Nybrogatan 32, Stockholm
Category: Russian Art and Works of Art
KONSTANTIN EGOROVICH MAKOVSKY
With later signature, possibly by the artist, oil on canvas, 220 x 364cm.
Possibly: Baron Sergei Pavlovich von Derviz, St. Petersburg
Baron Anton Alfan, St. Petersburg
Given by the Soviet Army in payment for boots, circa 1930s to Gottfried Berglund, owner of Götarsvik manor, Örebro, Sweden, and installed in the drawing room there
Acquired by the present owner when he purchased Götarsvik manor in 1985
Possibly: Niva , St. Petersburg, 1889, no.35, p. 869
G.Romanov & A.Muratov, Zhivopis Russkogo Salona (1850-1917), St Petersburg, 2004, p.392.
"Happy Arcadia" is one of sixteen canvases painted by Konstantin Makovsky for the decoration of Sergei Pavlovich von Derviz's mansion on the English Embankment in St. Petersburg. The canvas depicts the bucolic, pastoral idyll in Happy Arcadia, the mythological kingdom of love and serene happiness. The work is distinguished by its lightness, airiness and decorative qualities, all carried out in the characteristic virtuoso style for which Makovsky is so celebrated.
Makovsky painted these canvases in Paris between 1886 and 1889. In June of 1887 there took place the first exhibition of these ceiling-paintings in the gallery of J. Petit in Paris, and in December 1888 they were shown in St. Petersburg in the rooms of the Society for the Encouragement of the Arts. At that time there were already eleven of them, but evidently he continued to work on the commission. Some of them were published in the St. Petersburg journal "Niva" of 1889 ( "Happy Arcadia" was number 24).
Between 1903 and 1905 S. P. von Derviz sold his mansion and moved to Paris with his family. Baron Anton Georgievich Alftan, a Finnish businessman and the managing director of the joint-stock company "Stremsdal" now became the new owner of the property on the English Embankment, together with all its contents. In 1907 Alftan organised another exhibition of the paintings, which now belonged to him, in St. Petersburg; by this time there were sixteen of them. This exhibition received outstanding reviews in the press.
The newspaper Novoe Vremya (7/20 November 1907, No 11371) wrote "It's has been a long time since we had such a beautiful exhibition as Makovsky's, which opened on Sunday; there have been bigger and more interesting exhibitions, but none more beautiful". The next recorded mention of the paintings comes ten years later. After Makovsky's death, a large exhibition was planned at the Imperial Academy to take place from the 7th from private collections. The exhibition was at first delayed , because it proved impossible to gather all the items from private collections on time, and was then cancelled altogether, on account of the notorious events in Russia of the autumn of 1917. However, amongst the paintings listed for inclusion in the exhibition were the canvases on mythological subjects from the collection of Baron Alftan. In 1918, Baron Alftan left Russia and returned to his native Finland. It is not known whether he managed to bring his paintings with him. However, news of their continued existence came from abroad. In all likelihood, the paintings had different fates. The famous critic and son of the artist Sergei Makovsky wrote that he saw some of them in Paris before the Second World War. "I did not find the artist's signature on a single one of them" (Sergei Makovsky, "Portrety Sovremennikov", Moscow, 2000 p57). There is a historical anecdote, recounted in the journal "Solntse Rossii", according to which Baron Alftan persuaded Makovsky to sign his canvases. The present author has seen later signatures on only two of the works from this series. Whether they were put there by Makovsky himself is difficult to say.Beginning in 1980, individual panels from this series created for the Van Derviz mansion have appeared on the international art market, both in Europe and in America. It is well known that "Happy Arcadia" was sold first at Hagelstam Auctioneers in Helsinki in 1989, and later reappeared at Sotheby's in New York in April 2007. The dimensions of that painting are more or less identical to the offered painting; but they are different paintings, although both the composition and the colouration correspond down to the smallest detail, with the exception of the signature, which is absent on the other painting. In all likelihood, the artist repeated the same subject for another client. The painting would have been seen by the public at exhibition in Paris in 1887, as well as in St. Petersburg in 1888 or 1907, and it is likely that the commission was received at one of these exhibitions. Without detailed scientific investigations, it is impossible to say which of the two paintings was painted first, and which is the author's copy. Both of them have a provenance going back more than half a century, and they are both of an equally high quality of execution. At the end of the XIXth and the beginning of the XXth centuries, it would only have been possible to reproduce such a large canvas using the original cartoon - a full scale drawing. Until recently the painting has never been reproduced in colour, and to copy such an enormous canvas, complicated in its composition and colour scheme, replete with an abundance of detail, without losing the original sense of the composition, is something that could only be taken on by a great master such as Konstantin Makovsky. It is not in vain that he was christened "the Russian Tiepolo" by his contemporaries for his talent for monumental-decorative painting. The newspapers of the time wrote: "The brush of this exceptional master has covered, one after the other, huge canvases, which are the great joy of the Aristocracy....The artist simply does not have the time to fulfil all his commissions...A stately home without a painting by Makovsky cannot - at this time - be taken seriously." ( "Solntse Rossii", 1915, No38, p. 14).
We do not know whose whim Makovsky sought to satisfy by repeating his famous panneau, and are at present unable to say which of the two known to us under the name of "Happy Arcadia" was executed for the Von Derviz mansion. In any case, this newly discovered work gives us the pleasure of an encounter with yet another magnificent work by this great master.
We are grateful to Dr. Elena Nesterova,, Doctor of Arts, Professor of the St. Petersburg Academy of Painting, and author of the 2003 monograph on the artist, for coming to Sweden to examine the painting and for writing this catalogue note.
Since the catalogue has gone to press, another grandson of the owner of Gotarsvik Manor in the 1920s has told us that he believes the painting, along with two other large paintings by Makovsky, was originally acquired not from the Soviet Army, but from the young Finnish State in payment for shoes for the Finnish Army. His grandfather's shoe company was called AB J. Pehrson & Compani. He believes that this was in the 1920s, not the 1930s. We are grateful to Mr. Bjorn Berglund for this helpful information.