Shishkin is Russia, from head to toe. He has a profound understanding of her nature, sun, air, and space.
Martiros Saryan (quoted from I. Shuvalova, I. Shishkin, Leningrad, 1971, p. ).
A masterfully painted monumental canvas, Sukhostoi bears the characteristic qualities of Shishkin’s finest landscapes by showcasing the artist’s penchant for closely observing and depicting the simplicity and unpretentiousness of northern Russian nature, and yet, is devoid of the superfluous details present in his earlier works. Painted just a year before his last iconic canvas Mast Tree Grove (1898, The State Russian Museum), both canvases share a sense of monumentality, grandeur and solemn beauty. As the mighty pine trees soar high into the cerulean blue sky, the overgrown path draws the viewer's eye to the inside of the grove, where the younger pine trees stand out; the shimmering light speckled over their pine sprays and slender trunks; while the colossal mature trees densely populate the background, providing a shadowy shelter on a torrid summer day.
It is likely that the picture depicts the countryside of Preobrazhenksoe near Luga, some 140 km south of St Petersburg, where the artist rented a dacha with his daughter Ksenia in the summer of 1897. It is with great care that Shishkin depicts the local mast tree pines, the mastic wood of which was celebrated for its durability, resilience and weightlessness, thus making it highly useful to the shipbuilding industry, which was kickstarted by Peter the Great in Russia. Upon his return to St Petersburg in October, as evidenced in a letter to Zinaida Bulgakova, Shishkin writes: 'I believe that, despite my poor health, this summer was not fruitless. I executed a substantial number of studies, some of which are of monumental size' (quoted from I. Shuvalova (ed.), Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin, Leningrad, 1978, pp. 225-226).
The artist’s intense work during his final years was highly lauded by both the public and art critics, such that the January 1899 issue of Zhivopisnoe obozrenie [Paintings review] published an overview of Shishkin’s later œuvre and illustrated the present lot Sukhostoi, which was likely to have been exhibited at the artist’s posthumous exhibition of 1898 and 1904 in St Petersburg and Moscow.
As Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko recalls: 'He was very much a 'poet of nature''. A poet who forms their thoughts through observations, who notices beauty where others would simply walk on by, indifferent and apathetic. For Ivan Ivanovich [Shishkin], as for any real poet, nothing is too small or grand to be included in his conception of the native elements (quoted from I. Shuvalova (ed.), Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin, Leningrad, 1978, p. 289). As a pioneer of en plein air painting in Russia, Shishkin, much like Ilya Repin, Vasily Vereshchagin, Vasily Polenov and other Russian masters, altered the course of Russian art, directing it away from the rigorous academic canon to the liberal ideas advocated and practised by the Itinerants.