Ivan Fedorovich Choultsé (1874-1939)
Ivan Fedorovich Choultsé is a Russian artist who was designated as “the magician of light” in America, and whose clients were the family of Carl Fabergé and the Royal family of the Romanovs in the pre-revolutionary Russia. He was a master of complex light effects, glare and reflections. Choultsé created incredible landscapes throughout his life, as if depicting not our real world, but some phantasmagoria. The artist has often portrayed sea views as he was fascinated by the play of sunlight and moonlight on the water. Critics have argued that no other artists could so impressively and vividly display the texture of snow or sunlit forest on the canvas. The artist was committed to realism, and even in the heyday of avant-garde tradition, he remained faithful to his path.
The artist was born on October 21, 1874, in St. Petersburg, a descendant of Russified Germans. Choultsé’s ancestors emigrated from Germany to Russia in the XVIII century. Ivan Fedorovich had always dreamed of becoming a professional artist, and although he received an engineering education, was always was eager to express his creative side.
In his early youth in his spare time, Ivan Fedorovich used to paint small sketches without any specific purpose. These sketches were very helpful to the thirty-year-old Choultsé when he went bankrupt during his engineering project in Finland. The financial question had become acute and Choultsé began to look for another way of earning money. He went to the strict and demanding academician and famous landscape painter Konstantin Yakovlevich Kryzhitsky to show his early works. His talent was appreciated and soon Ivan Fedorovich was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts. In addition to Kryzhitsky, Russian artist Arkhip Kuindzhi and Swiss landscape painter Alexander Kalam were highly influential for the development of Choultsé’s painting. In 1903 at his first exhibition at the Academy, the artist gained early fame and recognition of his talent by a wider audience.
Ivan Fedorovich’s early glorious arctic works were created on a trip with his teacher Kryzhitsky in 1910 in an expedition to Norway and the island of Spitsbergen, which is the Arctic ocean. Unfortunately, Choultsé lost both mentors, Kuindzhi (1910) and Kryzhitsky (1911) in a very short time, but this did not prevent the artist from continuing to improve his skills and strive to achieve his own artistic ideals. After the death of his mentor, Ivan Fedorovich often took part in exhibitions organized by the society created in memory of Konstantin Kryzhitsky.
In the period preceding the February Revolution, Choultsé enjoyed much success, being a quite popular and respected painter in the community, which was confirmed by the fact that the brother of Tsar Nicholas II, Mikhail Alexandrovich, regularly commissioned his works. Ivan Fedorovich’s landscapes were in high demand at the exhibitions of the Association of Artists, in which he began to participate in 1912, and his work has always caused excitement of the public and artistic society. After the Revolution, there was a period of turmoil and confusion, including one in the arts, when many artists were forced to adjust to the new regime and reconsider their views.
As an ardent supporter of the academic* style, Choultsé decided that staying in the country would be unwise and uncomfortable, so he went on a long journey through Europe. His paintings reflect the movements of the artist for two years, from 1917 to 1919, and they especially represent the beauty of the Swiss Alps, southern France, and Northern regions of Italy. After returning home in 1921, Choultsé did not entirely lose hope for the development of his career in the new Soviet state. He joined the Society of Individualist Artists in St. Petersburg. The Society included such famous artists as Isaak Israelevich Brodsky, Alexander Vladimirovich Makovsky, Ivan Avgustovich Welz and Julius Yulievich Klever. Ivan Fedorovich took part in the society’s first two exhibitions in 1921.
However, after a short period, in the same year, the artist gave up the effort to win over the Soviet audience and, being sure that he was going forever, left his hometown. He moved to France and settled on the Boulevard Pereire, 121, where the second stage of his career, the fate of the immigrant, began. He continued to paint his legendary winter views of Russia, which he based on his previous works and sketches.
The great success happened at the first solo exhibition of Ivan Choultsé in Paris on November 23, 1922, when the Galleries Gérard Frères sold all 50 of the paintings of the artist on the opening day of the show. The demand for the artist’s paintings was so extensive that he often did not have enough time to fulfill all of his commissions. In 1923, the work of Ivan Fedorovich was shown in the Paris Spring Salon, where his talent was elevated to the level of the most admired artists of the Salon.
From the very beginning of his time in Paris Choultsé was lucky with art dealers and gallery owners. He was represented by the gallery of Leon Gerard, which not only successfully sold the artist’s paintings but also regularly arranged his personal exhibitions. In 1927, Ivan Fedorovich received French citizenship. In addition to Europe, Choultsé has gained great popularity on the other side of the world, in America. Paradoxically, the artist’s landscapes can be seen today more often in museums and galleries in the United States than in his homeland.
In 1928, Ivan Fedorovich met Eduard Jonas, the owner of galleries in Paris and New York, who took most of Choultsé’s works to America. In his letter to his daughter, Ivan Fedorovich wrote: “I met a very interesting dealer. And how good it is that now, sitting in Paris, I can sell my work for dollars!”. Indeed, the financial affairs of the artist were great, and sales were regular and profitable. Choultsé’s contemporary writer and critic, Nikolai Breshko-Breshkovsky commented on the situation with the paintings of Ivan Fedorovich in the West: “In America, Choultsé’s snow and sun paintings are highly esteemed and worth of great price”.
Ivan Fedorovich’s work is inextricably linked with his active travels around the world: the abundance and diversity of his landscapes directly depended on the places he saw. He travelled a lot in the Mediterranean, which was reflected in his summer scenes. However, a stronger influence on the development of his art was a trip to Switzerland and, in particular, the mountainous region of Engadine and the Alpine town of St. Moritz surrounded by snow and mountains. Choultsé was inspired not only by Europe but also visited Asia, North Africa and the Arctic regions. He worked in the UK and USA.
Ivan Fedorovich’s solo exhibitions were held in London in 1927 at the prestigious Arthur Tooth & Sons gallery, in New York at the gallery of E. Jonas in 1928, at the gallery of J. Levy in 1931, and in Chicago at the gallery of M. Field in 1933. Choultsé’s works were also exhibited in the prominent Hammer gallery in New York as part of the exhibition “150 years of Russian art.”
The artist moved his permanent residence to Nice in 1933. Since that date, aspects of his biography seem rather vague, unreliable and sketchy. Even the full date of Ivan Fedorovich’s death is unknown. According to some reports, he died in a psychiatric hospital. The year 1939 is listed on his tomb as the year of his death. The artist is buried at the cemetery Kokav in Nice, France.