Alexander Nikolaevich Benois: monarchical tendencies in painting or subtle realism of a master?
First of all, I would like to know what picturesque associations do you have with this unusual surname – Benoit? You are absolutely right! Kings and emperors, the court suite and, of course, the beauty of castles and palaces. After all, the favorite themes in the painting of the great master are “France of the times of Louis XIV” and “Petersburg of the 18th, beginning of the 19th century”.
Here is what Benoit wrote to his nephew: I am intoxicated with Versailles, this is some kind of illness, love, criminal passion. After graduating from the law university in the 1890s, he begins to paint and travels abroad. Benoit visits Germany and Austria, and later Italy and France. It was under the impression of a trip to France in 1896-1898 that the great artist creates a cycle of watercolors “Walks of King Louis XIV in Versailles Park”. The cycle includes paintings “At the Ceres Basin”, “Versailles. Feeding the fish ”,“ The King walks in any weather ”,“ Masquerade under Louis XIV ”and others.
And here I want to draw readers attention to an interesting feature of his paintings. The painting “Louis XIV. Feeding the fish ”is not only a tribute to the great king of France or admiring the personality of the enlightened crown bearer, but a work evoking thoughts of the imminent sunset of royal France and the approaching French Revolution, marking a grandiose demolition of the age-old foundations of France. The painting was painted with nostalgia for the bygone days of the Bourbon dynasty. This is confirmed by the faded color of autumn leaves, the ghostly surroundings of Versailles Park, and the gray silhouettes of people walking. The whole picture, which is important, was painted with great love for the historical details of the Versailles ensemble and tells us about the author as a subtle realist and expert on the era of enlightened absolutism.
This is especially evident in his painting “The Walk of the King”, where the artist is not the king himself who is important, but is more interested in the atmosphere of the era, the breath of Versailles Park from the time of its crowned owner. A completely original painting “The Chinese Pavilion. Jealous ”, written by the master in 1906, which can be seen in the State Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow), tells us about the fragility and fleetingness of this world. The work is written in the rococo style (which flashed in the sky of European culture, like a bright flash, and has long died out) and resembles the Chinese shadow theater.
In the early 1900s, Benoit created a series of watercolor paintings dedicated to old Petersburg and the suburbs of the capital of the Russian Empire. This is not a glorification of the acts of the era of the Romanov dynasty, but an inexhaustible love of history and the historical setting of a magical city and suburbs, which characterizes Benoit again as a subtle realist and connoisseur of a bygone era. Such are the “Summer Garden under Peter the Great” – 1902 (color lithography), “Elizabeth Petrovna deigns to walk along the streets of St. Petersburg” – 1903 (color lithography), “The Parade under Paul I” – 1907 (State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow), and many other works.
But the picture is especially expressive, where the artist reached the heights of excellence, this is “Peterhof. The Main Fountain ”, written by him in 1942. It blows from her with a feeling of inexpressible happiness, an endless summer and a cheerful holiday of life. The whole picture is painted in green, yellow and light blue. Fascinating jets of the fountain, beating in different directions in the rays of the invisible sun. How captivating the wonderful summer day depicted in the picture! From history, we know that Peterhof is the Russian Versailles, and Tsar Peter wished to make a likeness of Versailles in Russia. Benoit painted another painting dedicated to Peterhof – “Peterhof. The Lower Fountain at the Cascade ”(1942, oil on canvas). It is also painted in light colors and makes a lasting impression. In conclusion, I would like to note that Benoit was not only a painter, but also a book graphic artist, and painted scenery for theatrical productions. His sketches for the works of A. S. Pushkin with great accuracy convey the unique aesthetic pleasure from the works of the brilliant classic, where the author managed to combine the realism of the era of the beginning of the XIX century with the mysticism and artistic content of the poet’s works.
An important detail of Benoit’s biography was that, since childhood, surrounded by talented and extraordinary people, Alexander Nikolaevich found training within the walls of the academy official and boring. Already in adulthood, Benoit creates a large-scale historical canvas dedicated to the house of Anna Mons in the German settlement. It was a kind of artistic reconstruction of the house, which was often visited by Peter I. In Moscow, they did not like the favorite of Peter and gave her the odious nickname of the Queen of Kuku, as she was considered the reason for the link of Tsarina Evdokia and the quarrel between Peter and Tsarevich Alexei.
Alexander Nikolayevich Benois died on February 9, 1960 in Paris, before he lived for several months until he was 90 years old.