In the following line-up, artists 2 through 7 were part of Peredvizhniki, AKA Wanderers, AKA Circle of Itinerants, a cooperative Society for Traveling Art Exhibitions formed in opposition to the St. Petersburg Academy of Art's academic restrictions.
Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky (family surname, Aivazian), July 29, 1817 - May 5, 1900. Born in Feodosiya, E. Crimea, to a poor Armenian merchant, he produced over 6,000 works, more than half of them seascapes, i.e. Moonlit Seascape With Shipwreck, depicting a handful of men near a lighthouse, one of whom points to floating wreckage. In The Ninth Wave (1850), sailors cling to floating wreckage in a man-against-the-elements chiaroscuro. His masterpiece, Black Sea (1881), sensitively reproduces whitecaps, sky, and clouds. Storm (1886) features floating wreckage in the (presumably) Black Sea, which he painted in all weathers. His main inspirations were the Creation, Flood, Gospels, and Pushkin. From 1844 he was the Russian Navy's staff painter, and was court painter to three Ottoman Sultans, making eight trips to Constantinople, 1845-90. Overly prolific, he made repeated variations of melodramatic cliches, and was widely forged. He travelled throughout Russia and Europe, and visited the Near East, Africa, and America.
Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi, January 27, 1841 (or 1842) - July 24, 1910. Born in Mariupol (now in Ukraine) to a Greek immigrant shoemaker, losing both parents by age six. Photo retoucher. The Ladoga Lake (1873). Ukrainian Night (1876) and Birch Grove (1879) have extraordinary lighting, vivid colors, and chiaroscuro contrasts. See also Dnepr in the Night (1880 or 1881). The Steppe (1890), green land below a light, blue-gray sky, is the visual equivalent of Anton Chekhov's same-named story. Imperfections in his paints unfortunately darkened many of his canvases. Professor at St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, 1892-97, from which he was fired for supporting student protests.
Isaac Ilyich Levitan, August 30, 1860 - August 4 [Old Style, July 22], 1900. Born in Kybartai shtetl, Kaunas, Lithuania, to a rabbi's son. His Moscow School of Painting fellow student, Nikolai Chekhov, introduced him to brother Anton, who became the artist's lifelong friend. Levitan excelled in the landscape of mood, wherein nature is spiritualized (whatever that means). His melancholic, pastoral landscapes, painted en plein air, have few or no people. Compare the girl in Autumn Day (1879) with the hunter and dog in Autumn Landscape (1880). His Birch Forest (1885-89), AKA Birch Grove (compare it with the abovementioned Kuindzhi's version) features bright, saturated colors and bold, contrasting light and shade. His Evening on the Volga (1887-88), with its little boats on the shore, slate-blue water across which is a low mountain range, clouds and pale sky, has been labeled "the visible as a starting point for contemplation of the invisible," i.e., the destiny of Russia. Vladimirka Road (1892), the main highway for Siberia-bound exiles, contrasts nature's immensity with man's insignificance. Both sky and water are juxtaposed in Evening Church Bells (1892) and Over (or Above) Eternal Peace (1894), the latter contrasting the might of the universe with man's transitory life. Compare his Water Lilies (1895) with those by Monet. Levitan spent his last year at Anton Chekhov's Crimean house, not finishing Lake (1900), which he also called Rus', thereby suggesting the embodiment of the Russian landscape, people, and history.
Vasily Dmitrievich Polenov, June 1, 1844 - July 18, 1927, a military artist during the 1877-78 Russo-Turkish War, achieved plein air freshness of color, as did Levitan. His Moscow Courtyard (1878) depicts human beauty reconciled with nature. His masterpiece, Christ and the Sinner (1886-87), AKA Christ and the Woman taken in Adultery, is, like many of his New Testament subjects, a genre scene in a landscape environment.
Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, May 24, 1850 - October 8, 1897, was born, like Aivazovsky, to a merchant family. He created the lyrical or mood landscape later adopted by Vasilyev (our seventh and last artist) and Levitan. Compare Landscape with River and Angler (1859) with Levitan's Autumn Day and Autumn Landscape, and Savrasov's Winter (1870) and its slate sky, with Kuindzhi's Birch Grove and Levitan's Birch Forest. Later we will compare Savrasov's Sundown Over a Marsh (1871) with Vasilyev's upcoming Swamp in the Forest, for now only saying that the Russian Boloto means both marsh and swamp, whereas English differentiates between the two. Savrasov's masterpiece, The Rooks Have Come Back (1871), shows the winter-to-spring transition. His Rainbow (1873) is mostly white, plus two pale colors. After his daughter's death, he became an impoverished, shelter-hopping drunkard.
Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin, January 25, 1832 - March 20, 1898, was called "Poet of the Russian Forest" for capturing the forest seasons and changing landscape moods, and "the bookkeeper of leaves" for accurately rendering plants. A Rye Field (1878). Bears animate Morning in a Pine Forest (1886). Compare the strollers with umbrellas in Rain in an Oak Forest (1891) with the girl in Levitan's Autumn Day and the hunter and dog in his Autumn Landscape, and Savrasov's Landscape with River and Angler.
Feodor Alexandrovich Vasilyev, February 22 [New Style], 1850 - October 6 [New Style], 1873, was born to a low-level government official, who did not "tie the knot" until his son was four, thus branding the boy as illegitimate. For a time Vasilyev was an assistant picture restorer. The Cloud (1860's) highlights the immensity of nature above puny, man-made things. Compare the peasant in Before a Thunderstorm (1868) with Levitan's Autumn Day and Autumn Landscape. Vasilyev's Barges on Volga (1870), like his other paintings of that river, conveys a deep spirituality in keeping with the landscape of mood style he shared with Savrasov and Levitan. Note the suffusion of light in Pond at the Sunset (1871). Moving to Crimea after his T.B. diagnosis, he painted his masterpiece, Wet Meadow (1872) from memory, imagination, and old sketches. Note the egrets in the redundantly titled Swamp in the Forest (1872), seeing as a swamp is simply a waterlogged forest, and a marsh a waterlogged grassland without trees (q.v. Savrasov's Sundown Over a Marsh). Vasilyev's last work was In the Mountains of Crimea (1873). Nikolai Ge said of him: He discovered for us the sky.
Please print out at least one copy of this email for tomorrow's "interviewers." I also urge you to copy the wikipedia material on these seven artists, and look at their pictures, especially the above-listed ones, though some are from other sources. I'll try calling you tonight. Salud,