A prominent representative of the Russian avant-garde and a founding member of the highly influential art group Jack of Diamonds (also known as Knave of Diamonds), Petr Konchalovsky already showed signs of his innate talent and interest in art in his youth. Through his father’s involvement in Moscow’s literary and publishing circles of Moscow in the 1890s, he met many leading artists of the late 19th-early 20th centuries, including Konstantin Korovin (1861-1939), Valentin Serov (1865-1911), Vasily Surikov (1848-1916) and Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910), who was particularly close to the family and sometimes lived and worked at their house. All those great masters of Russian art highly praised the early artistic creations of the young Konchalovsky, who at that time attended the evening classes of the Stroganov School for Technical Drawing. On Korovin’s advice, the aspiring artist travelled to Paris in 1896, where he entered the Académie Julian to train under French artists Jean-Joseph Benjamin-Constant (1845-1902) and Jean-Paul Laurens (1838-1921), despite joining the Natural Science department of the Moscow University earlier that year. Though he demonstrated good progress in his studies and even won a prize for one of his drawings, Konchalovsky was particularly interested in painting en plein air and ventured outside Paris. These included his trips to Versailles with Eugene Lanceray (1875-1946) and to Brittany with Nikolai Milioti (1874-1962), to paint small-scale studies of nature. Upon his return to Russia, he enrolled at the Imperial Academy of Arts in 1899, where he entered the studio of the battle-scene painter Pavel Kovalevsky (1843-1903) choosing him over Ilya Repin (1844-1930), who was very interested in the promising artist.
In the following years, Konchalovsky went on a few trips abroad and on numerous journeys around Russia, always painting landscapes and studies of nature, whether it was the steppes of Minusinsk in south Siberia or the shores of Kandalaksha in the north. However, his stay with his family in Belkino from spring until the winter of 1907 was a turning point in his career, which defined him, upon his own admission, as the artist he would eventually become. As his wife, Olga Konchalovskaya (née Surikova, a daughter of Vasily Surikov) (1878-1958), recounted later in life, Belkino was a beautiful estate with a scenic park on the picturesque Protva river in Kaluga oblast’. She described that period in their life as follows: “That is where Petr Petrovich began a completely new line of work; after so many years of painful [artistic] searching, he found his way and from that moment he considered his life to be clear” (O. Konchalovskaya, ‘Nash zhiznennyi put’ [‘Our Life Path’] (1956), in K. Frolova, Konchalovskii. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie [Konchalovsky. The Artistic Legacy], Moscow, 1964, p. 49). Konchalovsky himself agreed with her: “Thus, my artistic life began in 1907; that was when my views and aspirations in art became fully defined” (P. Konchalovsky, ‘Avtobiograficheskii ocherk’ [‘Autobiographical Article’] (1944), in K. Frolova, Konchalovskii. Khudozhestvennoe nasledie [Konchalovsky. The Artistic Legacy], Moscow, 1964, p. 16).
In Belkino, Konchalovsky created a “series of studies in the impressionist style” (P. Konchalovsky, ‘Autobiographical Article’, p. 16) that included “[…] landscapes, trees in the morning fog, autumn apple trees, a big house behind iron bars, birch trees, three portraits of little daughter Natasha, winter landscapes” (O. Konchalovskaya, ‘Our Life Path’, p. 49). Belkino. Garden is a superb example of Konchalovsky’s output from that very significant period of his life, being one of the largest canvases from the series. The influence of the Impressionists and especially of Claude Monet (1840-1926) is evident in this work. Back in 1891, Konchalovsky saw Haystacks by the famous painter at the French Art-Industrial Exhibition in Moscow (Konchalovsky: Toward the Evolution of the Russian Avant-Garde, St Petersburg, 2010, p. 244). Monet’s Haystacks, a series of which was exhibited again in Moscow in 1895, had a truly polarising effect on the Russian artistic world. The output of the great French Impressionist exerted an especially strong and profound impact on Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), who decided to abandon his career in law and become an artist at the age of thirty, and on young Konchalovsky, in whom it “aroused […] enthusiasm, vague dreams and desires” (V. Nikolsky, Petr Petrovich Konchalovsky, Moscow, 1936, p. 17, cited in translation in Konchalovsky: Toward the Evolution of the Russian Avant-Garde, p. 261). What impressed him as a young boy in Monet’s painting, Konchalovsky recreated in his Belkino landscape: a vibrant sense of life, spontaneity and radiance of the image, free and light application of brushstrokes, and decisive renewal of a pictorial palette (the importance of which was made clear to him by Surikov and Korovin early in his life).
The artistic style of Petr Konchalovsky evolved drastically over the years, incorporating various artistic influences. From his works created just a year after his Belkino series and evidently inspired by the art of Van Gogh (1853-1890) to his lasting exploration of Cézannism and then a total departure towards a more realistic style, landscapes always played an important role in his oeuvre, as they were of particular interest to the artist. Nevertheless, his impressionist experiments of 1907 have always been held in high regard by the public and by Konchalovsky himself. As Olga Konchalovskaya recalled later in life, whenever they were organising her husband’s solo exhibitions, they always started with his works from the Belkino period of 1907. “[After 1907 and until the war] were the happiest years, ” she continued, “new paths were opened and Petr Petrovich stopped tearing up all his paintings” (O. Konchalovskaya, ‘Our Life Path’, p. 49).