“Russian Seasons” in Old Bavaria
The idea of the "Russian Munich" project has developed only recently - and spontaneously - in conversations between art critics and artists. Until that moment art history did not know any such notion, although the theme itself, of cultural ties between Russia and Germany, had its own historical background in both countries.
As a rule, any analysis of a dialogue between two cultures is conducted along the lines suggested by the combination of the two capitals concerned. One such significant example was the exhibition "Paris-Moscow", the first to raise the most crucial questions on the competition between the leading art trends of Russia and France at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
On the other hand, a phrase such as "Russian Paris" already has a long history in literature and journalism, with associations to the life of Russian immigrants in Paris, full of contradictions as it was, as well as the contribution to the unique cross-cultural creative community called the Parisian school made by Russian artists.
Later the multi-faceted image of "Russian Berlin" appeared, where the interaction of cultures and their parallel developments was completely different in character. But that notion also contained the idea of a penetration between national artistic impulses, with the result that both cultures became richer and individual quests more intensified and transformed. In time, all that allowed the creation of a panoramic view of a "crossroads" for both the major trends and the artistic marginalia of the vast European region.
The idea behind "Russian Munich" is a different one. Although many of the most famous figures of Russian literature and art have been closely connected with the capital of Bavaria for two centuries, until now no single attempt has been made to unite the considerable number of odd events and facts of their biographies into a clear picture, one that might demonstrate the historical and cultural phenomenon as a whole. A simple reprise of the names of the Russian graduates of acclaimed Munich academic institutions, of the prize-winners of the major international exhibitions that took place in that city, of the masters who lived in Munich for many years is impressive, allowing the critic to assert that such a phenomenon is real indeed.
The exhibition, currently on display in the Tretyakov Gallery, is the first to draw the attention of specialists and the general public to the original and remarkable phenomenon that can be called "Russian Munich." This first undertaking is, of course, far from complete or allembracing, especially since the limitations behind the exhibition influenced its scale. However, that very lack of space brought strict criteria to the items chosen, while its curators had to decide and define the historical period in which the contribution of Russian artists to the artistic life of Munich was most obvious. Finally, the initiators and organisers of the project focused their attention on the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries.
During that period a number of famous Russian artists participated in international exhibitions held there, receiving high acclaim from both art critics and the judges concerned. Prime among such examples was the first-class medal awarded to Mikhail Nesterov for the picture "Saint Russia" at the International Munich Exhibition of 1909, as well as the second-class medals for the picture "In Summer" by Vinogradov and the picturesque interiors of Zhukovsky.
Levitan, Serov and Malyavin were elected members of the "Munich Secces- sion", one of the major manifest-ations of European Symbolism and Modernism. Borisov-Musatov's personal exhibition was a huge success in Munich in 1904; it took place shortly before the artist's death, and summed up his creative life and work. Vasily Kandinsky arrived in the city in 1897, an unknown postgrad-uate of law from Moscow University who in a few years would become the acknowledged leader of a group of radical avant- gardists of both Russian and German descent.
Kandinsky's life was intimately associated with Munich up to the beginning of World War I. He was the founder of numerous artistic associations that played a considerable role in the development of 20th-century art - the "Phalanx" (1901), the "New Artists' Association" (1909), and finally the "Blue Rider" (1911). The latter united outstanding figures of German and Russian Expressionism. Together with the group "The Bridge" it became the most notable community of expressionist artists.
The historical period concerned is characterised by various major features. Among them are: teaching practices of Munich academic schools that allowed many young artists, including Russians, to master the modern programme of artistic and creative education; the active participation of Russian artists in the exhibition life of Munich; and the rapid, exuberant growth and development of Expressionism, which not only gave rise to a considerable number of works now considered to be landmarks in painting, but also foretold the process of internationalisation of art in the 20th century.
All these three features influenced the concept and structure of the exhibition in a very natural way. Furthermore, in the process of collecting material for the three parts of the display and its catalogue the curators became convinced that those three features actually formed the core of the concept of "Russian Munich", complementing each other in the field of the systematisation of events. In fact, the concept itself appeared directly.
Starting with the turn of the 19th- 20th centuries and its accompanying new artistic mentality, we tried to determine the lines along which further analysis of the contribution of Russian artists to Munich's versatile artistic life in later periods could be drawn. The exhibition includes surprising material known previously only to specialists, including twelve prints from the series of illustrations and elements of book design to "The Lay of the Host of Igor" created by Natalia Goncharova between 1922 and 1924. The book was published in German under the title "Die Maer von der Heerfahrl Igors" by the Munich publishing house Orchis Verlag as one of the publications in a series dedicated to the history and culture of Russia. In 1989 those illust-rations were presented to the Tretyakov Gallery as part of a legacy in the will of A.K. Larionova-Tomilina.
The exhibition catalogue contains reproductions of the prints concerned, as well as the first publication of extracts of correspondence between Mikhail Larionov and the head of the publishing house, V. Klein, concerning the preparation of the book and revealing many interesting details about Goncharova's creative method. The author of the article, Irina Shumanova, managed to show that this brief but convincing "Munich trace" in the biography of the most important representatives of avant-garde was an important contribution to the dialogue between Russian and German culture in the interwar period.
The novelty of the "Russian Munich" theme, and the introduction of the associated new art term, has revealed an unexpected aspect in the understanding of artistic ties between Russia and Germany. The exhibition actually concludes the programme of official events arranged to celebrate the year of German culture in Russia.
Viewers have already had the opportunity to see projects developed by the Pushkin State Museum of Fine Arts and the State Historical Museum dealing with the problem of artistic ties between Germany and Russia on a wider basis; the Tretyakov Gallery display differs considerably because it does not pretend to be monumental or all-embracing. It comprises works belonging to the Tretyakov and pictures that complement them from the Russian Museum, the Omsk Vrubel Museum of Fine Arts, the Research Museum of the Academy of Arts, the Munich gallery "Leubahaus", the "Starye Gody" (Old Years) gallery in Moscow, and pictures from the well-known private collection of Sergei Grigoryants.
Over many years Russian artists were interested in Munich's artistic life. Bavaria's main city impressed them not only by the intensity of its artistic and intellectual life, but by its silence, comfort and well-organised everyday life, factors completely new to the Russian people. Arguably, that was the reason why Russian painters stayed in the studios of Munich: they considered such an atmosphere creative and inspiring. Over time that attraction to Munich, and to Germany in general, grew into a passionate life-long love for the country, its cult-ure and history, and in its turn brought remarkable results in Russia too.
Vasily Polenov was prime among the elder generation of "lovers of Germany". The style of life of the small Bavarian towns - with their traditional university, theatre and museum - was dear to the artist and impressed him so much that he even tried to organise the life of the local peasant community at his Borok estate in a similar way, building a school, folk theatre and museum there.
Alexander Benois and the "Mir Iskusstva" (World of Art) painters are also relevant. Analysing and summing up the experience of their Munich colleagues, namely, of the art historian P Muter, the organiser of the "Seccession" exhibitions A. Paulus and the German graphic artists T. Geine and U. Ditz, who created the artistic image and style of the "Simplicissimus" magazine, the miriskusnikis managed to organise publishing and exhibition activity in Russia on a completely new basis within a short period.
Another aspect that stressed the role of Munich - and made it possible to dedicate a separate unit of the exhibition to it - was the regular huge international exhibitions held there from 1863 to 1913, and the displays of the "Secces- sion" association from 1893 to 1913. Without doubt those exhibitions played an important role in the development of Russian art at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries.
Although it may seem paradoxical, it was the success of the joint exhibition of the St. Petersburg and Moscow groups of young artists at the Munich "Seccession" of 1896 (organised by Benois and Paulus) that consolidated those two stylistically different groups and led to the formation of such associations as the "World of Art" movement (in 1898) and the Union of Russian Artists (in 1903) in Russia. The participation of Russian artists in the 1898 "Seccession" was particularly successful, with 112 pictures displayed. Among them were such masterpieces as "Girl with Peaches", "Portrait of Grand Duke Pavel Alexandrovich", "October", and "Woman with a Horse" by Valentin Serov; "Eternal Peace", "The Last Snow", "A Field on the Edge of the Forest", and "Near the Creek" by Isaak Levitan; and "The Ringing of Church Bells" and "The Great Taking of Monastic Vows" by Mikhail Nesterov. The magazine "Kunst fur alle" in its twelfth issue of 1898 published a major article with reproductions of works by Bakst, Benois, Korovin, Levitan, Nesterov, Purvit, Somov and Serov that were on display in that exhibition. It is significant that in the same year Serov and Levitan were elected members of the Munich "Seccession", and in 1901 Philip Malyavin also became a member. It was also the time when Sergei Diaghilev developed the idea of introducing Russian art to the West; he would implement the idea a little later during the hugely- successful Russian Seasons in Paris.
When analysed, the decisions of the judges of the International Art Exhibitions seem very interesting. Russian artists began participating in 1863: in that year Nikolai Geh showed his "Messengers of Resurrection" and "Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane". Repin and Kramskoi would also often take part in them: in the 1883 exhibition Repin showed his work "Rest", and Kramskoi "Portrait of Litov- chenko" and "Portrait of S.I. Kramskaya, the Artist's Daughter". Even though Russian painters often won gold medals, their presence was sporadic. The situat-ion changed drastically at the beginning of the century when a generation of young painters appeared: it was at that moment that the Russian school announced its independent and unique existence to the rest of the artistic world. The results of the 10th International Exhibition of 1909 and the 11th Inter-national Exhibition of 1913 were the most impressive.
Both exhibitions were organised by two Munich artistic societies, "Die Munchener Kunstlergenossenschaft" and "Munich Seccession", to show the state of modern world art. Usually they took place from July through to the end of October in the Munich Crystal Palace under the patronage of the Bavarian prince-regent.
F.A. Rubo was appointed Commissar of the Russian section during those years, since he had lived and worked in Munich for a long time and was also a member of the Munich Academy of Arts. His reports to the Imperial Academy of Arts are eloquent and vivid statements about the place of Russian art within the European schools. Rubo's report from the exhibition of 1909 says that the jury was united in its judgement about "the Russian section being the best in the international exhibition". In a letter to V.P. Loboikov from June 7, 1913, he writes: "The novelty and fresh attitude of the Russian section as well as the number of good works displayed there make it one of the best without any doubts. The Academy can be proud."
The jury of the 10th International Exhibition of 1909, consisting of 36 individuals with Professor Albert von Keller as its head, awarded 15 medals to Russian artists. Two first-class medals were awarded to Nesterov for his picture "Saint Russia" (now in the State Russian Museum) and to S. Kolesnikov for his landscape "Spring". Thirteen second-class medals were awarded to A.E. Arkhipov, G. M. Bobrovsky, S.A. Vinogradov, S.U. Zhukovsky, V.K. Byalyinitzky-Biryulya, N.I. Feshin, N.P. Khimona and others. In 1913 the Russian section received nine medals. One first-class medal was awarded to G.M. Bobrovsky for "Portrait of a Lady", as Rubo referred to it in his reports, with eight-class medals in addition - an impressive result, given that the overall number of medals was less than usual that year.
The fact that Munich became a major educational centre with a dynamic and well-organised art teaching process, and was perceived as such, explains the presence of Russian artists there that over the years turned it into a real place of pilgrimage. The Russian minister in Bavaria, Izvorsky, stated in his report to the Ministry of the Imperial Court in 1898 the number of Russian students studying in Munich: 36 at the University, 75 at the Higher Polytechnic School, and 14 at the Academy of Arts. The number of students studying at private art schools was so great that the minister could not cite the exact number in his report. As a result the "Russian Art Society in Munich" was formed. Besides the Academy of Arts, well known all over Europe, the Bavarian capital also hosted many private schools.
The intensity of Munich's art life was mainly due to the activity of the "Seccession", in which the newest trends in painting took shape, and of the Jugendstil movement in particular. The most famous schools were those of A. Aschbe, Simon Hollosy and K.Kish. Those numerous studios were international in character. They were also famous for their atmosphere that gave their students sufficient personal and creative freedom to pursue new trends and ways in modern painting without being limited by an adherence to one stylistic trend only. More than 50 Russian painters studied art at the school of Aschbe, which was especially popular with Russian artists.
This exhibition displays several brilliant pieces painted by such artists as I. Grabar, M. Dobuzhinsky, D. Kardovsky, O. Braz, D. Scherbinovsky, A. Yavlensky, and Kandinsky in their student years. Two of them, Dobuzhinsky and Braz, were Hollosy's students, while others studied with Aschbe. Dobuzhinsky described the difference between the two schools: "One could see here two completely different approaches to nature. Aschbe's principal of 'big line' and 'big form' logically led to simplicity and poster-like qualities, to a decorativeness and to transformation of nature in the end, to a deviation from reality. Hollosy, on the contrary, cherished nature. Hollosy... demanded that his students should perceive form not through 'the cold mind' but through feeling. Here reality was approved of, and individual form was admired with love and in general a deep, even intimate, relationship, so to speak, was established with nature." (M. Dobuzhinsky, Recollections, Moscow, 1987, p.p. 165-166)
To show the role played by the artists united around the Almanac with its symbolic name the curators had to cope with a difficult task: to demonstrate one of the brightest art phenomena of the beginning of the 20th century through a limited number of works of painting and graphic arts of the masters of the "Blue Rider" movement. It was important to saturate it with energy so that the viewer could feel a connection to the atmosphere of the epoch, and receive a taste of the "cocktail" of feelings and forces that made the appearance of the unique phenomenon of the "Blue Rider" possible. Only thanks to the joint efforts of museum empoyees in Russia and Germany, the curators of the Tretyakov Gallery and the German Embassy in Moscow, and thanks to the work of the main design figure involved, Nina Divova, as well as all other parties concerned who helped to organise this exhibition, was the task fulfilled.
Working on the concept of the exhibition and its catalogue, we considered the "Blue Rider" movement to be the central phenomenon of the period chosen within the wider process of the development of world art. It became the factor which most typified the development of cultural ties between Russia and Germany, terminated though it was for a while by World War I. Such an approach is justified from a historical point of view, not only because of the unparalleled character of the phenomenon itself, but because of the place it occupies in the artistic context of the epoch.
The creators of the "Blue Rider’’ movement and the theoreticians, musicians and writers centred around it were deeply rooted in, and came from, the German Jugendstil and Russian Modernism that manifested themselves at the "Sec- cession’ exhibitions. The main theoretical texts of Kandinsky, Marc and Verevkina are based on a deep knowledge of German philosophy, using in a certain way the ideas of Nietzsche and Schopenhauer as their main source. It was not by accident that they met in Munich, a city famous for its tendency to add a philosophical aspect to the creative process, with a preference for the fund-amental as part of a versatile artistic education. It was not by chance, either, that the Munich "Seccession" was the first association to consolidate and unite young artists who were in opposition to conservatism, among them those who managed due to this consolidation to master the aesthetic language of Impressionism, the decorative-linear rhythm of Symbolism and later on moved on to Expressionism.
The creation of the almanac "The Blue Rider" aimed towards the future, opening up new perspectives for the development of the emotional, rhythmic and artistic impulses of European avant-garde art. The creators and co-editors of the Almanac, Franz Marc and Vasily Kandinsky planned to publish it every year, with regular exhibitions under its name to follow: it was supposed to attract and bring together the best representatives of the modern national schools concerned. Nine months prior to the first publication of the Almanac Marc wrote to August Macke: "We want to create the Almanac destined to become the printed organ for all genuinely new ideas. (...) It should be published in Paris, Munich and Moscow simultaneously with numerous illustrations." ("The Blue Rider". Translation, comments and articles by Z.S. Pushnovskaya, Moscow, 1996, p.130). In another letter to Kandinsky he wrote: "We shall try to become the centre of modern trends, not only in Germany, but far beyond its boundaries" (ibid).
The painters' ambitions were well grounded. They managed to make Munich the main connecting point on the line traversing the route from Paris to Moscow. This pan-European aesthetic horizontal line was crossed by a chronological vertical line that reflected the evolution of notions and means from the ancient folk roots of art to present-day great perspectives, or as Kandinsky put it, "the chain connecting us to the past, and the ray connecting us to the future".
Sadly, such plans were not to be fulfilled: the war turned the world upside down. Kandinsky left Munich and, with the majority of artists who were working abroad, returned to Russia. Marc was killed on an intelligence mission near Verdun in the middle of the war, in March of 1916.
When in the 1920s Kandinsky returned to Germany, he was repeatedly asked to revive the Almanac. But he firmly refused, saying: "The Blue Rider consisted of the two of us: Franz and me. My friend is dead and I would not like to attempt anything." This phrase shows that he was aware that it was impossible either to repeat or revive what had already been done. It is a sad summary of the epoch's romantic illusions, its knight-like faith in absolute spiritual values, and the belief that art carries out a highly moral mission in this world.
The special position of the "Blue Rider" movement should be noted for the scale of its contribution to the artistic history of our time. Against a background of many such groups at the beginning of the 20th century, it might appear somewhat loose - with no administrative structure, organising committee or board, members joining and leaving the association, with no clear "lines of demarcation" between its different parts and threatening separatism.
Unlike the rough statements, tricks and passionate accusations to be found in the majority of avant-garde manifestos of those years, the main texts of the ideologists and authors of the Almanac sound like deeply-held philosophical views, and attempts at historic and cultural research aiming for cognition and fundamental justification of the aesthetic positions concerned.
Kandinsky published his theoretical essay "On the Question of Form" after the text "On the Spiritual in Art" in "The Blue Rider", developing his main theoretical ideas. In the short memorial essay "The Spiritual Treasure" Marc raised the question of "total loss of interest of humanity as a whole to the new spiritual values." He finished the essay with the catching motto: "Spirit destroys the castles."
The composer Arnold Schoenberg in his article "Attitude to the Text" raised the problem of the inner harmony of music, the unique way it influences people, and the unity and homogeneity of the work of art and the possibility of understanding the meaning of the whole piece judging by its part. And even a small extract from "From 'The Italian Impressions'" by the philosopher Vasily Rozanov reveals the all-embracing metaphor of ancient art. The very choice and content of the articles published in "The Blue Rider" depict, according to its authors, the priorities that art faces, namely addressing the spiritual world of mankind and the concept of artistic synthesis that combines both the reflections of the ideas of Gesamptkunstwerk and the first glimpses of the avant-garde forms of the new theatre.
The first edition of "The Blue Rider" was published in May 1912. Though the print-run was 17,000 copies, it sold out quickly, and in 1914 a second edition with new opening articles was published.
Between the two print-runs the editorial board organised some exhibitions of painting and graphic works both in Munich and on tour through Germany. The first of those exhibitions took place in the Munich Gallery of Tanhauser. Works by Kandinsky, Marc, Yavlensky, Macke, Verevkina and Munter comprised the core of the exposition, and the exhibition and artistic life of the Bavarian capital continued in parallel with that event. The current exhibition of the Tretyakov Gallery "Russian Munich" is the first attempt to reconstruct Russia's contribution to an artistic life full of different events, heated discussions and major discoveries. The reconstruction of the whole, detailed picture with works by artists from both countries, whose pictures once decorated the walls of the halls of the International Exhibitions and those of the "Seccession" and galleries of Munich, may be a task for the future.
Oil on canvas. 131 by 97 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on cardboard. 17 by 26.3 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 80 by 62 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 97 by 80 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 69 by 72.5 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 56.3 by 71 cm
Paper, typographical print, gouache. 15.2 by 19 cm, 10.5 by 10.7 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Paper, typographical print, gouache. 28.4 by 20.5 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 91.5 by 73.5 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery
Oil on canvas. 75.2 by 115 cm
State Tretyakov Gallery