Makovsky 's favorite theme was Russian history and its associated epic legends. Ivan Susanin was that elderly peasant who led the Poles in the wrong direction for protecting Mikhail Romanov. Ivan's murder by the soldiers in the wild forest inspired playwrights and opera composers including Glinka in 1836.
The oil on canvas that comes up for sale is monumental: 3.51 x 5.83 m. It was executed in 1914, the year following the celebration of the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty. The animation in the snowy forest is abundant and tragic. The appearance in the top right of an apotheosis of Mikhail Romanov on the Red Square leaves no doubt about the wish of the artist to please the Tsarist power.
This work probably painted in Paris did not reach Russia, first because of the accidental death of the old artist in 1915, then of course because of the Revolution. It was exhibited for the first time in London in 1926, at a time when history painting was well out of fashion.
It appears now as a masterpiece by a contemporary to Alma-Tadema and Cormon.
I invite you to play the video shared by Sotheby's: