Between 1860 and 1940, Russia and Canada had radically different cultural and artistic environments. Literature, theatre, music, ballet and the visual arts reached new heights in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, due to enlightened patronage. In Canada, although there was some emerging activity in the 1860s, the development of the arts was more modest because artists were still marginal figures in a society that was essentially concerned with its economic growth.

Nonetheless, the painters of both countries were driven by the desire to represent the local landscape and to highlight its special characteristics. Their works reflected the importance of landscape in Russian and Canadian identity. Their modes of representation gradually cast off outside influences. The painters focused mainly on rural scenes yet cityscapes sometimes drew their attention, attesting to changing lifestyles and their subsequent effect on the architectural environment.

This "national" affirmation went through a variety of phases. In Russia, from the very first travelling exhibition of itinerant artists known as the Wanderers in 1871, artists asserted their intention Read More
Between 1860 and 1940, Russia and Canada had radically different cultural and artistic environments. Literature, theatre, music, ballet and the visual arts reached new heights in Russia at the turn of the twentieth century, due to enlightened patronage. In Canada, although there was some emerging activity in the 1860s, the development of the arts was more modest because artists were still marginal figures in a society that was essentially concerned with its economic growth.

Nonetheless, the painters of both countries were driven by the desire to represent the local landscape and to highlight its special characteristics. Their works reflected the importance of landscape in Russian and Canadian identity. Their modes of representation gradually cast off outside influences. The painters focused mainly on rural scenes yet cityscapes sometimes drew their attention, attesting to changing lifestyles and their subsequent effect on the architectural environment.

This "national" affirmation went through a variety of phases. In Russia, from the very first travelling exhibition of itinerant artists known as the Wanderers in 1871, artists asserted their intention to reject foreign painting conventions. Later, other painters would draw inspiration from Russian popular culture in order to arrive at a new form of art. In Canada, as early as the 1870s, the Luminist painters adopted a more American perspective on painting. At the end of the nineteenth century, some artists adapted Impressionist techniques to conditions specific to Canada. In the 1920s, the Group of Seven were taken with the uncharted wilderness, leading to a distinctive image of the Canadian landscape.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Winter Landscap, par Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov (1830-1897).

Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov
Musée des beaux-arts de Samara
n.d.
oil on canvas
54 x 71.5 cm
© Musée des beaux-arts de Samara


Savrasov’s work around Moscow, in the northern provinces and near the Volga, was prolific. Winter Landscape reminds us of the emotions so aptly expressed by the Russian poet Nikolai Alexeyevich Nekrasov: “Nature is the ally of the poverty that surrounds us!” The empty road that attracts our gaze, leading to a small village barely visible on the hillside, evokes a painful feeling of poverty and abandonment. The dark grey colours accentuate this negative impression that nature is as unhappy as man.
Savrasov’s work around Moscow, in the northern provinces and near the Volga, was prolific. Winter Landscape reminds us of the emotions so aptly expressed by the Russian poet Nikolai Alexeyevich Nekrasov: “Nature is the ally of the poverty that surrounds us!” The empty road that attracts our gaze, leading to a small village barely visible on the hillside, evokes a painful feeling of poverty and abandonment. The dark grey colours accentuate this negative impression that nature is as unhappy as man.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

Poplars, by Fyodor Aleksandrovich Vasiliev (1850-1873), 1870.

Fiodor Alexandrovitch Vassiliev
Smolensk State Museum-Reserve
1870
oil on canvas
43.7 x 65.2 cm
© Smolensk State Museum-Reserve


This painting by Fyodor Vasiliev was painted shortly before his death in Ukraine, at “Khoten,” the estate of Count S.G. Stroganov. The composition is typical of the artist’s style; as is almost always the case with Vasiliev, there is a lane crossing the painting diagonally. The line of the lane is interrupted towards the centre of the canvas by a small white building. Vasiliev’s tragic premonition that he would die soon comes forcefully to the surface in this landscape. The contrasts between light and shadow, the alternation of horizontal planes, and the heavy clouds in a stormy sky all combine to powerfully reflect not only the individuality of the landscape itself, but also the torment in the artist’s soul.
This painting by Fyodor Vasiliev was painted shortly before his death in Ukraine, at “Khoten,” the estate of Count S.G. Stroganov. The composition is typical of the artist’s style; as is almost always the case with Vasiliev, there is a lane crossing the painting diagonally. The line of the lane is interrupted towards the centre of the canvas by a small white building. Vasiliev’s tragic premonition that he would die soon comes forcefully to the surface in this landscape. The contrasts between light and shadow, the alternation of horizontal planes, and the heavy clouds in a stormy sky all combine to powerfully reflect not only the individuality of the landscape itself, but also the torment in the artist’s soul.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

The Rooks Have Arrived, by Alexei Kondratyevich Savrasov, 1871.

Alexeї Kondratievitch Savrassov
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
1871
oil on canvas
62 x 48.5 cm
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


This painting, Savrasov’s most famous, is one of the best examples of poetic realism in landscape art. The artist painted this work in the village of Molvitino in the Kostroma region. The theme is very modest: Savrasov shows a dull spring day with some small curved birch trees, a tiny church badly in need of fresh paint, rooks heralding the spring with cawing, and dark earth beginning to show under the melting snow. The whole of nature is awaiting the renewal of life that comes with spring. Behind this thoroughly familiar corner of Central Russia is a vast panorama showing a flat valley and a river showing through the ice. The sunlight breaking through the cloud cover enlivens the whole landscape. This masterpiece of Russian painting introduces the theme of harmony between nature and the moods of man, a theme also depicted by Levitan in his country paintings, which show evidence of the painter’s emotions. Savrasov was one of the first to choose the path of artistic comprehension of reality. He was criticized by some who felt that his interpretation of painting was too prosaic. In fact, what he was Read More
This painting, Savrasov’s most famous, is one of the best examples of poetic realism in landscape art. The artist painted this work in the village of Molvitino in the Kostroma region. The theme is very modest: Savrasov shows a dull spring day with some small curved birch trees, a tiny church badly in need of fresh paint, rooks heralding the spring with cawing, and dark earth beginning to show under the melting snow. The whole of nature is awaiting the renewal of life that comes with spring. Behind this thoroughly familiar corner of Central Russia is a vast panorama showing a flat valley and a river showing through the ice. The sunlight breaking through the cloud cover enlivens the whole landscape. This masterpiece of Russian painting introduces the theme of harmony between nature and the moods of man, a theme also depicted by Levitan in his country paintings, which show evidence of the painter’s emotions. Savrasov was one of the first to choose the path of artistic comprehension of reality. He was criticized by some who felt that his interpretation of painting was too prosaic. In fact, what he was attempting was to unite the “truth of life” and the “poetry of art.”

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Thaw, by Fydor Alexandrovich Vasiliev (1850-1873), 1871.

Fiodor Alexandrovitch Vassiliev
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
1871
oil on canvas
53.5 x 107 cm
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


Vasiliev’s world-view was not far removed from that of Romanticism. By aspiring to express strong feelings, the artist was attempting to depict the complex metamorphoses of the sky, as well as spectacular and unusual states of nature: the tension before a storm or the thaw in midwinter. The painting uses the warm range of gold, brown and olive colours that the painter loved so dearly; the look is almost monochromatic. The work, which is characterized by complex relationships among the colours, was admired by Vasiliev’s contemporaries because of the carefully chosen colours and refined execution. The horizontal composition of the painting accentuates the silent and interminable nature of the valley landscape. Two solitary travellers have stopped, hesitant, in the middle of the road, before a large expanse of melted snow near a stream. They appear to be lost in the sad winter space of Central Russia, a space that is overwhelming because of its immensity. A tentative sunbeam, which seems to be blessing the travellers on their forlorn journey, breaks through a dense cover of grey cloud. This painting Read More
Vasiliev’s world-view was not far removed from that of Romanticism. By aspiring to express strong feelings, the artist was attempting to depict the complex metamorphoses of the sky, as well as spectacular and unusual states of nature: the tension before a storm or the thaw in midwinter. The painting uses the warm range of gold, brown and olive colours that the painter loved so dearly; the look is almost monochromatic. The work, which is characterized by complex relationships among the colours, was admired by Vasiliev’s contemporaries because of the carefully chosen colours and refined execution. The horizontal composition of the painting accentuates the silent and interminable nature of the valley landscape. Two solitary travellers have stopped, hesitant, in the middle of the road, before a large expanse of melted snow near a stream. They appear to be lost in the sad winter space of Central Russia, a space that is overwhelming because of its immensity. A tentative sunbeam, which seems to be blessing the travellers on their forlorn journey, breaks through a dense cover of grey cloud. This painting was purchased by P.M. Tretyakov, and a copy was commissioned by Emperor Alexander III for the Russian Museum.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Coppice (at midday), by Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin (1832-1898), 1872.

Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin
Irkutsk Regional Art Museum named after V. P. Sukachev
1872
oil on canvas
121 x 207 cm
© Irkutsk Regional Art Museum


This Shishkin painting shows a clearing in a forest grove. This work, which touches us and at the same time gives the impression of déjà vu, is striking in terms of the dimensions of the landscape represented. The tiny silhouettes of the peasants and of the cows grazing in the meadow are not the main subject, but rather an organic part of the work, which makes it more alive and more authentic. Although full of imagery, this canvas shows no signs of artifice. The painter found in nature itself a way to create this expressive composition, a remarkable landscape that abounds in air and light. The observer’s eye is effortlessly drawn to the moist meadow, the clods of earth in the swamp, and the smooth surface of the lake, and is eventually attracted to the depths of the painting. The paint is applied to the canvas in thick, dense and rich layers, which harmonizes the moss-covered clumps of earth, the clouds pierced by the rays of the sun, and the delicate ornamentation of the branches.
This Shishkin painting shows a clearing in a forest grove. This work, which touches us and at the same time gives the impression of déjà vu, is striking in terms of the dimensions of the landscape represented. The tiny silhouettes of the peasants and of the cows grazing in the meadow are not the main subject, but rather an organic part of the work, which makes it more alive and more authentic. Although full of imagery, this canvas shows no signs of artifice. The painter found in nature itself a way to create this expressive composition, a remarkable landscape that abounds in air and light. The observer’s eye is effortlessly drawn to the moist meadow, the clods of earth in the swamp, and the smooth surface of the lake, and is eventually attracted to the depths of the painting. The paint is applied to the canvas in thick, dense and rich layers, which harmonizes the moss-covered clumps of earth, the clouds pierced by the rays of the sun, and the delicate ornamentation of the branches.

© 2003, CHIN. All Rights Reserved.

Painting

A Birch Grove, by Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi (1842-1910), 1879.

Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi
State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
1879
oil on canvas
97 x 181 cm
© State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow


A Birch Grove is one of the few paintings by Kuindzhi in which a panoramic approach and a very high sky are absent. In this painting, he depicts a mundane theme—nature in Central Russia. In a green clearing, among birch trees illuminated by the bright rays of a summer sun, the forest stream flows along its winding path. Despite the simplicity of the theme, there is nothing of the ordinary about the painting. The difference in lighting on the right and left gives the impression of artistic experimentation. The rather ornamental style is strengthened by the daring simplification of the shapes, the flattened treatment of the background and the accurate symmetry and consistent alternation of light and shadow. All of this anticipates discoveries of a later genre in painting, more specifically art nouveau. Also noteworthy are the intensity of the bright stream, which emanates from the sky, as well as the absence of a luminous atmosphere that would soften the contrasts between the bright colours, reminiscent of festive summer hues. Those contrasts might be considered so Read More
A Birch Grove is one of the few paintings by Kuindzhi in which a panoramic approach and a very high sky are absent. In this painting, he depicts a mundane theme—nature in Central Russia. In a green clearing, among birch trees illuminated by the bright rays of a summer sun, the forest stream flows along its winding path. Despite the simplicity of the theme, there is nothing of the ordinary about the painting. The difference in lighting on the right and left gives the impression of artistic experimentation. The rather ornamental style is strengthened by the daring simplification of the shapes, the flattened treatment of the background and the accurate symmetry and consistent alternation of light and shadow. All of this anticipates discoveries of a later genre in painting, more specifically art nouveau. Also noteworthy are the intensity of the bright stream, which emanates from the sky, as well as the absence of a luminous atmosphere that would soften the contrasts between the bright colours, reminiscent of festive summer hues. Those contrasts might be considered somewhat daring for advocates of realism.

© 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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