Hidden Impressionism

Impressionism was not an exclusively French style, Russia was an active participant in it as well. However, little is known about it due to it’s history of brute criticism. Impressionism in Russia hit its peak in the mid-1900s that unfortunately unfolded at the same time as the avant-garde and neoclassical artists. As a result, Impressionism was overshadowed. From the 1930s to the 1950s, the totalitarian ideologies suffocated individuality and fostered negativity toward Impressionism. Anti-Impressionism prevailed even until the late 1970s. This means there weren’t even exhibitions or publications on Russian Impressionism. Special care from art critics saved the likes of Ilya Repin, Valentin Serov, and Isaac Levitan by omitting Impressionism from their descriptions. None the less, Impressionism can be felt in timeless pieces from Serov, Levitan, Repin, Grabar, and Larinov.

Before the aforementioned artists time, Impressionism took root. Similarly to the rest of Europe, Impressionism was perceptible in Russian art in the 1820s and 1830s. Landscapes by Sylvester Schedrin and Mikhail Lebdev began experimeting with reflection, light, color, and air. Later, Alexander Ivanov took it a step further and painted tones of light and atmosphere. By the 1850s and 1860s, his work influenced artists at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St Petersburg. Thus, there was a new relationship between painting and nature. By the 1860s, Fyodor Vasilyev began tackling color more directly. In Country Morning (1868-1869), pink reflects onto the earth and shed to convey more warmth and modesty in the Russian countryside.

While Impressionism did exist in Russia, it did not have the same luxuries as in the rest of Europe. Even later on, Russian Realism and Impressionism was put to the side compared to Socialist Realism of the 20th century.

Is Rostov pink and what is its history?

On the shore of Lake Nero, sits Rostov. Rostov is a part of the Golden Ring near Moscow. Unique because they are monuments to  Russian architecture, the Golden Ring is an example of the Russian Orthodox Church. This is due to them being made up of medieval kremlins, monasteries, cathedrals, and churches. Some have become more modern than others as the years have passed. Rostov has remained in it’s old traditional Russia charm.

Rostov has existed historically as a religious center. Monk Jonah Sysoevich had the kremlin built from 1670- 1683 around the existing Dormition Cathedral. However, in the 18th century as Yaroslavl grew, Rostov was on the decline. Thanks to the fertile shores of Lake Nero, Rostov was able to maintain some status as a trade center. Even so, some wanted to tear part of the kremlin down for better storage for better trade as the 19th century approached. Thanks to artists, historians, and other concerned peoples, it was saved as a symbol of medieval culture. Then in 1953 a storm caused significant damage and another group of people had to rally for restoration. I imagine Zabelin was a part of this group, he even did some restoration work.

For a more in-depth history you can click here.  For history about the architecture you can click here.

While researching the history of Rostov, I got distracted by a few travel websites mentioning how a cathedral in Rostov is pink? This was interesting because when I was at Rostov I did not notice anything pink. Naturally, I swept through some photos of mine:

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FB_IMG_1495743634370St. John the Theologian’s Gate-Church, the church with the most vividly green onion domes, is supposedly pink. In my images, and from my memory, of my summer 2016 trip- it is not pink. Below is an image of the Kremlin, taken in 2009. I guess restoration work was done at least between 2009 and 2016. Regardless, this changes how I see Rostov as the subject manner in art.

St John the Theologian's Gate-Church, Rostov Kremlin (June 2009)

Here are some other depictions of Rostov:

konstantin-yuon-rostov ‘The Rostov Kremlin’ by Konstantin Yuon

finift-1 Finift depicting the Rostov Kremlin

Since pink is a beautiful yet unusual color for buildings, I assumed the pink was used to provide contrast between the white snow or sky, a shadow, or quite frankly, I didn’t notice pink was used. However, it adds to the allure of Rostov knowing it can be repainted, and restored time and time again but still hold on to it’s medieval, and artistic roots.

Zabelin is praised for his true colors. Similarly to the impressionists he painted moments in time sensitive to how light and color coexist.  I believe the pinkness to the buildings only added a mystical quality to the sleepy town of Rostov. A bright sky, some bright white and soft pink building, bright green grass, and medieval feel basically lends it’s self to be painted in an impressionist manner. In the images below you can see some pink undertones and washes.20170527_170109 Zabelin, Rostov Evening, 1986, detail Z0025FLZabelin, Kremlin in Rostov, 1987

 

Zabelin, Impressionism, and Rostov

On my first trip to the Lazare Gallery I noticed a painting that looked vaguely familiar. But how could an art gallery so new to me, new in artists, subjects, and styles, have a piece I recognized?

Zabelin Rostov Veliki                            Vyacheslav Zabelin, Rostov Veliki, Oil On Canvas, 1973

Well, it is because Rostov had a lasting impression on me when I visited there this past summer. I truly felt like I had lived there in another life and am eager to return sometime, hopefully for longer than a day this time! The artist Zabelin must have had a similar experience because according to the art historian Sergey Alexandrovich Gavrilyachenko, Zabelin was caught off guard it Rostov’s archaic beauty. After graduation from the Surikov Institute, Zabelin and his peers went on a trip to Vologda to get away from the Soviet city life. From the train, they saw Rostov the Great and initially were only going to stop for a day but ended up never even making it to Vologda. Instead, they stayed for a long time in Rostov. For the rest of his days Zabelin returned to Rostov again, and again eager to paint its beauty.

zablin street in rostov                            Vyacheslav Zabelin, Street in Rostov, Oil on Canvas, 1990

In the book, ‘Zabelin: Master of Color- The Life and Works of Vyacheslav Nikolaivich Zabelin’ many were able to convey their admiration of Zabelin. This includes the owner of the Lazare Gallery John Wurdeman, who also played a large role in the completion of this book. In the preface he wrote about  personal experience with Zabelin. Wurdeman was introduced to the then living Zabelin after Wuredman’s son graduated from Zabelin’s studio at the Surikov Institute in 1998.  Wurdeman then began to acquire Zabelin’s works. By 1999 he was invited to Zabelin’s house to which Zablin noted to Wurdeman that his paintings “look best in frames.” He recalls having a very pleasant evening with the artist. Wurdeman on Zabelin’s work believes “…his easily recognizable style is already apparent by the spontaneity, and the bright and remarkable use of color and light, the very qualities that made him famous.” Wurdeman concluded with, “Zabelin, who was inspired by the French Impressionists, is perhaps, Russia’s greatest Impressionist, although he had his own unique voice.” Similar admiration can be felt throughout the book as many recounted memories and thoughts on Zablin.

Zabelin Rostov 1                               Vyacheslav Zabelin, Monastery in Rostov, Oil On Canvas, 1986

Thus I would like to take time to flush out some points of Zabelin and his work. Mainly, the beautiful city of Rostov and Russian impressionism because I feel that few know much about either of these. The contextual knowledge of Rostov and Russian impressionism only deepens ones understanding of Zabelin. Since long blog posts are ill advised, keep an eye out for more soon!

An overview of the Peredvizhniki

Peredvizhniki, or the Wanderers, marked a crucial turning point in the history of Russian art. The Peredvizhniki was the artist group, led by Ivan Kramskoi, that revolted against the Russian Academy’s solely Romantic art style in pursuit of a more Realist style. This simply means art should be seen by the people of Russian and be about the people of Russia and not the Romanticism that was primarily Western European.

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Above is a photograph of the Peredvizhniki group.

In France, a similar situation unfolded as the Impressionists were denied entry into the French Academy and thus were put into the Salon des Refuses. Interestingly enough, these events both took place in 1863. The difference is, however, that the art of Peredvizhniki did not change in style as with the French Impressionists. Instead, the Peredvizhniki revolted against the establishment of the academy that monopolized the entire art world of Russia at the time.

Edouard Manet - Luncheon on the Grass - Google Art Project.jpg The Luncheon on the Grass, Edouard Manet, 1886-18863. A famous example of a work in the Salon.

Pavel Tretyakov became the first private collector in Russia and bought a significant number of Peredvizhniki works, for the first time providing competition for the Academy. Even so, the Academy maintained a relationship with the Peredvizhniki, giving them financial support and studio space. Eventually, the Peredvizhniki had to join the Academy in order for these artists to be able to afford to create more art. There was just not enough outside commissions after about the 1870s. By the 1890s the Peredvizhniki was fully engulfed by the Academy, and by then was considered to be the old style and had competition from the newer movements, such as Rayonism and Suprematism.

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Above are the self portraits of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larinov, housed in the Tretaykov Gallery on Krmsky val, who are the pioneers of ‘avant-gardeism’ in Russia.

However, Stalin liked the Peredvizhniki, saying it matched his party line because these works are Russian in subject, not Western, and revealed the Russian people in a positive light. Therefore, Stalin suppressed the avant- garde, the aforementioned Rayonism and Suprematism, calling the Peredvizhniki the foundation for Soviet Socialist Realism. Then, Socialist Realism became the only art form allowed because it was essentially progoganda for Stalinism. However, as mentioned in a previous post, 100 Years Since the Russian Revolution, there were also Realists arts who held out the reign of Stalin. They created their own revolutionary art by going, once again, back to true Russian subjects as the Peredvizhniki did.

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Ilya Repin, Barge Haulers on the Volga, 1870-1873. Repin is one of the most well known Russian artists of the 19th century.

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Sergei Gerasimov, Collective Farm Celebration, 1937. an example of Socialist Realism.

 

The Hillwood- A Collection

Previously, I introduced Marjorie Merriweather Post as a collector by providing a brief synopsis of her life. Now, I would like to present some highlights of her collection that I feel encapsulates its beauty and dimension, while providing some critique. All of which can be seen in her Entry Hall.

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From the top of the stairs looking down to the front hall main wall.

In the Entry Hall, Russian Imperial art and French decorative art is not in juxtaposition, as some may assume. Rather, they come together in a seamless display of wealth, power, and superb taste. The apex of the entry hall is, of course, the massive portrait of Catherine the Great  painted in 1788 by Dmitry Levitsky. In this portrait there is a quote that reads “She finishes what has begun.” This is in reference to Catherine the Great finishing Peter the Great’s mission to Westernize Russia. Catherine enhanced the arts and sciences for the benefit of Russia- opening schools, and bringing in European fashion and culture to her court. Both Marjorie Merriweather Post and Catherine the Great collected and commissioned French art, however, much of Marjorie’s collection was once Catherine’s. In an interesting documentary the two women are even compared due to their similar tastes, wealth, and influence. By having this portrait in the front hall, it makes a statement about Post as a collector. It was Catherine the Great who began the Hermitage Museum out of her personal collection, and now a portrait of hers sits in the Entry Hall of Marjorie Merriweather Post’s Hillwood Estate.

                                            Catherine II, Dmitry Levitskiy, 1788.

There were two less obvious pieces in the Entry Hall that drew me in. In the coat closet is a soft yet striking portrait of a partially nude woman draped in billowing black fabric. Then, below the grand Portrait of Catherine the Great is a stunning detailed and painterly portrait of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna. The former was painted by Ilya Repin and the latter by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. However, it took me until I got home and looked it up that I discovered that those were the masters were behind these pieces. There lays my only qualm, nearly nothing was labeled and not every piece had its information in the pamphlet. I imagine it is because wall text and labels would make her estate feel less personal and intimate, both of which are the desired experience the Hillwood wants to provide. (I imagine Post had her reasons for displaying a Bouguereau in a closet then instructed that her estate remained as she left it postmortem). The names of Ilya Repin and William-Adolphe Bouguereau carry much weight, especially to the Russian and French. Therefore, I would have expected a little more attention brought to them.  In spite of that, the mystery leads people to look it up on their website (like myself), or go on a guided tour in the future. At any rate, both of these men are a testament to her as a collector.

Night (La Nuit) by William-Adolphe Bouguereau, painted in 1883, (above) is on display in the men’s coat closet. The contrast of the milky soft skin of the woman and the black light fabric caught my eye. I figured someone extremely well trained painted it due to the impeccable quality of the skin’s tone, texture, and softness. So, I made a mental note to look it up in their collection and discovered a French 19th century master, Bouguereau, painted it. Bouguereau spent his lifetime featured in the Paris Salon. Thus, this is a testament to Post’s collection that she owns his work because he is also in the Musee D’Orsay, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Bouguereau is most known for his paintings of nude women, classical subjects, and mythological scenes. More attention brought to this piece would broaden the scope of her collection significantly. I would argue that Bouguereau is a more recognizable name to a Western audience due to his fame and the emphasis in most art history classes, than some of the names that were mentioned. Even myself, didn’t recognize many of the names were in the pamphlet. I believe a broader audience of art aficionados would come to the Hillwood, if they knew a French master was featured. While seeing a Bouguereau was a pleasant surprise, realizing I stood in front of an Ilya Repin painting had me floored.

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Portrait of Tsaritsa Alexandra Feodorovna, Ilya Repin, 1896.

Beneath the Portrait of Catherine the Great is another portrait of Russian royalty. What drew me in wast the beautiful woman wearing white, ivory, and gold against a black background. Again, I had no idea who the artist was or a definite idea of who the subject was. Once home, I realized I had guessed correctly, it was a portrait of Tsarina Alexandra Feodorovna, however, I was not expecting the artist to be the Ilya Repin. Repin is easily one of the most-well known Russian artists and is the most renowned Russian artist of the 19th century. He is so revered in Russia he even has a statue in Moscow. He is also one of my personal favorite artists. However, I can confidently say there is not much of his art outside of Russia, his work in mainly in the Tretyakov Gallery and the State Russian Museum. Repin is known for his realist works like Barge Hauler on the Volga 1873, and Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan 1885. What also makes Ilya Repin an ideal fit for the collection of Post, he was the one of first Russian artists, painting Russian subjects, to receive praise from France. He even got to study in France and maintained relationships there. Repin’s name carries significance to a Russian audience, and should really be a name American art history audiences recognize. Again, I would have expected attention brought to this piece. Further, because of his relationship with France he represents a collision of Russia with France, similar to Post’s collection.

A Collector- Marjorie Merriweather Post

Recently, in my search for Russian art, I discovered the Hillwood– Estate, Museum & Gardens created by the fabulous Marjorie Merriweather Post (below). Post was an heiress, businesswoman, philanthropist, and art collector. Her collection is primarily 18th century French art and furnishing and Russian Imperial art, the most comprehensive outside of Russia. Between her being a strong woman of history and our shared affinity for Russian art, I quickly made plans to visit her estate in Northwest DC. I was blown away by what had been practically in my backyard this whole time. I absorbed as much as I could that afternoon and was left inspired. Therefore, this experience must be presented in two parts. First, I would like to introduce Marjorie Merriweather Post as a collector, and later talk about her exquisite collection.

20170219_145021 - Copy                       portrait by Douglas Chandor, 1952, commissioned by Post’s daughter.

Post inherited $20 million from her father, the founder of the Postum Cereal Company, after her parents died when she was only 27. In the 1920’s she lived in New York and married Edward Bennett Close. With her wealth she was able to furnish their home after 18th century France and the neoclassical style of Louis XVI. The excellent craftsmanship and elegance she surrounded herself with exposed her to art collecting and high taste. This  also led her to the British art dealer Sir Joseph Duveen, who worked with the likes of Henry Frick and John Rockefeller. He helped Post create a name for herself as a collector by purchasing furniture and tapestries. Below is a picture from her French Drawing Room, designed after the in vogue style previously mentioned of the early 20th century. In the center is a portrait painting of Empress Eugenie by Franz Xaver Winterhalter in 1857.

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Her second husband was Edward Hutton. Together, they turned Post Cereal Company into General Foods with her decision to invest in the frozen food business. In the 1920s she also began to collect Sevres porcelain (above, flanking the portrait), more French furniture, jeweled objects, and Faberge (pictured below).

Marjorie’s third husband was Joseph E. Davies, the ambassador to the Soviet Union. This marriage brought her to Moscow, where they lived in the embassy for over a year. During this time, the 1930’s, the Soviet government was still selling off the treasures of Imperial Russian. In storerooms and commission shops, Marjorie was able to buy her Imperial fine and decorative arts. After that year, she continued to pursue Russian art as this was what started her passion for it.

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Above, is the Catherine the Great Easter Egg, 1914 and an example of a piece she bought while in the Soviet Union. Currently, it is in the Icon Room among other treasure of the Russian Orthodox Church. According to the lovely pamphlet passed out to the visitors of the Hillwood, this egg was given from Nicholas II to his mother Maria Fedorovna in 1914, as a part of the family’s Easter tradition. It’s named after Catherine the Great due to it’s cameo scene of the arts and sciences, something near to Catherine’s heart, and the long lost miniature figure of Catherine that used to be inside.

After she divorced Davies in 1955, she purchases the Hillwood and lived out her life there. Once she bought the mansion, Post had it completely redesigned to function as both a home for her and an appropriate place to house her collections. She also continued to be a part of her business and continued to be a top hostess for the DC elite. Marjorie Merriweather Post died in 1973, however, she granted her collection and home to the public. Besides the Mansion, there is an Art Research Library, Cafe, Pet Cemetery, Friendship Walk (a path dedicated by her friends), a Japanese-Style Garden, and other gardens. One can only imagine how beautiful it must all look in the spring. Now, everyone can enjoy her fabulous home and collection. I highly recommend visiting if you are in the DC area. The Hillwood is approximately 2 hours from the Lazare Gallery! (<- remember to call to make an appointment to view and/ or buy the works of Nikita Fedosov)

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Nikita Fedosov: Glazes?

Nikita Fedosov stands out as one of the most talented 20th century’s Russian Realist painters. Like Rembrandt, Fedosov used tinted glazes, a technique which allowed him to achieve subtle transitions and colors that otherwise would be unavailable. Below, you can see Fedosov’s mastery of color in how the orange sky goes from dull to vibrant, providing a sharp juxtaposition between the forest and the sky.

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Nikita  Fedosov, End of Sunset, 1968

      How does one use glazes in an oil painting? To find out, I looked into how Rembrandt did it, after all, he is the Masters’ Master. Apparently, he used a impasto with egg as a quick dry ingredient, glass, and white lead. Once it was applied thickly, Rembrandt was able to carve into it before it dried. Then he applied the glaze to be wiped off leaving dimension and gleam to his work. This technique also created a subtle bas relief effect due to the glaze darkening and glowing in the crevices. Sometimes a transparent yellow or brown would be applied on top as well for a final touch of luster. Stunning.

 Rembrandt, Detail of Man with Golden Helmet, 1650.

         Nikita Fedosov Night Sentry sunset                                                          Nikita  Fedosov, Night Sentry, 1980

       What stands out to me in Fedosov’s work is his use of vibrant orange. Where as Rembrandt use glaze to bring light forward for dramatic chiaroscuro, I believe Fedosov used glazes to set the sun on the horizon. In Night Sentry and End of Sunset,  the setting sun is maintaining the bright glow of the actual sun while still pulling the eye back into the horizon line. Further, his work is extremely painterly with defined brush strokes, that could have been created by the glaze settling into the lines of the paint brushes mark.

      Another way Fedosov’s talent shines is in the way he has painted clouds. When I was in Russia, the clouds and the sky stood out most to me. I was happy to come home, see a Fedosov painting, and be brought back to those moments. His clouds have the same appeal as they do in reality; big, fluffy, white yet with color.

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       Fedosov, Road to Vorge, 1981                                      Fedosov, Gigantic Cloud, 1970

        Here, the yellow and grey are nuanced, adding the dimension to the sky and clouds, created by his use of glazes. Of course, all paintings are more stunning in person. If you visit the Lazare Gallery you will be able to see the glow of Nikita Fedosov’s work. The show Russia’s Legend- Nikita Fedosov will be on view until March 31. Most of his pieces are also for sale! Please call to make an appointment to see and or buy his work, as the Lazare Gallery is by appointment only.