This November, Sotheby’s Russian Art auctions will commence with Konstantin Makovsky’s last great masterpiece: a monumental six-metre canvas which celebrates the life of Russia’s legendary hero Ivan Susanin. Susanin is credited with saving the life of the young Mikhail Romanov in 1612, founder of the Romanov dynasty.The substantial work has not been seen on public display since 1926.
The sizeable painting was recently rediscovered in the home of an American private collector who acquired the work at Sotheby’s Parke-Bernet New York in 1976, for the poultry sum of $4,800. The painting by Makovsky portraying Susanin in a highly positive light, is thought to have been painted in the artist’s Paris studio in 1914, this particular endeavour resulted in an epic canvas that was likely to have been inspired by the wave of patriotism regarding the 300th anniversary of the Romanov dynasty in 1913.
The monumental painting will be unveiled at Sotheby’s, London on Friday 21st November, before the work’s auction on 24th November 2014. The legend of Ivan Susanin was a founding myth of the Russian state, as the historical tale goes; in the winter before Mikhail Romanov was crowned, a party of Polish noblemen set out to capture the young pretender at his family estate in the village of Domnino near Kostroma.
Requiring directions, they asked a local peasant, Ivan Susanin, to guide them to the village. But instead Susanin had other plans, to protect the fate of his motherland and the future Tsar, he deliberately led them away from Domnino and into the depths of an impenetrable and dangerously marshy forest. This act of deception to save his homeland was met with our hero’s murder. Six months later in Spring 1613, the young Mikhail was triumphantly crowned Tsar of Russia thanks to Susanin’s sacrifice.
Glinka’s opera ‘Life for a Tsar’ which premiered at the Bolshoi Theatre in 1836, likely provided inspiration for the painting; as
the story has been immortalised in all forms of creative expression. In fact as in Act IV of the opera, the painting is set in the forest as the exhausted Poles sleep by a campfire waiting for the snowstorm to end. After the group has awoken they begin to suspect that Susanin has tricked them. Upon which he admits that he has led them astray, finally resulting in his murder and elevation to Russian hero.
The painterly portrayal of this heroic act for the Russian people is now estimated to go under the hammer for no less than around £1.5-2.5 million.