Art History Lesson

Art History Lesson: Russian Art, Imperial to Soviet

Continuing on with Russian Art, today I am featuring Imperial and Soviet Artists. The paintings start is late 17th – 18th century when Russia was exposed to Western European culture which heavily influenced their art, but soon took on their own styles as the 18th century settled in. Then to the end of the Russian Empire by artists who fled Russia due to religious oppression merging into the Soviet era when Lenin and Stalin had a heavy influence on the art produced in Russia. The styles vary from Rococo, Russian Impressionism, Social Realism, Cubism, Expressionism, Futurist, and Constructivist.

Imperial, Late 17th – 18th Century:

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Ivan Argunov

Ivan Argunov was born in 1729 in Moscow, Russian Empire. He came from a family of serfs, he particularly was under Count Sheremetev. He was raised by his uncle Semyon Mikhaylovich Argunov’s family. Argunov’s uncle was the steward of princess Cherkassky. Sheremetev was known for producing artists and architects. Georg Christoph Grooth one of the family portrait painters for Sheremetev had trained Argunov in portrait painting. Argunov was instructed to paint in the Rococo style which was brought into popularity by Western Europeans. He painted many important Russian officials and royalty including Catherine the Great. He has a very idealized flat stiff way of painting, but still remained a very delicate beauty to his figures. His most famous portrait is, Portrait of an Unknown Peasant who some believe was either and actress or singer of Count Sheremetev. Argunov later became a teacher and helped start the Russian School of Portrait Painting.

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Dmitry Levitzky

Dmitry Levitzky was born May of 1735 in Kiev, Russian Empire (Now Ukraine). His father, Grigory Levitzky was a clergyman and an engraver who was Levitzky’s first art teacher. Later on he became a student under Aleksey Antropov. Lewitzky became a prominent portrait painter after his first exhibition in 1770 at the Imperial Academy of the Arts in St.Petersburg. He was awarded the position as an academician and professor of portrait painting at the Academy of Arts after a successful painting of Alexander Kokorinov. Catherine II commissioned him to paint portraits of privileged women engaging in dance, music, and plays for the Smolny Institute for Young Ladies in 1772-1776. All of Levitzky’s portraits are in the Rococo Style. His paintings show movement, fluidity, and elegant grace. His figures have dimension and appear effortless. He depicted many Russian officials, royalty, and children. Levitzky was often commissioned, but severely underpaid by his patrons leaving him in poverty.

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Valentin Serov

Valentin Serov was born January 19th, 1865 in St. Petersburg, Russian Empire. He is the son of Russian composer Alexander Serov and Composer Valentina Bergman who was of German Jewish heritage. He studied in both Moscow and Paris. Ilya Repin was one of his teachers along with Pavel Chistyakov at the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts. Serov was influenced by Russian and Western European artists combining them in his realistic yet impressionism figure paintings. He used elements of color, light, and ideas of an ideal perception of the world. His early works, The Girl With Peaches and The Girl Covered By The Sun are examples of his early introduction of the Russian Impressionism style. In the 1890’s Serov became very successful in portraiture. He enjoyed paintings, actors, writers, and fellow artists and was often commissioned by wealthy Russian’s and officials. He also enjoyed painting women and children due to their intimate and honest qualities. He often painted his wife Olga Trubnikova and their children. As the 20th century began the impressionistic style was falling out of favor in Russia, so Serov began to paint in a more Modern style, but the realistic nature of his models remained constant. During the Revolution of 1905-1907 he began to show his democratic beliefs and decided to resign his position at the St.Petersburg Academy of Arts to protest against execution of workers on strike and their families that took place January 9th, known as Bloody Sunday. He began to paint historical paintings and then soon evolved into mythology.

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Konstantin Makovsky

Konstantin Makovsky was born in Moscow, Russian Empire June 20th, 1839. His father, Yegor Ivanovich Makovsky was a Russian art figure and amateur painter. His mother was a composer. In 1851 he became a student at Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. He was highly influenced by Romanticism and decorative elements of the Rococo period. Along with art he also composed music, but painting proved to be his true passion. He also attended the Imperial Academy of Arts in St.Petersburg where he began to participate in exhibitions. His work is centered around the everyday life, but after a trip to Egypt and Serbia is art began to shift from social to more color and shape oriented. He also began to paint historical paintings. He was one of the most celebrated and profitable artists in Russia during his time. Some Russians felt his work was striking and shallow referring to him as a renegade of Wanderers’ ideals in art while others thought of him as a main figure of Russian Impressionism. His work reflected happy moments with children in gardens to soft portraits of women in detailed traditional Russian clothing. The moments depicted are peaceful and idealized. His work mostly shows Russian wealth, and uses strong graceful and joyful colors.

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Vasily Perov

Vasily Perov was born January 2nd, 1834 in Tobolsk, Russian Empire. He was born an illegitimate son of  baron Grigory Karlovich Kridener. He attended the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Perov received many awards for his work including one that allowed him to travel to Paris and Germany in 1862. While in Western Europe he painted street life. Three years later he returned to Moscow where he began to paint many famous masterpieces and was given a position at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. During this time he joined the painting group, The Wanderers. Perov’s work depicted everyday Russian life without idealizing it. He uses colors that reflect the moment, for example, Troika (Three Apprenticed are Taking Water) shows children pulling water barrels in cold gloomy snow. The tattered clothing honestly depicts they are poverty-stricken along with the dirty brown gray colors enhancing a dull harsh life and task they are partaking in.

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Ilya Repin

Ilya Repin was born Augustin 5th, 1844 in Chuguyev, Russian Empire (Now Ukraine). His father, Yefim Vasilyevich Repin was a member of Imperial Russian Army as a private for the Uhlan Regiment. This military life had Repin enrolled in military school. He became a student of Ivan Bunakov who taught him how to paint. Repin went on to study at the Imperial Academy of Art where he began winning awards for his work. Repin’s work depicts Russian peasant life. He uses grays and browns to show the harsh working conditions and everyday life of these people. He too was a member of The Wanderers with Vasily Perov. Repin participated in the Salon in Paris, he became familiar with the impressionism movement, but felt it lacked in social purpose. He became good friends with writer, Leo Toltsoy who was one of his main supporters and claimed he depicted peasant life the best. In 1890 he was commissioned by the Academy of Arts to produce them a statue, but resigned do to them restricting the rights of young artists. He taught at both Higher Art School and the Academy of Arts, but it was sporadic. He was a supporter of the Russian Revolution in 1917 that dismantled the Tsarist autocracy forming the Soviet Union.

Soviet Era, 19th Century:

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Raphael Soyer

Raphael Soyer was born December 25th, 1899 in Borioglebsk, Tambov, Russian Empire. He was raised in an intellectual environment due to his father being a Hebrew scholar, writer, and teacher. Education and art was encouraged in the family. Due to the Russian Oppression of Jews by the Russian Empire they were forced to move to the Bronx, NY in the United States in 1912. Soyer attended the Cooper Union and National Academy of Design. He painted nudes, family, friends, he liked representational art and opposed the movement of abstract works. He considered himself a Social Realist and would depict men and women in contemporary life. His work was shown in the Whitney, Carnegie Institute, Cocoran Gallery of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and many more. His art in comparison with Russian Artists, he is a contemporary depicting everyday people just as Ilya Repin had done except Soyer’s depictions of men and women in New York City are in a colorful affluent nature.

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Boris Vladimirski

Boris Vladimirski was born February 27th, 1878 in Kiev, Russian Empire (Now Ukraine). He attended the Kiev Art College and was first exhibited in 1906. Being a Soviet artist, his work was popular among Russia. His work was Social Realism that showed the ethics of the people, homes, and buildings. He also painted portraits of Russian officials. He took a risk with his work, Black Ravens, it shows how the Secret Police would kidnap people during the night. It was not in line with the ideals of the Soviet Realism regulations, but was passed by censorship committees and therefore allowed to be displayed. Vladimirski paintings are soft depictions of Soviet life. Sometimes his work have harsh colors, for example Lenin in Red Dawn, while other paintings can maintain grayed blue tones. The painting Roses for Stalin, is a clear example of Social/Soviet Realism used to show Stalin as a person concerned with Russian wellbeing and presenting him as a positive figure, paintings like this are known as Propaganda Paintings. Propaganda Paintings mask the truth and censor artists from depicting the actual reality taking place.

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Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall was born July 6th, 1887 in Liozna, Russian Empire. (Now Belarus). His family was Jewish living in a highly populated Jewish area of Russia. His father was a herring merchant and his mother sold groceries. Chagall’s Hasidic Jewish upbringing influenced his art. When Chagall was a child Russian Jews were restricted from certain areas and schools. He attended a Jewish School up until high school, his mother paid a professor at a Russian high school 50 rubles to allow him to attend the non-Jewish school. He told his mother he wanted to become a painter, so he began attending a small school operated by Yuri Pen. Chagall soon realized he did not like formal portrait painting. Chagall did not want to hide his Jewish heritage in Russia and began incorporating it into his works. He moved to St.Petersburg in 1906 and was granted a passport to stay as Russian Jews were required to have one to be invited into the city. He attended Zvantseva School of Drawing and Painting, while there he discovered works by Paul Gauguin. He enjoyed his experimental works. Chagall moved to Paris in 1910 to develop more skills, he began to transform his works towards Cubism and Expressionism. Speaking only Russian, he often felt alone and would imagine being back in Russia. He began to paint Russian folklore and experiences in his Jewish community from these moments. He soon attended the Academie de La Palette where he discovered new works and influences from the French painters. He continued to paint Russian themes into his cubist style because he missed his homeland. He soon returned home to marry his fiance Bella, they could not leave because of the war and went onto have their first child, he became determined to become successful to support them. As the Russian Empire formed into the Soviet Union Chagall became one of Russia’s most distinguished modernist artists. Despite his success in Moscow, he and his wife decided to move to France in 1923 to better living conditions. When World War II broke out and Nazi’s were occupying France, Chagall and his family were given forged passports among many other famous Western European artists to seek refuge in America. Chagall’s expressive colorful style is mesmerizing with deep saturated hues. The subjects are heavily influenced of Russian folktales and clearly represent Chagall’s love for his heritage. I and the Village shows his personal connection to the villages while Calvary connects with his religion, this pattern continues throughout his body of work.

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Nikolai Baskakov

Nikolai Baskakov was born May 8th, 1918 in Astrakhan, Soviet Union. His father was a carpenter while his mother stayed at home. He attended the Astrakhan Art School, but was soon drafted into the Red Army and sent to the Far East. After his time in the draft he came back to Leningrad and enrolled in the painting program at the Leningrad Institute of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture the former Imperial Academy of Arts. He became a permanent artist exhibited at the Leningrad Art Exhibitions. He painted portraits, genre, landscape and historical works from life. He became a member of the Leningrad Union of Soviet Artists and prominent in painting portraits of Lenin. He wanted to show Lenin in crucial moments of Russian history. He also depicted everyday Russian life in charming points of view. His work is modern and realistic with bright vivid colors.

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Elena Mikhailovna

Elena Mikhailovna Kostenko was born August 9th, 1926 in Leningrad, Soviet Union. Kostenko’s father, Mikhail Kostenko was a prominent scientist in the USSR. She attended the Leningrad Secondary Art School and the Leningrad Institute of Painting. She became mainly a portrait painter and showed in many exhibitions during the 50’s and 60’s. She depicted mainly children that were colorful and inviting. Her work was supported by its thrilling nature of being full of life and excitement, yet also capturing mellow moments. Her children often modeled for her, she showed Soviet life through the eyes of children and their imaginative and innocent stages. She is a member of the St.Petersburg Union of Artists formally known as the Leningrad Branch of Union of Artists of the Russian Federation.

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Alexander Rodchenko

Alexander Rodchenko was born December 5th, 1891 in St.Petersburg, Russian Empire. He was raised by a working class family and later moved to Kazan after his father’s death. He studied art at the Kazan Art School of which he met his future wife, Varvara Stepanova who became a famous Russian textile and fashion designer. Rodchenko continued studying art at the Stroganov Institute in Moscow. His work was inspired by Cubism and Futurism. The Bolshevik Government gave him the position of the Director of Museum Bureau and Purchasing Fund and he was also a member of the Productivist/Constructivist art movement along with his wife to promote practical artworks that are socially useful.  He ended up giving up painting to concentrate on graphic design. He used found images combined with his graphic design works featuring heavy reliance on basic bold colors and geometrics. He also would photograph his own work to combine with his designs. In the 1930’s political powers that governed artists work was changing and prompted a shift in his subjects to sports and parades instead of social themes expressed by Constructivist art movement.

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Zinaida Serebriakova

Zinaida Serebriakova was born December 12th, 1884 in Neskuchnoye, Russian Empire (Now Ukraine). She was raised in a heavily artistic family. Her grandfather was Nicholas Benois who was a famous architect in Russia and her uncle Alexandre Benois was a painter while her father was a sculpture and her mother was good at drawing. One of her brothers became an architect while another brother, Yevgeny Lansere was a master painter and graphic designer for the Soviet Union. Serebriakova attended the Academie de la Grand Chaumiere. She expressed the beauty of Russian land and the people. Serebriakova painted series of rural Russia and peasants. After the Revolution in 1917 her art changed drastically due to the death of her husband and new-found poverty. She was taking care of her four children and mother and could not afford to continue oil painting. She began using charcoals and graphite. Her painting House of Cards, depicts her four children at play during this deperessive time. She refused to start creating work in the Futurist style which was becoming more popular in the Soviet Union. Her daughter began taking ballet classes at the Academy of Ballet which inspired Serebriakova to create various pastel drawings of the Mariinsky Theatre and it’s dancers. She ended up traveling to Paris in 1924 to do work on a commissioned mural, but was refused entrance back into the Soviet Union and was only allowed to have her two youngest children join her in Paris, the two older ones had to stay in Russia (they were later reunited when Russia permitted her older children to travel for a visit). Serebriakova traveled to Africa and her art began to depict the people of those areas. She later became celebrated as an artist in Russia, showing her work in 1966 of over 200 works. Her early oil paintings had rich colors with soft figures and when she began using pastels her figures became even softer with more etherial qualities. She showed Russian life from affluent, to poverty, to ballet.

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