Konstantin Somov started work on Lady lying on a divan on 19 December 1917; however, three days later, dissatisfied with his progress, Somov put the work aside and began working on a new commission Lady by a fireplace in winter (with a book). The watercolour was finished shortly afterwards and on 31 December a satisfied customer, the well-known Petrograd collector V. E. Burtsev, paid Somov his agreed fee of two and a half thousand roubles.
The next spring, while he was consumed with painting an oval portrait of his friend Mefodii Luk’ianov (later acquired by The State Russian Museum, St Petersburg), Somov returned to the unfinished watercolour. On 18 April 1918, Somov made a note in his diary: ‘G[irshman] popped in this morning and asked me to finish the watercolour ‘Sleeping’ for 3 thousand’ (The State Russian Museum, manuscripts collection, folio 133, inventory 1, unit 118).
This time the work progressed more successfully and, although not entirely finished, on 5 May 1918 Somov sold the watercolour to the Moscow collector Vladimir Girshman. Somov noted the sale in his inventory: ‘To V.O. Girshman: Lady lying on a divan, water[colour]. 3000 r[oubles]’ (The State Russian Museum, manuscripts collection, folio 133, unit 80, reverse of p. 72). The watercolour is recorded in another list of the artist’s works which further clarifies the dating: ‘Lady lying on a divan behind a screen at winter/began to paint in December, finished in May 1918. Watercolour/Property of V. O. Girshman’ (quoted in the archives of the Mikhailov family, St Petersburg). This explains why Lady lying on a divan is dated 1917 in the lower right corner of the screen.
Thus, in 1918 a second painting depicting a lady reclining on a divan appeared in the collection of Vladimir Girshman, who had been friends with Konstantin Somov for over ten years, in Russia and in France. In his first acquisition, dated 1909, the lady is asleep. Girshman acquired this watercolour from the collector P. P. Baryshnikov, who had purchased the work directly from the artist in 1910. Since 1917 Sleeping young woman has been kept in the collection of The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
A comparison of both works, which once belonged to Girshman, reveals their figurative and compositional similarities, in addition to the technique and materials used: in both cases the medium is paper on fabric, gouache, watercolour and graphite pencil.
The motif of the sleeping, daydreaming or reclining beauty occurs frequently in Somov’s oeuvre and continues to be sought-after among admirers of his work. In Lady lying on a divan, the warm light emulating from the windows of the house with a snow-covered roof, barely visible from the window behind the screen, conveys a sense of St Petersburg in the overall composition, the creation of which took place during the troublesome winter of 1917-1918.
We are grateful to Elena Yakovleva, Doctor of Art History, Senior Researcher of the Russian Institute of Art History, St Petersburg for providing this catalogue note.