Given the monikers “Forest Tsar”, “Old Pine Tree” and “Lonely Oak” by his contemporaries, Ivan Shishkin enchanted everyone with his meticulous eye for detail and with his extraordinary skill in grasping the beauty and simplicity of nature. His highly realistic landscapes – usually rendering forests – belong to a larger movement at the time, called Peredvizhniki (The Itinerants), the Russian version of French realism.
By the 1890s, Shishkin had reached the height of his artistic development and some of his best works come from the last decade of his life. Rain in an Oak Forest is one such example, a landscape capturing the subtle and ephemeral effects of a spring drizzle. As always, the Russian returned to depict what he knew best: the forest – his sanctuary, his workshop.
Amongst tall, oak trees, a muddy path makes its way; it starts wide in the foreground and narrows sinuously towards the slightly tilted horizon line. On the path are a couple shielding from the rain under an umbrella and a man walking in front of them. We don’t usually hear this about other artists, but it was fellow painter Konstantin Savitsky who painted the silhouettes and not Shishkin himself.
While the rain can’t be seen, we do notice glimmering droplets hanging from the trees’ green foliage, sliding on the umbrella and rippling in the large puddle. In the background, a silvery haziness with golden tinges blurs the receding oak trees, masterfully seizing the play of light and color. It almost feels like we are right there, in the oak forest, breathing in the fresh scent of rain.