In the mid-nineteenth century, the search for transcendence that marked Romanticism began to be expressed in landscape painting. It was also to be found in Symbolism.

Symbolism, which could be described as the expression of mystical or abstract ideas through forms, rejected both the dogmatism of academic representation and the supposed scientific underpinnings of Impressionism. It appeared in the work of various painters in Russia and Canada. Artists like the Russian Mikhail Vrubel and the Canadian Ozias Leduc, though very different, represent the spiritual dimension of this style. Their works are more a depiction of the soul than simply windows onto nature.

This exploration of spirituality continued in the work of Kandinsky, a member of the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, who published Concerning the Spiritual in Art in 1911. This work argued that harmony between colours and forms must be based on one thing only—effective contact with the human soul. Kandinsky read texts on theosophy, a spiritual doctrine that attracted new interest in the first half of the twentieth century. In Canada, landscape painting took on a transcendent quality with so Read More

In the mid-nineteenth century, the search for transcendence that marked Romanticism began to be expressed in landscape painting. It was also to be found in Symbolism.

Symbolism, which could be described as the expression of mystical or abstract ideas through forms, rejected both the dogmatism of academic representation and the supposed scientific underpinnings of Impressionism. It appeared in the work of various painters in Russia and Canada. Artists like the Russian Mikhail Vrubel and the Canadian Ozias Leduc, though very different, represent the spiritual dimension of this style. Their works are more a depiction of the soul than simply windows onto nature.

This exploration of spirituality continued in the work of Kandinsky, a member of the Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, who published Concerning the Spiritual in Art in 1911. This work argued that harmony between colours and forms must be based on one thing only—effective contact with the human soul. Kandinsky read texts on theosophy, a spiritual doctrine that attracted new interest in the first half of the twentieth century. In Canada, landscape painting took on a transcendent quality with some members of the Group of Seven, in particular Lawren Harris. Greatly influenced by theosophy, Harris deepened his interpretation of nature by stylizing his representations of landscapes and reducing their components to elementary forms.


© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Lilac, par Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel (1856-1910), in 1900.

Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
1900
oil on canvas
160 x 177 cm
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


While most landscape painters in the second half of the nineteenth century attempted to depict nature realistically, Vrubel preferred a rather scenic and decorative treatment of the subject. Vrubel, one of the masters of Russian art nouveau, did a great deal of work for the theatre, in addition to monumental and decorative art. He often used the richness of nature as no more than a pretext. His imagination led him to transform a simple flower or shrub into a fantastic fairyland of colours and lines. The painter’s preferred range of colours included every hue of blue, from sky blue to violet; combined with pink or green, these colours create the impression of a shimmering and changing surface. The sombre silhouette of a woman emanates from the background of a luminous lilac in flower, constructed of brush strokes varying in density. The features of the woman’s face are reminiscent of the artist’s wife and preferred model, the opera singer N.I. Zabela, and also evocative of the ceramic sculptures Vrubel made on themes from N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden.
While most landscape painters in the second half of the nineteenth century attempted to depict nature realistically, Vrubel preferred a rather scenic and decorative treatment of the subject. Vrubel, one of the masters of Russian art nouveau, did a great deal of work for the theatre, in addition to monumental and decorative art. He often used the richness of nature as no more than a pretext. His imagination led him to transform a simple flower or shrub into a fantastic fairyland of colours and lines. The painter’s preferred range of colours included every hue of blue, from sky blue to violet; combined with pink or green, these colours create the impression of a shimmering and changing surface. The sombre silhouette of a woman emanates from the background of a luminous lilac in flower, constructed of brush strokes varying in density. The features of the woman’s face are reminiscent of the artist’s wife and preferred model, the opera singer N.I. Zabela, and also evocative of the ceramic sculptures Vrubel made on themes from N.A. Rimsky-Korsakov’s opera The Snow Maiden.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Mountain, by Aleksey Yavlensky (1864-1941), 1905

Aleksey Georgiyevich Yavlensky
Omsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after M. A. Vrubel
1905
oil on canvas
62 x 48 cm
© Omsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after M. A. Vrubel


The landscape, A Mountain, was executed in 1905 by Aleksey Yavlensky, an artist who was influenced by Van Gogh. Until 1908, Yavlensky used the artistic techniques of the famous Dutch painter in his landscapes, convinced of the need to seek life in colour. The landscape was painted near the Tyrolean Alps to the south of Bavaria, where Yavlensky often went with his friends, Vasiliy Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. In the foreground is a corner of nature filled with the fresh foliage of a tree; the mountain in the background, resplendent in the sunlight, appears to be close to the foliage. After mastering the technique of short brushstrokes or dabs, which were typical of Impressionism, Yavlenskyi “drew in painting.” The strokes are dense, energetic and match the shape of the object. Various brushstrokes—straight and wavy, long and hatched—render the shimmering of the air, as well as the energy and movement of the forces of nature.
The landscape, A Mountain, was executed in 1905 by Aleksey Yavlensky, an artist who was influenced by Van Gogh. Until 1908, Yavlensky used the artistic techniques of the famous Dutch painter in his landscapes, convinced of the need to seek life in colour. The landscape was painted near the Tyrolean Alps to the south of Bavaria, where Yavlensky often went with his friends, Vasiliy Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter. In the foreground is a corner of nature filled with the fresh foliage of a tree; the mountain in the background, resplendent in the sunlight, appears to be close to the foliage. After mastering the technique of short brushstrokes or dabs, which were typical of Impressionism, Yavlenskyi “drew in painting.” The strokes are dense, energetic and match the shape of the object. Various brushstrokes—straight and wavy, long and hatched—render the shimmering of the air, as well as the energy and movement of the forces of nature.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Lake Karakol, by Grigory Ivanovich Gurkin (Choros-Gurke) (1870-1937), 1909.

Grigory Ivanovich Gurkin (Choros-Gurke)
State Art Museum of Altayskiy Region
1909
oil on canvas
54 x 74.5 cm
© State Art Museum of Altayskiy Region


In 1909, Gurkin painted Lake Karakol, in the high mountains, for the first time. The lake was formed during the ice age in the lapiaz crevasses of the Altai Mountains (in the native language, Karakol means “black water”). The pure and clear water of the lake looks black because it is surrounded by mountains and taiga. The dark mountains, covered in forest and rock, open onto the calm waters of the lake, after the ice has melted, revealing a dark turquoise, almost black, surface. Soft light pierces through the clouds and fog, and slides onto the smooth surface of the lake. Isolated blocks of ice can be seen on the shore. The artist’s attentiveness to nature, and the freedom of plein air painting, are exemplified in this canvas; the refined technique of this masterful work makes it much more than a study.
In 1909, Gurkin painted Lake Karakol, in the high mountains, for the first time. The lake was formed during the ice age in the lapiaz crevasses of the Altai Mountains (in the native language, Karakol means “black water”). The pure and clear water of the lake looks black because it is surrounded by mountains and taiga. The dark mountains, covered in forest and rock, open onto the calm waters of the lake, after the ice has melted, revealing a dark turquoise, almost black, surface. Soft light pierces through the clouds and fog, and slides onto the smooth surface of the lake. Isolated blocks of ice can be seen on the shore. The artist’s attentiveness to nature, and the freedom of plein air painting, are exemplified in this canvas; the refined technique of this masterful work makes it much more than a study.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

The Blue Altai (Altaian Glaciers), by Andrei Osipovich Nikulin (1878-1945), 1910.

Andrei Osipovich Nikulin
State Art Museum of Altayskiy Region
1910
oil on canvas
87 x 109 cm
© State Art Museum of Altayskiy Region


The Blue Altai is one of Nikulin’s best works and one of those that established the direction his painting would take. In this work, the artist used his spatula with dexterity and virtuosity, creating on the canvas a subtle and magical interplay of purple, bright violet, emerald and azure hues. The transparency and finesse of the painting renders not only the materiality of a world that is reified in the foreground (the blocks of stone and ice, the transparent running water, the bright emerald green) but also the lightness and insubstantiality of the background. Here, blue reigns supreme: the sky deploys its colour through the striking white of the clouds, the rocky outcrops, barely covered in fresh greenery, dissolving into the distant blue, with the dark blue river crossing the mountain valley in an intrepid torrent. The Blue Altai is a profoundly poetic landscape, impressionistic in execution and theatrical in spirit.
The Blue Altai is one of Nikulin’s best works and one of those that established the direction his painting would take. In this work, the artist used his spatula with dexterity and virtuosity, creating on the canvas a subtle and magical interplay of purple, bright violet, emerald and azure hues. The transparency and finesse of the painting renders not only the materiality of a world that is reified in the foreground (the blocks of stone and ice, the transparent running water, the bright emerald green) but also the lightness and insubstantiality of the background. Here, blue reigns supreme: the sky deploys its colour through the striking white of the clouds, the rocky outcrops, barely covered in fresh greenery, dissolving into the distant blue, with the dark blue river crossing the mountain valley in an intrepid torrent. The Blue Altai is a profoundly poetic landscape, impressionistic in execution and theatrical in spirit.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Mountain Landscape, by Nikolai Semyonovich Shulpinov (1885-1921), 1910.

Nikolai Semyonovich Shulpinov
State Art Museum of Altayskiy Region
1910
oil on canvas
62 x 69 cm
© State Art Museum of Altayskiy Region


From the 1910s onward, Shulpinov was one of the Altai Mountain artists. He began working in a style that is sometimes described as “Siberian." The painting Mountain Landscape reveals to us his distinctive artistic quest. He has been able to combine, in a very original manner, the archaic perception of the spirit of Siberian nature with post-Impressionistic traditions. For example, the clouds floating in the blue sky above the mountain peaks, with the mountainsides covered in forest and green grass. The noonday colours are blinding; the sun, filling the sky, is reflected in the white clouds, the rocks, the red pines, the green valleys and the blue water of the river. Shulpinov built, or rather created, his landscape by imbuing it with his impressions not only of the present, but also of what existed centuries before him.
From the 1910s onward, Shulpinov was one of the Altai Mountain artists. He began working in a style that is sometimes described as “Siberian." The painting Mountain Landscape reveals to us his distinctive artistic quest. He has been able to combine, in a very original manner, the archaic perception of the spirit of Siberian nature with post-Impressionistic traditions. For example, the clouds floating in the blue sky above the mountain peaks, with the mountainsides covered in forest and green grass. The noonday colours are blinding; the sun, filling the sky, is reflected in the white clouds, the rocks, the red pines, the green valleys and the blue water of the river. Shulpinov built, or rather created, his landscape by imbuing it with his impressions not only of the present, but also of what existed centuries before him.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Most Joyous Place, by Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich (1874-1947), 1911.

Nikolai Konstantinovich Roerich
Smolensk State Museum-Reserve
1911
tempra on paper
45 x 66 cm
© Smolensk State Museum-Reserve


From 1911 to 1914, Nikolai Roerich, the famous Russian painter, worked to complete the monumental frescoes of the Temple of the Holy Spirit, located on the estate of Princess Tenisheva, at Talachkino, near Smolensk. The painter became so carried away by the spirituality of the scene that he painted a few canvasses as he worked on his sketches, whose subject was linked to the Russian Christian apocrypha. Most Joyous Place is one such work. The themes of concrete landscape have been re-thought and presented once again as images from Russian, or more specifically Slavic, cosmogony. In this work, the miniature Byzantine motifs harmonize organically with the many Eastern and Scandinavian motifs, which is what creates the atmosphere unique to Roerich’s painting.
From 1911 to 1914, Nikolai Roerich, the famous Russian painter, worked to complete the monumental frescoes of the Temple of the Holy Spirit, located on the estate of Princess Tenisheva, at Talachkino, near Smolensk. The painter became so carried away by the spirituality of the scene that he painted a few canvasses as he worked on his sketches, whose subject was linked to the Russian Christian apocrypha. Most Joyous Place is one such work. The themes of concrete landscape have been re-thought and presented once again as images from Russian, or more specifically Slavic, cosmogony. In this work, the miniature Byzantine motifs harmonize organically with the many Eastern and Scandinavian motifs, which is what creates the atmosphere unique to Roerich’s painting.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Sunset, by Arkadiy Alexandrovich Rylov (1870-1939), 1917.

Arkadiy Alexandrovich Rylov
Smolensk State Museum-Reserve
1917
oil on canvas
100 х 129 cm
© Smolensk State Museum-Reserve


Sunset is both an accurate painting of a cold northern sun setting above a lake and at the same time a symbol, or even a premonition, of events that have nothing to do with nature. The canvas, which was painted in 1917, was generally perceived during the Soviet era as a landscape that symbolized the “fire of the revolution.” This interpretation is fully acceptable because Rylov, who supported the Bolshevik Revolution, was also actively involved in Soviet art circles.
Sunset is both an accurate painting of a cold northern sun setting above a lake and at the same time a symbol, or even a premonition, of events that have nothing to do with nature. The canvas, which was painted in 1917, was generally perceived during the Soviet era as a landscape that symbolized the “fire of the revolution.” This interpretation is fully acceptable because Rylov, who supported the Bolshevik Revolution, was also actively involved in Soviet art circles.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Landscape With Trees, by Vasiliy Ivanovich Denisov (1862-1921), 1914.

Vasiliy Ivanovich Denisov
Omsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after M. A. Vrubel
1914
oil on canvas
47 x 66 cm
© Omsk Regional Museum of Fine Arts named after M. A. Vrubel


This landscape was painted at the Rayki, near Moscow, where Denisov lived and worked in the 1910s. Using different forms of lighting, the painter hoped to synthesize the various concrete states he used to present nature in a coherent pictorial style. The landscape looks like a fantastic vision. The dark clouds and the tree trunks, thin as blades of grass, with their massive foliage rendered in dense thick colourful brushstrokes, create an impression of anxiety. The background, with its pearl hues, is a mirror-like apparition reminiscent of images in the paintings of the Blue Rose group.
This landscape was painted at the Rayki, near Moscow, where Denisov lived and worked in the 1910s. Using different forms of lighting, the painter hoped to synthesize the various concrete states he used to present nature in a coherent pictorial style. The landscape looks like a fantastic vision. The dark clouds and the tree trunks, thin as blades of grass, with their massive foliage rendered in dense thick colourful brushstrokes, create an impression of anxiety. The background, with its pearl hues, is a mirror-like apparition reminiscent of images in the paintings of the Blue Rose group.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Village, by David Davidovich Burliuk (1882-1967), 1917.

David Davidovich Burliuk
Samara Art Museum
1917
oil on canvas
57 x 61 cm
© Samara Art Museum


In 1917 and 1918, David Burliuk lived with his family in the village of Iglino, near Ufa (Bashkir). A Village, influenced by the painting of Vincent Van Gogh, shows the spring mud in the streets of an impoverished Bashkir village. In this work by Burliuk, the very simple and somewhat dreary theme is enlivened by the thick paint application that typifies his style. The sky and the snow covering the earth appear to be made of the same substance. In his depiction of the snow, or more precisely the ruts in the road, the painter unleashes every colour in his palette.
In 1917 and 1918, David Burliuk lived with his family in the village of Iglino, near Ufa (Bashkir). A Village, influenced by the painting of Vincent Van Gogh, shows the spring mud in the streets of an impoverished Bashkir village. In this work by Burliuk, the very simple and somewhat dreary theme is enlivened by the thick paint application that typifies his style. The sky and the snow covering the earth appear to be made of the same substance. In his depiction of the snow, or more precisely the ruts in the road, the painter unleashes every colour in his palette.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Learning Objectives

The learner will:
  • Develop an understanding of the geographic influences on culture
  • Understand that art can represent the experience of people
  • Examine how major dominant European art movements influenced the interpretation of the landscape in Russian painting
  • Be aware of similarities and differences in landscape painting between Russia and Canada prior to 1940
  • Appreciate the development of a distinctly Russian style of landscape painting
  • Respond critically to a variety of art styles
  • Recognize the emotional impact of art

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