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Thursday, October 8, 2015

Sylvester Shchedrin

Marina Grande, Capri, 1827, Sylvester Shchedrin
It's always interesting to encounter paintings done by other artists depicting locations I've visited, especially if I've also painted the same or similar scene. In the spring of 2001 and again in 2012, I visited the Isle of Capri located in the Bay of Naples, Italy. Since then I've painted four different scenes of this incredibly beautiful resort island--three of it's main harbor, Marina Grande. Given the chance, I'd go back, shoot some fresh material, and paint a few more. My feelings for the island's picturesque beauty are apparently quite similar to those of the Russian painter, Sylvester Shchedrin.

Copyright, Jim Lane
Marina Grande, Capri, 2001, Jim Lane
Before you sigh, "not another Russian artist," let me promise you this guy was different. First of all, though born in St. Petersburg, he spent most of his short, thirty-nine years painting elsewhere, primarily in Italy. Second he left an indelible mark not just upon Russian art, but western art as a whole. And finally, Shchedrin painted, almost exclusively, Italian landscapes. His Marina Grande, Capri (top), from 1827, is, of course, quite different from what I painted (above) in 2001, but the ambiance is very much the same. I've been unable to account for the apparent reversed discrepancy between my point of view and that of Shchedrin other than the fact we may have been contemplating opposite sides of the rocky outcrop guarding the harbor. Inasmuch as he was painting in plein air, he may have, for one reason or another, consciously reversed the composition (not too likely, but a possibility).

View from Petrovsky Island (at Tuchkov Bridge and on Vasilievsky Island in St Petersburg), 1811, Sylvester Shchedrin
Sylvester Shchedrin Self-portrait, 1816
Sylvester Shchedrin was born in 1791, the son of the famous sculptor Feodosiy Shchedrin, rector of the Imperial Academy of Arts. Semion Shchedrin, also a landscape painter, was his uncle. Apparently young Sylvester had more than his share of the family's "art gene" in that he entered the Imperial Academy at the tender age of nine. Of course, having a father running the school, not to mention likely teaching his son to draw from the time the child could hold a pencil, undoubtedly helped. Also, his uncle was one of his teachers. He graduated in 1811 at the age of twenty having won several awards including the Large Gold Medal for his painting View from Petrovsky Island (above) which allowed him a scholarship to study abroad. However his departure was delayed for some seven years due to the Napoleonic Wars.

Old Rome, (left) contrast with New Rome, Castel Sant'Angelo (right), both from the 1820s.
It wasn't until 1818 that Shchedrin finally arrived in Rome. There he studied the old masters as well as painting landscape views of ancient ruins (above, left) and "new" landmarks (above, right). Shchedrin's New Rome, Castel Sant'Angelo was so popular he painted some eight or ten slightly different versions of it. From Rome, Shchedrin moved on to Naples where he presumably fell in love with Capri. In any case, when his stipend from the Russian Imperial Academy ran out in 1823, Shchedrin decided to stay on, working as a freelance artist. His success enabled him to travel about Italy, searching the Italian countryside for suitable scenes to sketch and paint. His painting, Lake Albano (below), from 1825, is considered his greatest masterpiece as he relaxed the boundary between subject and background, and moved from using formal colors to natural color not far removed from the impressionists half a century later.

Lake Albano, 1825, Sylvester Shchedrin
Shchedrin's landscape interests tended to center upon harbors, cities, and caverns or grottos, ancient landmarks (below, right), especially scenes on or near the water. His fascination with caves and grottos (below, left), of which Italy is well-endowed, found him moving landscape painting in a direction no other artist (Russian or otherwise) had ever attempted.

Shchedrin's romantic "cave paintings"
from around 1825-26.
Like Capri, the Coliseum in Rome has
changed considerably in the nearly
two-hundred years between
Shchedrin's visit and my own.

As time passed, Shchedrin's work became so popular he was unable to keep up with the demand. Among his most popular subjects were grape-laden trellises or arched terraces overlooking the sea decorated with pleasant peasants lounging about such as seen in his Terrace on the Seashore (below), from 1827. Toward the end, as his health declined during the late 1820s, Shchedrin's landscapes became darker, more macabre, as seen in his Moonlit Night in Naples (bottom) from around 1827.

Terrace on the Seashore, 1827, Sylvester Shchedrin
Sylvester Shchedrin died in November, 1830 while living in Sorrento. His health having been fragile for quite some time, his workload more than he could manage, and travel being what it was two-hundred years ago, Shchedrin was never able to returned to Russia; though some of his paintings did. However far more of his art can be found in Italian museums than in his homeland.

Moonlit Night in Naples, ca. 1827, Sylvester Shchedrin


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