With the New Year over we’re now in the deep winter, and today where I live it snowed for the first time in two years (climate change notwithstanding). Thus I went looking for a suitably “wintry” painting and found this beautiful scene by Russian painted Ivan Aivazovsky, one of my favorite painters, this being the third work of his I’ve featured in this series. (The others are here, here). Moscow in Winter from the Sparrow Hills was painted in 1872 and the title pretty much sums it up. Here we have some log huts, cargo moving by sled in the snow, and distantly the eerie panorama of Moscow in the background with its spires and onion-top churches. This is definitely an exemplar of the late romanticist tradition in European painting.
The Sparrow Hills are quite famous as a landmark from which to view Moscow. The chief observation spot lies about 280 feet above the Moskva River, though I’m not familiar enough with the geography say exactly where this view is supposed to be from. I find the view of the city fascinating. Moscow in the 1870s was entering its last big boom during the tsarist imperial era. The city had been rebuilt from the great fire of 1812 resulting from Napoleon’s invasion, and yet the privations of Russia’s 20th century history, beginning with the Russian Revolution, had not yet come to pass. This is therefore an interesting snapshot in time of what Russia looked like in this period, filtered through the romanticist lens of a painter.
Aivazovsky was incredibly prolific. He’s known mostly for sea scenes, but as you can tell from this he didn’t limit himself to that. When he did turn to land subjects he tended to paint exotic locales like Venice or Constantinople, or scenes from southern Russia and the Crimea. But you can find a bit of just about everything in Aivazovsky’s portfolio. This is one of his better landscapes, in my opinion. He died in 1900, just before a new era began in Russian history and art.