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The unsurpassed master of miniature paintings, Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov (1850-1923), was a self-taught artist. A member of both the Imperial Academy of Arts and the Association of Wandering Art Exhibitions (Peredvizhniki), Pokhitonov was considered to be one of the most talented Russian artists of the end of 19th century, despite having spent most of his life in France and Belgium.
Ivan Pokhitonov was born into a family of landowners in Kherson, and had a disrupted education having studied at the Cadet School, the Moscow Academy of Agriculture and the Zoology faculty at the New Russian University in Odessa. He moved to Europe in 1876, studied art in Italy, then settled in Paris. Here he developed his natural talent under the direction of the artist Alexander Bogoliubov (see lot 275). Pokhitonov's creative style was influenced by the plein air painting of the Barbizon School and the Impressionist understanding of light and colour. Soon his work was presented in the Paris Salons and conquered both the public and critics: 'Such astounding feeling for tone, elegance of execution and flawless drawing in these tiny landscapes and figures, is, in one word, a revelation' (cited in V. A. Grebeniuk, Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov, 1973, p. 52).
The mastery, refinement and detail of these perfect miniature paintings won over the well-known connoisseur of Russian art, Pavel Tretyakov. Pokhitonov was also on friendly terms with Russian artists such as Ilya Repin, who called him 'sorcerer', Vasilii Polenov and his French colleagues, Gustave Moreau and Eugene Carriere. Himself a 'king of miniatures', Ernest Meissonier was delighted at Pokhitonov's outstanding ability and skill at conveying the poetry and mood of a place or character through the smallest of details.
Pokhitonov drew on small pieces of lemon or cherry wood, which had been dried, polished and covered in a layer of mastic. He applied a coloured undercoat, polished it, then applied a tint, on top of which were many layers of paint, each painstakingly applied, smoothing over unexpected details and 'superfluous' brushstrokes. He scrupulously chose brushes, mastic and even scalpels and used optical instruments in his work. The artist's 'laboratory' approach gave a striking result; on each little board or panel a whole world opened up, a wide, harmonious picture of reality. Pokhitonov's refined landscapes and views are known for their simplicity; his compositions were regulated but not meticulous; each brushstroke was exact, but not copied.
The present collection, a unique selection of works, has been in the artist's family for many years. It combines warm representations of his homeland with touching dedications to family members, as on the depiction of the coral workshop, or with detailed descriptions of Zhabovshchizna, near Minsk. The hunters' landscape of the Ukrainian steppe, evoked in Turgenev's novels, twilight motifs, state of quiet calm and the humid sea air reveal the artist's inimitable mastery in this mature period of his artistic works. His contemporaries were delighted: ...…what marvels have turned up in the artist's 70s, see what firmness of hand and amazingly accurate eye. It is necessary to go through this serious school in the West, as Pokhitonov did, in order to learn the secret of this so-called 'technical youth' (V. Petrov, 'Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov. 1859-1923', Antikvarnoe Obozrenie, no. 2, 2003, p. 11).
We are grateful to Olivier Bertrand for his assistance in cataloguing the present works.