Bridge. Savvinskaya Sloboda; Isaac Ilyich Levitan; oil on canvas, roughly 10 x 11 inches (25 x 29 cm).
Link is to the file page on Wikimedia Commons; the original is in the State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, though the gallery does not include it among the Levitan pieces from their collection that they display online.
I suspect that to 19th century Russian landscape master Isaac Levitan this small painting of a little wooden footbridge in a rural area outside of Moscow was a “sketch”, or a “study”, something impromptu and relatively quickly realized. Parts of the painting are economically suggested to the point of feeling unfinished. In some places the paint is thinly applied, revealing the texture of the support, but in the area of interest it’s thickly and more carefully painted.
Sketch or not, to me this is not only a strikingly beautiful work, but a lesson in casual mastery. My eye is immediately drawn to the bridge itself, as obviously was Levitan’s. On one level the contrasts in value are striking and dramatic — as in the relationship of the dark mass of the bridge to the light in the stream and the dark slash of the reflected tree trunk — but at another level, the value and color relationships are extraordinarily subtle.
Look in particular at the contrast between the deep blue-gray shadows and muted yellowish spots of sunlight as they are expressed on the left side of the bridge — where the wooden planks are in deeper shadow — and the way similar patterns of light and shadow are presented on the right side of the bridge, where the ambient light is stronger and the blue-gray of the shadows is lighter and lower in chroma.
My guess is that Levitan did not set out to give that phenomenon of light special attention, but instead simply observed and mixed, observed and mixed, as his years of painting experience would have allowed him to do almost without thought.