Sale: Sotheby’s London, 14 December 1995, lot 209
Private collection, London
The Pskov Pechersky Monastery of the Caves is located 50 kilometres west of the city of Pskov, Russia. The caves were originally used by religious hermits. Nikolai Kharitonov brought a profound understanding of the religious and cultural world of monastic life to this painting, having spent part of his early life in training to be a monk at the Orthodox monastery on the island of Valaam in northwest Russia. Primarily known for his portraits and genre scenes, Kharitonov also painted numerous exceptional landscapes of the Russian North, the Crimea and the Caucasus.
Nikolai Vasilievich Kharitonov was born in 1880 in a small village in Yaroslavl Region. He spent two of his early years as a novice at the monastery in Island Valaam, where he honed his craft as an icon painter. Having decided to develop his skills as an artist, and to broaden his subject matter from strictly religious painting to observations of contemporary life, he travelled to St.Petersburg to attend the Drawing School and Studio of L.E. Dmitriev-Kavkazski: his fellow students included Pavel Filonov, Mstislav Dobuzhinsky, and Alexander Kuprin. From 1902, Kharitonov studied under the influential and highly regarded painter Ilya Repin at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts in St.Petersburg. He was awarded a travel scholarship in 1907, leaving Russia to study in Munich and Paris for two years.
Kharitonov used his time abroad to develop his understanding of Impressionist painting techniques. On returning to St.Petersburg he painted genre scenes, landscapes, and portraits: his subjects included members of the royal family. At the beginning of the First World War, Kharitonov was enlisted as a staff artist at the General Headquarters of the Russian army, where he painted portraits of officers. In 1917 he was commissioned for a portrait of Nicholas II – the last official portrait of the Tsar. In 1919, after the Russian Revolution, the artist left for Europe, and in 1923 moved to New York.
Kharitonov’s paintings are held in important national collections, such as the Tretyakov Gallery and the A.A. Bakhrushin State Central Theatre Museum in Moscow, the Russian Museum in St.Petersburg, and the Arts Museum of Yaroslavl.