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 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

The North, by Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi (1842-1910), 1879.

Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
1897
oil on canvas
132 x 103 cm
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


In The North, Kuindzhi depicts an epic image of a cold country, constructing an impressive panorama of inhospitable northern expanses with no trace of human presence. In his efforts to depict a space that is characterized by coherence and totality, the artist places a few solitary pines in the foreground, their roots descending into the entrails of hard earth. In doing so, the painter creates the impression of depth in the composition and strengthens the impression of a harsh and unwelcoming country. Here, the pines must claw bravely into naked earth on the edge of a cliff in their attempt to draw strength from a distant sun. Lighting always plays a very important role in Kuindzhi’s landscapes; in this painting he uses the mysterious luminosity of the nordic day. The light of the sky, in shimmering pinks and lilacs, evokes the fact that this virgin land is ancient, a place where time flows so slowly that its fixity leads us to think about the elusive nature of the universe.
In The North, Kuindzhi depicts an epic image of a cold country, constructing an impressive panorama of inhospitable northern expanses with no trace of human presence. In his efforts to depict a space that is characterized by coherence and totality, the artist places a few solitary pines in the foreground, their roots descending into the entrails of hard earth. In doing so, the painter creates the impression of depth in the composition and strengthens the impression of a harsh and unwelcoming country. Here, the pines must claw bravely into naked earth on the edge of a cliff in their attempt to draw strength from a distant sun. Lighting always plays a very important role in Kuindzhi’s landscapes; in this painting he uses the mysterious luminosity of the nordic day. The light of the sky, in shimmering pinks and lilacs, evokes the fact that this virgin land is ancient, a place where time flows so slowly that its fixity leads us to think about the elusive nature of the universe.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Above Eternal Peace, by Isaac Ilich Levitan (1860-1900), 1894.

Isaac Ilich Levitan
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
1894
oil on canvas
150 x 206 cm
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


Levitan, the great master of lyric landscape, attempted to find answers to his deep philosophical meditations on the meaning of human existence and the destiny and place of man in the world. Above Eternal Peace is based on an accurate depiction of Lake Oudomlia, near Vychniï Volotchek in the Tver region. The work, however, is not perceived as a representation of a specific place. The image is too general, and we can safely say that this nature painting is symbolic and cannot be reduced to a single interpretation. Water and sky surround a small island exposed to wind from every direction, with an abandoned cemetery and a chapel, in the window of which a tentative flame struggles to remain alight. Levitan has been able to go beyond a realistic depiction. The painter’s monumental painterly image leads us to think about life and death, the insignificance of human existence and the frail destiny of man in the face of eternal, majestic nature. Levitan wrote to Tretiakov about the painting, saying, “This painting represents me completely, all my psychology, all my being.”
Levitan, the great master of lyric landscape, attempted to find answers to his deep philosophical meditations on the meaning of human existence and the destiny and place of man in the world. Above Eternal Peace is based on an accurate depiction of Lake Oudomlia, near Vychniï Volotchek in the Tver region. The work, however, is not perceived as a representation of a specific place. The image is too general, and we can safely say that this nature painting is symbolic and cannot be reduced to a single interpretation. Water and sky surround a small island exposed to wind from every direction, with an abandoned cemetery and a chapel, in the window of which a tentative flame struggles to remain alight. Levitan has been able to go beyond a realistic depiction. The painter’s monumental painterly image leads us to think about life and death, the insignificance of human existence and the frail destiny of man in the face of eternal, majestic nature. Levitan wrote to Tretiakov about the painting, saying, “This painting represents me completely, all my psychology, all my being.”

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Coming Storm in the Adirondacks, by Homer Ransford Watson (1855-1936), 1879.

Homer Ransford Watson
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts - Gift of George Hague
1879
oil on canvas
85.7 x 118.3 cm
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.


Depicting the powerful forces of nature—like an impending storm in a mountainous landscape—has always been an effective way for romantic painters of Watson’s generation to evoke the sublime and everything that lies beyond man’s grasp. On each side of this desolate landscape, bare trees evoke the impending lightning bolts that will strike once the storm begins. On a rocky outcrop to the left, a cowering bear anticipates the inevitable. The message conveyed by this grandiose scene is that human and beast are powerless before the forces of Mother Nature.
Depicting the powerful forces of nature—like an impending storm in a mountainous landscape—has always been an effective way for romantic painters of Watson’s generation to evoke the sublime and everything that lies beyond man’s grasp. On each side of this desolate landscape, bare trees evoke the impending lightning bolts that will strike once the storm begins. On a rocky outcrop to the left, a cowering bear anticipates the inevitable. The message conveyed by this grandiose scene is that human and beast are powerless before the forces of Mother Nature.

© 2003, CHIN-Canadian Heritage Information Network. 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 and Canadian painting
  • Be aware of similarities and differences in landscape painting between Russia and Canada prior to 1940
  • Appreciate the development of a distinctly Russian and Canadian styles of landscape painting
  • Respond critically to a variety of art styles
  • Recognize the emotional impact of art

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