Russian Art

Getting The Message Across by Geoff Harrison

Images of poverty and exclusion are abundant in 19th Century revolutionary French art, one only has to think of Millet or Daumier but I'm not sure if the work of the French was as psychologically charged as that of late 19th Century Russian art.  Nicholai Yaroshencko's "Everywhere There Is Life" shows are family of political prisoners about to be freighted off to Siberia throwing crumbs to the birds outside the carriage.

Yaroshenko              Everywhere There Is Life                     1888

Yaroshenko              Everywhere There Is Life                     1888

Yaroshenko became influenced by the Russian revolutionary democrats and their journals became his favourite reading material.  He fell in with the peredvizhniki (the itinerants - see previous post) and he began exhibiting with them from 1875.

Yaroshenko                     The Prisoner                     1878

Yaroshenko                     The Prisoner                     1878

In "The Prisoner" Yaroshenko is expressing sympathy for the fighters for freedom and democracy, and by this time he'd been elected to the board of the Society Of The Peredvizhniki.  Lenin described Yaroshenko as a marvelous artist and wonderful psychologist of real life.

Yaroshenko                        The Blind                        1879

Yaroshenko                        The Blind                        1879

Ilya Repin is probably best known for his painting "Barge Haulers Of The Volga" a stinging rebuke of the exploitation of labour, but I prefer the painting below called "They Did Not Expect Him".  A political exile has returned from the gulags to a surprised family.  Critics considered it the finest artistic achievement of a social point of view of the peredvizhniki. (George H Hamilton) 

repin-they did not expect him.jpeg

 

 

 

A True Poet Of Nature by Geoff Harrison

The Russians referred to them as the Peredvizhniki, art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon calls them the Wanderers but mostly they are referred to as the Itinerants.  They were a group of young Russian artists from the late 19th century who rebelled against the strict academism that characterized art teaching at the time.  One of the most notable among them was Isaac Levitan (1860-1900).

Levitan - Eternal Peace

Levitan - Eternal Peace

Like many of his peers, Levitan explored the lyrical beauty of the simple unpretentious Russian landscape.  One of Levitan's teachers Alexei Savrasov is credited with "seeking out in the most ordinary and commonplace phenomena the intimate, infinitely touching and often melancholy features which are so strongly felt in our native scenery and which invoke an overwhelming response in our soul." 

Levitan - In The Vicinity Of Sawino-Storozhevsky

Levitan - In The Vicinity Of Sawino-Storozhevsky

In his own teachings, Levitan taught his pupils to "feel nature so deeply, to give it so much of their soul, faith and hopes, and so understand its moods as had never been the case before."  But Levitan also touched on social issues as well, such as the painting Vladimirka Road which was the road taken by dissidents "chains clanging" to Siberia.  The lowering sky and desolate landscape emphasising the sense of anguish and oppression.

 

Levitan - Vladimirka Road

Levitan - Vladimirka Road

For me however, it's the light, the cool light and amazing depth of his imagery that impresses most.  Then there is the amount of feeling he evokes in the most simple of scenes, such as the one below.  Savrasov encouraged his pupils to draw inspiration from the French Barbizon school and Levitan was known to be impressed with the paintings of Corot.  Graham-Dixon referred to the almost hypnotic realism in Levitan's work and I can only agree.

Levitan - A River

Levitan - A River

Ref: Alexei Fiodorov-Davydov "Levitan"