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Konstantin Gorbatov (1876-1945)
Konstantin Gorbatov (1876-1945)
Konstantin Gorbatov (1876-1945)
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The Invisible City of Kitezh

The Invisible City of Kitezh
signed in Cyrillic and dated 'K. Gorbatov 1913.' (lower right)
oil on canvas
36 5/8 x 45 ½ in. (93.1 x 115.6 cm.)
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 3 March 1982, lot 302.
Anonymous sale; Sotheby's, London, 5 December 1989, lot 115.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.
A. Kusakin, 'Vosvrashchenie Konstantina Gorbatova [The return of Konstantin Gorbatov]', Nashe Nasledie, Moscow, 1999, no. 49, illustrated p. 103.

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Margo Oganesian
Margo Oganesian Specialist, Co-Head of Sale, Works of Art

Lot Essay

Konstantin Gorbatov’s masterwork The Invisible City of Kitezh returns to auction more than thirty years since its last appearance. A well-known and unforgettable image, this composition is unique in Gorbatov’s oeuvre and combines folklore with the artist’s observations of life on the Volga.
The legend of Kitezh originates from the early thirteenth century when Iurii II of Vladimir founded the city on the banks of the beautiful Lake Svetloyar, near Nizhny Novgorod. In 1237, Batu Khan and his Mongol-Tatar horde invaded Russia, decimating Ryazan, Vladimir and Suzdal in quick succession. Under imminent threat, the inhabitants of Kitezh prayed for salvation and suddenly, in answer to their prayers, the city and its inhabitants began to be submerged by water, successfully evading their enemies. According to legend, from that moment on, only a person pure of heart could see the reflection of the church domes and white-stoned walls of Kitezh in the peaceful waters of Lake Svetloyar.
Drawing inspiration from this legend, Gorbatov reimagines the belyani, slow-moving giants used to transport timber downstream on the Volga, decorated in bold neo-Russian motifs. One of these enormous boats, which were up to 100 metres in length and capable of carrying up to 13,000 tonnes, is transformed into the floating transport for Kitezh, with its golden domes and richly painted wooden buildings.
As Igor Grabar (1871-1960) noted, from his childhood in Stavropol-on-Volga, Gorbatov ‘…was accustomed to the old fishing boats standing idle with patched sails, the heavily loaded barges, the smell of muddy water and fresh fish, the hot sun, mercilessly pouring its rays on the green and red roofs of the riverside houses. As a grown man, when he found everything but painting alienating, Gorbatov spent weeks at the riverside, listening, watching, sketching, painting prolifically and with enormous pleasure.' Painted before his emigration, The Invisible City of Kitezh is a remarkable combination of myth and reality; Gorbatov uses his palette and imagination to transform the everyday into folklore. For more information on Konstantin Gorbatov, please see lots 58 and 61.

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