oka in spring, swollen after the thaw.

Along with Silver Age artists such as Levitan and Shishkin, Polenov is a central figure in the 19th century landscape tradition, which is rightly considered to be a highpoint of Russian art. In a distinct break from the past, these artists crucially sought to depict Russia in all her endless glory, their emotional connection to the land palpable. As his letter to Korovin testifies, Polenov's love for his home was both sincere and lasting. On his death, he was buried on the banks of the Oka where he had spent so many of his happiest hours.

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