Don’t sell your copyright

Russians love eating bears.

Including myself. I can never resist taking a bite, if there’s a Clubfooted Bear on the table.

It is the oldest brand of Russian sweets, introduced in the early 1890s by a German entrepreneur (whose factory was nationalized and renamed into The Red October by the Bolsheviks).

The Soviets changed the name of the factory but kept the brand, which stayed the tastiest kind of chocolate sweets throughout the USSR’s uneventful history of confectionery branding.

The design of the wrapping was modelled after the painting with which I illustrated my previous post about the symbolic Russian bear. Russia’s top collector, Tretyakov, bought the painting in 1889, when the paint had barely dried. A few years later, Einem the chocolatier saw it in his collection, and licensed the image for the sweets.

The name of the painting is “The Morning in the Pine Forest”. It may be the most famous painting in Russia. The brand of sweets surely made it the most reproduced one. The painting is admired by millions of people, who may know very little about arts, but their love for the brand spills over. Everyone knows the painter, Ivan Shishkin, even though many would come back with a wrong name of the painting, if someone cared to ask. It has many aliases: “The Clubfooted Bear”, “The Three Bears” (there were a few versions of the wrapping with the fourth cub removed that have created a mess with the number of bears), or “The Bears in the Forest”.

What few people know is that the idea of the painting and the bears were not Shishkin’s. It was one of his buddies, also a painter, who suggested the idea and painted the bears in, after Shishkin completed the forest. The guy’s name was Konstantin Savitsky. Tretyakov (the collector) believed that Savitsky’s signature should be removed from the canvas, because most of the job was done by Shishkin, and bears were not, in his opinion, essential. It’s good he didn’t ask Shishkin to paint the bears over.

For 25% of the sale price, Savitsky ceded his copyright claims, and Shishkin removed Savitsky’s signature from the canvas. It is still possible to see traces of it:

Today, Shishkin is a household name, and Savitsky is known by a few art historians. It should be vice versa. It is the brand of sweets that made Shishkin’s masterpiece the most recognized painting in Russia (equivalent in its fame to Van Gogh’s Sunflowers in Europe or his Starry Night in the US). The irony is that the brand and the painting are loved and known for the bears, not the forest.

I am not saying Shishkin’s forest is inferior. He was a great artist, and I wrote about his winter forest here. Perhaps, his summer forest is worth talking about too, for Shishkin’s technique is an interesting example of a counter-impressionist approach.

I will do it in one of my next posts, and, perhaps, Savitsky also deserves a roundup of his most prominent paintings.


  1. Those bears are wretched. They shouldnt be there. Sun-lit pines is my favorite Shishkin painting. Let’s not trivialize his accomplishments with stupid chocolate bears.

    1. Well, this painting wouldn’t exist, were it not for Savitsky’s idea. It was a joint effort of two artists who together developed this painting into what it is. The whole composition and arrangement of colour is done for the bears to be painted in. We can’t say the bears shouldn’t be there, because they were meant to be there, and if we take them out it will become not a good painting of the Morning in the Pine-Tree Forest, with compositional gaps, and unbalanced weight of colour across the surface. If I had any photoshop skills, I’d remove the bears to prove my point.

      In this version, the forest is a living stage for the family of bears. If bears are removed the foreground will have to be repainted to show the light creeping in, and the centre would have be cropped, and the right side would have to be loaded up with darker colours, and the right side would have to be darkened to make the dark-light conflict the new “hero” (instead of the bears). it would need so many changes, it would be easier to paint a new one.

      I am not sure it is possible to trivialise Shishkin by a brand of sweets… It has been a good brand, with steady following, and a revolutionary example of brand identity when the concept itself did not exist…

      1. I think you misunderstood me but it is purely my fault bc I was more lashing out at THE EFFING BEARS than anything else. I know the painting exists for THE EFFING BEARS and the glorious, detailed forest is the accoutrement, the freakin garnish to the stupid b-word. Trust me, I know. I’m just saying… I hate that this is the defining Shishkin painting for most audiences, because he is an absolute genius of an artist, both in technique and as a bard of Russian nature. But he is knows most of all for the stupid effing Disney-by-oil-on-canvas bears that are not actually his.

  2. Thank you so much for this bear-candy-post! I never knew Tretyakov was disturbed by these bears. To be honest, it is the first time I’ve looked at this picture using what you taught me in your posts. For met it always was more a candy wrapping, not a piece of art. And it turned out to be a rather dramatic painting. Because: if you meet a bear-mom with 3 cubs (which is a very, very rare situation, usually bears have 2), it means you are either a hunter, and then it’s seconds before the bear-mom is dead, or you are a mushroom-hunter, and then it’s seconds before you are dead. There is a third opportunity: the wind might be blowing straight to your face, and then – you are just a lucky bastard. What a palette of drama!

    1. In cinema, Dziga Vertov discovered (or at least he put it in words) that camera changed the game via disconnecting the image from the eye of the observer (or something like that). The visible image had always been fixed and linked back to the eye of the human observer, but a movie camera could now go where no human dared or physically could go. It could follow the wheel of a steam engine, a running horse, etc. Thirty or fourty years before Vertov, Shishkin and Savitsky could take the observer to a place few could go, and, as you so convincingly noted, even fewer would return from. It was Savitsky’s idea to make the observer experience something that only an artist could make him experience, and it is a pity Tretyakov, with his amazing collecting talent, failed to recongnise it )

      1. Maybe he has commisioned just the forest? And the bear-drama went as an unexpected bonus? Anyway, thank you so much for re-opening this picture. And tganks for this Vertov analogy. It made me think of Dali and his cinematic experiments.

        1. It was not commissioned by Tretyakov, he bought it a few years after it was completed, when he built the first exhibition space. I’m sure you’d love the cinematography of David Burlyuk )) Will share it soon!

  3. Mishka! They were not sold in BG but anyone who traveled or visited from USSR brought them so they were well known and much loved. I didn’t know they still existed till a Russian friend surprised me with a box a couple of years ago. And what a great story behind the image! A sweet childhood memory – literally 🙂

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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