The son of an Italian diplomat, Lev Lagorio was born in Feodosia. In 1850, on the completion of his studies at the St Petersburg Academy of Arts under Maxim Vorobiev (1787-1855) and Bogdan Villeval'de (1818-1903), Lagorio travelled to France, Switzerland, Holland and Italy where he lived and worked from 1852-1860.
In addition to his exploration of Europe, Lagorio also travelled extensively in Russia, painting numerous fine works, including the present composition and Night of the Neva, St Petersburg, sold at Christie's, London in 2007 for £1,476,000. Ernest Chesneau (1833-1890), a notable art critic of the period, praised Lagorio’s academic skill, saying ‘His painting make the students of our Académie think.’ (L’Art et les Artistes Modernes, Paris, 1864, p. 172).
The Neva at dusk, St Petersburg beautifully exemplifies Lagorio’s aptitude for expressive colour. Like Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900), Lagorio worked in the finest tradition of Romantic landscape painting. Influenced by the older artist, Lagorio’s mastery also lies in his rendition of light, here using contrasting colours to depict the vibrant St Petersburg sky above the shimmering silver water. The familiar silhouette of the Peter and Paul Fortress stands out on the horizon, while the barque and its rowers focus the eye. Louis de Veyran declared Lagorio ‘a landscape painter of great talent […] with poetic and touching feeling. He didn’t paint alla prima like Aivazowski [sic]: each composition was the subject of much research' (Peintres et Dessinateurs de la Mer, Paris, 1901, p. 72).
The Neva at dusk, St Petersburg is a beautiful and subtle example of a Romantic composition, where poetic impulse is balanced with an academically constructed composition. Typified by a refined sense of composition, Lagorio’s paintings consistently depict charming and evocative landscapes. Imbued with the principles of Romanticism, the artist immerses the viewer into a lyrical landscape where the forces of nature express themselves via a simple sky at dusk over the banks of the Neva.