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Russian Art. Painting, sculpture. Russian art Imperial, USSR. Russian art. Matryoshka

Painting and sculpture of Russia. Imperial art. Art from the USSR. Russian minor arts.

The Old Testament Trinity

For centuries Russian art was dominated by an unchanging tradition of church art inherited from Byzantium, responding slowly and hesitantly to Western influences. Briefly, in the early 20th century, it assumed a leading and influential role in European avant-garde art. However, official Soviet disapproval of this trend resulted in its suppression in favour of art geared to the glorification of workers.


Having adopted Christianity in 988 A.D Russian inherited icon-painting as the original part of Byzantine art, later widening the types and styles far beyond anything found elsewhere in the Orthodox world. Russian carvings, metalwork, and embroidery of 10th-13th centuries were also influenced by the traditions of Byzantine art.

The arts declined during the Mongol occupation but revived during the 15th century. The development of the iconostasis (a screen, decorated with icons, which separates the altar from the body of the church) created new opportunities for painters, so icon painting in Russia took on a much greater degree of subjectivity and personal expression.

This period saw the rise of the Novgorod School, noted for its rich colours, and the exquisite icons of Andrew Rublev, the most important Russian icon painter, whose works can be viewed in both the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow and the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg. Andrew Rublev was "glorified" by the Moscow Patriarchate in 1988. His most famous work is "The Old Testament Trinity".

After the 15th century, icon painting gradually declined. By the 19th century it had degenerated into a mass-production monopoly in Vladimir.

Portrait of Maria Lopukhina

Because icons in Orthodoxy must follow traditional standards and are essentially copies, Orthodoxy never developed the reputation of the individual artist as Western Christianity did, and the names of even the finest icon painters are seldom recognized except by some Eastern Orthodox or art historians.

During the Soviet era in Russia, former village icon painters in Palekh, Mstera, and Kholui transferred their techniques to laquerware, which they decorated with ornate depictions of Russian fairy tales and other non-religious scenes. Many Russian icons were destroyed, or sold abroad, by agents of the Soviet government; some were hidden to avoid destruction, or were smuggled out of the country.

Russian art of the 18th and the 19th centuries

The 18th century faced the influence of Western styles on Russian art. Peter the Great lured many Western artists and sculptors and architects to help him built and decorate St-Petersburg. His efforst later were supported by Catherine the Great and in 1754 Academy of Fine Arts was founded in St-Pererburg. This period was charactersed by domination of portrait art.

Karl Brulloff. The Last Day of Pompeii

Famous Russian portraitists of the time include: the Italian-trained Ivan Nikitin (1688-1742); the realist Andrei Maveyev (1701-39); the formal Alexei Antropov (1716-95); the more decorative, rococo-style Ivan Vishnyakov (1699-1761); the full-blown rococo painter Dmitri Levitsky (1735-1822), a leader in portrait painting of the 18th century - Ivan Argunov (1727-1802) patronized by the powerful Count Sheremetyev; the Russian Gainsborough Vladimir Borovikovsky (1757-1825); and the court painter and sfumato expert Fyodor Rokotov (1735-1808).

The earliest notable Russian sculptor was Count Carlo Rastrelli (died 1744) - father of the architect Rastrelli - whose best works include the well-known equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St Petersburg and a bronze bust of Peter the Great in the Winter Palace, St Petersburg.

Ivan Khrutsky. Still-Life with Candle

During the 19th century Russian art produced figures of international standing and sought to come to terms with its own cultural background. The early part of the nineteenth century was strongly influenced by European Romanticism. The important figures of that period were romantic portraitists Orest Kiprensky, Vasily Tropinin (a serf until he was 47, who produced celebrity portraits as well as exquisite genre-paintings), Karl Briullov, also a fashionable Italian-trained portrait painter. Briullov was also a representative of Russian history painting and his "The Last Day of Pompeii" is a brillian example of this trend. Two other noted history painters were Fyodor Bruni (1799-1875) and Vasily Timm (1820-95).

Alexei Venetsianov (1780-1847) represented an important step in the evolution of Russian painting. After beginning as a portraitist he turned more and more to genre-painting. Russian landscape painting owes its appearance to Alexei Venetsianov and his pupil Fyodor Alexeyev. His successors in landscape painting are Aivazovski (1817-1900) and Lebedev (1812-1837)

Ilia Efimovich Repin. Volga Boatmen

Still life emerged as an independent genre in Russia from around 1850. Its finest exponent was Ivan Khrutsky (1810-85. Other still life artists were Kapiton Zelentsov (1790-1845), Alexei Tyranov (1808-59), and Count Fyodor Tolstoy (1783-1873), who excelled at pen-and-ink drawings and gouache miniatures.

1860th faced the revolt against conservatism in Russian painting and was marked by the appearance of peredvizhniki in Russian artistic society. Peredvizhniki (wanderers) travelled around Russia preaching social/political reform and holding art exhibitions of works completed en route. Leading artists included the genius portraitist and genre-painter Ivan Kramskoy (1837-1887); the stylistically quieter Vasily Perov (1834-1882); the outrageously talented portrait/landscape/genre and history painter Ilya Repin (1844-1930), and the equally stunning history painter Vasily Surikov (1848-1916).

Ivan Shishkin. Na severe dikom

Landscape was also a major part of the Itinerants' agenda. Among its greatest exponents were: Feodor Vasilyev (1850-1873); Ivan Shishkin (1832-98), the traditional and religious landscape painter Vasily Polenov (1844-1927), the luminous landscape painters Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910) and Nikolai Dubovskoy (1859-1918); and the light/colour expert Isaac Levitan (1860-1900).

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