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Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945)
Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945)
Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945)
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These lots have been imported from outside the EU … Read more PROPERTY FROM A PRIVATE NORTH AMERICAN COLLECTION
Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945)

The reading lesson

Details
Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945)
The reading lesson
signed in Cyrillic 'NBogdanv-Bel'skii' (lower left)
oil on canvas laid on board
33 ¾ x 38 ½ in. (86 x 97.7 cm.)
Provenance
Acquired by the grandmother of the present owner in France, circa 1920.
Special notice

These lots have been imported from outside the EU or, if the UK has withdrawn from the EU without an agreed transition deal, from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

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Sarah Mansfield
Sarah Mansfield

Lot Essay

“I am of the land…” / “? ???? ?? ?????…” (N. Kruzhkov, ‘I am of the land…’/ ‘Ia ved’ ot zemli…’, Ogonek [Small flame], 1968, no. 50, p. 25, cited in N. Lapidus, Bogdanov-Belsky, Moscow, 2005, p. 4).
It was with these words that Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky (1868-1945) described his origins and formative years spent in a village of the Belsky district (which he later assumed as the second part of his surname) in Smolensk Province. Born to a farmworker, the young boy was familiar with poverty and hard work, but his exceptional intellect and artistic talent made him a famous and sought-after painter at the turn of the century. His work was favoured by Russian royal and noble families as much as by the Soviet state.
Later in life, the artist partially credited his success to the distinguished scientist, teacher and professor at the Imperial Moscow University, Sergei Rachinsky (1833-1902). Rachinsky, recognising the shepherd boy’s apparent aptitude for drawing and interest in art, accepted him into his model school for local village children that he had established on his estate, Tatevo. Following Rachinsky’s advice, Bogdanov-Belsky studied icon painting at the school of the Trinity Lavra of St Sergius between 1882-1883. He then moved to Moscow in 1884 to attend the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture there. At this prestigious institution he was granted an opportunity to learn from the most prominent representatives of the Peredvizhniki [Itinerants]: Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), Vladimir Makovsky (1846-1920) and Illarion Pryanishnikov (1840-1894). By the time he had successfully graduated in 1889, Bogdanov-Belsky had already made a name for himself among other artists, affluent collectors and the general public. The artist’s brilliant references and growing appreciation allowed him to enrol at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg in 1894 to study under one of the most renowned and influential Russian artists of the time - Ilya Repin (1844-1930).
Becoming a member of the Peredvizhniki [Itinerants] himself in 1895, Bogdanov-Belsky was also drawn to depicting the life of common people in the countryside, not only their hardships, but also their talents, aspirations, inner beauty and strength. Despite his diverse artistic output that included, among others, landscapes and commissioned portraits of Russian royalty, perhaps Bogdanov-Belsky’s favourite subject always remained the everyday life of village children. The artist’s paintings on this theme were as common in his early years as after 1920, when Bogdanov-Belsky moved to Latvia. Later in life, the well-travelled painter, whose works had been exhibited in Europe and America, spoke with tenderness about his time spent in the countryside with village children: “So many years I spent in the countryside, so close I was to the village school, so often I watched the peasant children, so much I liked them for their talent and spontaneity that they have somehow become the heroes of my paintings” (N. Misheev, ‘The Academician N.P. Bogdanov-Belsky’ / ‘Akademik N.P. Bogdanov-Belsky’, Perezvony [Chimes], no. 2, p. 28).
In The Reading Lesson the artist seems to reminisce about his own childhood, in which education played a crucial role, essentially giving him a chance at a prosperous life. Many of his works depict children learning to count or to read (or attending school as in The Schoolroom), which would have been of particular importance to him as an individual from the peasant class born only seven years after the Emancipation Reform of 1861. The broad brushstrokes and warm palette of The Reading Lesson perfectly convey the atmosphere of a summer's day, with the sunbeams playing on the table and the faces of the concentrating boys. The scene represents a careful study of the children’s curiosity and desire to learn new things about the world and their sense of camaraderie and conviviality as one of the children looks over the progress of the other.

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