In 1888 Vasilii Vereshchagin visited the historic cities of Iaroslavl, Kostroma, Rostov, and Makar'ev documenting their most famous monuments and Russian churches. The artist, fascinated with traditional Russian architecture and crafts, began assembling a collection of folk costumes and artifacts and spent days doing sketches of the most famous 16th and 17th Century churches. Because he regarded traditional architecture as the single most important source of inspiration for contemporary architecture, Vereshchagin passionately advocated its preservation and systematic study. The famous Russian historian M. I. Semevskii, who met the artist in Yaroslav in 1888, commented on the artist's passionate interest in the Russian past, 'The artist's pallete showed up in the museums, in churches, in monasteries, on the streets, or at the entrances to the most common churches. He works very quickly, and is able to capture all the essentials remarkably well. Once decided to record his native art in paintings, V(asilii) V(asilievich) not only became well acquainted with it but devoted himself entirely to its comprehensive study.' (M. I. Semevskii, Putevye ocherki, zametki i nabroski, 'Russkaia starina', 1889, October, p. 204.
It is possible that the study depicts one of the entrances to the Church of Ioann Predtecha (John the Baptist) in Tolchkovo. Built in 1671-1678, it is one of the most famous architectural monuments in Yaroslavl. A study from the State Tretiakov Gallery (fig.1) showing a remarkably similar scene with a group of people waiting to attend the service was identified in 1955 as Portico of the Church of Ioann Predtecha in Tolchkovo. Yaroslavl. (fig.1) The present painting is a wonderful example of the artistic maturity and virtuosity of a renowned master. The linear composition allows the space to unfold in front of the viewer; the rich texture of the frescoed walls, warm amber and ochre color palette, and golden rays of sun flowing through the arched window create a majestic and serene space communicating the artist's pride in the glorious Russian past and his hope for the future personified by the small figures of two children on the steps leading to the entrance.
Ambassador Crane and Vasilii Vereshchagin were well acquainted, and frequently corresponded. The current painting was acquired by Crane in February 1902, as part of seven other paintings sold by the Art Institute of Chicago on behalf of Vereshchagin. Another painting purchased at the same time was Dervishes in Tashkent (lot 4). The current painting is listed second under the inventory number 53 and was sold for $1000, a considerable amount for the oil study. (fig. 2)