Saturday, 22 February 2014



All eyes are still on Russia during this second week of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympic Games. So far it seems that Russia has done a great job of organizing their Olympics and welcoming athletes and visitors. I think that Russia has excelled particularly well at aesthetically branding the Sochi Games. All of the graphic design is incredibly inventive, incorporating a patterned patchwork of traditional Russian arts and crafts motifs. I could be a bit bias about the effectiveness of the Sochi imagery however, because I have been a fan of Russian art since a friend gave me a book about traditional Russian lacquer work when I was about 15 years old. I eagerly immersed myself into learning about Russian lacquer work, and have long since moved on to appreciate a broader spectrum of Russian art and design; ranging anywhere from the costume and set design for the Ballet Russes in the 1920s, the late Imperial silver and enamel work of Karl Faberge and his contemporaries, painted Matryoshka dolls, and paintings of course.

I am particularly interested in Russian paintings of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (such as the well known Ilya Repin and his contemporaries who might be less widely recognized internationally). The Olympic graphics found all over Sochi on banners, bibs, billboards, and official apparel has reminded me what a rich artistic history Russia has had.

Ilya Repin (Russian)

Nikolai Dubovskoy (Russian)

Isaac Levitan (Russian)

In previous blogs I have noted my affinity towards late 19th/ early 20th century Scandinavian Art, and ultimately its significant relation to Canadian landscape painting. I thought that during the final days of the Sochi Games I would highlight some Russian landscape painting from this same period, and draw a few parallels to Canadian landscape painting. Russian art of this period displays a certain ‘northernism’ that suggests an attempt to use landscapes for patriotic purposes. Scandinavian and Canadian artists used their geography and climate as tools to promote the beauty of their nations and the stoicism of citizens. This was especially clear in Finland (such as artist Akseli Gallen-Kallela) and championed by the Group of Seven here in Canada. These countries all share a definite neoimpressionism modeled on the features of a northern landscape (evident through a different colour palette to French or continental European impressionism). These artists consciously utilized the land as a means of national pride.

Akseli Gallen-Kallela (Finnish)

Lawren Harris (Canadian)

Arkhip Kuindzhi (Russian)

Lawren Harris

Harald Sohlberg (Norwegian)

I am not the only one to think this either. When it came time to select some imagery for the blog, I went online to search Russian landscape painting. Without even adding the keyword Canadian to my search an online virtual exhibition at CHIN (Canadian Heritage Information Network) showed up called Spirit: An Expression of Transcendence, Russian and Canadian Landscape Painting 1860-1940. The tone of the article accompanying the virtual exhibit has a similar response towards the landscapes of the two nations as I do.

Group of Seven members, especially Lawren Harris, were vociferous about their goals to create a school of art that Canada could have pride in. The ‘northern’ landscape was the keystone behind their endevours. Incidentally, a very similar sentiment was felt by a group of Russian artists in the late 19th century called Peredvizhniki (The Wanderers). One of group members Isaac Levitan said:

I imagine such a gracefulness in our Russian land – overflowing rivers bringing everything back to life. There is no country more beautiful than Russia! There can be a true landscapist only in Russia.

Isaac Levitan (Russian)

Isaac Levitan (Russian)

Frank Johnston (Canadian)

A.Y. Jackson (Canadian)

According to Russian art specialist Christopher Ely, the:

Peredvizhniki painted landscapes to explore the beauty of their own country and encourage ordinary people to love and preserve it. Peredvizhniki gave a national character to landscapes, so people of other nations could recognize Russian landscape. The landscapes of Peredvizhniki are the symbolic embodiments of Russian nationality.

Arkady Rylov (Russian)

Arkady Rylov (Russian)

Franklin Carmichael (Canadian)

Tom Thomson (Canadian)

Arkady Rylov (Russian)

Arthur Lismer (Canadian)

Arthur Lismer (Canadian)

Vassily Perov (Russian)

Maurice Cullen (Canadian)

Arkhip Kuindzhi (Russian)

Lawren Harris (Canadian)

The group was influential upon the increased use of the landscape as an icon of national pride in Russia. The 43rd and final exhibition of the Peredvizhniki took place in 1923, just as the Group of Seven was at the height of exhibiting their work together. Most of the paintings illustrated in this blog are by members of the Peredvizhniki.

It is worth noting that genre and history painting were still very popular subjects in late 19th and early 20th century Russia, even amongst the Peredvizhniki. Yet somehow even these figurative paintings that told Russian mythological, historical, religious or folk stories were set within very distinctly 'northern' landscapes. This indicates how precious the Russian landscape had become as a symbol of national pride. Although genre and history painting are less common subjects in Canadian art history, paintings still exist and I will be discussing Canadian genre painting in the 19th century in the next blog.

Mikhail Nesterov (Russian)

Mikhail Nesterov

Mikhail Nesterov

I hope you enjoyed my sojourn into the realm of 19th century Russian landscape painting as well as the present day Russian-hosted Olympics.


Photo Credits:

1. Sochi Olympics graphic design

2. Sochi Olympics banners

3. Giant Matryoshka 'Skier' on the Olympic Slopestyle Course

4. Cover of Book on Russian Lacquer

5a. and 5b. Alexander Golovin (Russian) Costume Designs circa 1910 for Diaghelev's Ballet Russes production of Stravinsky's The Firebird

6. Natalia Goncharova (Russian) A set design after Goncharova's original 1926 panel for the marriage scene in Ballet Russes production of Stravinsky's The Firebird

7. A wall of Matryoshka Dolls

8. Ilya Repin (Russian) A Parisian Cafe 1875

9. Nikolai Dubovskoy (Russian) Silence Has Settled It 1890

10. Isaac Levitan Lake. Russia. 1900

11. Akseli Gallen-Kallela (Finnish) Lake Keitele 1905

12. Lawren Harris (Canadian) Lake Superior Sketch II c. 1924

13. Arkhip Kuindzhi (Russian) El Brus in the Evening c. 1908

14. Lawren Harris (Canadian) a mountain sketch (Sold at Masters Gallery- highlights)

15. Harald Sohlberg (Norwegian) Winter's Night in Rondane 1914

16. Isaac Levitan (Russian) Golden Autumn 1895

17. Isaac Levitan (Russian) March, 1895 1895

18. Frank Johnston (Canadian) The Dark Woods Interior circa 1918

19. A.Y. Jackson (Canadian) (Sold at Masters Gallery- highlights)

20. Arkady Rylov (Russian) Evening circa 1915

21. Arkady Rylov (Russian) Sunset 1917

22. Franklin Carmichael (Sold at Masters Gallery- highlights)

23. Tom Thomson (Canadian) The Jack Pine 1917

24. Arkady Rylov (Russian) In Finland 1908

25. Arthur Lismer (Canadian) (Sold at Masters Gallery- highlights)

26. Arthur Lismer (Canadian) (Sold at Masters Gallery- highlights)

27. Vassily Perov (Russian) The Last Tavern at the CIty Gates 1968

28. Maurice Cullen (Canadian) The Bird Shop, St. Lawrence Street c. 1920s

29. Arkhip Kuindzhi (Russian) Sunlight on the Hoarfrost c. 1880s

30. Lawren Harris (Canadian) Snow-clad trees c. 1915 (Private Collection)

31. Mikhail Nesterov Vision of the Youth Bartholomew 1889

32. Mikhail Nesterov Girls on the River Bank c. 1890

33. Mikhail Nesterov Winter in Skit 1904

Thursday, 6 February 2014



It’s Olympic time again and more than ever the press is indicating that Canada has very high hopes of coming out on top in the medal count. It has been just one Olympic cycle since Canada itself hosted the Winter Games on home turf in Vancouver, and the motivation to succeed carries on with predictions for excellent placements by Canadians in many events. For obvious climactic reasons it is no wonder that winter sports are Canada’s forté. The tradition and prominence of winter sport in Canadian culture is such a mainstay that it has long since permeated into Canadian art. Winter landscapes are predominant subjects both in past and at present. However winter sports have featured throughout Canadian art history as well, particularly those that are most popular and thus the very same sports that Canadian athletes tend to excel at during the Olympic Games (such as figure skating, hockey, skiing and curling to name a few). From the 19th century to the present day sport has been abound within Canadian art.

Back in the second half of the 19th century when both the nation and winter sports as we know them were still in development, artists were already recording these activities. Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith is best known for either his mountain watercolours or figure-filled busy European street scenes; however Masters Gallery somewhat recently sold a charming very early rendering of a hockey game, circa the 1880s. This would have been painted only quite shortly after McGill students solidified something like the current game’s rules in 1875.

Group of Seven artist JEH MacDonald produced a memorable painting called Skiing in 1912, which is in the McMichael Collection of Canadian Art and depicts a skier making a proficient parallel turn through fresh snow. MacDonald has skillfully captured the sprays of powder made by the skier and the play of light and shadow across the snow is lovely. It is irresistible for me not to mention that it was at that exact time in JEH MacDonald’s career that he was interested in contemporaneous Scandinavian art and how it reflected national pride in a northernism that he felt was extremely fitting for Canada. Like Canada most Nrodic countries excel at winter sports and historically Nordic art also has a substantial presence of winter sports, especially skiing.

Before focusing back on Canada, I would briefly like to make mention of a very dynamic linocut by Swiss artist Lill Tschudi entitled Slalom depicting competitive ski racing from 1938. Tschudi was a Grosvenor School printmaker alongside Canadian Sybil Andrews. There is a general interest in the Grosvenor School of Printmaking in Canada with thanks to Sybil Andrews inclusion within this school of art. Because of the Canadian connection to the Grosvenor School and the country’s interest in winter sports Masters Gallery was pleased to find Tschudi’s Slalom a new home this year. Sybil Andrews herself created a linocut titled Skaters before she immigrated to Canada, depicting two racing speed skaters. Sports were routinely used as subjects for the Grosvenor School.

Back in Canada a few years after Tschudi created Slalom, Canada’s talented woodcut artist WJ Phillips made three colour woodblock prints featuring skiing. They are Temple Lodge and Trail from Skoki in 1943 and Ski Trail in 1945 (currently available at Masters Vancouver) They depict ski outings in the Rocky Mountains near Phillips’ home in Banff, Alberta. These have become some of his more familiar little colour woodblock prints.

Particularly in Rocky Mountain resorts such as Banff and Lake Louise, winter sport vacations became more prevalent. This is mostly thanks to the Canadian Pacific railway network and its luxury hotels. During the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s there was a rise in advertising posters with catchy artistic depictions of winter sports, such as the popular ski posters for Canadian Pacific by Peter Ewart (as mentioned in many previous blogs). However winter sport related advertising was not limited to the Rockies, as exemplified by Canadian Pacific’s competitor Canadian National Railways advertising skiing in the Laurentian Mountains.

The second half of the 20th century is equally rich in sportive motifs by significant Canadian artists of the time. Molly Lamb Bobak is a distinguished artist who frequently incorporated winter sports into her paintings; particularly as they fit well with her signature style of figurative masses. She is known to have painted hockey, skiing and ice skating on numerous occasions. Masters Gallery recently sold just such an example with a large oil on canvas Skaters.

William Kurelek frequently returned to the subject of children playing hockey outdoors as a great Canadian pastime. I am certain that many Canadian protégés and all-star players can recall childhood memories of their earliest encounter playing hockey outdoors. While Kurelek tended to depict children playing sports, whom may one day grow to be elite athletes, another renowned Canadian artist, Ken Danby depicted mature athletes in action. He produced a series of lithographs to coincide with the Montreal 1976 Olympics, as well as other sport related artwork that has been produced in lithography for the public to enjoy. He often produced hockey related imagery, such as Face Off. But his imagery of competitive ski racers captures the dynamism of the sport perfectly, illustrated below with an original watercolour of a racer leaving the starting gate.

Winter sports are still thriving as subjects for contemporary Canadian artists. Some of the contemporary artists active with Masters Gallery currently have winter sport themed artwork in the gallery. Realist painter Patrick Douglas Cox comes first to mind, particularly after mentioning the realist Ken Danby above. Cox has produced highly detailed paintings featuring curling and hockey; two of Canada’s most frequently won sports during the Olympics.

Quebec is typically well represented by athletes in Winter Olympic Games, where high-level sport is well supported and celebrated. Two Quebec artists who are represented at Masters Gallery habitually use popular winter sports as subject matter, such as Claude Simard with Hiver sur le Lac 2013 and Pauline Paquin with Notre Sport Préféré (the title says it all) and Le Rendez-Vous.

Lastly, sculptor Cameron Douglas was directly inspired by the Vancouver Winter Olympics to cast his bronze called Stubby. Stubby is a humorous homage to Canadian elite hockey, complete with some maple leaf coverage and a beer cap helmet.

Although landscape painting can generally be considered Canada’s most prominent theme, sport has had an ongoing presence in Canadian art throughout the centuries. This goes to show that art can be anywhere and everywhere. Good luck to all the athletes participating in the Sochi Winter Olympic Games from Masters Gallery.


Photo Credits:

1. Frederick Marlett Bell-Smith Hockey Players watercolour circa 1880s (Sold at Masters Gallery)

2. JEH MacDonald Skiing 1912 oil on canvas at McMichael Collection of Canadian Art, Ontario

3. Fritz Thaulow (Norwegian) A Winter's Day in Norway 1886 oil on canvas

4. Axel Ender (Norwegian) Ski Jump circa 1900 oil on canvas

5. Lill Tschudi (Swiss) Slalom 1938 linocut (Sold at Masters Gallery)

6. Sybil Andrews (British/ Canadian) Skaters 1953 coulour linocut (Sold at Masters)

7. WJ Phillips Temple Lodge 1943 colour woodblock print

8. WJ Phillips Trail to Skoki 1943 colour woodblock print

9. WJ Phillips Ski Trail 1945 colour woodblock print (available at Masters Gallery Vancouver contact for details)

10. Peter Ewart for Canadian Pacific Ski Canada circa 1941 poster (Sold at Masters Gallery)

11. Canadian National Railways Ski in Canada's Laurentian Mountains poster (Sold at Masters Gallery)

12. Molly Lamb Bobak Skaters oil on canvas 30 x 48 in. (Sold at Masters Gallery)

13. William Kurelek Rinkmaking illustrated in Kurelek's A Prairie Boys Winter published 1973

14. William Kurelek Hockey Hassles illustrated in Kurelek's A Prairie Boys Winter published 1973

15. Ken Danby Face Off lithograph

16. Ken Danby watercolour of a Canadian ski racer in action.

17. Patrick Douglas Cox Colour Study for on the Red Deer No. 2 egg tempera

18. Patrick Douglas Cox Final Touch egg tempera

19. Claude Simard Hiver sur le Lac 2013 acrylic on canvas

20. Pauline Paquin Notre Sport Préféré oil on canvas

21. Pauline Paquin Le Rendez-Vous oil on canvas

22. Cameron Douglas Stubby cast bronze