Ivan Pavlovich Pokitonow (Kherson Oblast, Ukraine 1850 - Brussels 1923)
Reaping the Harvest
signed ‘I. Pokhitonov’ (lower right)
The harvest has grown,
oil on board
13 x 24.5 cm (5¼ x 9½ in)
people in families cutting the tall rye down to the root!
Put together the haystacks,
music screeching all night from the hauling carts.
- Alexei Vasilevich Koltsov (1808-1842)
The opening quotation refers to abundance, activity, and the unity of families working together on the land. Written by Russian poet Alexei Vasilievich Koltsov who was renowned for his stylised songs and poems which idealised agricultural labour, and the themes introduced can be found in Ivan Pavlovich Pokhitonov’s work Reaping the Harvest. The latter similarly celebrates workers and the land, bound together in their purpose within a sunny and idyllic rural setting. The composition is balanced; the thick paint distributed harmoniously across the surface of the canvas, the line of the fields is echoed in the forms of the buildings and repeated in the rhythm of the farmer’s fork. The consistency with which subject and form is treated means that the two simple figures appear completely part of their setting, to the extent that their forms blur into the landscape. Through these formal values wider socialist themes of shared labour and social responsibility are implied.
Reaping the Harvest brings together elements of the influences which formed Pokhitonov’s style, namely that of French nineteenth-century landscape artists, and Russian landscape and genre painting. In the 1870s, a period in which realism and genre painting flourished in Russia, Pokhitonov, like many of his contemporaries, was interested in the everyday life of Russian peasantry. Here, the artist presents peasant labour in a poetic and romanticised way. Pokhitonov’s work also shows adherence to Barbizon school principals as, whilst living and studying in Paris, Pokhitonov befriended Barbizon artists Jules Dupré and Henri Harpignies. Dupré had travelled to England in 1831, where he was deeply impressed by the genius of John Constable. From Constable, Dupré learnt how to express movement in nature; to study the tempestuous motion of storm clouds, and the flutter of leaves driven by the wind. Some of this influence, as well Dupré’s harmony of colour and lyrical composition, can be seen in the work of Pokhitonov.
In the 1870s Pokhitonov lived in Paris, where a circle of Russian artists came together, including Bogoliubov, Harlamoff, Y. Leman, K. Savitsky, V. Polenov, Repin amongst others. Many of the Russian artists with whom he spent his time were members of ‘The Wanderers’, a society of Russian Realist artists founded in St. Petersburg in 1870. These artists preferred rural views, accompanied by themes such as village life and its inhabitants, and the everlasting labour on the earth. In much of their work, as in Reaping the Harvest, the figures are so harmoniously inscribed into the surrounding landscape, that they become symbols of the infinitely renewed life of farmed land. Using landscape as a subject, the Russian artists took a similar approach to that of the French school of Barbizon painters.
However, Pokhitonov’s style in Reaping the Harvest departs from the Barbizon style and, like his work A Beach at Sunset with Figures Walking Near Boats and Woman in the Grass (Private Collection) displays impressionistic traits. This is seen in his loose application of colour and attention to the sensation of light and movement within the landscape. This only serves to further harmonise the figures and rural setting whilst exploring technique in a more formalist manner, which draws attention to the decorative surface and two-dimensionality of the work. Many western European artists were influenced by Pokhitonov: Ernest Meissonier, Jules Bastien-Lepage, Gustave Moreau and Eugène Carrière all found inspiration in his work.