Russian landscape painting of the nineteenth century constitutes a significant chapter in the history of Russian culture.

Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin was born in the town of Yelabuga (near the Kama river, a tributary of Volga) on January 13, 1832. Under the influence of his father, an amateur archeologist and connoisseur of local lore, the future artist learned to deeply appreciate the history and scenic beauty of his native land, and to love the picturesque banks of the Kama and the endless forests of the Viatka province.

In 1856 Shishkin was enrolled at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. Graduating from the Academy with a gold medal, Shishkin was awarded a scholarship that entitled him to take a trip abroad, and went to Europe. On returning home he was immediately accepted into the circle of young artists, the future Itinerants (Peredvizhniki), who had not long ago, in 1863, broken with the conservative Academy of Arts.

Under the influence of democratic artists Shishkin’s works gradually grew richer in content and acquired specifically Russian features. Shishkin was the first Russian landscapist in the second half of the nineteenth century to attach such tremendous significance to the plein-air study.

His most famous works are “The Holy Spring Near Yelabuga”, “Oak Grove”, “Trees Felled by the Wind”, “Mast-tree Grove”, “Pine Forest”, “Autumn”, “Rain in an Oak Forest”, “Winter”, “Morning in a Pine Forest”, “Rye” and many others.

At the end of 1891 Shishkin, together with Repin, organized in the Academy of Fine Arts an exhibition of his own latest studies. In the last decade of his life Shishkin continued to work with enthusiasm on studies that to this day impress the viewer by their purity and sunlit radiance.

At the beginning of 1898 Shishkin, then sixty-six, produced a picture that revealed for the last time the artistic capabilities of this grand old man of Russian landscape painting. This was Mast-tree Grove, a canvas that synthesized, as it were, the various facets of the master’s creative manner.

Soon after completing Mast-tree Grove, on March 8, 1898, Shishkin died.

His was an exceptionally active life. He created an endless number of pictures and studies, produced drawings of surpassing merit, did much to popularize and promote the art of engraving in Russia, was a long-time member of the Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions, and proved himself a dedicated, patient teacher. A great Russian landscape painter, he has won the respect and recognition of his own country and the whole world.

By Alexei Savinov, from Introductory article