Тихов Виталий Гаврилович 1876-1939, Ukrainian painter, one of the best and most talented students in Vladimir Makovsky's studio, made his entrance into art history with his pictures of "bathers" and "nudes". In the early 1910s his magnificent, large-format "bath-house" paintings were especially successful and much admired, and for these he was twice awarded the graduation Gold Medal of the Academy of Fine Arts, having studied there on two separate occasions.
The Russian Banya, belongs to this series. It was painted in 1916 when, his creative talent at its peak, he became a member of the Society of Itinerant Art Exhibitions, which enabled him to exhibit in many towns around Russia. It is thus quite natural that this large-scale "bath-house" should be so accomplished, and of undoubted exhibition quality.
The artist depicts the models in his distinctive free and rather "fluid" manner, sitting or standing in clouds of steam on the floor-boards of a simple Russian bath-house.
Despite his predilection for Classical echoes in his works - he often had his models standing or reclining in the poses of the Three Graces or Venus before a Mirror and sometimes, touchingly, gave his works those same titles - in his In a Russian Banya Tikhov was not thinking allegorically. Rather, his painting is an exquisite plein-air study of his models -one, his most important and most regular, was his wife, in which the artist strives to emphasise the pale beauty of their delicate skin, effectively highlighting it with colour tones from the sunlight coming through the window. The most important attributes of Tikhov's work are his Impressionistic freshness and decorativeness.
It was with works similar to Tikhov's In a Russian Banya, Zinaida Serebriakova's "bath" cycle and Boris Kustodiev's Russian Venus, that the Classical "women bathing" genre, which had been given a new lease of life by Impressionism and Post-Impressionism, developed into a home-grown, established, iconographic tradition of Russian "village bath-house" pictures. The apparent simplicity of this subject, successor to the Academic "Roman baths" and "harem pools" of Gérôme and Ingres, allowed artists to concentrate on purely painterly issues. Deliberately executed in a bright, resonant colour palette, Tikhov's works were not only popular with patrons, becoming an organic, decorative element of early 20th-century interiors, but also came to exert a considerable influence on the future of this genre, notably on the celebrated "bathhouses" of Alexander Gerasimov. Today Tikhov's exemplary "bathing women" are represented in the State Russian Museum and private collections worldwide.