signed and dated K. Wenig 84, Munchen lower right
oil on canvas
28.5 x 45 cm
Price on request
Winter Landscape with Troika is created by one of the brightest representatives of the academic painting, Karl Wenig. It presents a genre scene of the winter landscape. On a cold, frosty day the sky is clouded over, and the sun peeks through the clouds with its dusky rose-coloured glow. The fields are blanketed with snow which is almost akin to the sky in this pearly, milky atmosphere of the white winter. A horse-drawn carriage is rushing forward recklessly at blazing speed. The theme of Troika, three horses in a harness, had already found its own special niche in the Russian art in the XVII century, and, in the XIX century along with other mundane subject-matters has held an honoured place in genre painting. The leitmotif and story might be distinct from one another, but the permanent element is the same three horses. It provides artists with the opportunity to showcase their mastery of drawing by portraying the majesty and beauty of these powerful, graceful animals as well as a whirlwind of movements, the rhythm of horse racing and the fleetness of the moment. In a blink of an eye everything freezes on the canvas as a composition shows the complex relationship between animals, people, sled or carriage, and the outside world - a raging stream of life in the midst of grand, magnificent nature.
Untroubled, cheerful, filled with peace, the faces of the couple with rosy cheeks because of the frosty air are directed towards each other. The couple seems detached from all this exuberant frenzy. Their hands are firmly joined, and their figures are positioned in the way that their bodies form a single whole. The artist creates the dynamism and bustle, outburst of energy and swiftness of the horses by using a specific, pertinent composition. The horses are coming into a turn while their hooves do not touch the ground, and it is especially evident with the horse on the middle, that we see how the horse 'hovers' in the air, detached from the ground at a furious gallop. Troika almost floats above the snow. The movements of the animals do not coordinate with each other, and the horse on the right even has not yet started to turn. This tottering, precarious group of horses and a kind of turmoil of the moment create a sense of haste. The visual impression of the whirlwind is supported by the barking dogs, daringly rushing directly under the hooves. The coachman, as if conducting this occasion in the moment of passion, briskly tosses the whip to hurry the horses, and the whip twists in the whirl of wind, reflecting the prevailing spirit of the composition.
The development of the national specificity characterises the second half of the XIX century in Russian art as the issue of nationalism became one of the major concerns of that time. As the XIX century progressed, the emphasis was placed on the display of local life in the cities and provincial regions and the public, traditional and religious festivities and Russian culture. It can be perceived as a sort of propaganda of nationalism in art. Artists of the XIX century gradually were abandoning the tendencies coming from distant European countries and drew attention to the unique features of the Russian way of life. This tendency of turning away from Westernised forces began to express itself through the movement of Realism. The metamorphosis, which has shifted the accent from mythological, classical, and religious subjects to the scenes of every day and especially peasant life and Russian traditions and history, has not gone unnoticed by Academism. The academicians commonly were more resistant in their opposition to the socio-political changes that influenced art in the country, and to the new trends, the followers of which were more radical artists. However, with the rise in national spirit, even artists who pursued academism in their careers now were more acknowledging of genre painting. The hierarchy of genres was changing and what previously had been considered an inferior branch of the arts, suddenly acquired an entirely different meaning and established itself as a significant and admirable part of the high art. Karl Wenig was a pupil of F. A. Bruni, who introduced a special scheme of correlation between a story and style into a new, emerging form of Academism. This colourful experiment has shown how traditions of Realism can be joined up with the graphic ways of this new, advanced Academism. Presumably, Wenig adopted this interesting feature of the relationship between style and subject from Bruni. In his painting, Winter Landscape with Troika, Wenig uses a wholly different approach to the representation comparing it, for instance, to his historical paintings. 'Troika-bird', as Nikolai Gogol has named this cultural icon in his immortal novel 'Dead Souls', in this case has certain visual quality of a picturesque illustration regarding its style as well as subject-matter: the enchantment of a snowy landscape, fearless journey, and the happiness of the husband and wife as an illustration of something truly Russian, an attempt to recreate the national character, the 'Russianness'.