“Volga in the vicinity of Yuryevets” was exhibited anonymously in 1871 at the annual competition of the Moscow Society of Art Connoisseurs. The picture made a splash. “Volga” Savrasov got the first place in the section of landscape images. Here is how it was described by contemporaries: “This picture is rather large in size (more than fathoms in width). The color, so to speak, is rainy. The endless swell of the mother-nurse of the Volga – cloudy sky – Yuryevets on the hill – a bunch of barge haulers pulling a barge on a line – a sad, but characteristic picture … “
The next time the public heard about this picture in December 2014 at the Paris auction Audap Mirabaud. Estimate was determined at 70-90 thousand euros. The organizers of the auction, it seems, did not bother to figure out what was in front of them, having set such a modest price. But the collectors were fully aware of the cost of the masterpiece, as a result, the painting went for 939 thousand euros (more than $ 1 million) to a French private collection. In June 2015, at the Russian auction at Sotheby’s in London, the painting was exhibited with an estimate of 1 million 400 thousand – 1 million 800 thousand pounds sterling (2 million 150 thousand – 2 million 800 thousand dollars). She was considered one of the most expensive and tasty lots of Russian trades, but did not find a buyer.
Not that the Volga in the vicinity of Yuryevets disappeared altogether. They knew about her, photographs of her were found in the artist’s monographs, even schoolchildren sometimes described her in their essays. But where she was and whether she was safe was not known. The inscription on the back indicates that the painting was part of the collection of a professor at Kiev University, Dr. Vladimir Mering. It is definitely impossible to trace the path along which she got abroad. As of 2015, this painting became the most significant painting by Savrasov ever exhibited at a Sotheby’s auction. And in general, she is among the best works of Savrasov.
Barge haulers against the background of a monumental Volga landscape, or rather, barge haulers as part of this landscape, open a series of works by Savrasov dedicated to the Volga. In early 1870, the artist, together with his wife Sofia and their two daughters, moved to Yaroslavl. Here, not far from Yuryevets (a small town east of Yaroslavl), Savrasov worked on this painting. Here he painted his most famous canvases, including the legendary painting The Rooks Have Arrived. It was a happy time in his life – a beloved family, an opportunity to write, inspiration, nature. And at the same time it was a difficult time – here, after the difficult birth of Sofia, the third child of the Savrasovs died. On this fusion of tragic experiences and a happy life, the artist’s best canvases were created.
The painting depicts a rainy, cloudy season. Yuryevets is visible on the hill on the right. A group of barge haulers is towing a barge. The barge haulers themselves seem to be heroes emerging from the royal waters of the Volga, and at the same time part of the landscape, part of the Volga itself. The peasants are not humanized, not individualized, we do not distinguish between them, they are a component of the force doomed to pull a loaded barge … Behind – the sunlight breaking through from behind the clouds illuminated the water surface and part of the settlement. But where the barge haulers move, there is darkness and the feeling of “a storm will break out.”
In other works on this topic, Savrasov draws figures more carefully. For example, in the painting “Barge Haulers on the Volga” stored in the Tretyakov Gallery, the figures are depicted in more detail, the faces are clearly visible. Actually, the difference between the canvases is given in the names. In one case, the artist painted barge haulers, each of whom is perceived as a separate individual, and in the other, he painted the Volga. And here the main character is she, the great river, with accompanying barges, sailing ships, barge haulers and a settlement on a hill, clouds and the sun.
In the 1860s and 70s, a number of major Russian artists tried to draw attention to the topic of barge haulers, they saw it as a symbol of cruel social injustice. Of course, one cannot but recall the famous “Barge Haulers on the Volga” by Ilya Repin. Savrasov and Repin painted their barge haulers in parallel and independently of each other. Both were definitely influenced by the work of Vasily Vereshchagin, written in 1866.
Both paintings were presented in 1871, Repin showed his “Burlakov” in St. Petersburg, Savrasov “Volga” – in Moscow. It is known that Repin was finalizing the painting, and the public knows the version he came up with in 1873. Savrasov also worked on the painting after the first exhibition. According to some reports, he made edits before 1871.
Year of painting: 1870.
Painting dimensions: 126.5 × 207 cm.
Writing technique: oil.
Genre: landscape, genre painting.
Gallery: private collection.