The Russian School of Painting/Chapter VII
< The Russian School of Painting
Chapter VI
The Russian School of Painting by Alexandre Benois, translated byAvrahm Yarmolinsky
Chapter VII.
Landscape and Free Realism
Chapter VIII
E have seen that at the beginning of the nineteenth century Russian landscape was already in existence as an independent branch of painting, which had several remarkable representatives in the past and which promised further development. The evolution of Russian landscape followed two paths. One was the continuation of that somewhat official art of Alexeyev, Ivanov, and other artists who pursued definite "topographical" aims; the other was of a more intimate and poetical character. The main phases of the first current have been mentioned above, M. Vorobyov, Alexeyev's pupil, was the fountain-head of a school, which gave the numerous "parlour" artists, who painted mawkishly exquisite studies of places remarkable for their picturesqueness or historical associations. It is noteworthy, that earlier in the century these landscape painters showed a more rigorous attitude toward their work, and, therefore, their paintings are valuable as topography, if in no other respect. Such are, for example, the
works of the brothers Chernetzov and Rabus. On the contrary, in its subsequent development, this current acquired a manneristic and superficial character, as evidenced in the works of S. Vorobyov, Bogolyubov, and Lagorio. The second current of our landscape painting presents from the purely artistic standpoint an incomparably greater interest. Its significance kept on growing gradually until toward the beginning of the nineties of the past century it assumed a domineering position in Russian painting.
M. N. Vorobyov himself occupies a middle position, like his teacher Galaktionov, and Semyon Shchedrin. He painted views of Petrograd, full of charming poetry, but together with these he produced a great mass of dry topographical "surveys." In his Palestine pictures he is the father of a long succession of painter-tourists, who spent their lives in sketching, in a superficial and hackneyed manner, all the notable places of the globe.
The art of Silvester Shchedrin (1791–1830) differs little from the landscape painting of his time. Neither a poet at heart, nor an ardent romanticist, he was nothing more than a "view-painter," who copied beautiful sites. Only his early Petrograd pictures approximated, in their poetical conception, the paintings of his uncle Semyon and of his comrade, M. Vorobyov.
In Rome he contented himself with copying celebrated views and interesting historical monuments, without endeavouring to give expression to any mood whatever. Nevertheless, there is an abyss between Silvester Shchedrin and the rest of Russian landscape painters of the times, an abyss which separates a true pictorial gift from sheer diligence and an acquired manner.
Silvester Shchedrin, one of the first Russian masters, is just as truly a classic of Russian painting as Levitzky, Kiprensky, Venetzianov, Bryullov, and Bruni. He is a true painter by the grace of God, who knew the fervour of inspiration and who possessed a workmanship which is not taught in any Academy. Neither Alexeyev, nor Semyon Shchedrin can be looked upon as his guides; if he is indebted to anybody for his technical development, it is to the seventeenth century Dutch: to Berchem, Peinaker, Both, and I. B. Vinix, who alone could teach him that softness of the brush, that sharpness of drawing, that airiness and beauty of colours, which assure Silvester Shchedrin the foremost place in the European landscape painting of his time. Unfortunately, death took him away prematurely, and his last, unfinished pictures, where there is no trace of his original dryness and timidity, permit us to surmise, into how great a master he could have grown.
Fate was even more pitiless to the next great Russian
landscape painter, M. Lebedev, who died (in 1836) at the age of twenty-four. Elsewhere we set too high a value on his early endeavours, which betray the "provincial" helplessness of Russian technical preparation, the influence of bad models, and the pursuit of false refinement—all qualities natural in a young artist. In Rome, however, where Lebedev did not find Shchedrin, but where he was fortunate enough to meet Ivanov, the artist rapidly freed himself from his "Petrograd" defects and began to create works which display a deep knowledge of nature and lay bare the delicate musical soul of the painter. Only some details of his later pictures bear the imprint of the bad taste of his Russian instructors. But the general effect of his paintings, their mellow, almost "savoury" colours, their consummate technique point toward an amazing firmness of intention and a great artistic gift. To judge by some peculiarities of his manner, such as is exhibited in his works of the thirties, we may lament in him the loss of a Russian Corot or Rousseau.
The further development of Russian landscape painting until the seventies is not rich in great and remarkable masters. Bits of good landscape backgrounds we can find in the canvases of our great painters, such as Venetzianov and Bryullov; Ivanov and Count Gagarin have excellent studies from nature;
and among Sternberg's pretentious productions we meet, now and then, with modest sketches from nature, which approach Lebedev and the later paintings of F. Vasilyev. But, with the exception of Peter Sokolov, who stands alone, we do not find a single great independent landscape painter, who can even faintly remind us of the conquests of realism in the field of landscape, which, at that time, were achieved in France, and which came to expression in the art of the "Barbizon School." The most interesting figure among the Russian landscape painters of the forties and fifties is Ayvazovsky, who was swayed by a Romantic spirit stronger than his fellow-artists, and who is favourably distinguished from his moderate and reasonable comrades by his passion for the sea. But even Ayvazovsky does not stand comparison with the West. He is only a poor copy from such magnificent connoisseurs of the sea as Gudin, and Louis Isabey. As to his "grandiose conceptions" they repeat the setting and the style of Turner's follower, John Martin, who was one of the favourite painters of the Romantic epoch.
The triumphs of Realism in the fifties and sixties found their expression also in landscape art. Two painters were the pioneers of Russian realistic landscape: Baron M. K. Klodt, and Shishkin. This does not mean, however, that the merits of other artists must
be ignored. Something has been done for the "achievement of truth" in Russian landscape by manneristic, but skilful masters like Bogolyubov, Lagorio, and Hun.[1]
Baron M. K. Klodt (1832–1902) can hardly, however, without restriction be considered a pioneer of Realism. It is characteristic, both of his personality and his time that, like Perov, he had not the patience to stay abroad until the end of the time allowed him, and obtained permission from the authorities to return home for the purpose of devoting himself to the study of Russian nature. This study resulted only in a few pictures, poetically conceived, but very dryly executed. Most of his works are nothing but dry, sentimental landscapes, full of studied arrangement, such as Düsseldorf and München manufactured by thousands at that time. In most of his paintings, only the "izbas" (cottages), hurdles, and the costumes of the figures betray their Russian origin.
The figure of Shishkin (1831–1898) is more pronounced. Unfortunately, this artist, by nature energetic and wonderfully diligent, did not have the advantage of a "school," which would have made of him a real master of painting and would have opened his
eyes to the advanced roads of contemporary art. Abroad, Shishkin went to school to the timid and feeble representatives of German landscape painting, and failed to appreciate both the school of Barbizon masters—which at that time had reached its full development—and the new-born Impressionism. He brought from Germany the painful and dry orderliness of his landscape plans, his cheerless colouring, as well as his proneness to "compose" motives, found in nature, into "pictures." It is hardly to be doubted, however, that his conscientious sketches and precise, firm pencil drawings have greatly furthered the education of the Russian painters' eye and taught them to see the nature of their native country.
Several painters of the seventies made considerable progress in the direction of a more original and poetical conception of landscape. The most extraordinary figure among them is Savrasov. He produced practically only one picture: his famous "The Rooks Have Come," but this first Russian "spring" picture came as a symbol, so to speak, of the entire regeneration of Russian painting. There is felt in this picture the fragrance of that soft poetry which blossoms forth in the wonderful "poems in colour" of Levitan, Syerov, and Korovin.
The art of Fyodor Vasilyev (1850–1873) has
Ivan Ayvazovsky
remained something in the nature of a half-uttered word. The amazing maturity of his technique, a pictorial gift, and a serious view of art promised in him an excellent artist, a delicate painter and a poet, but his drawings and most of his paintings betray the fact that the youthful master was misled by the excessive praises of his fellow-painters and already entered the easy road of mannerism. Unlike Lebedev, Vasilyev's last works betray, more clearly than his first canvases, a pursuit of prettiness, and concessions to the bad taste of the public. At any rate, many aquarelles, drawings, and a few sketches in oil of this gifted artist probably played an important part in the development of our landscape technique, and present a great artistic value.
Here must be also mentioned B. D. Polyenov (born in 1844), whose merits in the field of landscape compel us to be more indulgent to his blunders in historical painting. His studies of the Moscow Kreml, his charming, genuinely poetical "Moscow Courtyard," and "Grandmother's Garden" were as significant for their time as Savrasov's "The Rooks Have Come." These pictures were the fountain-head of the poetic and pantheistic landscape which in literature is represented by Turgenev and Tyutchev. Despite the fact that their technique is not very good, they
incontestably belong to the best productions of Russian painting of the seventies and eighties.
The rôle of a Russian impressionist was played by A. Kuindzhi (born in 1842)[2] a pupil of Ayvazorsky, from whom Kuindzhi unfortunately borrowed a too superficial technique and a proneness to cheap effects. Of course, Kuindzhi's "Impressionism" cannot be accepted without reservations. He achieved a remarkable brilliancy of colour, noted new points in landscape, and he was the first in Russia—forty years after Corot—to point out the necessity of simplifying forms; but, a man of little culture, praised to death by his contemporaries, he did not create anything absolutely beautiful and artistically mature. In technique he remained a dilettante, in his motives he indulged in striking effects, in his conceptions he did not get away from commonplaces. When abroad, he completely overlooked the emancipatory movement of artists akin to him in their temperament, and has remained all his life a "provincial," a spirited and, to a certain extent, bold, but a hopelessly gross and undeveloped artist.
In the heyday of his glory Kuindzhi exerted hardly any influence on his fellow-painters, and only in the course of years did he succeed in creating a certain school, which rapidly outstripped its master. Traces
of Kuindzhi's influence can be found perhaps in the works of Repin, Levitan, and others. But his real followers are a number of young, energetic painters, among whom it is necessary to mention here: Rylov, Rushchitz, Purvit, Gaush, and Bogayevsky. They have all, however, gone far away from the precepts of their master.
The eighties are a transitional period in the history of Russian landscape painting. At that time alongside Kuindzhi and Shishkin the following painters achieved some note: Sudkovsky, a painter of little gift; the pretentious and insipid Klever; the "Russian Düsseldorfian" Dyuker; and Orlovsky, a feeble follower of Shishkin. It is at that time also that the signs of a renascence of Russian landscape painting made their appearance. We have in mind Dubovsky's pictures, poetically conceived, but old-fashioned in execution, and the water-colour painting of Albert Benois, very plain and unsophisticated. Toward the end of the eighties the movement came to a clearer and more definite expression in the works of Ostroukhov ("Bad Weather," "Golden Autumn")—of Svyetoslavsky, who painted corners of provincial towns and the flooded roads, which are the inseparable accessory of the Russian spring—of Tzionglinsky, the ardent follower of impressionism, who devoted himself to the
rendition of difficult pictorial effects in nature—and also in the first endeavours of Levitan and A. Vasnetzov. Finally, many new words were uttered and many precious discoveries made in the field of landscape painting by painters who did not specialise in landscape, such as Repin, Vereshchagin, Surikov, V. Vasnetzov, and Nesterov.
"The Quiet Convent" (1891) may be considered the first fully conscious and mature work of Levitan (1861–1900). Until then the master was only essaying his power, developing the themes which had been already exploited by Vasilyev and Polyenov. A trip abroad (in 1889), and especially the works of the Barbizon masters, which he saw at the World Exhibition, opened his eyes, and ever since then he found his way and saw his goal.
The younger generation now accuses Levitan of being a "literary" painter. But it is this very quality of his art which the "Wanderers," Levitan's first comrades, praised in him. Levitan, it seemed to them, created a new type of landscape painting: a landscape with a story. Gradually, however, Levitan began consciously and persistently to free himself from the inartistic programme of the "Wanderers," and even before he became connected with the group of the "Mir Iskusstva" ("World of Art"), he stood on a firm and quite
Ivan Shishkin
separate ground. To the "World of Art" belongs the honour of a true appreciation of this great artist and of that moral support, which Levitan felt in people, who really understood his art and desired but one thing—that he should express himself as fully as possible, without any admixture of literary ballast. If nowadays the younger generation disagrees with this appreciation, it is not because of Levitan's adherence to "literature," but rather because every phenomenon in art, be it ever so beautiful, must in course of time be replaced by another one, in most cases diametrically opposed to it.
Levitan might rather be blamed for other failings. The purely pictorial qualities of his earlier pictures, which seemed excellent, are no longer so highly valued. Not in vain was Levitan a Russian painter, the pupil of the dilettante Savrasov and of the Moscow Art School; not in vain did he spend his youth among people who were very advanced and sensitive, but had a scant artistic culture. There are in the "Quiet Convent," not to speak of his earlier paintings, traces of this school and of these influences. But it is to Levitan's credit that unlike some of his fellow-painters, he was aware of his failings and in his last years strove to free himself from them.
Levitan obstinately strove forwards, and in this
painful pursuit of the elusive ideal of beautiful painting he worked his pictures over and over, seeking for a manner which would be uniformly skilful, free, masterly, and at the same time absolutely "solid." And, in fact, his last pictures, by the beauty of their surface, the softness and tenderness of the stroke, by their "bodied," strong pâte—can rank with the best productions of nineteenth century painting, the works of Constable, Daubigny and Dupré included. It was a great step forward for the Russian School. Levitan renewed the connection with the West, disrupted since Lebedev's death.
Technical achievements alone do not, however, exhaust Levitan's importance in the history of Russian painting. Levitan is the father of an entire school of landscape painting, which constitutes one of the most attractive pages in the annals of Russian art. What Vasilyev aspired to, what the works of Savrasov, Polyenov, V. Vasnetzov and others foretold—that Levitan brought to final consummation. Levitan discovered the peculiar charm of Russian landscape "moods"; he found the distinctive Russian landscape style and created in painting worthy illustrations to the admirable poetry of Pushkin, Koltzov, Gogol, Turgenev, and Tyutchev. He rendered the inexplicable charm of our humble poverty, the shoreless breadth of
Isaak Levitan
our virginal expanses, the festal sadness of the Russian autumn, and the enigmatic call of the Russian spring. There are no human beings in his pictures, but they are permeated with the deep emotion that floods the human heart face to face with the sanctitude of the Whole. Sheer beauty of form did not move Levitan; on the contrary, "classically" beautiful views left him indifferent; they disconcerted him, as the beautiful antiques disconcerted Rembrandt. Nature's very life—all that lives and praises the Creator—that is what Levitan was after.
The most gifted and pleasing among Levitan's followers are the following: Pereplyotchikov, Yuon, Zhukovsky, Dosyekin, Kalmykov, Aladzhalov, and Vinogradov. Levitan's art exerted also a strong influence on nearly all of Kuindzhi's followers, especially on Rylov, Purvit, Rushchitz, and Fokin. The dependence of these artists on Levitan is not, however, one of servile imitation. Levitan opened their eyes, as it were,—led them out into the open and showed them the fascination of the world. The best of them then chose their own way, and began to seek in nature for motives dear to their hearts, without forgetting, however, the precepts of the master, but without turning them into stiff formulas. Anyhow, the modern spirit of individualism would not allow them to submit
themselves to their model. Nature is broad and many-sided, and these artists endeavour, each working in his chosen field, to render her multiform and complex beauty.
In the eighties and nineties Moscow produced several other artists, who side by side with Levitan furthered the development of Russian landscape painting. All these masters worked in close connection with Levitan, and it is impossible to determine what they owe to each other. It was a common fireplace, where different artistic personalities burned, and kindled each other. True, Levitan's flame blazed most brilliantly and conspicuously, but it cannot be asserted that it set on fire the rest or that it had been kindled by them.
Nesterov, and especially Syerov and Korovin, were together with Levitan the creators of Russian landscape painting. Each of them brought into his art a peculiar light, a beauty, and a divination of his own. Nesterov, in the landscapes of his pictures, promised to be a great and poetic artist. He discovered the gloomy solemnity of the northern forest, the grey silence, the "moods" of Russian nature, replete with quiet emotion and suspense. In the backgrounds of his pictures devoted to St. Sergius there is rendered the pensive, religious aspect of our landscape, the softness of the rainy atmosphere, the frailness of the
Isaak Levitan
vegetation, and the freshness spread over everything. It might be expected that Nesterov would have given something more genuine than V. Vasnetzov. But these expectations were not realised, and in his last pictures full of dull hypocrisy, even the landscape element acquired a trite character.
On the other hand, the artistic life of Valentine Syerov (born in 1865)[3] represents nothing but steady, quiet development. Syerov was Repin's pupil, and his art brought to consummate expression what was only half uttered in the work of his teacher. Syerov is the strongest bulwark in Russia of "pure, free" Realism. He is a man of unusual sincerity, an absolute enemy of posing and of all preconceived tendency. Here was expressed Syerov's purely artistic temperament, the innate aristocracy of his nature, his natural æsthetic attitude toward things, his deep sense of beauty, and his striking ability to appreciate the artistic charm of phenomena. At the same time Syerov's personality is conditioned upon Russia's coming of age in the spiritual order, which became apparent since the middle of the eighties. Syerov was weary of the narrow æsthetic catechism of the "Wanderers" their limited outlook and elementary programme. He feels deeply the life of his country; he is a truly Russian painter,
who has perceived and rendered the distinctive fascination of his fatherland and who has also grasped the psychology of the Russian mind, but there is not a trace in his manner of that premeditated, "literary" approach, which mars the art of his predecessors.
Syerov never painted "scenes from Russian life," but his landscapes, like the best ones of Levitan, in revealing the distinctive poetry of modern Russian art and in unfolding the master's intimate knowledge of Russian nature, testify to the depth of self-consciousness and to the maturity of Russian society. Only a mature personality can assume a conscious attitude toward the charm of the surrounding world. At the same time Syerov's portraits, utterly simple and direct, but of a consummate craftsmanship—are a genuine and multiform monument of the Russian society of the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth. For Russia of that complex and gloomy epoch Syerov's portrait gallery will be of the same value as van-der-Helst's portraits for Holland and those of Largillière for courtly France.
Syerov succeeded in painting a long series of prominent leaders of modern Russia, and this in spite of his surliness, excessive straightforwardness and unsociability, and in spite of the ignorance of our society in matters of art. This series starts with the Emperor
OCTOBERValentine Syerov
and the Grand Princes Mikhail Nicolayevich, Georgy Nicolayevich and Pavl Alexandrovich, and ends with the most characteristic representatives of the Russian "intelligentzia": rich patronisers, artists, musicians, authors. The value of these likenesses consists, in addition to the beauty of their painting and the noble splendour of their colours, in the sincerity and ease with which Syerov attacked his themes. With very few exceptions, he has never painted official portraits: this would be a perfectly impossible task for so "independent" a character. Syerov's portraits are always intimate, they give us the images of human beings, not of ideas with which the latter are connected. The expression of Syerov's artistic personality was not limited to landscapes and portraits. He is of too ardent and artistic a nature to remain within any limits whatever. He essayed his forces in the field of "historical painting," if it is possible to apply this term to the works of such a direct and sincere master as Syerov is. Unfortunately, he is not prolific. His historical compositions are few, and they are nearly all executed by Kutepov's order for the "Czars' Hunt." But these charming aquarelles are sufficient to assure Syerov the reputation of the "Russian Mentzel," of an artist who can render the life of dim ages with wonderful keenness and rare technical skill.
In this Moscow circle of artists K. Korovin (born in 1861) represents le côté bohème. He is "Apollo's favourite," a great and delicate talent, but rather unbalanced, reaching at many things but completing nothing. He is not the only one at fault, however. Like Vrubel, Korovin was not sufficiently appreciated by Russian society. It is astonishing that his magnificent panels for Mr. Mamontov and for the World Exhibition have remained unique in his work, and that no one else desired to utilise his eminent and original decorative talent.
V. A. Telyakovsky, the Director of the Imperial Theatres, is to be credited with having engaged Korovin in theatrical decoration and secured his material well-being. But wall painting and stage decoration are not the same, and we cannot see without sorrow that Korovin, and also Golovin, waste their energies on these ephemeral productions. The folly of this "work in the void" must be evident to the artists themselves, and in the consciousness of this fact lies perhaps the cause of the slovenliness and inconsistency which is noticeable in their work and which we have deemed it necessary to point out many a time.
In the purely pictorial respect Korovin occupies a place apart. He is the creator of a delicate and original colour gamut, in which grey and dim colour values
Valentine Syerov
prevail. In Russia Korovin was taken, by misunderstanding, for an Impressionist; yet in his propensity to bitumen and "patina" effects he is just the reverse of the Impressionists with their quest for light. Korovin is a genuine colourist, that is, a painter not only able to render correctly the colours of nature, but also enamoured of the beauty of colours. Korovin's pictures and panels often delicately render an effect grasped by the painter in nature, but, in addition, even when they boldly depart from nature, their colours are beautiful. In those of Korovin's works which are most fantastic there is always high truth, i. e., harmony, well sustained style, and organic unity. With regard to the technique of his painting, too, Korovin stands by himself. His brush is fascinatingly nonchalant and the combinations of his colours are rich and give the effect of enamel work.
The historian of Russian painting cannot refrain here from expressing a fervent wish that a change may occur in Korovin's life, which would restore to us the former Korovin, which would allow him to create heartfelt works instead of dragging the chains of bureaucratic drudgery. Korovin—is by his nature the absolute negation of everything balanced, moderate, and dully conventional—and yet he has been for many years now an "official painter," the decorator of the
Imperial Theatres, the successor of the conscientious pedant Shishkov, and the pretentious Bocharov. Only in Russia can such strange things occur.
To "free" realists, whether or not dependent on the above-mentioned artists, belong: Braz, Kustodiev, S. Korovin, Pasternak, Arkhipov, and in part also the late Mary Yakunchikov, and Grabar. Braz is the representative in the field of portrait and realistic landscape of what is termed "kitchen." Braz "prepares" his pictures, and tries to give them a "savoury" and "juicy" colouring, and an agreeable pictorial surface. Braz would deserve the greatest success in our society, which looks at pictures mainly as wall decorations. If, however, such a society still exists in Russia, its taste has grown so coarse that it has become unable to appreciate the eminent qualities of Braz, who is a pleasant, correct, and at the same time a very conscientious artist—and gives its preference to works manufactured by Bogdanov-Byelsky, Sternberg, Kryzhitzky and Pisemsky.
Sergey Korovin (born in 1858) is a strange phenomenon among the plain, sane realists. In his themes he comes near the school of the sixties, but his attitude toward his subjects betrays the culture of a later, maturer epoch. In the same manner, his technique occupies a middle position between the "skill" developed
IDA RUBENSTEINValentine Syerov
in the circle of Syerov, Korovin, and Levitan—and utter dilettanteism. Besides, it is hard to form a clear estimate of this artist who is so highly valued in Moscow, for only a very limited number of his works are known, mostly sketches and rough draughts.
Arkhipov (born in 1862) is a gifted artist, a keen draughtsman and a skilful painter. Unfortunately, he has been praised to death, as it were, by Moscow, which is so lavish of applause, and long since he ceased developing, subsisting on the repetition of hackneyed motives, in which a deft stroke and faded grey colours play the part of "modern" painting. Formerly, on the contrary, Arkhipov seemed to be an artist endowed with a gift of observation. His "Old Women on the Church Porch," and his "Troyka," are among the fine pictures of the nineties, and their success was deserved.
What has been said about Braz can be repeated, with a few reservations, about Pasternak. He, too, is able to "wrap up" his picture, and to lend his drawings an air of smartness and exquisiteness. At the same time Pasternak often succeeds in creating works which are attractive, or have an historical interest. To the first group belong his children scenes, to the second his curious pictures, representing Leo Tolstoy's "intérieur," and also a pastel, depicting one of the meetings of the "Union of Russian Artists." On the right sits the
unseemly, taciturn Syerov; on the same line, to the left—the gloomy, nervous Ivanov; in the second row we see K. Korovin, who has stretched himself in a characteristic pose, and the reserved, quiet Apollinarius Vasnetzov.
Kustodiev derives from Syerov and Korovin; as to his landscapes, they are influenced by Levitan. In general, he is still very young, and rich mostly in promises, but we mention his name here because it seems to us that he clings wholly to our modern Realism and will hardly betray it in the future.
To "free" Realism belongs also the late Mary Yakunchikov (1870–1903) one of the most gifted, thoughtful, and poetical figures that Russian painting has produced for the last few decades. Yakunchikov essayed her forces in fantastic compositions and in applied art, and after her marriage she devoted a considerable part of her energies to the special sphere of "children" art. Yet it seems to us that these digressions were due to the example of Miss H. Polyenov and to the influence the latter exerted on her youthful friend. At any rate, the best and truly charming works in Yakunchikov "Nachlass" which is quite large considering her short life, are more or less close echoes of Levitan's elegies and idyls. There sounds in them the same note of sad resignation, there vibrates
Valentine Syerov
in them the same infinite love for Russia's virginal rolling expanses, for her dear withered vegetation, the same "cult" of grass, bushes, birch-trees, buds, and field flowers. A peculiar charm is added to her pictures by the delight she takes in the past. In Levitan this motive is rare, and is not present in his best productions. Mary Yakunchikov, who for many years lived on an ancient estate near Moscow, entertained something like an adoration for the whole mode of living of the old country squires, and this adoration little by little spread to all the things of the dead past. She was moved to an equal degree by wretched crosses on village churchyards, by half-ruined cloister belfries, by empty rooms with furniture in summer covers, by the solemn walks of Versailles, and by the deserted "Cherry Orchards."
Grabar, who had spent many years studying painting in München and Paris, returned to Russia four years ago (1900).[4] Until then none of his works had appeared anywhere. He seems unable to find himself. Now he attacks themes bequeathed by Mary Yakunchikov, and renders the melancholy charm of deserted "Noblemen's Nests"; now, like Syerov, he paints landscapes replete with delicate country moods; now again, following the example set by Korovin, he
goes north and brings from there views of uncouth provincial towns and bizarre village churches—typical, poetical pictures, of an excellent style. He is now absorbed by totally different themes, and if he will remain faithful to them in the future, there will be no ground for classifying him with the realists. One thing can be said with full assurance: the years Grabar spent in diligently studying his "trade" at München were not in vain. He is a master in the full sense of the word, knowing his business firmly and from all angles. He is one of the few Russian artists whose attitude toward their work is fully conscious. Consequently, whatever Grabar may turn to in the future, it may be confidently expected that it will be creditable work,—that there will be in it neither dilettantism, nor bad taste, nor triviality.
  1. The latter is better known by his ineffective historical paintings which smell of the "costume class," and by his sentimental "genre" pictures. (Author's note.)
  2. Died in 1910. (Translator's note.)
  3. Died in 1911. (Translator's note.)
  4. Written in 1904. (Translator's note.)
Last edited on 29 August 2019, at 06:28
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