We are delighted to announce the sale of The Great Road. Avenue of Birches (1897) by Isaak Levitan.
Painted at the end of his life, ‘The Great Road’, has a poignant significance for the artist. Having just recovered from typhus, Levitan was diagnosed with chronic heart problems and, as his great friend Anton Chekhov observed, ‘I have seen Levitan. His heart is breathing, not beating’.
The doctor in charge of his treatment was Ivan Troyanovsky.
Aware of his forthcoming death, Levitan became more active than ever. Chekhov again referred to his ‘thirst for life’ whilst the artist Mikhail Nesterov wrote, ‘working in the clear knowledge of forthcoming tragedy, strange as it may seem, gave rise to an unusual increase in energy, technique and work.’ Indeed, it was these final years when Levitan’s work became closer to that of the Barbizon painters, raising Russian landscape painting to a level never before achieved. Levitan wrote of the ‘landscape of the mood’. The artist himself wrote how he loved nature too much to be a pessimist.
The Great Road in the title refers to the great road down which convicts walked on their way to Siberia and was a theme that Levitan used in other works.
Ivan Troyanovsky (1855-1928)
Doctor at a number of Moscow hospitals, Troyanovsky was a major collector of works of Russian contemporary art and, indeed, was personally acquainted with Serov, Levitan, Korovin, Grabar, Poleniv and others as well as being friends with Chekhov and Briussov – Serov and Levitan were his patients with the latter actually dying in his arms.
Troyanovsky became a member of the Moscow Group of Artists, regularly putting on exhibitions of paintings and sculpture, founding the ‘Free Aesthetic’ Society with Briussov in 1907 who greatly promoted the work of the ’Blue Rose’ artists.
‘During Levitan’s illness’, remembered Troyanovsky’s daughter Anna, ‘I.I. Troyanovsky never left the artist’s side, trying somehow to alleviate the artist’s suffering. As a gesture of thanks, Levitan gave Troyanovsky a study for ‘Spring River’ with the inscription, ‘to dear, good, I.I. Troyanovsky in recognition. I. Levitan 1895’.
By 1910 the collection consisted of over 200 works and was listed among the most influential Moscow collections together with Shchukin and Morozov, Botkin and Ryabushinsky.
The painting itself is mentioned in Art Panorama as follows: “The best paintings in Troyanovsky’s collection were by Levitan. Sixteen paintings and studies of this great master were the jewel of his collection. Among the paintings were ‘In the North’, ‘Overgrown pond’, ‘Spring in the Crimea’, Vladimirka’ and among the studies ‘Mont Blanc’, ‘Cherry Orchard’ and ‘Avenue of birch trees in autumn’.
‘Levitan was frequently in our house’, wrote Anna, ‘as my mother was a musician, a pianist and Levitan adored music, especially impromptu music, thought up on the spot. Levitan was also attracted to the sense of familial comfort in our house. I can remember even now our modest sitting room with its soft furnishings and the round chair by the window on which sat Levitan, sometimes until nightfall, for many hours, quietly and deep in thought. Levitan was also a regular visitor to Troyanovsky’s dacha near Moscow.
In 1917, Troyanovsky gave the greater part of his collection to the Tretyakov Gallery and in 1918 he was issued with a certificate from the Committee of Museums concerning 128 works held. The remainder was given to his daughter, Anna after Troyanovsky’s death on 21stNovember 1928 and the Tretyakov Gallery, as well as the Russian Museum and the museum of Perm were among the recipients of work from the collection. The remainder were dispersed amongst Moscow private collectors.