Russian painting

May 24, 2007 at 1:22 am (Art, books, Russophilia)

peternicolai.jpgIn his jumbo candy box of an art history (752 pages!), Paul Johnson assigns a brief chapter to the art of Russia. This chapter is entitled, “The Belated Arrival and Sombre Glories of Russian Art.” Johnson opens by observing that this art has not penetrated Western culture to anywhere near the extent that Russian writing and music have done. He then provides a whirlwind tour, highlighting greats such as Vasily Surikov, Isaak Levitan, Ivan Shishkin, and Ilya Repin. Of these, I would guess that Repin is the best – possible the only – known name among Western art lovers, due chiefly to his stunning portraits of Tolstoy. The few paintings that are reproduced in this book convinced me that I wanted to see and know more of this art. I managed to acquire a book entitled: Russia: The Land, the People: Russian Painting, 1850-1910. (Published in 1986, this book has several contributors; apparently the “official” author is the “Ministry of Culture Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.” Remember them?)

The works I particular love are the portraits and the landscapes. Isaak Levitan is especially famous for the latter and is considered by some some to be Russia’s greatest artist. Born in Lithuania, Levitan was Jewish and suffered the inevitable depradations visited upon those of his faith, at that time and in that country. Johnson states bluntly: “Levitan had no reason to love Russia or the Russians , but he did.”

One interesting aspect of Russian portraiture that I’ve noticed is that the artists seem more inclined than their Western counterparts to depict naked emotion on the faces of their subjects.

[Art: A New History by Paul Johnson was published by Weidenfeld and Nicolson in 2003.]

The best site I have found for viewing Russian painting is

Some examples of Russian painting:

Top: Peter the Great Interrogating the Tsarevich Alexey, by Nicholas Ge


Russian life and history

repin_unexpected.jpg volga-boatmen.jpg repin-ivan.jpg surikov_streltsi.jpg cossacks1.jpg repintolstoy.jpg

Above, left to right:

They Did Not Expect Him, by Ilya Repin

Barge-Haulers on the Volga, by Repin

Tsar Ivan IV with the Body of His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581, by Repin

The Morning of the execution of the Streltsi, by Vasily Surikov

Zaprozhian Cossacks of the Ukraine Writing a Letter to the Turkish Sultan, by Repin

Photograph of Tolstoy and Repin



golden_autumn.jpg birches2.jpg ferns-levitan.jpg shishkin-winter.jpg

Above, left to right:

Golden Autumn, by Isaak Levitan

The Birch Grove, by Levitan

Footpath in the Forest, Ferns, by Levitan

Winter, by Ivan Shishkin



419px-ilya_efimovich_repin_1844-1930_-_portrait_of_leo_tolstoy_1887.jpg kiprensky_pushkin.jpg flavitsky_tarakanova.jpg repin-mussorgsky.jpg

Above, left to right:

Leo Tolstoy, by Ilya Repin

Portrait of Alexander Pushkin, by Orest Kiprensky

Princess Tarakanova, by Konstantin Flavitsky

Modest Mussorgsky, by Repin

1 Comment

  1. Russian Painting « Books to the Ceiling said,

    […] is already a post on Russian art elsewhere on this […]

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