Istanbul at Night, 1914
Oil on canvas
Private collection, Moscow
Even during his studies at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Pavel Benkov began to visit foreign countries. Year after year he was late for the beginning of his studies at the Academy, because of lingering on in France, then in Spain or Italy. In his autobiography, Benkov wrote: “This period also included a strong passion for Impressionism. A trip to the sea, to Capri, creative work in Italy — all of this was the result of my passion for Impressionism.”
The last time Benkov was in Italy was in 1914. He had to return to his homeland in the midst of the First World War. He travelled by ship through Africa and Turkey with great difficulty. Apparently, it was then that Benkov — who loved the sunlight — painted his only night landscape “Istanbul at night”.
The deep mist of the blue muffled tones of the sky is diluted only by the bright spots of night lights. Benkov — in love with the city — painted in free, dynamic strokes. He painted the silhouettes of the Istanbul mosques and the soft features of minarets, appearing from the twilight enveloping the city. The multicoloured clothes of local residents and flags on boats with colourful overtones vibrate in the water, connecting with the ghostly reflections of the city and filling the Istanbul night with a fabulous atmosphere.