Stanislav Zhukovsky's evocative landscape paintings emerged from the generation of brilliant landscape artists immediately preceding him, including Vasilii Polenov, Valentin Serov, Alexei Savrasov and Isaak Levitan. Indeed, Zhukovsky's work is often compared to that of Levitan who was one of his teachers at the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture (MUZhVZ). While the strong influence of the elder painter on Zhukovsky's work is evident, there are important differences in their approach. While Levitan imbues his often sombre landscapes with palpable emotion and felt that a painting 'is a piece of nature, expressed via the temperament of the artist and if not then it is simply an empty place' (quoted in R. Aldonina, Stanislav Zhukovsky, Moscow, 2005, p. 15), Zhukovksy's preoccupation was more external. He intended to accurately depict his subject's atmosphere rather than his own emotional state, working furiously to capture the atmosphere and warmth of a fleeting moment, aware that a shift in the weather, the light, the time of day would demand an entirely different work in essence. An artist, observing how he worked reported: 'He painted quickly, each work would only require five or six sessions, he would look long and hard at the work from four or five metres away and then, returning to the canvas, would paint quickly and energetically' (Ibid, p. 25).
In contrast to the majority of the preceding generation (with notable exceptions) Zhukovsky and his contemporaries increasingly painted en plein air. While not an official pupil of Polenov, Zhukovsky was among the young artists invited by the masterful landscape artist to his beloved home on the river Oka to sketch and study from nature. While portraits are not entirely absent in his body of work, Zhukovsky's great love for nature compelled him to focus on landscape painting. He worked in the open air day and night and loved hunting and fishing, lending credence to Turgenev's declaration: 'only the hunter truly understands nature'. Autumn and spring are particularly prevalent in Zhukovsky's work, these seasons providing a particularly rich palette and variety of atmospheric conditions.
Painted circa 1911, A terrace in autumn belongs to Zhukovsky's series of works devoted to estate landscapes. While the artist never repeated his compositions exactly, the present work relates closely to Autumn. The veranda. (1911, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) and A deserted terrace (circa 1911, Tula Art Museum, Tula) both of which depict the same terrace from different viewpoints. The veranda is most probably that of the house of the Miliukov estate in the Tver province on the banks of the Meglich lake which the artist regularly rented from spring until late autumn. The architectural features such as terraces and entrances appear with an increasing frequency in Zhukovsky's work from 1899 onwards and with particular frequency in the 1910s. Their presence suggests a synthesis between man and the natural world, the flower arrangement on the table in A terrace in autumn a subtle reminder that the house is occupied by characters offstage.
Zhukovksy remained a realist throughout his lifetime and dismissed as ridiculous the notion that there was nothing new left to do within the genre of landscape painting. He was however intrigued by the French modernists and the World of Art's (with whom he exhibited in 1902 and 1903) ethos that championed art for art's sake. Inspired to experiment with methods of rendering texture, the confident loose brush strokes and vibrant palette of A terrace in autumn infuse the canvas with light and air, transporting the observer to the scenic terrace overlooking the lake on a crisp autumnal day, the sunshine warm on their back. Painted in the early 1910s, the present work, rather like Kustodiev's winter fair scenes, recalls a Russian era that was soon to disappear. Known previously from a pre-revolutionary postcard, the appearance at auction of A terrace in autumn provides collectors with a rare opportunity to acquire a beautiful and important example of Zhukovsky's joyful celebration of nature.