Baba on a swing, a magnificently vivid example of Maliavin’s beloved peasant scenes, showcases the beauty of Russia’s countryside, enhanced by the flamboyant peasant apparel adorned by the sitters and the traditional architecture visible in the background. One can almost hear the whoosh and boisterous guffaw of the flying swing and the joyful baba, unceremoniously displaying her valenki to the viewer, while her compatriots gather underneath in a traditional Russian khorovod. The festive mood of this unbridled merriment is masterfully captured via Maliavin’s fluently and vigorously applied broad bold brushstrokes. The pearly-white trunks of the birch trees interlace with the colourful babas’ attire while the sparkling greens of the coming spring introduce a sense of dynamism and rapid movement to the composition. Although the present work was painted in emmigration, the artist masterfully revives from memory the blue cupolas of a Russian church, crowned with golden crosses and lit by the sun and the welcoming laughter of the peasants, akin to the type found in his native Kazanki village.
Certain contemporary art critics who favoured more subtle subject matter and advocated idealistic depictions of the Russian peasantry were unnerved by the Maliavin’s audacious rupture with Academic dogma and the Peredvizhniki [Itinerants] prescriptive vision of peasant life as poor and oppressed. Maliavin’s cheerful scenes revealed the pleasures available in village life. This subject matter, which spans the artist’s entire oeuvre, suggests a certain longing for the life Maliavin had left behind when he emigrated to France in 1922.
Maliavin, thanks to the support of his fellow villagers, began his artistic education as an icon-painter on Mount Athos. His talent was quickly recognised and encouraged by the prominent artists of the time. With the support of Vladimir Beklemishev (1861-1920), Maliavin enrolled in the Imperial Academy of Art in St Petersburg under the tutelage of Russia’s most celebrated arts teacher - Pavel Chistyakov (1832-1919). After the reformation of the Academy Maliavin attended the studio of Ilya Repin (1844-1930). His discipline and years of study combined with the artist’s passion for village life, resulted in his highly distinctive style and some of the most beloved canvasses in Russian art history such as Whirlwind (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, 1906), Babas in green shawls (State Tretyakov Gallery, 1914) and Dancing baba (State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, mid-1900s).
Baba on a swing comes from the studio of the artist and was bought from the artist’s only daughter Zoia Bounatian in the late 1940s/early 1950s by a Monegasque picture dealer. It has remained in the same private collection since its only appearance at auction in 1998, thus presenting collectors with the rare opportunity to acquire an exceptional piece by this Russian master distinguished by outstanding provenance.