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!


Visiting Russia – Ilya Yatsenko

Since June 16th Collecting Russian Art has been in Russia – visiting museums and brushing up on Russian. In Moscow, we met up with one of Lazare Gallery’s most talented young artists, Ilya Yatsenko. (Below, you can see Ilya in front of his church in Moscow.)

Ilya Yatsenko

In 1990, Ilya started attending at the Surikov institute in Moscow. There, he studied under Nikolai Kozlov, Alexanderliech Fomkin, Alexander Danilichev, and Vyacheslav Zabelin. He graduated in 1999 with rarely given perfect grades.

Ilya is a profoundly gifted painter. His ability to create solid, deep, harmonious space in his landscapes is incredible. At his home in Moscow, I was able to see some of his most recent landscapes from this summer. He has been making frequent trips to his dacha in the country and has finished several beautiful paintings of the lilacs that are so prevalent across Russia.

Later, I was lucky enough to spend a day touring the Tretyakov Gallery with him; he is able to bring paintings to life with his observations. Talking over the importance of harmony in painting, Ilya made a point that struck me – that harmony in painting is simply the result of a strong connection to nature. If a painter is willing to look humbly and carefully into nature harmony will come naturally. Painting that is dissonant, on the other hand, stems from a broken and fragmented relationship with nature. Much of the art in our world today indulges in this broken connection to nature, using it to comment on the unhealthy structure and pace of the modern world. In painters like Ilya, however, I take heart that it is still possible, with care, to maintain this relationship with nature. His work attests to this.

You can see some of his most recent works here, and a more complete gallery of his work here.

Nikolai Efimovich Timkov


“Flowering Apple Tree” – Nikolai Efimovich Timkov 1973

There is an exhibition running now at the Meridian International Center in Washington, DC of Nikolai Efimovich Timkov, a prominent soviet landscape painter.

According to the exhibition website, Timkov was awarded the title, “Honorable Artist of the Russian Federation,” and his work can be found in the State Russian Museum and in the St. Petersburg Museum of History.

The exhibition should be interesting, and it’s good to see respect given to Soviet landscape painting. It is odd, though, that curator Alison Hilton points out Timkov’s attention to the spiritual and physical elements of landscape. While clearly essential, difficult and valuable, this ” dual conception of landscape,” is not rare, particularly in the strong tradition of landscape painting found in Russia. There were a huge number of master landscape painters working in Russia during the second half of the 20th century. The assertion of Timkov’s singular greatness by Hilton seems too certain for a painter whose contemporaries include Nikita Fedosev, Vyacheslav Zabelin, Yuri Kugach, and Olga Svetlechnaya, each of whose dedication and loving feeling for the landscape is surely stronger and reaches farther than in Timkov’s work.

The exhibition website features a quote from Russian painter Mikhail Nesterov on the approach to landscape. I feel that out of respect for the meaning of this statement, and out of love for the Russian landscape tradition I must reproduce that quotation here alongside a painting by Soviet landscape painter Olga Svetlechnaya. This painting of an apple tree I feel demonstrates the dimension I find in Russian landscape painting which I cannot find in Timkov’s work.

“One should paint with good sense, not for the effects or beautiful brush strokes, but for a deep and sincere expression of human feelings. Art is not just a profession, it is the highest duty of an artist, of a human being. Never try to deceive Nature, but approach it with all the love of which you are capable, as only then will it open its soul to you.”


“Garden” – Olga Svetlechnaya 1963

In the Timkov painting at the top of the page and in the Svetlechnaya painting here we have two paintings of an apple tree. And which painting do you feel has gone farther to open the soul of the space? Which painter has been less afraid, and more respectful when looking into nature? These reproductions are poor quality, but if you feel strongly about this question, please make a comment.

*Update 2/25/09: There is a very interesting debate going on in the comments to this post. Take a look.