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

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