Nikolai Petrovich Bogdanov-Belsky, (1868-1945), Symphony, signed in Cyrillic l.r., oil on canvas, 160.5 by 141cm., 63 by 55 1/2 in., Image Source: Sotheby’s
Well, No Wonder!
For most of this year I have searched for good quality images of Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky’s paintings, feeling that his work deserves close study, which demands images of the highest resolution, especially considering many of us won’t find his works in museums near us for scrutiny. Symphony is one of my favorites. Sotheby’s writes, “Bogdanov-Belsky studied in Paris at the early 1900s and his clear appreciation of French artists, in particular Pierre-Auguste Renoir...” Well, no wonder I love him!
All of the quoted text in this post is from Sotheby’s, and they credit Nina Lapidus for the research.
This intimate musical scene is a delicate work from Bogdanov-Belsky’s late Russian period, before he left for Latvia. When Symphony was exhibited in Riga in 1921 it was praised by the capital’s newspaper Today for its “measured Impressionism” but since its acquisition by a private collector after an exhibition in Berlin in 1930, it was never again shown in public until now….
Symphony by Nikolai Bogdanov-Belsky is described in the Sotheby’s catalogue as follows:
“Four young Russian girls gather round a piano in their best white dresses, each bathed in the soft rose-yellow candle-light that unifies the group. The fresh, clean tones of the roses in the simple vase complement the quartet, drawing attention to their youth and vitality.”
The catalogue further describes the setting:
“…this musical scene appears to be the summer room of the dacha ‘Seagull’, a house built by the artist Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya on Lake Udomlya in Tver province, an area where Bogdanov-Belsky lived and worked from 1907-1920. He would travel to St Petersburg in the winter to carry out commissions for society portraits…”
However, Bogdanov-Belsky “felt his real work lay elsewhere” and is quoted by Sotheby’s saying,
“I was drawn towards the countryside.
I felt that it was there I would paint something
important and meaningful.”
Music, Art, and Children
In 1918, workshops were opened at the dacha to teach the local children crafts. Pupils would also hold musical evenings here, which Bogdanov-Belsky often took part in, playing the piano, balalaika and singing in a rich baritone.
The aspirations of the local children towards education, art and music became a frequent subject in Bogdanov-Belsky’s most famous compositions, but it is rare to find such a finished, large-scale work from his pre-emigration years, which harks back to the idyllic lost age of Russia’s intelligentsia.
We are grateful to Nina Lapidus for researching this note.