#4 2011 (33)
The title of the exhibition at the Tretyakov Gallery’s “Engineering” wing was borrowed from a Neapolitan folk song — and for good reason, since the lines epitomize the special feelings about this southern city, one unique in Italy. “Eternal Rome”, which became a recognized academy of European masters; classic Florence, a refuge of intellectuals and patrons of the arts; carnivalesque Venice — each city is enjoyable in its own way. But Naples is special because of its location, mild coastal climate and distinct blissful atmosphere of relaxed “do-nothing-ness”.
November 27 2010 marked the 160th anniversary of the birth of the remarkable Russian artist Yelena Dmitrievna Polenova (1850-1898), the sister of the famous landscape painter Vasily Polenov. To mark the artist’s anniversary, the Tretyakov Gallery prepared the exhibition titled “She lived in the magical world of the fairy tale”, which presented the most original and innovative of Polenova’s works, alongside archive documents, memorial photographs, books and magazines which revealed the artist’s singular social and artistic efforts.
Yelena Polenova was gifted in graphics and drawing, painting, ceramics, and the decorative arts, as well as an accomplished collector, researcher and educator... Her diverse personality and creative quest has always posed certain challenges for scholars.
The names of Yelena Dmitrievna Polenova and Maria Vasilievna Yakunchikova-Weber are closely connected in the history of Russian art, and are linked to the origin and rise of the modernist style. A search for new experience brought the two women artists together. Their companionship, reflected in their correspondence, helped each to develop as an artist and was mutually enriching. Their letters show how this bonding gradually grew in importance. Reserved by nature, Yelena expressed her concern pithily: “It has been long since I last heard from Masha — I wrote to her already several times and received only one letter in reply”. Maria wrote: “I feel you intimately, and deeply and humbly hope to hear from you sometime”.
In October 2011 the Tretyakov Gallery hosted a remarkable event. In the room featuring Vasily Polenov’s works the museum put on view his two compositions — “He That Is Without Sin Among You” (1908) and “Guilty to Death” (1906), from his series of paintings “Scenes from Christ’s Life” (1890s-1900s). Found by chance at a North American educational institution, the pieces were displayed by Bonhams auction house at a pre-sale exhibition.
Throughout the 19th century Paris was the artistic capital of the world, and it was there at the beginning of the 20th century that the art of the new era took shape. Marc Chagall wrote that “... back then, the sun of Art was only shining over Paris”, and young artists from different countries, mostly from Eastern Europe, flocked there. That international community of outstanding artists became known as the “École de Paris” (the Paris School). Among the highlights of the “Paris School” exhibition at the Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts in Autumn 2011 was the work of Chaim Soutine (1893-1943).
“GRANY” FOUNDATION PRESENTS
There are a number of successful artistic couples in 20th-century Russian art: Robert and Sonia Delaunay, Mikhail Matyushin and Yelena Guro, Natalya Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov, Alexander Drevin and Nadezhda Udaltsova, Alexander Rodchenko and Varvara Stepanova. Latvian art had Alexandra Belcova (Aleksandra Beltsova) (1892-1981) and Romans (Roman) Suta (1896-1944). Three years ago, in October 2008, their former apartment in Riga became a museum — due to the efforts of their daughter, Tatiana Suta, who preserved her parents’ art and, with the participation of the Latvian National Museum of Art, their vast collection of paintings, drawings and decorative porcelain can now be seen by the art-loving public.
Ritualistic, spontaneous, improvisatory, disciplined, anarchic, unfashionable, indifferent, insatiable, obsessed, risk-taking yet curiously wedded to routines: Lucian Freud’s life (19222011) was a mass of self-imposed contradictions, while his art was almost alarmingly focused, intense and unremitting, and the product of unvarying determination. He never, from his hallucinatory early drawings, prints and paintings on a relatively small scale to the paintings of his last decades, with rich thick impasto, and occasionally crowded with figures, deviated from his obsession not only with the observed world, but his observed world. The exhibition “Lucian Freud Portraits”, running at London’s National Portrait Gallery until May 2012, collects more than 100 works from museums and private collections — the first major show since the artist died on 20 July 2011, but in which he was involved until his death. It will perhaps be the culmination of his lifetime’s preoccupation with private faces in public places, and public faces in private places — for many of those he painted were never identified by name.
The Plastovs are an ancient Russian family. Their ancestors, many of whom were priests, lived in the Arzamas region. Legend has it that one of the Plastovs was a cleric in an area populated by the Mordvins (the Erzya people). Their family surname then was Sinitsyn, and among them was, in the late 18th-early 19th centuries a certain Vasily Sinitsyn, a deacon fond of painting. One of the Sinitsyn family was an apprentice with the icon painter Plastov — he painted icons with the artist travelling from village to village. When his mentor died, the apprentice took his family name: at first he was called Plastov the apprentice, and then simply Plastov. The first family member about whom anything is reliably known is Gavrila Stepanovich Plastov (1801-c.1843), whose father is known to have been a cleric. Gavrila studied at (but did not graduate from) a seminary in Kazan. He also studied at an art school in Arzamas founded in 1802 by the painter Alexander Stupin. Founded on academic principles (Stupin himself had studied at the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg), the school had a curriculum combining professional education with a large range of general subjects and was endorsed by the Academy. The school placed a special emphasis on teaching icon painting.
The first winner of the Plastov International Prize Vladimir Telin, a People’s Artist of Russia, is the last surviving member of the “spectacular Moscow foursome” that emerged in the 1970s, which included Nikita Fedosov, Vyacheslav Zabelin, Vladimir Scherbakov and Telin himself. Telin’s transparent and comprehensive creative evolution and his personal artistic style represent an unexplored, versatile and life-affirming “continent” in the landscape of Russian art.