Quite often, when a conversation steers towards the topic of art, one can often find Russian representatives of such mediums overlooked and underappreciated amidst a canon of classic European paint-slingers. Of course, that is not to say that Russian artists do not get the recognition that they deserve, but it is always just too tempting to speak of your Rembrandts, your Turners, and your Monets when the topic of putting brush to canvas arises in a given discourse.
Nevertheless, Russia has always been a prolific contributor to the creative fields – from literature, to film, to music, and painting alike. And whilst the Tretyakov gallery may not attract the same numbers as the Louvre or the Met, the tone and emotional weight that Russian painters have managed to deliver with their strokes throughout centuries manages to resonate with something that transcends popularity, and thus should be held in the highest esteem. Therefore, here are … Russian painters that any true lover of art should know.
One of Russia’s most respected historical critics Vladimir Stasov once said of Shishkin:
“Shishkin – national artist. All his life he studied Russia, mainly the northern woods, Russian trees and Russian thickets. It is his empire, and here he has no contenders, he is unique.”
A paragon force of Russian landscape painting, Ivan Shishkin was a true student of nature and its life force. His desire to introduce the world to the beauty of northern forests and indigenous lanscapes of his beloved homeland has led him to become one of the most respected realist painters within Russian culture; and anyone who has ever stepped foot between the pines and birches of Russian woodland, shall undoubtedly be struck by those memories upon laying eyes on one of his works.
Shishkin’s legacy also lives through his famous painting “Morning in a Pine Forest” – which adorns popular Russian chocolates “Clumsy Bears” – and to this day it is one of the most recognisable works of art in Russia.
Perhaps one of the most discernable Russian painters on this list, Vasnetsov was a leading figure in the evolution of 19th century Russian realism towards Art Nouveau.
A memeber of the “Peredvizhniki” – a group of Russian realist painters who protested academic restrictions – Vasnetsov depictions of slavic culture through depictions of Russian fairytale and mythology through works like “The Knight at the Crossroads”, “Bogatyrs”, and the “Flying Carpet”, have becomes indelible staples within Russian culture. The son of a priest, his illustrious religious paintings in the likes of “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” also add to his grandeur as an artist, and can perhaps be seen to be on par with the likes of William Blake.
Born into a family of composers, Serov studied in Paris and Moscow, as well as under the tutelage of renowned Russian realist painter Ilya Repin, and is the author of perhaps one of Russia’s most famous works of art “Girl with Peaches” – which has been described as “a masterpiece of Russian painting”.
A prolific portraitist and innovator of style, Valentin Serov’s works would go on to combine realism with an impressionist aesthetic, and his evolution as an artist would see him become one of Russia’s first modernist painters.
“The more frightening the world becomes … the more art becomes abstract.”
Heralded as a pioneer of Abstract art, Kandinsky’s love for, and connection to painting is one of almost metaphysical properties. Perhaps best know for his latter, more abstract works, Kandinsky’s progressive eschewing of subject matter and focus on the music and linguistic properties of colour allowed for the painting of lines, shapes, and shades that presented a more direct form of expression than conventional aesthetics of art could. Through his devout study of the medium Kandinsky was able to pioneer an avant-garde movement that built enlightenment through an absence of structure.
With beginnings in Primitivist and Cubist styles, Goncharova – along with her long-time partner Mikhail Larionov – is best known for her development of Rayonism – a Russian avant-garde artistic style that stems from Cubo-Futurism.
Through her abstractionist approach to painting, Goncharova aimed to create art that transcended time and space, and erased the barriers between the artist and the public through collages of colour and reflected layers of light – essentially mirroring and at the same time merging emotions, objects, and creations of the modern world.
Perhaps best known for his radical piece “Black Square”, Malevich is quite possible the embodiment of the world ‘pioneer’ in the most polarizing of ways.
The founder of the Suprematist movement, Malevich’s approach to painting focused on minimalist geometric forms and limited colours, all in the quest to achieve a “supremacy of pure feeling” through art. In reference to the infamous “Black Square”, Malevich often spoke of the piece as the ‘zero point of painting’, the genesis of pure, non-objective creation.
Of course, there are many more great pioneers of Russian art, but the selection of the above does well to compass the technical range, and social scope that the world of Russian expression so aptly covers. Throughout history, each of these talented individuals served as a catalyst to a movement that carried vision into the next, and thus creating a grand legacy that Russian art represents today.
Who would you add to the list?