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The virtual exhibition

Thanks to the depicted motif, significance of the created image, high skill of performance over-one-hundred-years-old works by Ivan Shyshkin still arouse a vivid interest. Creation history of certain works, their destiny and existence are of undeniable interest.

The National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus has a wonderful collection of works by Ivan Shyshkin, which consists of twenty pictures, eight drawings and nine etchings. Basically, it is an entire, integral collection of works by one artist. Picturesque works by Ivan Shyshkin are the honour of the Museum. Many of them – perfect works by the author – are famous for various publications, for being exhibited both while the artist was alive and after his death.

Among the works by Ivan Shyshkin in general and among those that belong to the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus in particular, the work “Swamp. Cranes” dated from 1890 (oil on canvas. 89.5х142; bought by the Museum from the family of Ivan Maskvin, a famous actor of the Moscow Art Theatre, people’s artist of the USSR, in 1960 in Moscow) attracts attention with its picturesque advantages, destiny and varieties with the name. Painted by the middle-aged artist, poetic and integral in its colour arrangement, the work is typical for Ivan Shyshkin with its composition equilibrium (in this case, the centre is slightly shifted to the left), with masterful depiction of humid air of a swampy area, silence and peace of a summer day.

While working on the scientific catalogue of the Russian painting from the collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus, we came across interesting details on the work’s history. For the first time the painting was shown at the 18th exhibition of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions, at first in Saint-Petersburg (opening on February 11, 1890), then in Moscow (opening on March 31, 1890). All the exhibition catalogues – the Saint-Petersburg one, the Moscow one and the Illustrated one – have the painting under No. 63 and it is called “Swamp”. “The Illustrated Catalogue” (Saint-Petersburg, 1890) has its reproduction. It fully coincides with our Museum’s painting, but the reproduction does not have the cranes.

Does it mean that the original painting did not have cranes? We could assume that the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus had a version of the painting. However, neither letters by Ivan Shyshkin nor his notes, neither literature about him nor his work researchers mention another version of the painting. Apart from that, tracing the painting’s existence in private collections says that it is the same painting. The only conclusion suggests itself: Ivan Shyshkin added the cranes to the painting that had already been completed and exhibited. It is a well-known fact that it was typical for an artist “to revive” his works with staffage figures of people or animals (“Cutting of Wood”. 1867, “Noon in the Neighbourhood of Moscow”. 1869, “Edge of the Forest (Spruce Forest)”. 1873, “Palesse”. 1891, “Morning in a Pine Forest”. 1889, “Rain in an Oak Forest”. 1891 etc). Introduction of figures into a landscape made the master’s works even more persuasive.

We faced two issues which we tried to solve.

The first issue is the following. Was it Ivan Shyshkin who added the cranes into the painting or did he ask another artist to do that, as in the case of the painting “Morning in a Pine Forest” where the bears were painted by Kanstantsin Savitsky after the sketch by Ivan Shyshkin? We failed to prove it with the help of documents because necessary information was absent from the studied materials. But this could be assumed. Perhaps, it was Ivan Shyshkin who added the cranes, since he had painted staffage images in his earlier works. Apart from this, the artist had an access to the work sold to a private collector: at the 18th Itinerant exhibition “Swamp” was bought by Mikalay Stakheyeu (Moscow), a nephew of Ivan Shyshkin and a son of the elder artist’s sister Alyaksandra Stakheyeva (Shyshkina) and Zmitser Stakheyeu, a Yelabuga merchant of the first gild. Besides, the painting’s X-ray showed that the cranes were painted with a very thin touch over a denser paint layer. Participation of another artist was not deduced.

The second issue is the following. When were the cranes added into the painting? It could be more or less accurately determined with the help of “The Russian Painting Album. Paintings and Drawings by Professor Ivan Shyshkin” published by Fyodor Bulhakau in 1892 (Saint Petersburg). The Album had a reproduction of the painting “At the Swamp” (page 6, reproduction 12) already with the cranes. Thus, it is easy to conclude that the cranes appeared in the painting between the middle of 1890 and early 1892. The cranes have become a distinctive sign of the work since this period, and the work was most often called “Swamp. Cranes” or “Swamp with Cranes”.

But in the publications of 1960-s–1980-s when the painting already belonged to the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus (the State Art Museum of the BSSR) other versions of the name appeared: “Swamp. Palesse”, “Swamp. Cranes. Palesse”. It turned out that when the painting arrived at the Museum, it was indicated as “Palesse Landscape” in the catalogue of works. This was allegedly based on the fact that the painting depicted a swamp, and if there was a swamp in the painting, it meant Palesse. Having in mind the method of Ivan Shyshkin’s working on the paintings, we doubted the appropriateness of the name. As a rule, Ivan Shyshkin completed his paintings soon after making sketches, usually the same year. The artist visited Palesse twice: in 1883 and 1892. And the painting “Swamp. Cranes” has an author date – year 1890. Thanks to the catalogue “Exhibition of the Imperial Academy of Arts of Sketches, Drawings, Etchings, Zincographs and Lithographs by Ivan Shyshkin, a Member of the Society for Itinerant Art Exhibitions. 1849-1891” (Saint Petersburg, 1891) we found out that from the middle of 1889 till early 1890 Ivan Shyshkin worked in Merihovi at the Gulf of Finland, near Beloostrov, in the estate which belonged to Barys Rydzinger, the fiancé of Lidziya Shyshkina, the artist’s daughter from his first marriage (The Rydzingers got married in the summer of 1890).

Thus, it is really apparent that the painting “Swamp” shown at the Itinerant exhibition from February 1890 has no relation to Palesse. And Palesse in the terms of the area where the work was painted has to be absent from the name of the work under consideration. It has to be called “Swamp. Cranes”. It is this name that is attached to the work in “The Catalogue of Russian Pre-revolutionary and Soviet Painting in the Collection of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus” (Minsk, 1997. Volume 2. PP. 368, 369).

 

The Project Team:

The text – by Alena Resina, the Museum’s research assistant from 1957 till 2007, from 1964 till 2000 – the head of the Russian and Soviet Art Department of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus;

Digitising the work – by Zmitser Kazlou;

Information layout on the website – by Palina Yanitskaya, the head of the multimedia technologies’ department of the National Art Museum of the Republic of Belarus;

Translation into Belarusian – by Svyatlana Shukan and Nadzeya Krutalevich;

Translation into English – by Volha Scharbakova.