Thursday, December 18, 2014

Giovanni Giacometti

oil on canvas
124 x 200 cm
location unknown

Giovanni Giacometti (1868-1933) was a Swiss painter, and father of famous artists Alberto and Diego Giacometti. He was born in Stampa, Switzerland, and moved to Munich to attend the school of arts and crafts. There, he studied the works of the French impressionists. While in Germany, he met a fellow Swiss painter and, with whom he traveled to Paris. He went to the spring salon in Paris, where he was deeply impressed by some paintings. There, he met for the first time the works of Gianni Segantini, whom he got to know in person later on. Segantini became a veritable mentor and friend to Giacometti. His experience in France exposed him to Post-Impressionist artists, such as Paul Gauguin and Vincent van Gogh, whose influence is clearly recognizable in his own paintings. In both landscapes and portraiture, he preferred bold, emotive color, and used a palette and style similar to his Post-Impressionist contemporaries.

Running short of money, he was forced to return to Stampa in 1891. That was a period of loneliness and lack of inspiration. After some monetary success in the early 1890s, he garnered more attention in 1912, when he was invited to exhibit his work with the German Expressionist group known as Die Brucke. The last years, he spent in the quiet of Stampa. He was regarded as mediator of modern French and Italian art assets. Despite not having reached the level of renown as his sons Alberto and Diego, he is considered a significant contributor to the revival of 20th century Swiss art and painting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bocklin, Arnold

Isle of the Dead (third version)
oil on panel
80 × 150 cm
Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery), Berlin, Germany

Arnold Bocklin (1827-1901) was a Swiss symbolist painter. He is best known for his five versions (painted in 1880-1886) of Isle of the Dead, which partly evokes the English Cemetery, Florence, close to his studio and where his baby daughter Maria had been buried.

He exercised an influence on Surrealist painters like Max Ernst and Salvador Dali, and on Giorgio de Chirico. His paintings, especially The Isle of the Dead, inspired several late-Romantic composers. Sergei Rachmaninoff and Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen both composed symphonic poems after it, Max Reger composed a set of Four Tone Poems after Bocklin. Hans Huber's second symphony is entitled "Bocklin-Sinfonie". Rachmaninoff was also inspired by Bocklin’s painting The Return when writing his Prelude in B Minor, Op. 32, No. 10.. Adolf Hitler was fond of Bocklin’s work, at one time owning 11 of his paintings. When asked who was his favorite painter, Marcel Duchamp controversially named Arnold Bocklin as having a major influence on his art.

He was born in Basel. His father was descended from an old family of Schaffhausen, and engaged in the silk trade. He attended the Dusseldorf Academy from 1845 to 1847. At this time he painted scenes of the Swiss Alps, using light effects and dramatic views subjectively to project emotional moods into the landscape. In 1848 this romantic introspection gave way to plein air objectivity after he was influenced by Camille Corot, Eugene Delacroix, and the painters of the Barbizon school while on a trip to Paris. But after the February and June revolutions he returned to Basel with a lasting hatred and disgust for contemporary France, and he resumed painting gloomy mountain scenes.

In 1850 he found his mecca in Rome, and immediately his paintings were flooded by the warm Italian sunlight. He populated the lush southern vegetation, the bright light of the Roman Campagna, and the ancient ruins with lonely shepherds, cavorting nymphs, and lusty centaurs. These mythological figures rather than the landscapes became his primary concern, and he used themes to express the polarities of life: warm sunshine contrasts with cool, moist shade, and the brightness of woman's spirituality contrasts with man's dark sensuality.

When he returned to Basel with his Italian wife, he completed the painting Pan among the Reeds which brought him fame when the king of Bavaria purchased it in 1858. He taught at the Academy of Art in Weimar from 1860 to 1862, when he returned to Rome. Called to Basel in 1866, he painted the frescoes and modeled the grotesque masks for the facade of the Basel Museum. He resided in Florence from 1874 until 1885, and this was his most active period. He continued to explore the male-female antithesis and painted religious scenes, allegories of Nature's powers, and moody studies of man's fate. He ceased working with oils and began experimenting with tempera and other media to obtain a pictorial surface free of brushstrokes. He spent the next 7 years mostly in Switzerland, with occasional trips to Italy. Following a stroke in 1892, he returned to Italy, bought a villa in Fiesole, and died there. Many of his late works became increasingly subjective often depicting fabulous creatures, nightmares of war, plague, and death.

Bocklin was an original, proud, somewhat eccentric painter who, like Da Vinci, experimented in his garden with human flight, designing an airplane. He disliked giving titles to his pictures and declared that he painted in order to make people dream. "Just as it is poetry's task to express feelings, painting must provoke them too. A picture must give the spectator as much food for thought as a poem and must make the same kind of impression as a piece of music..." (Arnold Bocklin)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Joseph Heintz the Elder

The Rape of Proserpina
circa 1595
oil on panel
size unknown
Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister (Old Masters Picture Gallery), Dresden, Germany

Joseph Heintz the Elder (1564-1609) was a Swiss painter, draftsman and architect. His paintings included religious images, portraits, and, following the emperor Rudolf II's taste, erotic mythological themes. Agitated figures, shallow depth, and a cool-toned, colorful palette characterize his very personal style.

He was born in Basle. He received his early training from a painter and from his father, an architect-mason.  His first surviving drawings (1580) show something akin to Holbein's manner in his stained-glass window designs. He appears to have educated himself copying the works of Hans Holbein the younger. From 1584 to around 1591, he was in Italy, where he joined a circle of German and Netherlandish artists in Rome. He also studied ancient art and copied paintings by Renaissance artists such as Raphael, Michelangelo, and Polidoro da Caravaggio. In 1587 he traveled to Florence and Venice, absorbing the styles of Tintoretto, Titian, and Paolo Veronese. In autumn 1591 the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II summoned him as ‘portraitist and court painter' to Prague and ennobling him in 1602. He spent his later career primarily as an architect, mainly in Augsburg and Prague. He designed the east facade of Augsburg's new customs house.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Alexandre Calame

Chalets at Rigi
oil on canvas
40.6 x 62.2 cm
The National Gallery, London, UK

Alexandre Calame (1810-1864) was a Swiss painter. Among the most celebrated Swiss landscape painters of the 19th century, he made a particular speciality of Alpine mountain scenes. The Alps was his speciality. The glaciers, emerald-green, white foaming mountain water, which split the trees during the storm, and the whipped clouds, the multi-colored rocks, half masked from fog, in the rays of the gleaming sun, are those things, which he knew to be true to nature.

He was the son of a skillful marble worker, born in a part of Vevey, but because his father lost the family fortune, he could not concentrate on art, but rather he was forced to work in a bank from the age of 15. When his father fell from a building and then died, it was up to the young Calame to provide for his mother. But, despite losing his right eye as a child, he was determined to make a career as an artist. In 1829 he met his patron, a banker, who made it possible for him to study landscape painting. He first came to the attention of French collectors and connoisseurs at the Salon of 1839. His painting was a great success in Paris, and his success was assured. His paintings, worked up from oil sketches and drawings made sur le motif, were in great demand, and were purchased by collectors throughout Europe, and particularly in Russia. One of his most ingenious works is the representation of the four seasons and times of the day in four landscapes, a spring morning in the south, a summer midday in the Nordic flatlands, an Autumn evening, and a winter night on a mountain.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Frank Buchser

Portrait of a Bedouin
19th century
oil on canvas mounted on masonite
22.6 × 16.9 cm
private collection

Frank Buchser (1828-1890) was a Swiss painter and world traveler, adventurer, fighter for assorted causes, womanizer who was a colorful figure by any standard, not in the least by those of his native Switzerland. As a young artist from Solothurn, he went beyond the paths generally trodden by Swiss artists - France, Germany and Italy - to such countries as Holland, England, and Spain, and further afield to North Africa and America. Thought he spent prolonged periods of time abroad, he never became an expatriate, like so many nineteenth-century Swiss artists, rather, he always remained firmly attached to his native soil. Though he had some academic training, his artistic development probably owed less to those teachers than to the lessons he learned from the Old Masters.

Born in Feldbrunnen, Switzerland, he was the son of a farmer and served an apprenticeship as an organ and piano maker in Solothurn and Bern. In 1847, after a trip through Paris to Florence and Rome, he decided to become a painter. He served in the Papal Swiss Guard, which enabled him to study painting at the Accademia di San Luca in Rome. In 1848 he joined briefly at the Garibaldi's troops. From 1849 to 1850 he studied painting in Paris, and from 1850 to 1852 in Antwerp. From 1852 to 1853, he traveled to Spain, where he found early attention as a painter and draftsman. Even after 1853, he went to the England several times, where he was active as a commissioner of the department of Swiss art at the Great Exhibition in London in 1862. Personal highlights of his travels were: to the city of Fez in Morocco in 1858, from 1866 to 1871 to the United States. In his last years he campaigned for reform of exhibitions and was also a pioneer of the Federal Decree of 1887 to encourage and uplift of the Swiss art. From 1888 to 1890 he was one of the members of the Federal Art Commission. He died in Feldbrunnen, Switzerland. He was a Freemason.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Francois Bocion

In Ouchy
oil on canvas
34 x 61 cm
Musee Cantonal des Beaux-Arts, Lausanne, Switzerland

Francois -Louis David Bocion (1828-1890) was a Swiss painter in the style of Impressionism. He gained his reputation as a " painter of Lake Geneva " with his light-filled, atmospheric and lifelike landscapes of Lake Geneva. 

He came from a wealthy merchant and artisan family of Lausanne. He studied art in Lausanne before going to Paris, France in the fall of 1845 to study further. During the early part of his career, his interest was in the field of illustration as well as in painting historical subjects. However, influenced by the landscapes of Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, he began painting scenes from around Lake Geneva for which he is best remembered. Following a bout with typhoid fever, he returned home in 1849. In 1849 he took a job as a teacher of drawing at the Ecole Moyenne et Industrielle in his native Lausanne, and he held this position until his death. He was a jury member of exposure Municipale des Beaux-Arts in Geneva, and was a member of the Swiss Federal Art Commission.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Anker, Albert

Girl Peeling Potatoes
oil on canvas
size unknown
private collection

"One has to shape an ideal in one's imagination, and then one has to make that ideal accessible to the people." (Anker)

Albert Samuel Anker (1831-1910) was a Swiss painter who has been called the "national painter" of Switzerland because of his enduringly popular depictions of 19th-century Swiss ordinary village life. His meticulous paintings of Swiss rural life endeared him to the public and during his heydays, he was considered as the most popular artist.

His works captured the daily and social life of the rustics in the picturesque villages of Switzerland. His paintings depict his fellow citizens in an unpretentious and plain manner, without idealizing country life, but also without the critical examination of social conditions. He portrayed the social life of villagers as plain and unpretentious. He depicted men and women without any judgment or idealizing their social condition. Though he had a Christian world-view, he did not, in any way, impose his ideology on his paintings.

Anker was quick to reach his artistic objectives and never strayed from his chosen path. His works, though, exude a sense of conciliation and understanding as well as a calm trust in Swiss democracy; they are executed with great skill, providing brilliance to everyday scenes through subtle choices in coloring and lighting.

He was born in Ins, his father was a veterinarian. Despite a brief foray into the study of theology, he convinced his father to let him pursue a career in art. He then moved to Paris where he studied at the Ecole nationale superieure des Beaux-Arts from 1855-60.  In 1864, he married and had six children, two of whom died very early in life. He depicted his surviving children in some of his paintings. He died in 1910 at the age of 79 at his house in Anet, Switzerland. His studio in Ins has been preserved as a museum by the Albert Anker Foundation. Many Swiss postage stamps and other media have incorporated Anker's work.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Cuno Amiet

Garden in Oschwand
54 x 72.5 cm
oil on canvas
location unknown

Cuno Amiet (1868-1961) was a Swiss painter, illustrator, graphic artist and sculptor. As the first Swiss painter to give precedence to colour in composition, he was a pioneer of modern art in Switzerland. Although oil painting was his principal activity, he was a highly gifted watercolorist and printmaker. During the early 1920s he also turned his hand to sculpture and produced a group of expressive portrait busts in bronze and marble.

He was born in Solothurn, Switzerland, and was the son of the historian and chancellor of the canton of Solothurn. He attended the Academy of Fine Arts Munich in 1886?88, where he met his life-long friend Giovanni Giacometti. In 1889 he and Giacometti transferred to the Academie Julian in Paris. Dissatisfied with academic art, he joined the Pont-Aven School in 1892, where he learned from Emile Bernard, and others. In Pont-Aven, he came to prefer the use of pure colour to tonal painting. In 1893, his lack of funds forced him to return to Switzerland.

In the 1890s, he continued to collaborate with Giacometti and had only modest commercial success, until he was commissioned in 1898 to paint a portrait of Ferdinand Hodler, an artist 15 years his senior and accustomed to doing battle with critics and the public. From 1898 through 1903, he fell under Hodler's influence and sought a compromise between the color-rich, painterly manner of Pont-Aven and the strict draughtsmanship that Hodler had distilled from the German tradition. After his 1898 marriage to Anna Luder, a tavern keeper's daughter, he settled in Oschwand, where his house became a meeting place for artists and writers such as Samuel Singer, Hermann Hesse. He lived there until his death at the age of 93.

His fortunes improved greatly in the 1900s, when he began participating in numerous European expositions, winning a silver medal in the Exposition Universelle. By 1904 he arrived at a style that remarkably paralleled the achievement of the Fauve painters at the same time. Both the Fauves (Matisse, Derain, Dufy, Vlaminck, Braque) and Amiet, working independently, had developed the possibilities inherent in the Postimpressionist works of Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, and Georges Seurat.

He was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Berne in 1919. In the late 1920s and in the 1930s, he executed numerous wall paintings. He created more than 4,000 paintings, of which more than 1,000 are self-portraits. His numerous landscape paintings depict many winter scenes, gardens and fruit harvests. In 1931 over 50 of his paintings, including some early masterpieces, were destroyed in the fire that consumed the Glaspalast (crystal palace) in Munich that hosted many large art exhibitions and international trade fairs. The fire was later determined to be arson. He surmounted this blow with an intense activity.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Jacques-Laurent Agasse

The Nubian Giraffe
oil on canvas
127.3 x 101.7 cm
location unknown

"Agasse, the celebrated animal painter, now in England, owed his fortune to an accident. About eight years ago, he being then in Switzerland, a rich Englishman asked him to paint his favourite dog which had died. The Englishman was so pleased with his work that he took the painter to England with him." (From Wikipedia)

Jacques Laurent Agasse (1767-1849), born at Geneva, was the most accomplished painter of animals that Switzerland has ever produced, and amongst the most refined painter of such paintings to work in England. He lived in London for the last 50 years of his life. His paintings were of the utmost technical refinement and delicacy, and were superbly observed and drawn.

His childhood was exceptionally happy, spent between the family's houses in town and country: in the latter he spent much of his time in the stables, kennels and farm-yard. His father enrolled him in the Calabri Academy of Drawing in 1782. From 1786-9 he moved to Paris where he worked as a pupil and assistant in David's studio. By the onset of the French Revolution, which had the effect of ruining his parents' business, his stay in Paris was brought to a close. He stayed in Switzerland for another decade, before arriving in England, via a second stay in Paris, in 1800. His life in London was marked by a great success as an animal painter.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Richard Zommer

Oriental travellers
before 1918
oil on cardboard
39 × 68 cm
location unknown

Zommer Richard (1866-1939), born in Munich, was known as а Russian painter, watercolorist and graphic artist. His artistic style is often considered to be a mix of Realism and Impressionism based on the subject matter and artistic technique. He created numerous pictorial and graphical works mainly having a genre-ethnographical character. Pictures with common and battle scenes as well as views of Turkestan’s architecture, landscapes of ancient blocks in Tashkent, Bukhara, and Samarkand were very popular among his contemporaries.

From 1884 he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts and had considerable success, receiving several awards for his work. His most prolific period relates to the last decade of the nineteenth century, which he spent in Asia, where he was sent in an archaeological expedition and worked as an ethnologist. During this period he produced a series of portraits, landscapes and works on paper.

At the beginning of the twentieth century he went to Georgia, where he led an active life, travelling extensively. He walked almost the entirety of the Caucasus Mountains and produced a number of works during this period that provide a fascinating insight into the Caucasus from an ethnographic point of view, as well as glimpses of everyday occurrences and situations.

During the 1930s, Georgian intellectuals and artists suffered under the Stalinist regime, and in 1939 he was forced to leave Georgia. After this period his exact whereabouts are unknown, this can in part be explained by the fact that all ethnic Germans were relocated to Siberia and Kazakhstan before World War II. What is clear is that he had a remarkable and dynamic life. Always on the move, he explored man and his character, creating pictures in his individual and unique way, and provided an important role in the history of twentieth century Georgian painting.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Mikhail Vrubel

Demon (sitting)
oil on canvas
116.5 x 213.8 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Mikhail Alexandrovich Vrubel (1856-1910) was a versatile artist who excelled in painting, graphics, sculpture, as well as in monumental and applied arts. His name is routinely associated with Russian Symbolism and Art Nouveau. Even in his earliest works, he exhibited great talent for drawing and an idiosyncratic style. He would later develop a penchant for fragmentary composition and an "unfinished touch".

He was born in Omsk, Russia, into a military lawyer's family. His father was of Polish ancestry, while his mother who was Danish. Though he graduated from the Faculty of Law at St Petersburg University in 1880, his father recognized his talent for art and made sure to provide, through numerous tutors, what proved to be a sporadic education in the subject. The next year he entered the Imperial Academy of Arts. His mother died when he was not yet three years old and his father remarried four years later. His stepmother was a good pianist and helped develop Vrubel’s musical sensibilities. In his teen years, he became a fervent theater aficionado. Later in his life, he married a prominent opera singer Nadezhda Zabela and was on good terms with composer Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov. Many of his mature works were inspired by opera and music.

After his graduation from the Academy of Fine Arts, he was asked to help with the restoration of the 12th century St. Cyril church in Kiev. While in Kiev, he started painting sketches and watercolours illustrating the Demon, a long Romantic poem by Mikhail Lermontov. The poem described the carnal passion of "an eternal nihilistic spirit" for a Georgian girl Tamara. At that period he developed a keen interest in Oriental arts, and particularly Persian carpets, and even attempted to imitate their texture in his paintings. While living in Kiev in 1884-1889, he experienced the influence of Medieval and especially Byzantine art.

In 1890, he relocated to Moscow where he could best follow the burgeoning innovations and trends in art. Like other artists associated with the Art Nouveau style, he excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such as ceramics, majolics, and stained glass. He also produced architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes. He was not only a painter. He was a master of majolica. He created a majolica frieze for hotel Metropol in Moscow.

During 1896, he met a famous Russian opera singer Nadezhda Zabela. Half a year later they married and settled in Moscow, where Zabela was invited by Mamontov to perform in his private opera theatre. While in Moscow, he designed stage sets and costumes for his wife, who sang the parts of the Snow Maiden, the Swan Princess, and Princess Volkhova in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas. 

In 1901, he returned to the demonic themes in the large canvas Demon Downcast. In order to astound the public with a spiritual message, he repeatedly repainted the demon's ominous face, even after the painting had been exhibited to the overwhelmed audience. At the end he had a severe nervous breakdown and was hospitalized in a mental clinic. His mental illness was initiated or complicated by tertiary syphilis. In 1906, overpowered by mental disease and approaching blindness, he ceased painting.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Viktor Vasnetsov

The Flying Carpet, a depiction of the hero of Russian folklore, Ivan Tsarevich
oil on canvas
165 × 297 cm
Nizhny Novgorod State Art Museum, Russia

One of the stories in the One Thousand and One Nights relates how Prince Husain, the eldest son of Sultan of the Indies, travels to Bisnagar (Vijayanagara) in India and buys a magic carpet. This carpet is described as follows: "Whoever sitteth on this carpet and willeth in thought to be taken up and set down upon other site will, in the twinkling of an eye, be borne thither, be that place nearhand or distant many a day's journey and difficult to reach." In Russian folk tales, Baba Yaga can supply Ivan the Fool or Ivan Tsarevich with a flying carpet or some other magical gifts. Such gifts help the hero to find his way "beyond thrice-nine lands, in the thrice-ten kingdom".

In 1880, the rich industrialist Savva Mamontov commissioned Viktor Vasnetsov to illustrate a folk talk about Ivan and the Firebird. The painting represents Ivan returning home after capturing the Firebird, which he keeps in a cage. Ivan is riding the flying carpet in the early morning mist. When exhibited, the painting was panned by leading critics as a commercially motivated betrayal of realism and return to the aesthetics of Romanticism. On the other hand, it was enthusiastically received by the Slavophile artists.

Viktor Mikhaylovich Vasnetsov (1848-1926), a Russian artist, was a major Russian Revivalist figure in the art world, and a co-founder of romantic modernism and folklorist art. He showed two distinct periods of evolution in his art. The realistic style of painting local people and landscapes gradually evolved into the nationalist and historical style of design, and architecture, drawing on Russia’s ancient history, adding his fascination of folklore, and romantic modernism. He was central in moving realism towards a more nationalist, and historical style, believing that a true work of art conveys the past, present, and maybe even the future.

His father was a village priest, who was also a painter. Taking after his father’s painting background, Viktor began painting local landscapes, and the people of his village. In 1867, he was admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts.
In 1876, he joined the movement of the Peredvizhniki(a group of Russian realist artists, often called The Wanderers)’s in Paris. While living in France, his studies focused on classical and contemporary paintings as well as academist and Impressionist styles. Returning to Moscow in 1877, he began illustrating Russian fairy-tales and traditional East Slavic oral epic narrative poems. The next two decades proved to be very productive years for Viktor, but many of his later works of art were not received well by the public. In these twenty years, he used his expertise in other media including theatrical design, and Russian Revivalist architecture. During this time period, he designed sets and costumes for The Snow Maiden, Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera in Italy. He also designed a pavilion for the Russians during the World’s Fair of Paris in 1898. In 1912, he received a title of nobility from Czar Nicholas II. He designed a uniform for the military Red Army in 1918.

Many of his art received very little appreciation during his lifetime. Critics dismissed his latter art as trying to undermine the realist principle of the time period. Little did they know that future generations would admire, respect, and adore his neorussian style, and how he was able to depict Russian history in a mythical, somewhat enchanting way.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Marianne von Werefkin

Fantastic Landscape
size unknown
oil on board
Private collection

“One life is far too little for all the things I feel within myself, and I invent other lives within and outside myself for them. A whirling crowd of invented beings surrounds me and prevents me from seeing reality. Color bites at my heart.” (Marianne von Werefkin)

Marianne von Werefkin (1860-1938), a native of Russia born in the town of Tula, played an important role in Expressionism. She was known as “Russian Rembrandt” in her home country.

As a member of ancient Russian nobility, she grew up in a cultivated and wealthy aristocratic family; her mother was a painter, her father a general -  for his meritorious service during the Crimean War, Czar Alexander II granted him the estate Blagodat in Lithuania, the family’s beloved summer retreat. There she had her own studio house. At an early age, she attracted a great deal of attention with her portraits, painted in an intensely atmospheric Naturalist style. After her parents had discovered their daughter’s extraordinary talent, the most distinguished realist painter of Russia, Ilya Repin, became her private teacher. In 1888 she had a hunting accident and shot herself in the right hand, losing the middle finger of her painting hand. However, she practised persistently to keep her from pursuing her goals, and she finally managed to use drawing and painting instruments with her right hand again.

In 1896, after the death of her father, she moved with her entourage to Schwabing in Munich, where she hosted a famous salon. She was the primary theorist and stimulator of new ideas. The village of Murnau in the Bavarian Alps became the birthplace of abstract painting in the summer of 1908, when the artist couple Gabriele Munter and Wassily Kandinsky joined Werefkin to live, paint, and debate there together. Kandinsky, with his essay “Concerning the Spiritual in Art”, has usually been considered the leading thinker of the group. But it has since been shown by Werefkin’s biographer Fathke that he took many of his ideas from Werefkin, without, however, mentioning their source.

With the outbreak of the first World War she moved to neutral Switzerland. She lost her Czarist pension through the Russian revolution. Completely impoverished, but creatively unbroken, and supported by good friends and admirers of her work, she spent the last quarter of her long life in Ascona. She donated many of her paintings to the city, which today possesses the largest collection of Werefkin’s works.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Vasily Tropinin

The Lace-Maker
oil on canvas
size unknown
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Vasily Andreevich Tropinin (1776-1857) was one of the major Russian artists active in the first half of the 19th century. He was born as a serf of Count Munich and then was given as a part of Munich's daughter's dowry to Count Morkov. Much of his life was spent as a serf. He didn't attain his freedom until he was more than forty years old. Although his artistic talent and desire to paint were expressed early, he was sent by Count Morkov to St. Petersburg to learn to be a confectioner. During those years he managed to attend now and then free drawing lessons in the Academy of Arts, until in 1799, at the age of 23, he was sent by his owner to study art in the Academy.

In 1804 his work was exhibited in the Annual Academy of Arts exhibition and was noted by Russian Empress. The President of the Academy of Arts was going to intercede on behalf of Tropinin to get him freedom. Count Morkov, afraid of losing such a valuable possession, urgently recalled Tropinin from St. Petersburg to his Ukrainian estate. There he was crudely reminded that he was only a slave. He was appointed a confectioner and a lackey, also he had to copy the works of European and Russian painters and produce portraits of the Morkovs. During the following years (1804-1821) in Ukraine, with occasional travels with the Morkovs to Moscow, he continued to study art. He created a lot of portraits, landscapes and genre pictures. In 1821, Tropinin with the family of Count Morkov moved to Moscow. Although he was still a serf, he was well known as a talented artist and his friends continued to persuade Count Morkov to give him freedom.

In 1823, at the age of 47, he was finally released from bondage. In the same year he submitted the picture The Lace-Maker to the Academy of Arts and was nominated an academician. The following years were the most prolific for him. He settled in Moscow and opened up his own art studio. Already the well known artist he continued to paint portraits. His models ranged from peasants to the members of the most noble Russian families.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Valentin Serov

Portrait of Princess Olga Orlova
oil on canvas
 237.5 x 160.0 cm
State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia
 (formerly the Russian Museum of His Imperial Majesty Alexander III)

Valentin Aleksandrovich Serov (1865-1911) was a Russian painter, and one of the premier portrait artists of his era. In his childhood he studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin and in the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts under Pavel Chistyakov. His early creativity was sparked by the realistic art of Repin and strict pedagogical system of Chistyakov. Further influences on him were the old master paintings he viewed in the museums of Russia and Western Europe, and the creative atmosphere of the Abramtsevo Colony, to which he was closely connected.

He was born in St. Petersburg into the family of a famous Russian composer Alexander Serov, and his wife Valentina Bergman, a composer of German-Jewish and English background. In 1871 his father died, and in 1874, they moved to Paris, where he regularly visited the studio of Ilya Repin, who was very fond of the little boy. In 1875, the Serovs came to live at Abramtsevo, the estate of the industrial tycoon Savva Mamontov, and the cultural center of the time, where artists, musicians and actors were always welcome. He grew up in an atmosphere of constant creativity. He studied in Paris and Moscow under Ilya Repin in his childhoodand, and at the age of 15 he entered the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

The greatest works of his early period were portraits, and from 1890 on, the portrait became the basic genre in his art. In such paintings he concentrated on spontaneity of perception of the model and nature. In the development of light and color, the complex harmony of reflections, the sense of atmospheric saturation, and the fresh picturesque perception of the world, there appeared the features of early Russian impressionism. The girl with peaches (1887) was the painting that inaugurated Russian Impressionism. His favorite models were actors, artists, and writers.

From 1890 to 1900 he produced many landscape compositions on country themes, in which the artistic direction took a romantic turn. During his late period, at the start of the 20th century, he was at a stylistic turning point: features of impressionism disappeared from his work, and his modernistic style developed, but the characteristic truthful and realistic comprehension of the nature of his subjects remained constant. He created heroic portrait images, focusing on the dramatic depiction of creative artists, writers, actors, and musicians. The last years of his life were marked by works on themes from classical mythology. While addressing images from the ancient tradition, he endowed classical subject matter with a personal interpretation.

In 1903, he was elected the academician of the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts. He became the most successful and brilliant portraitist in Russia of the 1890s and first decade of the 20th century.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Vasily Polenov

Moscow patio
oil on canvas
64.5 x 80.1 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

"A man lives on through his creations" (Polenov)

Vasiliy Dmitrievich Polenov (1844-1927) was a painter, a graphic artist, decorative and applied arts designer, a scene-painter, a stage designer, an architect, a composer and a pedagogue.

He was born into a noble and intelligent family in St. Petersburg. His father was a high-ranking military officer and archeologist. His mother was fond of fine arts and was an amateur painter. He studied simultaneously in the St. Petersburg University and in the Academy of Arts. In 1871, he got a diploma of a lawyer and a Major Gold Medal in the Academy for his painting. It took him several years to decide to go in favor of painting.

As a pensioner of the Academy he traveled to Germany, Italy, France, painted historical and genre pictures and portraits. But most attractive for him was landscape painting on plein air. He studied the works of French landscape painters, especially those by the Barbizon school. In 1876 he returned to Russia. Since 1878 he stayed and worked in Abramtsevo for long periods, created pictures and drawings, participated in the amateur performances as a scene-painter, an actor and a stage director, collected items of folk art, worked at the Abramtsevo pottery.

He was the first to introduce the principles of ‘European influence’ in Russia, these were the basics of plein air painting: clean and bright colors, colored shadows, free strokes. He also created a series of canvases devoted to Jesus Christ. He tended to combine New Testament subjects with his penchant for landscape. He visited Palestine twice, studied the landscape, architecture, people of the land. His manner of depicting Christ was new, and his compositions, though academic, were rather realistic.

From the 1870s, he also turned to theatrical decoration. He was one of the reformers of theater decorative art. Most notably, he decorated Savva Mamontov's mansion in Abramtsevo and his Russian Private Opera. He was elected a member of the St.Petersburg Academy of arts in 1893. In 1926 he was given the title  “Artist of the Republic”. For many years, he coached young painters in the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Repin, Ilya

Religious Procession in Kursk Province
from 1880 until 1883
oil on canvas
175 x 280 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Ilya Yefimovich Repin (1844-1930) was a leading Russian painter and sculptor. An important part of his work is dedicated to his native country, Ukraine. His realistic works often expressed great psychological depth and exposed the tensions within the existing social order. Beginning in the late 1920s, detailed works on him were published in the Soviet Union, where a Repin cult developed about a decade later. He was held up as a model "progressive" and "realist" to be imitated by "Socialist Realist" artists in the USSR.

Repin was born in the heart of the historical region called Sloboda Ukraine. His parents were Russian military settlers. In 1866, after apprenticeship with a local icon painter and preliminary study of portrait painting, he went to St. Petersburg and was shortly admitted to the Imperial Academy of Arts as a student. From 1873 to 1876 on the Academy's allowance, he sojourned in Italy and lived in Paris, where he was exposed to French Impressionist painting, which had a lasting effect upon his use of light and color. His style was to remain closer to that of the old European masters, especially Rembrandt, and he never embraced Impressionism.

Many of the subjects he painted were common people, like himself, although he did on many occasions paint the Russian elite, intelligentsia, and Tsar Nicholas II. He also painted many of his contemporary compatriots, including novelist Leo Tolstoy, composer Modest Mussorgsky and  scientist Dmitri Mendeleev. A common recurring theme in his paintings was the Russian Revolutionary Movement, and as a result his works are often classified as a “Russian national style.”

In his later life, he lived in a house in Kuokkala, Finland, called the Penates, which he designed and built himself. After the October Revolution of 1917, Finland declared Independence, and he was invited to return to the Soviet Union. He refused, saying that he was too old to make the journey, and remained in Finland until his death thirteen years later. In 1940, the Penates house was opened to the public as a museum.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Mikhail Nesterov

In Rus. The Soul of the People
oil on canvas
206 x 483 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

This is the last religious symbolic painting he painted before the Russian Revolution in 1917. The picture depicts the Russian people following a young boy, while in the background a Russian religious figure, an old holy fool, stays aside, praying ecstatically, wearing no clothes and possibly warning the people.

“The death of Masha made me an artist” (Nesterov)

Mikhail Vasilyevich Nesterov (1862-1942) was a major representative of religious Symbolism in Russian art. He was born into a merchant’s family and was set to follow in his father’s footsteps, but soon it became clear that he was not destined to become a successful businessman. At the technical college in Moscow, he failed all his exams except drawing, calligraphy, and religion, and went to the non-classical secondary school instead. The schoolmaster noticed his gift for painting, and talked him into entering the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.

His early works were dedicated to everyday life. Later, he began to paint Russian history, becoming a rather well-known, though not affluent historical painter. The famous artist Ivan Kramskoy criticized his paintings during this period, saying that history was not really Nesterov’s thing and that Nesterov should keep looking for his real vocation.

In 1885 he married, and a year later his beloved wife "Masha" died in child birth. This tragedy made him rethink his life, his art, and experience a spiritual transformation. “My love for Masha and the loss of her turned me into an artist and put the sense, emotion, and soul I was missing before into my art; in other words, everything that people valued and value in my paintings”.

The first significant piece created by him after Masha’s death was The Hermit, painted in 1888-1889. It depicted an elderly monk, cautiously walking along the lakeside. Upon seeing The Hermit, critics acknowledged him as one of the best artists of his time. The painting was bought by the art patron, the owner of the Tretyakov Gallery. With the money he earned, he went to Europe, visited Italy and was deeply inspired by the inner spiritual forces of Renaissance art. In 1890, he moved to Kiev, and spent twenty years painting the walls of Kiev churches.

The Bolshevik regime banned religious art. As a devout Orthodox Christian, he did not accept the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, but remained in Russia until his death. After the revolution he painted mostly portraits and self-portraits. He loved this genre too. In his last years, he also worked on a book of memoirs, which was published several months before his death. He died in 1942, and was buried at the Novodevichy Cemetery in Moscow.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Nicolai Fechin

Portrait of Varya Adoratskaya
oil on canvas
size unknown
State Art Museum of Tatarstan, Kazan, Russia
Fair use

His work appeared in America for the first time at the 1910 International Exhibit of the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh. In both western Europe and America, he was greeted with instant acclaim. Among such distinguished contemporaries as Claude Monet, Pisarro, Gaston Latouche, Sisley and John Sargent, he won his first prizes and medals. He was called a "Moujik in art", the "Tartar painter."

Nicolai Ivanovich Fechin (1881-1955) was a Russian-American painter known for his portraits and works featuring Native Americans, the Pueblo, Apache and Navajo tribes.

He was born in Kazan, Russia. the son of an accomplished icon maker, woodcarver, and gilder. At the age of thirteen he attended the Kazan School of Art (1895-1901) and then the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts, where he was taught by the great Russian master, Ilya Repin. After graduating with the highest marks from the Academy and traveling in Europe under a Prix de Rome, he returned to his native Kazan, where he taught and painted.

He exhibited his first work in the United States in 1910 in an international exhibition in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1911, place of honor in the Annual Winter Exhibition of the National Academy of Design in New York was assigned to a painting by him, thirty-year old then.

His “savage, splendid, and heterogeneous” canvas displayed a “barbaric mastery of form and color.” Fechin’s early preference for thick layers of color and pigment with very little oil, and a penchant for conflating the real and the abstract, would bring him international acclaim in the first decades of the 20th century.

Fleeing disease, hunger and the turmoil of post-revolutionary Russia, he and his family immigrated to New York, USA in 1923. Here he continued to attract attention. Though his “bold, striking technique” was praised by critics, he developed tuberculosis in New York, and moved West for a drier climate.

In 1926, he and his family settled in Taos, New Mexico, where a small community of artists also made their home. There he became fascinated by Native Americans and the landscape. He purchased a house in the middle of seven acres adjoining the Indian reservation. He spent the next several years handcrafting every viga, corbel, lintel and swinging door and niche for icons. For seven years, he took great delight in the abundance of subject matter the Taos area provided him. He worked with vibrant hues to paint the native people and traveled south to Mexico to sketch in charcoal, pencil and pastel the many faces of its people. (The adobe house which he renovated in Taos is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is used as the Taos Art Museum.)

In 1933 he and his wife divorced and he returned to New York. After New York, he traveled to Southern California, Mexico, Japan, and the Pacific Islands of Java and Bali. Soon he bought a spacious house in Hollywood, but in 1948 sold it and moved into a studio in Santa Monica. There he taught small groups of students, painted, and happily entertained guests. In 1955 he died in Santa Monica.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Kandinsky, Wassily

Composition VIII
oil on canvas
140 x 201 cm
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA

“The circle is the synthesis of the greatest oppositions. It combines the concentric and the eccentric in a single form and in equilibrium. Of the three primary forms, it points most clearly to the fourth dimension.” (Kandinsky)

This painting is the 8th in a series of total 10 Compositions, begun in 1911, in which Kandinsky expresses what he is trying to achieve. He wanted to explore the medium of painting rather than be concerned with subject matter. His goal was to paint what music sounds like. Regrettably, the first 3 paintings (Composition I, II, III) were destroyed during World War II.

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was an influential Russian painter and art theorist. He is credited with painting the first purely-abstract works. Born in Moscow, He spent his childhood in Odessa. He enrolled at the University of Moscow, studying law and economics. Successful in his profession - he was offered a professorship (chair of Roman Law) at the University of Dorpat - he began painting studies (life-drawing, sketching and anatomy) at the age of 30.

"I really believe that I am the first and only artist to throw not just the 'subject' out of my paintings, but every 'object' as well.""Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, and the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key or another, to cause vibrations in the soul." (Kandinsky)

He named works after musical terms. He saw color when he listened to music, and believed color could visually express music’s timber, pitch and volume. At age 30, his artistic career began when he left a legal career to pursue artistic studies after seeing Monet’s “Haystacks.” Passionately compelled to create, he believed that the purity of this desire would communicate itself to viewers of his work. He was fascinated by music's emotional power. Because music expresses itself through sound and time, it allows the listener a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response that is not based on the literal or the descriptive, but rather on the abstract quality that painting, still dependent on representing the visible world, could not provide. Music can respond and appeal directly to the artist's "internal element" and express spiritual values, thus for him it is a more advanced art. In his writings he emphasizes this superiority in advancing toward what he calls the epoch of the great spiritual.

He was never solely a painter, but a theoretician, and organizer at the same time. He expressed his views on art and artistic activity in his numerous writings. In the 1920-30s his name became world famous. He was proclaimed the theoretician and leading figure of abstract painting. In addition to teaching courses, he became actively involved in delivering lectures; his exhibitions took place almost yearly in Europe and America. In 1921, he was invited to go to Germany to attend the Bauhaus of Weimar by its founder, architect Walter Gropius. Kandinsky taught the basic design class for beginners and the course on advanced theory at the Bauhaus; he also conducted painting classes and a workshop in which he augmented his color theory with new elements of form psychology. In 1933, the Nazis having come to power in Germany and closed down the Bauhaus, he took refuge in France where he spent the last eleven years of his life. In 1939 he and his wife became French citizens. He continued painting almost until his death. He died on December 13, 1944 in Neuilly-sur-Seine at the age of 78.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Pavel Chistyakov

Patriarch Hermogenes refuses to sign a letter to the Poles
oil on canvas
size unknown
Museum of Fine Arts Academy, St. Petersburg, Russia

Hermogenes was installed as Patriarch of Moscow and all the Rus by the assembly of the holy hierarchs at Moscow's Dormition cathedral. When the tsar, Vasily IV was dethroned and the Poles took hold of the Moscow Kremlin, Patriarch Hermogenes staunchly opposed their plans to put Wladyslaw IV on the Russian throne, unless he converts to Orthodoxy. Despite knife threats from some of the boyars, he refused to sign any petitions to the Polish king, thus preventing Wladyslaw from coronation.

“The founder of Russian painting”, “universal teacher of Russian artists”, “our common and only teacher” - so said about him by his contemporaries. Today, unfortunately, the name of Pavel Chistyakov was known only to specialists.

Pavel Petrovich Chistyakov (1832-1919), an outstanding Russian artist and educator, was the founder of the artistic school of Russian realism. The most famous of Russia’s artists of the 19th century were all taught by Chistyakov. His system of teaching art developed in constant struggle with the stagnant system of academism and played an enormous role in the development of realism in Russian art of the second half of the 19th century. His goal was the preparation of a citizen-artist of high professional skill. His teaching method presupposed the blending of the artist’s direct perception of the subject with a scientific study of it. In his own work he strove for drama in his historical compositions and psychological depth in his historical and genre portraits.

He was born in the Tver province (north of Moscow) in a family of peasant serfs, but was granted freedom from the moment of his birth. At 17 years old, he enrolled in the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St Petersburg. As a bursary grantee of the Academy from 1862 to 1870, he travelled abroad and worked in Rome and Paris. In Rome, he took an interest in theoretical aspects of art. In studying the works of the great Renaissance masters, he also studied the subjects and methods they used to teach their students. In his notes on the theory of teaching art, he repeatedly cites Leonardo Da Vinci.

Returning to his lecturer’s duties at the Academy in St Petersburg in 1870, he began to successfully apply his newly developed teaching system. The primary objective is to give students a foundation in the realistic school of art, which is based on the laws of perspective, pictorial harmony and the development of students’ feel for colour. Great attention was paid to the study of nature and its colour palette, and also to the anatomical structure of humans and animals. To the end of his days, he was the most loved and respected teacher of the Academy.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Karl Briullov

Last Days of Pompeii
oil on canvas
456.5 x 651 cm
The State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia

Sir Walter Scott is reported to have looked at the painting for an hour and declared afterwards that it "wasn't a painting, but an epic".

Karl Pavlovich Brulloff (1799-1852) was a Russian painter of the first half of the 19th Century, one of the transitional artists between the schools of neoclassicism and romanticism and the first Russian painter to gain widespread recognition in the West. His contemporaries called him The Great Karl. His most famous work, The Last Day of Pompeii (1833), created a sensation in Italy and established Bryullov as one of the finest painters of his day. Italian critics compared Brulloff to the greatest artists of the past, such as Rubens, Rembrandt, and Van Dyke.

He was born in St. Petersburg into a family of Italian extraction. He entered the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg in 1809. He never fully embraced the style taught by the Academy. After distinguishing himself as a promising and imaginative student and finishing his education, he left Russia for Rome. Here he worked until 1835 as a portraitist and genre painter, though his fame as an artist came when he got involved in historical painting. While teaching at the Academy (1836-1848) he continued his own artistic efforts, but was unable to produce a work comparable to his The Last Day of Pompeii.

By the late 1840s, his health was deteriorating due to his unrestrained lifestyle, unhappy marriage and his hard work on frescoes in St. Isaac's Cathedral in St. Petersburg, which he was unable to finish. In 1849, he went abroad, in the hopes that warmer climates would help his recovery. He died of a stroke in Rome.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Leon Bakst

Ballettfigurine zu: Feuervogel (Firebird)
Wasserfarben, Papier
25 × 18 cm
Bearn Collection

Leon Samoilovitch Bakst (1866-1924) was a Russian painter and scene-and-costume designer. He belonged to the young generation of European artists who rebelled against 19th century stage realism, which had become pedantic and literal, without imagination or theatricality. His fame lay in the ballets he designed for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes, and huge pageant spectaculars for dancer and patron, Ida Rubinstein. He designed exotic, richly coloured sets and costumes for the Diaghilev Ballets Russes. These were Cleopatra (1909), Scheherazade (1910), Carnaval (1910), Narcisse (1911), Le Spectre de la Rose (1911), and Daphnis et Chloe (1912).

He started his career as a book illustrator and painter, achieving only moderate success as a portraitist. There were no specialist trained theatre designers, so painters like Leon Bakst turned their painting skills to theatre design. In 1890 he met Alexandre Benois and joined the Nevsky Pickwickians (an informal circle of art-loving and intellectual friends who were students at the University of St.Petersburg), through whom he also met Diaghilev. From 1893-97 he lived in Paris on and off, studying at the Academie Julian under the Academist painter, Jean-Leon Gerome, whose interest in Orientalism and Greek mythology were relayed to Bakst. He visited Spain, Germany, Tunisia, Algeria and Greece, settling permanently in Paris in 1912 after being exiled from Russia. From 1898-1904, he was Diaghilev’s art assistant for Mir Iskusstva. In 1901 he designed his first theatre work for Diaghilev. From that time he concentrated on designing both sets and costumes for various theatres in St Petersburg. In 1909, he was invited to design productions for the first Saison Russe in Paris. He continued working with the Ballets Russes, becoming the artistic director in 1911, until 1919. He designed more of Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes productions than any other artist associated with the company, while also working as a freelance dress and costume designer for select clients. He died in 1924 in Paris.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Ivan Shishkin

Rye Fields
oil on canvas
107 × 187 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin (1832-1898) was a Russian landscape painter closely associated with the Peredvizhniki movement. Among the Russian landscape painters Shishkin was the staunchest and most consistent exponent of the materialistic aesthetics-to depict nature in all its pure, unadorned beauty. For contemporaries, Shishkin’s personality embodied Russian nature itself; they called him “forest tzar”, “old pine tree”, and “lonely oak”. He owned a dacha in the south of St. Petersburg. There he painted some of his finest landscapes. His works are notable for poetic depiction of seasons in the woods, wild nature, animals and birds.

He was born in Yelabuga of Vyatka Governorate (today Republic of Tatarstan) into the family of a merchant. He graduated from the Kazan gymnasium. Then, he studied in the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture. He continued his studies in St. Petersburg, in the Academy of Arts. He graduated with the highest honours and a gold medal, and he received the Imperial scholarship for his further studies in Europe. From 1862, he spent 3 years in Germany, Switzerland, Czech, France, Belgium and Holland. Gradually he got disappointed in his foreign teachers and European authorities in landscape painting. In 1865, he returned to Russia and settled in St. Petersburg. He became a member of the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg and was professor of painting from 1873 to 1898. At the same time, he headed the landscape painting class at the Highest Art School in St. Petersburg. His painting method was based on analytical studies of nature. He died in St. Petersburg, Russia, while working on his new painting.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ivan Kramskoi

Portrait of an Unknown Woman
oil on canvas
75.5 × 99 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

The identity of the model is unknown and depicts a woman of "quiet strength and forthright gaze". It is one of Russia's best-known art works, although a number of critics were indignant when the painting was first exhibited and condemned what they saw as a depiction of a haughty and immoral woman. Its popularity has grown with changes in public taste.

Ivan Nikolaevich Kramskoi (1837-1887) was a Russian painter and art critic. He came from a poor petit-bourgeois family. He was an intellectual leader of the Russian democratic art movement in 1860-1880. From 1857 to 1863 he studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts; he reacted against academic art and was an initiator of the "revolt of fourteen". Influenced by the ideas of the Russian revolutionary democrats, he asserted the high public duty of the artist, principles of realism, and the moral substance and nationality of art.

His democratic ideals found their brightest expression in his portraits of peasants, which portrayed a wealth of character-details in representatives of the common people. The democratic orientation of his art, his acute critical judgments about it, and his persistent quest for objective public criteria for the evaluation of art exerted an essential influence on the development of democratic art and aesthetics in Russia in the last third of the nineteenth century.

In one of Kramskoi’s most well known paintings, Christ in the Desert (1872), he continued Alexander Ivanov's humanistic tradition by treating a religious subject in moral-philosophical terms. He imbued his image of Christ with dramatic experiences in a deeply psychological and vital interpretation, evoking the idea of his heroic self-sacrifice.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Ivan Aivazovsky

View of Constantinople and the Bosphorus
124.5 x 195.5 cm
oil on canvas
location unknown

“The artist who only copies nature becomes a slave to nature. The motions of live elements are imperceptible to a brush: painting lightning, a gust of wind or the splash of a wave. The artist must memorize them. The plot of the pictures is composed in my memory, like that of a poet; after doing a sketch on a scrap of paper, I start to work and stay by the canvas until I’ve said everything on it with my brush.” (Aivazovsky)

Ivan Aivazovsky (1817-1900) was a famous Russian artist specializing in seascape and landscape portraits. He did most of his painting outside, watching the elements, and only going indoors to put the finishing touches on his masterpieces. His art was greatly influenced by Romanticism. Aivazovsky, although a romantic, was also a very practical man. He was among the first artists to personally exhibit his creations in major cities. He enjoyed a generous income and spent much of his wealth on the welfare of his hometown. Dostoevsky was an admirer of Aivazovsky’s art.

He was born into the family of a destitute Armenian merchant in the Crimean city. At the time of his birth the city was devastated after a recent war and was still suffering from the consequences of a plague epidemic that had affected the region in 1812. His childhood was spent in poverty on the outskirts of the city facing the beautiful Feodosia Bay in the Crimean city and the ruins of an ancient Greek fortress.

Young Ivan was mesmerized by the grandeur of the view and the heroic stories told about the Greeks and the famous battles of the past. His talent was discovered at a very early age. He was taken on as an apprentice by a local architect and later sent to a gymnasium in Simferopol where he showed such amazing artistic skills that influential locals helped him move to St. Petersburg to enter the Academy of Art. He was trusted by the academy to continue his work on his own and moved back to Crimea where he set up a shop and started painting his beloved Black Sea.

His life in the quiet coastal Feodosia was quite uneventful. He spent days in his workshop mixing paints and producing seascapes and in winters went to St. Petersburg to exhibit his works for the sophisticated public of the Russian capital. Although he lead a secluded life, Aivazovsky kept in constant touch with his great contemporaries, welcomed them at his home in Feodosia and arranged meetings with them in St. Petersburg.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Levitan, Isaac

March, 1895
oil on canvas
60 x 75 cm
Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia

"What can be more tragic than to feel the grandeur of the surrounding beauty and to be able to see in it its underlying mystery... and yet to be aware of your own inability to express these large feelings" (Levitan)

Isaac Ilyich Levitan (1860-1900) was a classical Lithuanian-Russian landscape painter who advanced the genre of the "mood landscape". He was born in Lithuania, into a poor but educated Jewish family. At the beginning of 1870, the family moved to Moscow, where he studied at the Moscow School of Painting and Sculpture. He lost his mother in 1875 and his father two years later. He was left penniless and homeless in Moscow, sleeping alternately in the homes of relatives and friends, sometimes spending the night in the empty classrooms of the school. A nightwatch took pity on the youth and let him sleep in his cubicle. The School waived his tuition fee "because of extreme poverty and in recognition of his singular success in art".

The work of Isaac Levitan belongs to the highest achievements of Russian culture. Its significance is compared with the works of such classics as Anton Chekhov, Pyotr Tchaikovsky and Konstantin Stanislavsky. His attitude towards nature and the poetry of his art were in many points akin to the works of Anton Chekhov, who became his friend from the late 1870s. He spent the last year of his life at Chekhov’s home in Crimea.
Leo Tolstoy once said, "The basis of human happiness is the possibility to be together with nature, to see it and to talk to it". Levitan was granted this happy feeling as hardly any other human being ever was. He also knew the joy of recognition by his contemporaries and of friendship with the best among them. Levitan ranks among the most appreciated and loved of Russian artists. In spite of the effects of a terminal illness, his last works are increasingly filled with light. They reflect tranquility and the eternal beauty of Russian nature.

He was buried in Dorogomilovo Jewish cemetery. In April 1941 his remains were moved to the Novodevichy Cemetery, next to Chekhov's necropolis. He did not have a family or children. His hugely influential art heritage consists of more than a thousand paintings, among them watercolors, pastels, graphics, and illustrations.
"Painting is not a record but an explanation of nature with paints and brush." (Levitan)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Christoffel van Sichem II

Judith with the Head of Holofernes
13.5 x 10.4 cm
Baillieu Library Collection, The University of Melbourne, Australia

Christoffel van Sichem II (1581-1658) was a 17th-century Dutch woodcut artist. He was known primarily for his book illustrations, he also created prints in series. His best-known book is the Dutch language Biblia Sacra, published in Antwerp and and Amsterdam in 1657, sometimes known as the van Sichem Bible. He also made woodcuts after portraits by leading artists such as Abraham Bloemaert, Hendrick Goltzius and Maarten van Heemskerck, among others. He made these for various publications and then he bundled and published them himself.

He was the son of the Dutch artist Chirstoffel van Sichem I (1546-1624). He was born in Basel, he moved with his family to Amsterdam in 1598, where he worked for the rest of his life. He was the brother of Karel Sichem who published many of his prints. His father, Christoffel van Sichem I was the first of a family of artists.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Gogh, Vincent van

The Sower (Sower at Sunset)
Arles, June 1888
oil on canvas
64 × 80.5 cm
Kroller-Muller Museum, Otterlo, The Netherlands

"I dream of painting and then I paint my dream." (Gogh)
Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo, in April 1885, "One of the most beautiful things by the painters of this century has been the painting of DARKNESS that is still COLOR."

Gogh painted an autumnal scene of sowing. The motif of the peasant sowing had fascinated him since his earliest months as an artist. In letters written in June he referred directly to Millet's Sower but he complained that it lacked colour. It was one of van Gogh's aims to correct this, in a sense to update the subject Millet had made so famous, and which was for Gogh so resonant, by repainting the motif using modern colour theory. In the autumn of 1888 he made two paintings named "The Sower".

Vincent Willem van Gogh (1853-1890) was a Dutch post-Impressionist painter whose work, notable for its rough beauty, emotional honesty, and bold color, had a far-reaching influence on 20th-century art. He spent his early adulthood working for a firm of art dealers, traveling between The Hague, London and Paris, after which he taught for a time in England. One of his early aspirations was to become a pastor and from 1879 he worked as a missionary in a mining region in Belgium where he began to sketch people from the local community.

In 1885, he painted his first major work The Potato Eaters. His palette at the time consisted mainly of somber earth tones and showed no sign of the vivid coloration that distinguished his later work. In 1886, he moved to Paris and discovered the French Impressionists. Later, he moved to the south of France and was influenced by the strong sunlight he found there. His work grew brighter in color, and he developed the unique and highly recognizable style that became fully realized during his stay in Arles in 1888. After years of painful anxiety and frequent bouts of mental illness, he died at the age of 37 in 1890 from a gunshot wound, generally accepted to be self-inflicted (although no gun was ever found). His work was then known to only a handful of people and appreciated by fewer still.

Gogh did not begin painting until his late twenties. He completed many of his best-known works during his last two years. In just over a decade, he produced more than 2,100 artworks, consisting of 860 oil paintings and more than 1,300 watercolors, drawings, sketches and prints. His work included self portraits, landscapes, still lifes of flowers, portraits and paintings of cypresses, wheat fields and sunflowers. The extent to which his mental health affected his painting has been a subject of speculation since his death. According to an art critic, his late works show an artist at the height of his ability, completely in control and "longing for concision and grace".

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Jan van Goyen

Landscape with two oaks
oil on canvas
88.5 x 110.5 cm
Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Jan van Goyen (1596-1656), Dutch painter, was one of the foremost pioneers of realistic landscape painting in the Netherlands. He was one of the first painters to capture the quality of the light and air in a scene and to suggest the movement of clouds. He created a distinctive type of monochrome landscape in browns and greys with touches of vivid blue or red to catch the eye. His many drawings show that he travelled extensively in Holland and beyond. Most of his paintings seem to be based on drawings made as he travelled about the countryside, and he evidently used the same drawings again and again because the same themes and motifs recur repeatedly in his works. Some 1,200 paintings and 800 drawings are known. His finest work has a sense of poetic calm as well as great freshness and luminosity of atmosphere.

Van Goyen the son of a shoemaker was born at Leiden, and trained in Haarlem. After returning to Leiden he moved to The Hague in 1631, where he chiefly worked until his death. He was hugely prolific and had many pupils and imitators. His daughter married his pupil Jan Steen, the famous painter of genre scenes, in 1649. Despite his other career as a picture dealer, he constantly had financial difficulties and died insolvent because he kept speculating in land, houses, and tulip bulbs.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Ary Scheffer

The Ghosts of Paolo and Francesca Appear to Dante and Virgil
oil on canvas
size unknown
The Louvre Museum, Paris, France

This painting shows a scene from Dante's Inferno of Dante and Virgil viewing Francesca da Rimini and Paolo Malatesta in Hell. There are three other versions of this painting by Ary Scheffer (Wallace Collection, Hamburger Kunsthalle, Louvre, Cleveland Art Museum in Cleveland, OH).

Ary Scheffer (1795-1858), Dutch-French Romantic painter, often painted subjects from literature, especially the works of Dante, Byron and Goethe. He did not show much affinity with Romanticism and developed his own style, which has been called "frigidly classical". He was also an accomplished portrait painter, finishing 500 portraits in total. His subjects included composers Frederic Chopin and Franz Liszt, the Marquis de la Fayette, Pierre-Jean de Beranger, Alphonse de Lamartine, Charles Dickens, Duchess de Broglie, Talleyrand and Queen Marie Amelie. After 1846, he ceased to exhibit. His strong ties with the royal family caused him to fall out of favour when, in 1848, the Second Republic came into being. Shut up in his studio, he produced many paintings that were only exhibited after his death in 1858. By the time of his death, his reputation was damaged. Though his paintings were praised for their charm and facility, they were condemned for poor use of color and vapid sentiment. But nowadays he is considered a major player in the Romantic movement.

Scheffer was the son of a portrait painter. He was taught by his parents and attended the Amsterdam drawing academy from the age of 11. In 1808 his father became court painter of Louis Bonaparte in Amsterdam, but he died a year later. In 1811 he moved to Paris, where he studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. In 1819 he was asked to make a portrait of the Marquis de Lafayette. Perhaps because of Lafayette's contacts, he was politically active throughout his life and he became a prominent Philhellene. He was made commander of the Legion of Honour in 1848. As a captain of the Garde Nationale he escorted the royal family in their escape from the Tuileries and escorted the Duchess d'Orleans to the Chambre des Deputes where she in vain proposed her son to be the next monarch of France. He fought in the army of Cavaignac during the popular uprising in Paris, but he was so shocked by the cruelty and hatred from the government's side and the misery of the lower classes that he withdrew from political activity and refused to make portraits of the family of Napoleon III. In 1850 he became a French citizen. He continued his frequent travels to the Netherlands, and made trips to Belgium, Germany and England, but a heart condition slowed him down and in 1858 took his life in his summerhouse in Argenteuil. He is buried in the Cimetiere de Montmartre.