Ivan Pokhitonov was a self-taught artist who became an active member of the Imperial Academy of the Arts and a member of the Society of Travelling Art Exhibitions or Peredvizhniki. He spent most of his life in France and Belgium and was greatly respected by art lovers as an unrivalled master of miniature painting and a favourite of the famous collector, Pavel Tretyakov (1832-1898).
Pokhitonov had many different interests as a young man. He first went to study at the Cadet School with dreams of having a career as an officer, following the tradition in his family. Later, having chosen to study natural history, he moved to the Moscow Academy of Agriculture, then the Zoology Faculty in Odessa. In 1876 Pokhitonov travelled to Italy to study before moving to Paris, where his natural talent achieved full potential under the guidance of the artist Aleksei Bogoliubov (1824-1896).
He spent his later years in Belgium with his beloved sister Anastasia and her family. Pokhitonov's creative style was influenced by the plein air painting of the Barbizon School and the Impressionist understanding of light and colour. Soon his exceptionally detailed, delicate landscapes were presented in the Paris Salons and conquered both the public and critics.
It was Pokhitonov’s encounter with the Barbizon school as well as with the classicist Jean-Louis-Ernest Meissonier (1815-1891) that propelled him to concentrate on miniature painting and to primarily use wood as a medium. Pokhitonov used small pieces of lemon or cherry wood, which were painstakingly and meticulously prepared for his work, the results of which are more than evident in his exquisite paintings.
Pokhitonov’s interest in and understanding of nature clearly played a role in the masterful effects achieved in his paintings; from the variations of light within different planes to the movements and expressions of human and animal figures he occasionally included. This achievement is all the more impressive on a miniature scale. An avid hunter himself, Pokhitonov included hunting scenes in several of his works, such as one of the charming oil offered in this sale, Amateurs de chasse dans les dunes, which captures a group of hunters at rest, momentarily oblivious to their surroundings while conversing with one another, while their canine companion, ever at the ready, is keenly focused on something in the distance.
The present work is a quintessential example of the artist’s ability to capture vastness and depth on a small scale. As his great friend Emile Witmeur observed, Pokhitonov 'wanted to study wide spaces, the sun at its highest point, the changeable skies. A small piece becomes for him an inexhaustible source of detail rich in sensations, just as the human heart is rich in the nuances of feeling' ('Un peintre russe chantre de la Wallonie: Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov', La Vie Wallonne, 15 Mars, 1924).