After leaving the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1895, Bogdanov-Belsky travelled to Paris, where he worked and studied, together with other Russian artists, Eugene Lanceray (1875-1946) and Alexandre Benois (1870-1960), under the French painter Fernand Cormon (1845-1924) and the Italian sculptor Filippo Colarossi (1841-1906). In the so-called ‘city of lights’ Bogdanov-Belsky became properly acquainted with Impressionism; the depictions of the French countryside and village workers spoke to the young Russian artist, who, similarly, often painted rural Russia and its inhabitants.
Influenced by Impressionism, Bogdanov-Belsky switched to a brighter, lighter and richer colour palette. The artist stated:
“After Paris, I became interested in plein air painting. Air, figures within a landscape, light – this is what I started to concentrate on from 1905. In Tver province, the Vyshnevolotsky district, a whole colony of artists, […], before them – Levitan, and closer to the end, already in the times of the October Revolution, K. Korovin and I, from 1907 to 1920, lived and worked together surrounded by nature, having left workshops and studios” (N. Misheev, 'The Academician N.P. Bogdanov-Belsky' / 'Akademik N.P. Bogdanov-Belsky', Perezvony [Chimes], no. 2, p. 28).
Portrait of a young boy wearing a cap embodies all those aspects outlined by Bogdanov-Belsky. Depicting a pensive young boy leaning against a wooden banister, the composition is full of life and light. The luminosity of the boy’s yellow coat, the sun-lit shrubbery and pale wooden banister are masterfully contrasted with his rose-coloured rubashka and black cap, creating an unexpected dynamism in an otherwise serene scene. The atmosphere is further dramatised by the cast shadows surrounding around the boy. The paint is highly textured, having been applied with wide, thick brushstrokes, creating a vibrant pictorial surface. Despite working in the Impressionist manner, the artist is still very attentive to detail, carefully painting the facial features and the hair of the child, producing a very realistic interpretation of the boy’s physical and emotional presence. Portrait of a young boy wearing a cap represents an interesting combination of subject-matter, common not only for Bogdanov-Belsky in particular, but for the Peredvizhniki [Itinerants] in general, with the visual elements of Impressionism explored by Russian masters such as Isaak Levitan (1860-1900), Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939) and Valentin Serov (1865-1911). This exploration in painterly expression still managed to faithfully adhere to the ideas of Realism that had defined the vision of the Peredvizhniki and Bogdanov-Belsky’s oeuvre.