Bear-Baiting Before Ivan The Terrible

Nikolai Egorovich Sverchkov, 1817-1898

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Nikolai Egorovich Sverchkov, 1817-1898 bear-baiting before ivan the terrible signed l.l. and dated 1886 oil on canvas 185 by 274 cm., 72 3/4 by 107 3/4 in. Nikolai Egorovich Sverchkov is best remembered today for his paintings of troikas and studies of horses. However, his output was in fact quite varied: he painted genre scenes, battle scenes, historical canvasses and indeed tried his hand at sculpture. The offered lot demonstrates the artist's rarely seen ability at manipulating a large-scale, multi-figured, historical work of the sort that his better known contemporaries Repin and Surikov championed at. Painted in the year after Repin's Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on 15th November 1581 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), it reflects the contemporary preoccupation with Russian historical events and its colourful if not terrifying personalities. Here we have all the pomp, circumstance, and gore of Ivan the Terrible's reign captured in a painting, the protagonist seated in the centre of the gruesome spectacle, his pose reminiscent of Velasquez's portrait of Pope Innocent X. The event is set alongside the walls of the Kremlin in Old Moscow; the spectators all reacting to the event in their own way, from the streletz on the left lunging forward in a gesture of help to the peasant on the right with his head bowed awaiting his fate. The painting forms the last of a group of four important historical canvasses that Sverchkov worked on from 1864 till 1886. These included The Arrival of Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich at the Military Parade in 1664 (completed in 1866), Tsar Aleksei Mikhailovich with Boyars Hunting Falcons near Moscow (1874), and The Pilgrimage of Tsar Ivan the Terrible (1878, Oruzheinaya Palata, The Kremlin, Moscow) Literature: S.Streltsov, Nikolai Egorovich Sverchkov, 1817-1898, Moscow, 1954, pp.31-32