While organizing my notes for the chapter covering 1899, I came across the following chronological listing: “March 6. Levitan was photographed in St. Petersburg in a group of 19 Itinerant painters.” I went online to find the photograph using the Russian search engine Yandex. The photo shown above was one of two portraits taken that day. Levitan is seated second from the right. Why am I not surprised that he chose to be next to the first female to be elected the Itinerant Society, Emily Shanks, a Moscow-born artist from a prominent English family? In 1897 Chekhov’s sister Maria applied to attend classes at the School of Painting, but even with Levitan attempting to pull strings, she was rejected.
The occasion for and the location of the group portrait was the opening of the 27th Itinerant Exhibit held at the Imperial Society for the Encouragement of Arts on Bolshaya Morskaya Street. The exhibit included nine landscapes by Levitan. Also included was the enormous picture visible behind the painters in the photograph: “Russian Troops Under Suvorov Crossing the Alps” by Vasily Surikov. The painting is currently on display at the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg.
Ever since his student days Levitan organized his life around the Itinerant exhibits held every year in St. Petersburg, Moscow and in several provincial cities. They were the primary venue for displaying and selling his paintings. Most years Levitan sketched and painted plein air from May through September, then worked in his studio in the fall and winter to finish pieces that he intended to have ready for the Itinerant exhibits in St. Petersburg and Moscow from March to May.