La Fete, San Marco is an exceptional example of the Venetian pictures by Ivan Gregorevitch Olinsky. Born in Russia in 1878, Olinksy came to the United States with his family at age thirteen. Between 1893 and 1898, Olinsky attended the National Academy of Design studying under Julian Alden Weir, George W. Maynard and Robert Vonnoh. In 1900 Olinksy was selected to serve as the assistant to John La Farge, helping the celebrated artist with numerous projects, including the important mural for the Church of the Ascension at Tenth Street and Fifth Avenue. While working with La Farge over an eight year period, Olinsky began producing his own work and developing his own artistic identity.
After marrying Genevieve Karfunkel in 1904, Olinksy and his wife travelled to Europe in 1907 with their first of two children. Visiting France and Italy, the artist produced many street scenes in Florence and Venice, including this brilliantly illuminated evening depiction of Piazza San Marco. While making sketches for La Fete, San Marco, Olinksy experienced an amusing encounter with the Italian police recorded in the The New York Times.
The article reads: "'It was about 10 O'Clock at night and a wonderful evening. Soon the Piazza contained probably 200 persons watching me. Suddenly two policemen appeared on the scene and told me that I must stop and if I wanted to paint St. Marco's at night to come around at 10 O'Clock in the morning...' 'But I did not have to remonstrate. The crowd did that for me. I was practically rescued by the populace. Suddenly some of the spectators, who had disappeared, returned to the scene with an officer and more policemen, and instead of arresting me arrested the first two policemen on the charge of being drunk...I slipped quietly over to the Cafe Florian, where soon a delegation followed me to ask to continue painting." ("Paints in the Dark," The New York Times, January 15, 1911 (Paris))
This escapade resulted in a marvelous depiction of an evening festival in Piazza San Marco which compares favorably with similar images by some of the best American artists working in Venice just after the turn of the century. Women in long colorful dresses and ribboned hats and men in dark suits fill the piazza floor. Those seated in the foregound observe the light show from afar, while the mass of figures in the distance dance aside the scintillating facade illuminated by the fireworks above. This picture rich in color, light and atmosphere evokes the festive and magical nature of Venice.