Dmitry Stelletsky (1875-1947)
Dmitry Stelletsky (1875-1947)

The Hunt

Dmitry Stelletsky (1875-1947)
The Hunt
signed 'Stelletsky' (on the stretcher of the third canvas)
oil on canvas, quadriptych
each: 39 3/8 x 17 ¾ in. (100 x 45 cm.); overall 39 3/8 x 70 7/8 in. (100 x 180 cm.)
Acquired by Countess Alexandra Kapnist (1886-1982), née Makarova, in France.
By descent to the present owner.

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Alexis de Tiesenhausen
Alexis de Tiesenhausen

Lot Essay

Russian people ought to have their own art. Over the years, I realised that only by studying the artistic heritage of our ancestors and even at first slavishly imitating it, it is possible and necessary to revive our native Russian beauty … I am certain that my affinity to Russian beauty was innate, not imposed.
Dmitry Stelletsky

In the context of a revived interest in Russian folk art at the beginning of the twentieth century, Stelletsky was inspired to develop the theme of Old Russia throughout his artistic oeuvre. In 1896, he entered the St Petersburg Academy of Art and consequently spent a great deal of time in the library studying Russian history. The artist made several visits to cultural and historical sites in Russia and decided to adapt the Russo-Byzantine tradition to modern pictorial evolution. Resulting from his trips to monasteries, during which he frequently copied frescoes and icons, he formed his own particular style, drawing on Russian vernacular artistic forms. He studied in Paris at the Académie Julian in 1904 and eventually settled in France in 1914, where he collaborated with Diaghilev. While in Paris he was commissioned to decorate churches: among his most important projects were the decoration of the interior of Saint-Serge, the interior decoration for the travelling Church of the Society 'Vitiazi', and large icons for Russian Orthodox Churches in Paris, Marseilles, Bulgaria and Yugoslavia.
The dynamic composition of The Hunt develops around a lake, the circular shape of which echoes the khorovod (a traditional Slavic folk dance in the round) enjoyed by the maidens on the right. Mesmerised by their beauty, a young shepherd is distracted from his duties and a flock of sheep roams across the centre of the composition. These create a mise-en-scène for the hunting pursuit unfolding at the far end: chased by a pack of dogs, the deer effortlessly leaps though the bushes. Meanwhile, the rider is so absorbed in the hunt that he pays no attention to what is happening in the foreground.
The use of primary colours (yellow, red and blue) accentuates the highly decorative nature of the quadriptych. Reminiscent of a tapestry, the artist paints colourful threads of foliage through the canvasses, thereby assigning an ornamental quality to the surroundings. The figures are simplified and devoid of shadows, a technique appropriated by Stelletsky from icon paintings. In a similar vein, the treatment of drapery and the restricted palette refer to the Russo-Byzantine principles of painting.
Both Stelletsky’s presentation of the subject matter, elaborately structured over four canvasses, and his decorative approach evoke an image of The Hunt in the Forest by an acclaimed Italian painter and mathematician Paolo Uccello (1397-1475). Uccello's command of perspective and use of bold and bright colours, accentuated by the dark background, creates a highly decorative mosaic-like effect, which is similarly evident in Stelletsky’s quadriptych. Hunting has long been an aristocratic pastime and indeed both these artists have applied their own pictorial language to convey the essence of the event. Stelletsky’s rendering of the canvasses conveys his fascination with the Old Russian traditions and strikes the viewer with its impressive size, complex composition, and intricate details.

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