Art Roundup – October 2013

Another month, another exhibition and round-up. What have we for October 2013?

  1. Here’s advance notice for a Boris Chetkov (1926-2010) exhibition – Reimagining Russia: the Landscape and Genre Paintings of Boris Chetkov – that will run November 22-24, as part of the Russian Art Week in London.
  2. In the magnificent Houghton Hall in Norfolk is a brilliant exhibition of works from the erstwhile Walpole Collection (which was acquired by Empress Catherine following his death, and is now in the State Hermitage Museum). Houghton Revisited: Masterpieces from the Hermitage runs until November 24, 2013.
  3. The Grad Gallery in London (which I visited a while ago for their SEE USSR – propaganda posters – exhibition) now has a remarkable set of displays of Constructivist machinations rendered in three dimensions by Henry Milner from the original blueprints of Tatlin, Lissitzky, Rodchenko and Klucis. Utopia Ltd runs till December 20, 2013.
  4. Check out some examples of Latvian Textile Art at the Virtual Art Gallery!
  5. The Art Museum of Estonia has an exhibition titled The Progress of Images: Interpreting Estonian Art and Photography of the 19th Century, which runs till January 12, 2014 in Tallinn.

    Sparks III, by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. (1906).

    Sparks III, by Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis. (1906).

  6. And, continuing the Baltic theme, we have I Dream of Lithuania, works by the great Lithuanian artist Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis (1875-1911), which will run at the Ghent Museum of Fine Arts in Belgium till December 15, 2013.
  7. The Jewish Museum in New York displays Marc Chagall: Love, War, and Exile, exploring the artist’s darker works from the 1930s through 1948. The exhibition runs till February 2, 2014.

The Kiss 1

What can be more delicate, more affectionate, more lovely than a kiss? It is a theme that many artists have addressed, and the Russians (and Georgians) are no different.

Fyodor Moller (1812-1874) painted ‘The Kiss‘ in 1840. Modelled by his lover Amalia Lavagnini, it belongs in his first Italian period. This painting is in the academic tradition of training. From the 17th century, art students had been made to prepare studies of a bridegroom and bride, or more simply, subjects with two faces. Moller, encouraged by his teacher Karl Brueller to study genre scenes of the quotidian life, insinuated ordinary Italians into his works of the time. He enlarged the figures, paying particular attention to the precise depiction of the faces and emotions of his subjects. Irresistible feeling, horror and fright – all these were elements of the romantic aesthetic ‘The Kiss’ became a sensation, establishing Moller’s fame. The original was purchased by Czar Nicholas I. The image here is one of many variations that Moller essayed in his subsequent career. [1]

The Kiss, by Fyodor Moller. (1840).

The Kiss, by Fyodor Moller. (1840).

Ivan Silych Goryushkin-Sorokopudov (1873-1954) painted ‘The Kiss‘ in the 1910s. The subject was connected to Alexei Tolstoy’s novel ‘The Silver Knyaz’ for which Goryushkin-Sorokopudov prepared a set of illustrations. The artist’s interest in the Russian antiquity was no exception: like others such as Kustodiev and Vasnetsov and Bilibin, he valued the spiritual integrity and optimism of the Russian people. By illustrating old Russia and its rituals, customs and poetry of ancient art, he aimed to promote the development of people’s interest in history and culture. In this work is a decorative and expressive manner accentuated by the placement of the subjects against a dark green background of a garden which makes their clothes shine even brighter, lit up by the setting sun. The impulsive movement of the lovers united in an ardent kiss is stretched in time by the contrasts in light and colour, the dynamics of the lines, in the broad strokes that passionately and confidently accentuate the form. With cheerful colours, Goryushkin-Sorokopudov aims to express in art the identity of Russian life in the the 17th century, governed by a desire to convey the wealth of pure colour that was characteristic of the culture of ancient Russia. [2]

The Kiss, by Ivan Goryushkin-Sorokopudov. (1910s).

The Kiss, by Ivan Goryushkin-Sorokopudov. (1910s).

Konstantin Somov (1879-1939), one of the greats of Russian art, loved the depiction of subjects as though seen through a window. His ‘Ridiculed Kiss‘ (1908) is a comedy of manners, with a grotesque gallant embracing an amorous woman; simultaneously it’s a peep-show, with a leaf-covered trellis providing a vantage point for a spy; and all along, the painter himself mocks the subjects. The study for this painting was made in Oranienbaum near which the artist’s family often sojourned at dacha. This was the former residence of Prince Menshikov and thereafter of Catherine II who enlarged the formal gardens and later commanded banned the admission of ‘the despicable populace in grey caftans and sandals‘. [3]

Ridiculed Kiss, by Konstantin Somov. (1908).

Ridiculed Kiss, by Konstantin Somov. (1908).

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin painted ‘Youth – The Kiss‘ in 1913. This Symbolist painting may be said to depict the first love on earth, that of Adam and Eve. [4]

Youth (The Kiss), by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin. (1913).

Marc Chagall‘s ‘Lovers in Blue‘ was painted in 1914 and is one of his finest works. Finished in the year before his marriage to his great love, Bella, ‘the painting binds the couple together by enveloping their heads in a blue haze that emanates from portions of their faces and surrounds their intimate embrace.’ [5]

Lovers in Blue, by Marc Chagall. (1914).

Lovers in Blue, by Marc Chagall. (1914).

Next, we have the dystopian vision of Mstislav Dobuzhinsky (1875-1957) whose 1916 work, ‘The Kiss‘, depicts two lovers embracing in the foreground of social collapse. Unmindful of what is happening around them, the lovers are wrapped in each other, a hymn of love and freedom and the will towards the luminous and the clean. Dobuzhinsky attached special importance to freedom and dignity, and prior to painting this work, ”he prepared three preparatory sketches through which come through his desire to isolate the lovers and give them the value of semantic centre.” [6]

The Kiss, by Dobzhinsky. (1916).

The Kiss, by Mstislav Dobuzhinsky. (1916).

1920 saw the appearance of the Georgian painter Shalva Kikodze‘s ‘City‘, about which I’m unsuccessful in discovering any further detail. All I can add is that Kikodze was one of a small handful Georgian artists sent to Paris (see my post on the Tbilisi avant-garde); he painted many scenes of the City of Lights, of which this is one.

City, by Shalva Kikodze. (1920).

City, by Shalva Kikodze. (1920).

And, finally, we can jump several decades to another Georgian, Lado Gudiashvili, who painted his ‘Blue Kiss‘ in (I think) the 1950s – please let me know if I’m wrong, or if you have any further information on this work.

Blue Kiss, by Lado Gudiashvili.

Blue Kiss, by Lado Gudiashvili.


[1] The Kiss, Fyodor Antonovich Moller.

[2] The Kiss, by V. P. Sazonov: Savitsky Picture Gallery, p. 62. Privolzhskoye publishing house. 1987.

[3] Ridiculed Kiss, by Galina Inovenkova. Vestnik Tsvetovoda, June 4, 2009.

[4] Twosome, page 5, by Yevgeniya Petrova, State Russian Museum, St. Petersburg, 2002.

[5] Fantasies of Flight, page 213, by Daniel Ogilvie. Oxford University Press, 2003.

[6] Mstislav Valerianovich Dobuzhinsky, by Gennady Chugunov, 1984.

Lives of the Artists IX

Marc and Ida Chagall. (1946). © Lotte Jacobi Collection, University of New Hampshire, USA

Jackie Wullschlager writes:

By 1950, Picasso and Matisse’s relations were, according to one observer, “roughly those of one crowned head with another”, but neither could be friends on anything like equal terms with anyone else. In Paris, in the 1920s and 1930s, Chagall had given them and most other artists a wide berth; … It was characteristic of his instability, his mix of ambition and victim complex in the early 1950s, when he was emotionally vulnerable, that he now took up residence between Picasso and Matisse only to smart with anxiety and envy. Ida [his daughter, an acclaimed beauty and a bundle of energy], meanwhile, was busy seducing both old men. Chagall was at once jealous and proud that she had posed for a series of drawings by Matisse, while at a lunch with Picasso – a sumptuous Russian meal which she prepared herself – at Tériade’s, “she put on all her charm for Pablo, and told him how much his work meant to her … She was rather well set up, with curves everywhere, and she hung over Pablo almost adoringly,” according to Françoise Gilot. “By the time she was finished, Pablo was in the palm of her hand, and he began telling her how much he liked Chagall.”

From Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.

Lives of the Artists VIII

In La Ruche, that beehive of the avant-garde in Paris, Marc Chagall was neighbour to the eccentric Chaim Soutine (Хаим Соломонович Сутин) (1893-1943). Chagall thought Soutine was pitiful, tormented, ‘a morbid expressionist’, and avoided his as much as he could. Soutine did little to endear himself to his colleagues: he never bathed, and even had a nest of bedbugs in his ear. Back in Vilna, he had beaten by the sons of a rabbi because he painted, Soutine once said. In La Ruche, he painted carcasses that he obtained from a local slaughterhouse, and spent so much time over them that they rotted in his room and blood drained out onto the corridors outside. It’s a legend of the time that Chagall once saw the blood, ran out of the studio and screamed, ‘Someone’s killed Soutine.’

In 1914, when Chagall was permitted to return to Russia, Soutine offered to sublet his room. Chagall refused, tied a rope across the front door and left for home. Nine years later when he came back, the rope was no longer there, the room had been ransacked, and the paintings he had left behind were all gone, as were most of his old avant-garde colleagues. And despite having sold nearly a hundred of his own canvases to a wealthy American, Soutine alone remained at La Ruche.

From Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.

Lives of the Artists VII

Vitebsk, of course, is part of the heartland of the Russian avant-garde, given the large number of artists who came from there. Think of Chagall and Malevich – both Vitebsk types – and big rivals of each other. Yeremei Shkolnik (who grew up in Vitebsk during the time their visions of art were competing) remembers seeing their exhibitions. At the time (1918-1923), he was only a child but already training at Yuri Moisevich Pen’s studio. Pen had been Chagall’s teacher as well.

Especially of interest in the institute among us kids was the display of the works of the students from Malevich’s studio. It used to be that the students would bring out a big white canvas on which would be painted a red or black square. They would stand or hang the canvas in one or a second or a third location; the students with serious mien would then gaze at the square and argue under which circumstance that square looked better or suggested a great sense of movement.

The viewing of works by the students of Chagall’s studio was very interesting. I particularly remember one display. On large canvases, almost life-size, were shown the same nude woman with a guitar. What amazed us was that the nude, the guitar and the background were all painted green. It was as though everyone was looking at nature through green glass. (Much later, I understood what was the problem of colour that was being addressed by the display.) I also recall that the drawing of the nude model with the guitar was accomplished realistically.

Translated excerpt from Yeremei Shkolnik, ‘Vitebsk of my youth‘, Our Heritage, № 75-76, 2005.

Lives of the Artists III

In 1910, Marc Chagall was desperate. He wanted to go to Paris but couldn’t afford it. He was biding his time in Vitebsk, his birth place, and painting furiously. His girlfriend Bella was in town as well and posing in the nude for him. For their Orthodox Jewish families, this was unspeakably shocking. Chagall’s mother saw one of his paintings of Bella hanging on the wall. He wrote in his memoirs:

“What’s that?”

A naked woman, breasts, dark spots.

I’m embarrassed; so is she.

“Take that girl away!” she says.

“Dear little Mama! I love you very much. But … haven’t you ever seen yourself in the nude? As for me, I only look and sketch her, that’s all.”

However, I obeyed my mother. I put away the canvas and, in place of that nude, I painted another picture, a procession.

(From Jackie Wullschlager, Chagall: Love and Exile, Penguin, 2010.)