Kramskoy – “Moonlit Night”
“Moonlit Night” is perhaps the most spectacular of Kramskoy’s “nocturnes”. A woman in a white dress sits on a bench under the tall poplars of an old moonlit park. Kramskoy gave the heroine of the painting features of similarity with Elena Tretyakova, the wife of Sergei Tretyakov (brother of the gallery founder), who bought “Moonlit Night”. The nature in the picture is conveyed through the feelings of a city dweller who has lost an organic connection with the natural world and is striving to return to it.
The experience of nature in Moonlit Night is in line with the romantic tradition of 19th century Russian landscape. Here one can recall not only the deeply original work of Kuindzhi, whose unusual in expression of color, “heretical” for the painting system of Kramskoy, was painted by the artist in the early 1880s, but also the works of his beloved friend and student of Kramskoy Fyodor Vasilyev.
Kramskoy first used a composition with excess space open upwards in a watercolor sketch for a large portrait of Tretyakova, where a small figurine of a woman gleams against the background of the endlessly tall trees of the autumn Kuntsevo park. In the picturesque portrait of Tretyakova, this original composition had to be abandoned, but later in “Moonlit Night” it found its embodiment.
Many critics are Kramskoy’s contemporaries, and even today’s researchers of his work tend to regard “Moonlit Night” as the most banal, even sugary work of the artist, where he most of all indulges the tastes of the public. “The picture resembles a scene of some novel read in his youth or a phrase of an old romance” – this idea was repeated in many reviews of the VIII traveling exhibition, where the picture was shown for the first time under the name “Night”. But such a reading does not at all correspond to the character of Kramskoy’s personality and work. Of course, the idea of the picture is much deeper and, as always with Kramskoy, is connected with the final issues of human existence, fragility, the illusory nature of earthly beauty, earthly values. The composition of the picture is based on a contrasting juxtaposition of two elements, two principles: a figurine of a woman in a white dress on a bench in the moonlight and the powerful poplar trunks of the old park, triumphantly directed upwards, setting a different scale, indicating the possibility of a different path, a path outside the circle of ordinary earthly life …
Year of painting: 1880.
Dimensions of the painting: 178.8 x 135.2 cm.
Writing technique: oil.
Genre: genre painting.
Gallery: State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.