The art of Russia

July 20, 2010 at 11:46 pm (Art, Music, Russophilia)

I’ve written about Russian painting before, but that was before I found these YouTube videos.

First – here are some of Ilya Repin’s greatest paintings; the music is Oriental Rhapsody by Alexander Glazunov. My one reservation about this presentation is that the works fly by too quickly! If you want to revisit them at a slower pace, try Russian Art Gallery, Olga’s Gallery, or the Wikipedia entry for this astounding artist.

Repin seems to have been granted virtually unlimited access to Leo Tolstoy. But the painter retained his sense of awe at the greatness of his subject:

Spellbound by his association with Tolstoy, Repin wrote to his daughter upon his return to Petersburg from Yasnaya Polyana: ‘No matter the self-abasements of this giant, or his choice of perishable rags to cover his mighty body, Zeus always shows in him, and all of Olympus trembles from the play of his eyebrows.’
(Quoted in Russia: The Land, the People: Russian Painting 1850-1910 )


Here is a selection of works by the great landscape painter Isaac Levitan. Levitan’s story is a poignant one: born to educated but impoverished Lithuanian Jews, he suffered from chronic depression and from the inevitable anti-Semitic slights for most of his short life (1860-1900). Yet in his art, he triumphed.

(If you click on “Watch on YouTube,” in the lower right hand corner of the screen, you can read the enlightening and enlightened comments made by the poster. You’ll find information about the gorgeous music by Rachmaninoff as well.)

In Art:A New History, Paul Johnson observes: “Levitan had no reason to love Russia or the Russians, but he did. And he celebrated his love in some magnificent canvases which used the beauty and grandeur of the Russian scene to express spiritual values hovering just beneath its surface.”

Portrait of Isaac Levitan by Valentin Serov (1893)

The Athenaeum has a fine selection of Levitan’s paintings. And here is yet more proof that you can find just about anything on the internet: an article entitled “Lithuanian Jews on Postage Stamps.” Thanks are due to Vitaly Charny for this lively and informative piece. He himself has an exceptionally interesting life story; scroll down to the bottom of the page to find it.


I love this video. It consists of a haunting baritone aria from Lieutenant Kije, by Sergei Prokofiev. (It haunts me, anyway – I’ve listened to it over and over again.) The visual is Repin’s tour de force, “Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks.”

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