|Silence, 1890, Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy|
If we think about Russian artists at all, we tend to remember 20th century expatriates like Wassily Kandinsky and Marc Chagall. But before the Russian Empire collapsed in civil war in 1917, it had a fine tradition of landscape painting.
|Trees in the Snow, 1908, Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy|
My late student, Gwendolyn Linn, was a fan of these classical Russian landscape painters. From her I learned about Ilya Repin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Isaac Levitan, Ivan Shishkin, Vasily Vereshchagin, and others. Many of these painters were members of the Peredvizhniki (or Wanderers or Itinerants in English). Formed in rebellion to the rigid Academic standards of the day, the group eventually became the status quo.
Yesterday I got a text from a student reminding me of one of the Peredvizhniki painters, Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy. Dubovskoy was born into a family of Don Cossacks in Novocherkassk in 1859. He studied from 1877 to 1881 at the Imperial Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg. In 1911, he was appointed a professor there.
|The Waterfall Imatra, 1893, Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy|
Dubovskoy died in 1918, a pivotal year in Russian history. It was the end of four years of World War and near the start of five years of civil war. The population of St. Petersburg was in free-fall: it dropped from 2.3 million in 1917 to 722,000 by the end of 1920. By the beginning of 1918 German troops were so close to the city that the Bolshevik government abandoned it. One shudders to imagine the life (and death) of a middle-aged artist when all the former luxuries had been condemned and reality was a struggle to find scarce food and fuel.
|First Snow, 1910, Nikolay Nikanorovich Dubovskoy|
But when the Peredvizhniki painters were in their heyday, that was all still in the distant future. They mined the myths of Mother Russia, so their work is a blend of genre, history and nationalist painting. It can be mawkishly sentimental, but just as often is profound and arresting in its singular beauty.
Let me know if you’re interested in painting with me in Maine in 2014 or Rochester at any time. Click here for more information on my Maine workshops!