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The Forest Fire - Perspectives No. 372

The Forest Fire

Perspectives No. 372

Lesnoi Pozhar, ca. 1900, A. K. Denisov-Uralsky
Lesnoi Pozhar (Forest Fire)          ca. 1900          A. K. Denisov-Uralsky

   While putting together a collection of images of paintings depicting fire and smoke for an upcoming article, we came across a fascinating piece from the archives of the Forest History Society. It’s the story of a painting that traveled much farther than the artist who created it and that, although massive in size, has been lost more than once.  

   The painting was created by Alexey Kuzmich Denisov-Uralsky (1863-1926), a Russian artist who was known for his work in stone, jewelry and painting. He spent much of his life in St. Petersburg, ultimately moving to a Finnish village very near to the Russian border. Of his work, the greatest contributions may have been his paintings dedicated to the Ural Mountains. It is believed that upon his death, he left 400 paintings along with his large collection of minerals and stone works to Sverdlovsk (in the Ural Federal District of Russia). Much of the work can no longer be found. Some of his paintings are in museum collections, including the State Russian Museum, the Yekaterinburg Museum of Fine Arts and the Perm State Art Gallery.

   This particular painting is titled Lesnoi Pozhar (Forest Fire) and measures 78 x 106”. Denisov-Uralsky painted it around 1900. It is currently thought to reside in the basement of a museum in Tomsk (a city on the Tom River in Siberia, Russia), although it has not been positively identified. Its mysterious travels began when Denisov-Uralsky contributed it to the Russian exhibition for the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair.

   The Russian exhibit was never shown at the World’s Fair because of American support for Japan during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05. The entire 600-piece Russian exhibit was instead consigned to and displayed separately by a Russian entrepreneur. This may have been the last that most of the participating artists ever heard of their paintings. Almost all of the consigned works seem to have disappeared.

   It wasn’t until 1926 that the large fire painting resurfaced, this time in the collection of Adolphus Busch, the famous St. Louis beer maker. He initially installed the work in his Dallas hotel, the Adolphus, and later in the hospitality room of the Anheuser-Busch Brewery in St. Louis.

   In 1979, Busch donated the painting to the government of the United States which sent it back to Russia. A repatriation ceremony was held with attendance by the director of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Soviet ambassador. The ambassador spoke of the plans to send the painting to a museum in the Urals.

   Once again, the painting disappeared. It was searched for in 2014 when an exhibition of Denisov-Uralsky’s work was displayed at the Yekaterinburg Museum on the anniversary of his 150th birthday. Although some of his paintings were exhibited, Lesnoi Pozhar was not found. It was months after the close of the exhibition that it was thought to have been found in the basement of the Tomsk museum.

   Although the painting’s location has been unknown for much of its lifetime, reproductions of it have been prolific, used in advertising, on ceramics and silk scarves, fire prevention posters and as prints. Sadly, Denisov-Uralsky as far as is known, may have never seen the painting or received any recompense for what became an iconic image after sending it off to St. Louis.




Copyright Hulsey Trusty Designs, L.L.C. (except where noted). All rights reserved.
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Photograph of John Hulsey and Ann Trusty in Glacier National Park
We are artists, authors and teachers with over 40 years of experience in painting the world's beautiful places. We created The Artist's Road in order to share our knowledge and experiences with you, and create a community of like-minded individuals.  You can learn more about us and see our original paintings by clicking on the links below.
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