Valentin Sidorov: "Shine On, Shine Brightly, So the Light Will Stay Alive..."

Anna Dyakonitsyna

Magazine issue: 
#4 2008 (21)

The anniversary exhibition of Valentin Mikhailovich Sidorov — People’s Artist of the USSR, full member of the Russian Academy of Arts, and Chairman of the Artists’ Union of Russia — ran in the Engineering Wing of the Tretyakov Gallery from November 13 through December 14. The retrospective continues the series of personal exhibitions of the masters of the generation of the 1960s, the “shestidesyatniki”.

Today the rediscovery of the art of this period is an actual phenomenon. The exhibitions of Nikolai Andronov, Pavel Nikonov, Gely Korzhev, and Dmitry Zhilinsky were outstanding events of the cultural life of recent years. A contemporary viewer may see the phenomenon of the “shestidesyatniki” in a new light when comparing the work of different creative individuals who are often polar opposites. Thus, in the Tretyakov Gallery, along with the exhibition of Valentin Sidorov, there is the exhibition of Oscar Rabin, who also celebrated his 80th birthday this year. World War II left an indelible mark on the lives of these artists - their formative creative period was the post-war years, full of hardships. While their manner and individual style are so different, their formal searching is so varied, and the themes and plots are so unlike each other, that the art of their generation is charged with a special ethical and philosophical content that makes them stand out from the artists of the generations that followed.

The exhibition “Shine on, shine brightly...” is the first major retrospective of Sidorov’s work in Moscow, presented with the support of the International Confederation of the Artists’ Union and the Artists’ Union of Russia. The exhibition features over 70 paintings by the master from the Tretyakov Gallery, the Tver Regional Art Gallery, the Vladimir-Suzdal Museum-Reserve, and the artist’s and other private collections. The scientific staff of the Tretyakov Gallery prepared and published the catalogue with a collection of articles, recollections of contemporaries, and detailed chronicles of Valentin Sidorov’s life and creative work. The evening with the master contributed to further acquaintance with his art. During this event, Valentin Sidorov presented the Tretyakov Gallery with his painting “With the White Snow” (1964). The painting will soon be included in the permanent exhibition “Art of the 20th Century”, in the gallery’s building on Krymsky Val.

Valentin Sidorov’s work occupies a special place in the history of Russian postwar art. In his early years the master found a theme in painting that defined his future work. It is not a coincidence that his creative development seems so consistent: studies from life are followed by generalized compositional solutions, which at the same time maintain a special concrete, recognizable motif.

A native of the Russian provinces, Sidorov has kept in touch all his life with the places he came from — the villages of Sorokopenye and Korovino in the Tver Region, where he spent his childhood. A simple and genuine life in harmony with nature, respect for family, the value of labour, and the moral laws of human relationships — all this was the foundation of those early years. Throughout Sidorov’s life, the happy time of his village childhood would remain an unfailing point of reference.

The main theme of Valentin Sidorov’s work is the nature of the places where he grew up — low-key, but dear to his heart; the simple and well known life of the village people, in other words the diversity of events and images that lie in the notion of a “small motherland”.

Beginning in 1935, when Valentin Sidorov’s family moved to Moscow and he went to school, he spent every summer in his place of birth, seeing himself as a village boy rather than a city dweller. He was a 13-year-old boy in Korovino when the Great Patriotic War started, interrupting once and for all the familiar flow of village life, and the time of happy childhood.

His father left for the front in August 1941, and in the winter of 1942 the mother and son returned to Moscow on foot. They still had a place to live there, and there was the school and the art studio at the City House of Young Pioneers, where Sidorov had begun to study with the teacher Alexander Mikhailov in 1940, before the war broke out.

But the real, serious school of mastery for him was the Moscow Secondary Art School (MSAS), where he was accepted in 1943. Sidorov remembers his teachers with special gratitude: Vasily Pochitalov, and Mikhail Dobroserdov, who taught him not just technique, but the ability to see great art and grasp the secrets of the great masters of the past.

The original works of Isaac Levitan made a strong impression on the young artist in 1944, when, among other art school students, he was helping to assemble the permanent exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery after its collections had returned from evacuation. According to the principles of the Levitan landscapes, he created one of his early works, “March 1945. Podrezkovo”.

Having graduated from art school, Sidorov continued to study at the Repin Institute of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. The lessons learned within its walls, and also the acquaintance with the richest museum collections in Leningrad allowed the young painter to receive new impressions. Sidorov describes a remarkable event in his memoirs: “Once on a Sunday ...the students of the Arts Academy were asked to come to the Russian Museum to help clean the museum itself, and the yard around it. My first year classes were sent to clean up the attic ...Moving further and further along, I suddenly saw something on the floor, that resembled the surface of a painting ...I took out my handkerchief, brushed off ...the remainder of dry dirt and carried the painting closer to the light. In front of me was Vrubel, the ‘Six-winged Seraphim’. I did not even have to turn the painting over, it appeared before me, the seraphim’s holy face was looking at me ...In that moment I seemed to see and hear something, about which one should not even speak ...Soon almost all of our lads came, students from other years came running, too. There stood the ‘Six-winged Seraphim’ before those youths in overcoats and padded jackets, who had lived through the war. There was something mythical and especially significant in this. It was as if the seraphim was blessing each of us on our chosen path”.’ During his student years, having finished his summer “plein-air” practice on the rivers of the Volga and Kama, Sidorov always came to his native Korovino. Gradually the artist came to realize how much this village life and the surrounding nature meant to him. “Looking at the Korovino motifs, I noticed that there is no wide panorama in them, no such things as the blue distance, wide open spaces, steep river banks, ravines — everything is simple, flat, no effects, no contrasts. There seems to be nothing special — ordinary fields, the same as everywhere else, the stripe of a forest. What is expressive about that? What is there special to paint? But something drew me to Korovino, to paint. What was it? Well, whatever it is, this ‘something’ is mine. This ‘something’ is connected with this house, this place, this land, this world. This is probably what I need to depict. This is where I am. The village, the shed in the field, the forest, the life of these people — this is my life as well”.[2]

In 1952, shortly before completing a full educational programme in Leningrad, Sidorov decided to transfer to Moscow, to the Surikov Institute. He spent the summer in Korovino again, gathering material for his future graduation project.

Unfortunately, soon the joy of studying was spoiled by the absurd pressure of the administration, typical for that time. Fyodor Reshetnikov, who led the workshop after the death of Pyotr Kotov, forbade the young lyricist to paint a pure landscape as a graduation work, strongly advising him to work on the painting “Future Tractor Driver”. “Put a girl at the steering wheel, and let everybody look at her — how she is driving for the first time. Chickens run from under the tractor, the foreman stands there, seeing her off. A sunny landscape in spring. And — the diploma is yours. Otherwise — have a certificate of completion. ...paint your landscapes with rains, and now paint with tractors, as the time demands. ...I painted a two-meter canvas in three weeks. But, having painted it, I made a promise to myself to never paint what’s not in my soul”.[3] He kept his word.

Having graduated from the Institute, ignoring the distribution of students to their new jobs and without authorization, Sidorov left for Korovino and immersed himself in the painting of not very “ideological” or “promising” landscapes and genre compositions, as they were considered at that time.

Thus at the end of the 1940s and in the beginning of the 1950s, the “Korovino” series developed, which was represented in a separate hall of the exhibition by dozens of pieces: “Stormy Day. Korovino” (1952), “Grandmother’s Fairytales”, “Morning in the Hut” (both from 1954), “Harvest Time”, “Quiet Warm Evening. Korovino” (both from 1955). These works attract the viewer with their delicate, but precise manner of execution, the fine harmony of values, and, of course, the truthful image. The young master makes these seemingly plain plots — rain, sunrise or sunset, twilight — assume the effect of the viewer’s presence and involvement in the moments, experienced by the artist himself.

In his early period Sidorov turns to the still life genre, which he seldom does in his more mature creative work: “There Was Wind at Night. Antonovka”, “Wet Day. Bell-flowers” (both 1955). At that time many compositional canvases were conceived that the master continued working on many years later: “In Early May” (20032008), “Shine On, Shine Brightly…” (1960, 2008).

Valentin Sidorov’s painterly mastership grew stronger in the “plein-air” years at the creative “Academic Dacha”, to which he traveled regularly from 1956. Soon he became the main initiator of many new ideas. Already during his first year at the “Academic Dacha”, he painted the landscape “Autumn. Leaves Fell on the Boats”, which shows a new understanding of pictorial form.

During his work at the “Academic Dacha”, the artist had the opportunity to meet well-known painters of the older generation and perceive the secrets of their mastership first hand. Sidorov warmly remembers “Uncle Zhora” — Georgy Grigoryevich Nissky, and their conversations about rhythm in painting, which found reflection in the way the young artist resolved his many compositions.

The painting “On the Warm Earth” (1957), which was exhibited at the Biennale in Venice in 1963, is Valentin Sidorov’s true creative success. This painting started a series of other works.

Beginning in 1966, Sidorov went every year to the village of Podol, where he first started working in the building of an old county school. (It was there that he first conceived of the painting “My School”). In 1974 Sidorov built a house for his mother in Podol, with a studio on the upper floor.

The border of the 1960s and 1970s marks the beginning of the phase of the master’s genuine creative maturity. Through artistic self-restraint and accurate selection of the subjects, Sidorov arrived at highly integral and substantial themes. A thinker and philosopher by nature, the artist strived to discover something deeply internal in each of his seemingly accidental motifs. For him to convey the state of virginal local nature and the individual’s involvement in this eternal life circle became an integral and inherent part of his creativity, as in “In the Meadow” (1968), “Birch Wind” (1971-1979), “Hay Harvest” (1975), and “Where the River Dubrovka Comes From” (1981).

Sidorov’s panoramic landscapes also belong to his major theme paintings: “Clouds Float over the Earth” (1985), “Birds Flying South” (1990), “Two Poplars”, “I Greet You, the Young Generation...” (1999), “Parental Stone” (2001), “Sacred Mountain” (2002). The general feeling of joy embraces the whole cycle of his landscape canvases. Every state of nature gave the artist boundless impressions. This freshness, the feeling of the first encounter, the discovery of the hidden harmony of the world in the most ordinary, mundane day, excited the master each time, and brought a response from his soul.

Quite naturally the artist also has a literary gift. He is the author of the book “The Land of Inspiration”, dedicated to the land of Tver, a cycle of stories, and a fascinating autobiographical novel “Shine On, Shine Brightly..”.

A thorough person in everything, Sidorov became one of the main organizers of the Artists’ Union of Russia, which he has been leading since 1987, and a driving force behind much of the Union’s development and activity. Thanks to him, the plans for inter-cultural cooperation are implemented, and major exhibitions of various periods of the Russian art held.

The beginning of the new century has become for Valentin Sidorov a time to reflect upon his life and creative work, although, luckily, he is still full of energy and new ideas, and his workshop is crowded with new canvases. One of them, “Shine on, shine brightly..”, which gave the exhibition its name, was conceived of almost half a century ago. All his life Sidorov remembered the words of his grandmother who saw the sketch of the painting: “This is like ‘pyatnashki’ .it was a game of tag — “Gori, gori yasno...” (‘Shine On, Shine Brightly’). We used to run like that, too, and shout, and be joyful, we had it all... Shine on, shine brightly... — she said with a sigh, — it is the same as ‘live, live brightly’. Many years have passed since then — a lifetime.”[4] With this quotation, Valentin Sidorov concludes his memoirs.

Today in Korovino, at the place of the ancient Parental Stone, where the villagers said farewell before leaving for the wartime front, there stands a chapel of the blessed Sergei Radonezhsky. The chapel was built at Sidorov’s initiative and with his financing, “in memory of the residents of Korovino, who defended the Fatherland and lived in faith and hope.”


  1. Sidorov Valentin “Gori, gori yasno...” Moscow, 2004. p. 152-153.
  2. Ibid., p. 158.
  3. Ibid., p. 166.
  4. Ibid., p. 174.
March. 1945. Podreskovo. 1945
March. 1945. Podreskovo. 1945
Oil on cheesecloth mounted on cardboard. 72 × 59 cm. Property of the artist
Valenin Sidorov “en plain air” in the environs of the village of Podol. The 1970s
Valenin Sidorov “en plain air” in the environs of the village of Podol. The 1970s
Valenin Sidorov at the window of his studio in the village of Podol. 1984
Valenin Sidorov at the window of his studio in the village of Podol. 1984
In the Meadow. 1968
In the Meadow. 1968
The first variant of the composition “Time of the Cloudless Sky”. Oil on canvas. 150 × 178 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Shine On, Shine Brightly. 1960, 2008
Shine On, Shine Brightly. 1960, 2008
Oil on canvas. 169 × 234 cm. Property of the artist
Autumn. Leaves Fell on the Boats. 1956
Autumn. Leaves Fell on the Boats. 1956
Oil on canvas. 70 x 85 cm. Property of the artist
With the White Snow. 1964
With the White Snow. 1964
Oil on canvas. 93 × 113 cm. Property of the artist
It Snows. 1969
It Snows. 1969
Oil on canvas. 90 × 100 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Autumn Leaves. 1970
Autumn Leaves. 1970
Oil on canvas. 120 × 112 cm. Tretyakov Gallery
Beginning of May. 2003–2008
Beginning of May. 2003-2008
Oil on canvas. 229 × 283 cm. Property of the artist
Sacred Mountain. 2002
Sacred Mountain. 2002
Oil on canvas. 135 × 173 cm. Property of the artist





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