In the list of Vasily Polenov's works compiled by the artist, number 57 refers to the painting Normandy. A study. A road by the forest. Here the date of the painting is also stated - August 1874. Stylistic comparative analysis of the painting Forest pathway with works by Polenov painted in Normandy in 1874 from the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum, the Abramtsevo Museum, the Polenov Museum and other museums and private collections reveal resemblances in the composition, palette, the artist's rendering of light and air, the paint layer and the distinctive modelling of details in the landscape.
In a letter to his family from Normandy on the 20 July 1874 Polenov writes: 'I am now in Normandy, on the banks of the sea in a little town called Veules. I am living here with Repin in a small house in the forest, or rather in the forest and yet not in the forest but between the trees on the banks of a quick and crystal-clear little river. I am painting studies and remembering Imochenitsy'. (E. V. Sakharov, V. D. Polenov & E. D. Polenova, Khronika sem'i khudozhnikov [Chronicle of a family of artists], Moscow, 1964, p. 142). Imochenitsy was the name of Polenov's parents estate in the Olent Province in Karelia. The artist's memories of summer life at the estate, which was located on the high banks of the river Oyat', on the edge of a conifer forest, were, in his own words, the happiest of his life.
From 1873-1876 Polenov lived in Paris on a pension from the Imperial Academy of Arts. On the advice of A. P. Bogoliubov, whom the Academy entrusted with assisting their pensioners and around whom centred a group of Russian artists who favoured painting en plein air, Polenov set off for the north of France to Normandy to a little spot called Veules. He lived there from the end of July until the middle of September, 1874. Working on landscape studies, Polenov mastered various approaches to working en plein air and painted a large number of landscapes and studies in the month and a half he spent there. While Polenov set himself formal tasks, his studies, lyrically executed and expressive of the artist's immediate impressions and appreciation of nature, became in themselves fully-fledged works of art.
Comparative, stylistic analysis of the painting Forest pathway with Polenov's Italian landscape with a peasant (1874, Abramtsevo Museum) reveals the similarity of their subject matter, although the first painting was painted on a rainy grey day with rays of sun breaking through the silvery-grey clouds and the second on a bright summer's day. On the reverse of the painting from the Abramtsevo museum is 'No. 39', identical in both medium and style to that of the number on the reverse of Forest pathway. On Polenov's list of works under number 39 is a painting under the name of Derev'ia i dali. [Trees and beyond] Normandie, Veules (1874). The landscape's date - June 1874 - is also written. As a result of the research undertaken at the State Tretyakov Gallery, the Abramtsevo painting was given the new title of Derev'ia i dali. [Trees and beyond] Normandie, Veules (1874). As such this painting, Forest pathway, from a private collection has helped to shed further light on the painting from the museum's collection. In turn, the Abramtsevo work allows us to identify the exact location for the painting Forest pathway.
It seems likely that the path in the forest was not far from the small house where Polenov and Repin lived and that the artist may often have seen peasants passing by with a donkey. Given that he repeatedly returned to this subject, it seems that the artist liked this scene.
Given that the leaves depicted are slightly yellow, the colour signifying autumn, Forest pathway was most likely painted close to the end of August. If we compare the painting with another work from this period A mill at the source of the river Veules, Normandy (Polenov Museum) which, according to the inscription on the reverse and Polenov's list of works, was painted in September and given to his brother Konstantin, one can see that the trees in this work already appear far more autumnal. Note that both these paintings are the same size. Most likely the artist acquired the materials for them at the same artist supply shop in Paris.
It remains to add that in October 1876, having exhibited six paintings and 50 sketches at the Petersburg Academy of Art as a summation of his academic tour, amongst which were predominantly works painted in Normandy, in Veules and Etretat, Polenov received the title of Academician.
We are grateful to Dr Eleonora Paston of the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow for providing this note.