Fedotov’s Favourite Family

In the previous post, we saw Pavel Fedotov’s lovely painting of Nadezhda Zhdanovich at the fortepiano. The Zhdanoviches were a large, close-knit family, quite likely Fedotov’s favourite, for he painted several of its members over the years.

The Zhdanoviches were a poor noble family, happy for the most part, but stricken with ill fortune -many of them died young. There were eight children, four boys and four girls, born to the patriarch, Pyotr Zhdanovich, a minor courtier. The boys, following family tradition, joined the cadet corps, while the girls were educated at a school for the lesser nobility.

Pyotr Zhdanovich. (1846-7).

Pyotr Zhdanovich. (1846-7).

Olga Zhdanovich (Pyotr's wife).

Olga Zhdanovich (Pyotr’s wife).

Pavel Zhdanovich.

Pavel Zhdanovich.

Mikhail Zhdanovich.

Mikhail Zhdanovich.

Anna Zhdanovich.

Anna Zhdanovich.

Alexandra Zhdanovich.

Alexandra Zhdanovich.

Vadim Odainik

Vadim Odainik (Odessa, 1925 – Kiev, 1984) was a Ukrainian artist of multifaceted talent. His brightly coloured landscapes and emotive portraits are fascinating pieces, and, despite having lived through the stultification of Soviet Realism, he appears not to have succumbed to its ill charms. “This symbiosis of the realities of socialist Ukraine of the mid-twentieth century and folk themes, executed in almost impressionistic style with a touch of Art Nouveau and folk motifs is captivating.”1 Indeed.

Karlovy Vary. (1964).

Karlovy Vary. (1964).

Filatov Street - it is snowing. (1976).

Filatov Street – it is snowing. (1976).

Winter in the Carpathians. (1972).

Winter in the Carpathians. (1972).

Carpathians. (1980).

Carpathians. (1980).

In the Carpathians. (1976).

In the Carpathians. (1976).

In the Carpathians (sketches). (1977).

In the Carpathians (sketches). (1977).

Hutsul woman from Yavorov: Vasilina. (1965).

Hutsul woman from Yavorov: Vasilina. (1965).

Hutsul still life: wedding presents. (1970).

Hutsul still life: wedding presents. (1970).

Hutsul musicians.

Hutsul musicians.

Zoya, the artist's wife. (1946).

Zoya, the artist’s wife. (1946).

Chersonessos (Crimea). (1962).

Chersonessos (Crimea). (1962).

Picnic. (1965).

Picnic. (1965).

Harvest. (1949).

Harvest. (1949).

Reference

1. Parashutov, ВАДИМ ОДАЙНИК. ХУДОЖНИК, ВЛЮБЛЕННЫЙ В КАРПАТЫ.

Janis Rozentāls

Janis Rozentāls (1866-1916) was born in a blacksmith’s family, and progressed from a local school to art school in Riga and thence to the St Petersburg Academy of Art, from where he went on to establishe herself as one of Latvia’s most famous painters.

He was a versatile artist in the Style Moderne and Impressionistic styles: landscapes, monumental works, works exploring the inner worlds of men and women, symbolist works, as well as portraiture. Below is a sample.

Mother and child. (1890).

The studio of the artist. (1896).

Death. (1897).

Self portrait. (c. 1900).

Black snake. (1903).

Daughters of the sun. (1912).

Family in the Sigulda. (1913).

Italian landscape. (1915).

Lives of the Artists XVI

A Little Woman. (1910).

A Little Woman. (1910).

In 1910, at the exhibition of the New Collective of Artists, Olga Della-Vos-Kardovskaya presented ‘A Little Woman’, her painting of her ten-year-old daughter Katya. This was the same Katya for whom the previous year Nikolai Gumilyov had written an acrostic poem. I should try to translate it, preserving the acrostic, but it’s doing my head in at the moment.

Когда вы будете большою,
А я — негодным стариком,
Тогда, согбенный над клюкою,
Я вновь увижу Ваш альбом,

Который рифмами всех вкусов,
Автографами всех имён —
Ремизов, Бальмонт, Блок и Брюсов —
Давно уж будет освящён.

О, счастлив буду я напомнить
Вам время давнее, когда
Стихами я помог наполнить
Картон, нетронутый тогда.

А вы, вы скажете мне бойко:
«Я в детстве помню только Бойку!»

Della-Vos-Kardovskaya returned the favour by painting a portrait of the poet.

Portrait of Gumilyov with African background. (1909).

Orest Kiprensky’s Portraits I

Orest Adamovich Kiprensky (1782-1836) was a famed Russian Romantic portraitist and artist of historical paintings. You may recall the tragic story of his love life that I posted. Here we have a small set of his portraits.

The artist’s father, Adam Shvalbe. (1804).

Self-portrait with paintbrushes behind his ears. (1808).

Self-portrait with pink scarf. (1809).

Mother and child. (1809).

Portrait of Avdotia Molchanova with her daughter Elizaveta. (1814).

Portrait of a boy. (1819).

Self-portrait. (1828).

Lives of the Artists XV

Zarui Muradyan, younger daughter of the famed Armenian painter Sarkis Muradyan, reminisced recently about her father. One of the things she talked about was her father’s brilliant painting ‘My Daughters’. You may recall it from my post on Sarkis a few months ago.

One of the best known works of my father is “Wedding in Hrazdan”  depicting a traditional Armenian wedding with typical rustic imagery. There I figured for the first time – a baby in the arms of the mother. Then I appeared in the painting, “My daughters” in 1969. It was a portrait of my sister and me – I was ten, my sister was twelve. The idea to make such an unusual portrait for him came unexpectedly and urgently one day. My sister and I had been gifted red dresses, and my mother bought us red stockings. And when we put on the dresses and tights, my father said to her: “Come on, I’ll paint them a portrait.” He told us to find red shoes and dragged us into the studio.

15 years later, the famous German businessman and art collector Peter Ludwig, one of the richest men in Germany, whose company produced chocolate, arrived. Today we have the famous Ludwig Museum in Cologne and its branches in different cities of Germany. Those days he would come to the USSR to buy works of Soviet art, in large numbers, in fact. Suddenly he came to Armenia and bought two of my father’s works: “Antuni” and “My daughters.” Dad did not want to part with the latter. He was troubled and thought it over and over, and then said, “One doesn’t always get a chance to exhibit in the heart of Europe.”

If he liked any of his work, he always made ​​variations. He asked Ludwig to wait a half year; six months later he was ready to sell “My daughters.” During this time, he made ​​a copy for himself with a different version of the background, which for some reason became the Republic Square. This work is now our family property, and we have temporarily transferred it to the National Gallery of Armenia.

Lives of the Artists XIII

Anna-Maria (Mariucci) Falcucci was the daughter of an Italian nude model who was an intimate of the Russian painter Orest Kiprensky (1782-1836), who had been living in Rome for several years. Kiprensky painted this picture of her when she was little.

Girl with a Poppy Wreath.

A tragedy occurred that was the talk of Rome. The model was found dead in Kiprensky’s quarters. She had been killed in a vicious manner, burnt alive. A few days later, in a local hospital, Kiprensky’s servant, a young man, also died.

Kiprensky was certain that the model had been murdered by the servant, but many people disbelieved his claim. In fact, the talk of Rome was that he himself had committed the crime. The police was unable to solve the crime. The incident coloured the rest of Kiprensky’s life.

Continuing his life in Rome was untenable. The news had spread to Paris, which proved equally unwelcome upon his arrival there. Kiprensky returned to Russia in 1823, having placed the ten-year-old Mariucci in a monastic orphanage, and leaving a sum of money for her expenses.

Seven years later, he came back to Rome, met the now 17-year-old Mariucci and fell in love with her. He was 47. For her, he converted to Catholicism, and in 1836, married her with little fanfare.

Mariucci was beholden to Kiprensky for his support and attention in her childhood, but, unfortunately for him, she did not love him. The marriage was not happy. Contemporaries reported frequent quarrels between them. Kiprensky began to drink heavily.

Three months after their marriage, Kiprensky died of pneumonia. Mariucci sent her inheritance – a large number of his paintings – to the St Petersburg Academy of Arts, including the ‘Girl with a Poppy Wreath’ in exchange for payment.

A few months later, Kiprensky’s daughter Clotilde was born.

After that, all traces of the artist’s young family in Rome disappear.

Russian Artists on Israeli Soil – Iosif Kapelyan, Part 1.

Those who have been in Israel know that in this tiny country it is possible to encounter a large number of paradoxes, both natural and climatic, despite its location in what appears to be a monotype desert zone. Equally, it is possible to encounter people of the widest variety of spheres of life. That is to say, here dwell masters of the brush and chisel, as different from each other as the desert and the oasis. Among them too are the emigrants from the Soviet Union to the Promised Land who arrived here more than 30 years ago.

Now I want to introduce the readers of this journal, ‘The Seven Arts’ to several Israeli artists of Russian origin, and to investigate how much moving from one country to another impacted their art and understanding of the world.

I held conversations with them several times over different years. Even today they are active in their chosen genres. My conversations with them are purely journalistic, but when assessing the creativity of these artists, I refer to the famous sayings of the late Dr Gregory Ostrowski, universal art critic, graduate of Leningrad University, student of N. N. Punin and V. F. Levinson-Lessing, I. Ioffe and M. S. Kagan.

Iosif Kapelyan – Sublime constructs of thought and feeling

The artist Iosif Kapelyan was for two years a refusenik. During that period, until 1980, when he was allowed to emigrate to Israel from Minsk, Iosif was expelled from the Union of Soviet artists which he had been once so keen to join, and he was refused any employment. His colleagues denounced him, called him a Zionist, a traitor to the enlightened ideals of Communism. He also had family troubles. Still, these struggles didn’t frighten Iosif: he took his fate in his own hands and moved to Israel. Thirty years have gone by since then.

Iosif, what drove you towards Israel ten years before the mass emigration of the 1990s? Was it antisemitism? After all, you had the coveted membership of the Unions, which allowed you to freelance; before your emigration, you even had three solo exhibitions of your work. You were despatched on creative assignments, showered with awards…

Portrait of Tanya Kapelyan.

Belarus landscape.

– Imagine to yourself – despite the benefits you listed, I always felt like a second class person, as though my owners were throwing me a bone after having fed everybody else they deemed necessary. But more importantly, I wanted a creative and cultural freedom.

And you found it here?

– Not immediately, but eventually I did. I arrived in Israel as a realist-artist. My professional training stemming from my country of origin provided only directions towards socialist realism. And I hadn’t done badly in that genre. Here, though, it was completely rejected.

Where had you trained?

From the series ‘Ancient Portraits’: Big Family

From the series ‘Mystica’.

From the series ‘Mystica’.

In my childhood, at the Palace of Pioneers at Babruysk. I had a wonderful teacher, Boris Fedorovich Belyayev who had turned an ordinary drawing circle into a children’s art school. More than a hundred and fifty of his students became professional artists. After that I studied at the Leningrad Art School. Following my military service, I went to the Minsk Theatre and Art Institute in the Faculty of Graphics, where I studied another six years. My professional foundations, as you can see, are solid. Prior to leaving for Israel, I worked at a publisher as a graphic artist. I created several series: ‘War and Children’, ‘Cosmos’, ‘Partisans’, ‘Heroes of Sholem Aleichem’, a series of etchings ‘Ghetto’, ‘Proverbs’, and others.

– In what direction did you start to move having obtained the coveted freedom of creativity?

– It’s impossible to transform oneself overnight. Everything happens gradually. One can live in a free world and remain a slave. And to achieve inner freedom, one needs to grow up to understand this and to overcome oneself. I went to Italy, France, Spain. In truth, my new era began after 1987, when I travelled with my solo exhibition to Los Angeles. Until that point, I had created in Israel some fifty works in my series ‘Ancient Portraits’. In the USA, I visited museums of modern art, which made an indelible impression on me. After America, I wanted to wander among colours, and I began to try myself out in the decorative genre.

– And was this sufficient to provide you with an inner emancipation?

– No, it was not enough. I began to study religious and philosophical literature and my outlook began to expand. This can be compared to the changing view of a panorama as seen from the roof of a house as compared to that seen from an airplane. The view and visibility to the horizon are completely different. I constantly try out different, new things. My advantage is that I am not dependent on buyers, do not need hawk my work in the market. In fact, since my arrival here, I’ve been working for years as a graphic artist at the Institute of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University. So I am able to work on art and not worry about sales.

I experimented, creating collages and paintings based on them, then became interested in esoteric works. Esoterica – it is a detachment from the earth and a capture of cosmic space. I was engaged in purely abstract works, constantly seeking colour. I have works that emanate from the mind as well as those that emanate from the heart.

From the mind, perhaps various geometric constructions?

– Yes, but even in them is a particular merit. In art, as in life, there is a need for a sharp change of tack, just as one wants to follow up something savoury with something sweet. After geometric abstractions, I moved to the style of abstract impressionism.

And what would be your next step?

– I think I may have a new period of creativity. This would be realist works with a cosmic sensibility, a special sonority. You understand – a human being is a particle of space in which everything is interconnected. It is necessary to recognise the wider world that is intangible. Our dreams, visions, thoughts – these are not in the physical world, but they affect the physical environment, because the mind is spiritual energy that cannot disappear without a trace.

In the world there exists a balance of power, but unrighteous minds can disrupt this balance and cause an explosion, elicit catastrophes and earthquakes. The artist is answerable for a lot of things. What he sows around himself and how he sees the world – he answerable for this. Art is the bridge between the spiritual and physical worlds.

– Do you think your art carries such a positive charge?

– I don’t want to say anything about myself. The works of an artist, like those of an actor or musician or writer, are his life and inner world. You can’t hide anything in them and you can’t fool anyone with them. Everything is open to view. Let the viewers judge for themselves. I believe that I continue to realise those abilities that are given to me by nature.

I had this dialogue with Iosif Kapelyan after the opening of his solo exhibition in September 1999 at the Beit-Bialik Museum in Tel Aviv. At the same time was a released a lavish illustrated book titled ‘Iosif Kapelyan. Art, Reality and Mysticism’. The author of the book was the Israeli art critic Miriam Or. In the book were 115 beautifully executed colour reproductions as well as 1469 black-and-white illustrations. This book, in fact, is the chronicle of life and oeuvre of Iosif Kapelyan.

Miriam Or, an author of twenty books and monographs, had become acquainted with the works of Kapelyan, and was enraptured by their diversity and depth of content, sensuality and openness, realism and dreaminess. She wrote: ‘Kapelyan’s paintings are poetic, like songs: in them, lines and colours are used like rhymes and verse… In his art, Kapelyan demonstrates how volatile the images of the material life are, how they have no defined boundaries, while the process of mapping them requires the expansion of the horizons that contain the human experience’.

And this is what Dr Grigory Ostrovsky had written in the introduction of his monograph on the creative artist: ‘… This is an enormous world, absorbing into itself the prosaic quotidian life and the striving for astral heights, the materiality of the subjective environment and the magic of cosmogonic abstraction, the universality of spiritual values and the polychrome of living Nature. The artist combines the possible with the impossible, the manifest with the secret, and unifies them all with the power of vivid and original talent, sealed by the high culture of colour and drawing.’

[This is the first excerpt in a loose translation of Yevgeniya Laskina’s article ‘Russian Artists on Israeli Soil‘, Seven Arts, Number 4 (17), April 2011.]

Lunacharsky on Art: Shterenberg

In 1914, A. V. Lunacharsky was the Paris correspondent of the Kiev newspaper ‘Kievan Thought’. He wrote several articles under the title Young Russia in Paris, among which were his impressions of David Shterenberg (6 February), Marc Chagall (14 March), A. F. Zholtkevich (15 June), and Iosif Teper (6 July).  [I mentioned this series in an earlier post on the Jews of the Russian Avant-Garde.] He intended, he said, to bring to his readers’ attention several young Russian artists whose fame was hardly thunderous and hiding in obscure silence. (Flowery, eh?) Paris, he said, had become a big centre of Russian art: it attracted youth from every corner, thirsting for creativity and beauty. More than that, the attraction was not for Paris’s own great past arts or contemporary unrecognised art; rather, it was for the uncontrolled and reckless pursuit of every possibility. Parisian trends were evident even back home among the young, going by all the exhibitions and art magazines. The hundreds of Russians in Paris could very well be in the vanguard of a new significant element of Russian art.

In this first part, I translate his piece on David Shterenberg (Давид Штеренберг) (1881-1948).

A friend enthusiastically demanded that I should immediately go see a series of works by the young Russian artist David Shterenberg, because he was returning to Russia the next day with his canvases. I might not, he said, have another opportunity to see the paintings and to cast the attention that they so richly deserved.

Shterenberg turned out to be one of the residents of the quaint Babylon № 2 on Rue Dantzig, a building roughly constructed of flotsam and debris, adapted to the needs of the poor artist, and giving shelter to about a hundred young people who are waging an ideological and material battle with life. This curious artistic labyrinth is called La Ruche.

Shterenberg bade us sit, and choosing this or that picture from among the large numbers leaning against the wall, he showed them to us, putting them up on a chair. He wants to show them chronologically. He made the occasional comment, and replied monosyllabically and, it seemed, hesitantly to my questions.

It turns out that he is the son of a poor Jewish artist from Zhitomir. From childhood he drew well, but the necessity to earn a living prevented him from pursuing his artistic interests till he was twenty-six. Only in the last four years, surviving somehow, was this person able to educate himself, absorbing the Parisian atmosphere. Officially he is not anyone’s disciple, but he learns intensely from everyone he sees that he feels is sympathetic to his own instincts.

From the very earliest studies, it is evident that before you is not some half-baked first-time artist.

Here is a Montmartre girl in a bright-red dress, décolleté, looking into your eyes with her own dark ones – it’s a big etude. But look at how she appears to be floating in the air, how emphasised is her depiction, how confidently her health radiates from her heavy young body. Already it is evident from this picture that Shterenberg will be a stranger to Impressionism, and reality interests him more than outward appearances. His first portraits convince me of this again, especially his magnificent portrait of his father. What a face! His cap askance, his jacket high-buttoned, at first glance all are reminiscent of the Renaissance. And that is because the face of the Jewish craftsman is really the face of the Doge. His calm expression and quiet meditativeness unconsciously reminds us of Venetian portraitists. But the few bright tones and the rapidly constructed picture with pale colours is reminiscent of [Ferdinand] Hodler.

I ask – did you know Hodler?

– No, I never met him. I saw him for the first time only in the last Salon.

The artist goes farther along the path of accuracy in the construction of a picture. To this he adds a conscious search for rhythm and at the same time works passionately on detail and depth of colour.

His most mature picture in this respect is still unfinished: it’s a full length portrait of a woman in a blue velvet dress seated against a background of crimson carpet cloth. The bowed shape and slowly rendered lines of the hands suggest an elegance and restraint, even if with a relaxed pace. Some parts of the portrait have an artistic sense of brilliance. The play of light on the smoothly combed hair is observed with scrupulous accuracy and poeticised love.

The painting is not complete, and it’s not difficult to point out some flaws, but in the best of its parts, it is worthy of Guerin, although it contains a different spirit. There is something Russian in its lethargic grace, in its restrained, sad and gentle emotion that spills all around, combining with rich colourful tones.

However, in parallel with his development as a realist painter, he also walks along a different path.

Here are streets that look like frightening corridors without ceilings. Firewalls, shutters on windows, taverns, pavements, all run at odd angles, the heights and voids distant in the depths. Needless to say, this simplistic and somehow geometric construction of a portrait of a street captures its absurd prison-like nature, its striking spatiality a somewhat tangible perspective – but it is hardly new. It’s a characteristic that is also sought by Marchand, to whom I have been repeatedly drawing the attention of readers interested in contemporary art.

Of course, Shterenberg knows the works of Marchand. But Shterenberg is not quite Marchand. Here we have a more of a horror of suffocation of the city. Here the mood is somewhat akin to Dobuzhinsky and Leonid Andreyev in his ‘Curse of the beast’.

But here is the big, still quite unfinished picture, which crowns them all. Involuntarily from my lips emerges the cry, ‘Tobin!’

Yes, the simplicity of the palette, the play between only two colours – blue and yellow, this selection of areas in which sandheaps and bulges and gaps immediately produce a space, the typically captured simple poses of the workers, so rhythmic and fine – these are all Tobin. Even the caps, even the underdone drawing of the faces, the shading of figures – these are all Tobin.

But here before me is a painting with the blue Seine in the distance, large piles of sand and little men digging into them, wheelbarrows, carts, horses. I consider Marchand and Tobin as advanced synthesists, but I don’t know – can you put any painting of Tobin beside this work by this autodidact who has sought this style for four years and only arrived at it in the past few months?

Here is one more picture of a young man in the same synthetic manner. Such flexibility in it, what an almost monumental figure against the complex background of the carpet. How economically this has been executed, how severely excised all superfluous details!

But the artist shows me even more recent pieces. He has already achieved a constructivity, and now he wants to enrich himself with the freedom of palette. The deep blue of the sky, the shining blue ground. The artist wants to enter the kingdom of dreams, but he wants to construct those dreams with the same certainty and substantiality that he renders reality.

And here is the picture that the jury at the Salon selected for exhibition. Amaze yourself, then, that nobody knows Shterenberg! But this picture is a rather ordinary modernist nude.

I note not so much the wealth of styles that Shterenberg pursues as the unusually rapid progress he makes in them all, and above everything I note his unerring taste. While others scramble madly in the field of Futurism, or find themselves stuck between the cliffs of Cubism, the young Shterenberg moves along the two directions simultaneously, with much promise to my mind. And how can I not be surprised, having entered the studio of the unknown young Russian entirely by accident, and found there such original reinterpretations of the elements of Guerin, Marchand and Tobin’s art?

But all this applies only to the form. Shterenberg’s investigations are all formal. But there is every indication that he is not only a painter but also a poet. Where will he end up? We’ll see.

Nude. (1907).

Nude. (1908).

Steamboats on the Seine. (1912-1914).

Courtyard of the hotel. (1914).

Houses. Zhitomir. (1914).

Portrait of father and sister. (1914).

Self-portrait. (1915).

Breakfast. (1916).

Still life with herring. (1918).

Old man. (1920).

Meeting in the village / Agitator. (1923).

Still life with lamp.

References

A. V. Lunacharsky, ‘Young Russia in Paris‘.

Sarkis Muradyan

[Sarkis Muradyan (Սարգիս Մուրադյան, Саркис Мурадян, 1927 – 2007) was one of the foremost Soviet Armenian artists of the 20th century. Mark Grigorian, a journalist and writer, is also Muradyan’s nephew, and on the occasion of Muradyan’s anniversary last year, he wrote a moving memoir of his uncle [1]. What follows is a loose paraphrase.]

Muradyan is the author of the famous portrait of Komitas, Armenia’s beloved musician, sitting before a piano clad in a robe of red. The painting is warm and dark. Komitas’s hand gently droops on the keyboard. The carpet is lush, the music sheet is on the piano, ready to be played. All would be well were it not for the appearance of a Turkish policeman at the corner of the painting. They were there to arrest the composer. The painting is titled ‘The Last Night of Komitas’.

Last night of Komitas. (1956).

Wedding in Hrazdan.

Muradyan is the painter of ‘The Wedding at Hrazdan’. A merry crowd dances. Men raise their hands and spread them wide. They are a little drunk. The bride is lost in the confusion. In the corner are two old ladies, gossiping. The dancing crowd is so typical of the Armenian wedding. The painting is faithful in every detail: the baggy and loose men’s suits, the big-nosed rough faces.

My daughters.

Then there is ‘My Daughters’. There are two girls wearing identical red dresses. They are between ten and twelve years old. They are gawky and awkward, still awaiting adolescence. They gaze at the viewer with childlike eyes not entirely certain of what’s happening around them. The painting is nearly gothic in execution – flat, angular, dark. In those years nobody painted quite like that.

Goharik with pitcher. (1973).

There are other paintings of Sarkis’s daughters. The elder, Goharik, appears in one, sixteen years old, sitting in profile, holding a jug in her hands. It’s a beautiful piece, filled with love and hopes for a happy life.

Under a peaceful sky.

The younger, Zarui, posed for a beautiful picture titled in the Soviet style ‘Under a peaceful sky’ although there’s little about the title that relates to the picture. It is summer. There are mountains. The grass has dried and yellowed; above the yellow grass is an azure sky. Through the mountains winds a cement pipe. Mark Grigorian always thought that there was water in that pipe, perhaps because there’s drought all around, the burnt grass is so dry that one wants to slake its thirst. On the pipe walks a girl. Her arms are spread out as she seeks to balance herself. She wears a minidress in the fashion of the seventies. She is filled with concentration – she must traverse the pipe.

At dawn.

Muradyan is the painter of ‘At dawn’. It depicts a tranquil lake. On its bank is a nude girl in profile, thin as a reed. She is stretching, her arms wrapped around her head, elbows apart. She is as lovely as the dawn. In the painting, there is the girl and there is the rising sun. There is also another character in the painting – a bull. The dark, powerful animal immediately invokes an association with Zeus about to ravish Europa. And immediately thereafter arrives another association, that of virility, a symbol of masculinity attracted to the slim girl and the beauty of the morning.

Portrait of Paruyr Sevak. (1996).

Before Sunrise. (1973).

Memories of the fallen son. (1958).

Muradyan is the painter of the stunning portrait of two old men who have lost their sons in the war, and yet wait for them, hoping desperately that the boys will come back. Muradyan is the painter of another picture, in which several men carry the body of their perished friend. Muradyan is the painter of portraits of his close friend the poet Paruyr Sevak. And so on and on.

In the city. (1967).

Sarkis Muradyan became an accomplished artist in the early 1960s, in the period of the Khruschev thaw. Of this time we can say that this was the first opportunity since the Stalinist terror to be free, to seek one’s identity. For Armenian intellectuals this was a time when they could again address a period that was even more traumatic than Stalin’s war on the classes, namely the genocide of 1915. Muradyan and Sevak, painter and poet, began to talk of this period, and each turned to Komitas Vardapet. The genius composer  and folklorist had been arrested on the night of the 24 April 1915, and lost his mind from the horror of his experience. He spent twenty years in a Parisian mental asylum, and wasn’t ever able again to write a single note of music. Muradyan painted the picture mentioned above, while Sevak wrote the poem ‘The unsilenceable belfry’  which became popular.

Saplings.

This was insufficient for Muradyan and Sevak. They became leaders of a movement for the recognition of the genocide in the USSR, something that had been hitherto refused recognition by the Soviet state. They were successful in these efforts. Still, they lived in a time of duality and circumspection. On the one hand, they had to be seen as loyal Soviet citizens and were indeed part of the system. On the other, they sought to oppose it as they could. They attempted to go beyond the official ideology, to reassert their right to mourn openly the tragedy of their people, to reclaim the Armenian past. To do so, they expanded the boundaries of the Soviet system, and led themselves into nationalism. From the perspective of the time, Muradyan, Sevak, Hrant Matevosyan and Silva Kaputikyan all fit into the new model of post-Stalinisti socialism. Muradyan himself was one of the leaders of this movement that aimed to raise a national consciousness.

Armenian Landscape. (1975).

References

  1. Mark Grigorian, ‘Sarkis Muradyan‘, 11 February 2011.
  2. Huberta von Voss, Portraits of Hope: Armenians in the Contemporary World, Berghahn Books, 2007.
  3. Natalia Gomtsyan, ‘Sarkis Muradyan – Poet of Painting‘, Voice of Armenia, 6 March 2010.