Art and Faith

Thursday, 29 May 2008

A New Head of Steam…

A Portrait of E G Mamontova Reading

Ilya Repin

1879

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Over the last few months, I seemed to run out of “inspiration” for new postings. I didn’t wish to post “empty wind”, nor did I desire to bore anyone with pointless verbiage. Well, I needed some fresh response. I realised that I’d let my reading slide. If there were no new challenges, of course, the well would run dry. Today, I started to read an exciting book on Russian cultural life by Solomon Volkov, The Magical Chorus (ISBN 978-1-4000-4272-2, 2008, $30 hardcover). Volkov’s quite controversial, you must take some of his assertions with a block of salt; I don’t recommend this book for an absolute beginner in the topic (a rank novice should start with Natasha’s Dance by Orlando Figes, a more balanced work).

However, for those of us with knowledge of the oeuvre and the dramatis personae, it’s a bracing read. Yes, he trots out the old warhorse claim that Rimsky-Korsakov was a flaming atheist. Not so. I wouldn’t call him a conventional believer, but to call him an atheist is going further than the attested facts allow. It often leads to, “Why is he saying THAT?” In short, it gets the creative juices FLOWING. The most interesting observation for us as Orthodox Christians is his short discussion of the émigré intellectual current known as Eurasianism. To put it in its most concise form, this school of thought believed that Russia had a special mission in the world because of its combination of both European and Asian elements. Some of its exponents were secularists, others, such as Georgi Florovsky and Prince Nikolai Troubetzkoy were Orthodox. This is especially important for those in the OCA as Aleksandr Schmemann claimed to be the intellectual protégé and continuer of the work of Florovsky in particular. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Schmemann spent his life distancing himself and his teaching from genuine sources of Russian Orthodoxy. Therefore, how could he be the disciple of Florovsky? I don’t recommend Florovsky to beginners; it’s academic theology, fully understandable only by one who has lived the Orthodox life in its fullness for some time. His work has nothing vital to salvation. There’s nothing wrong in it, just understand that he’s an intellectual talking about the faith, he isn’t an elder speaking from the heart. That being said, if one reads Florovsky and one also reads Schmemann (NOT recommended), the difference between the two becomes obvious with time.

Therefore, be wary when an SVS sort trots out George Florovsky (or G P Fedotov) as intellectual backstops to Schmemann’s fancies. I can assure you that these two very Orthodox scholars would’ve blanched at the Renovationism and American phyletism expounded by Schmemann at SVS. Do NOT argue with such sorts, for its counter-productive, but, know what they peddling is pure Hooey. I better keep reading. If I don’t, I’ll go dry again. May God Bless. Bog blagoslovit.

BMD

Monday, 12 May 2008

Meet the Artist: Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev

A Self-Portrait

Boris Kustodiev

1912

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KUSTODIEV Boris Mikhailovich

Born: 23 February 1878, Astrakhan

Died: 26 May 1927, Leningrad

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My work gives me heartaches, and these agitations, which go away after some three or four hours, often change into disappointments. My painting sometimes seems so unnecessary, and this junk and rubbish often shames me. I so love the vibrancy of colour, but, I can’t seem to transmit the full meaning of it all, and in this, I find tragedy.

Boris Kustodiev

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This youth from beyond the Volga, talented beyond compare, is the splendour of our academy; he’s our hope for the future.

Ilya Repin

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A Portrait of Ivan Bilibin

Boris Kustodiev

1901

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Boris Mikhailovich Kustodiev was born on 23 February (7 March, new style) 1878 into the family of an instructor at the local spiritual seminary. He studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in St Petersburg (1896-1903), where one of his instructors was the famed artist Ilya Repin. He belonged to the Mir Isskustva (World of Art) movement and was a member of the Union of Russian Artists. Ilya Repin had the young artist assist him in the painting of the monumental The Session of the Supreme Council of State (1901-03, now in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg). At the same time, his skill as a virtuoso portraitist was evident, as seen in his A Portrait of Ivan Bilibin (1901). Later, from 1908, he also worked in the field of sculptural portraiture. In addition, during 1905 to 1907, he drew caricatures for the magazines Zhupel (Bugaboo) and Adskaya Pochta (The Infernal Mail).

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A Portrait of Fyodor Shalyapin

Boris Kustodiev

1922

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He lived in St Petersburg and Moscow, but, he frequently travelled into the most picturesque corners of the Russian provinces, most of all into the cities and villages of the Volga region where he was born, and he made depicted its traditional way of life in his cycles Carnivals, Rural Holidays, and Fairs, and he also painted the varied colourful human types found there in the cycles Merchants, Merchant Wives, and Beauties in the Bath. The first picture of this type was The Fair (1906, now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow), it was intended to be part of an unpublished series of lubki (popular prints). This series and related canvasses, such as A Portrait of Fyodor Shalyapin (1922, in the Russian Museum) are similar to colourful prints depicting Old Russia. He perceived the Revolution as a bright carnival, a spirit shown in The Bolshevik (1920, now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow), done in the style of the old traditional lubki.

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By the Volga

Boris Kustodiev

1922

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By 1916, paralysis left Kustodiev in a wheelchair, but, he continued to actively work in different media of art, continuing his popular Volga cycle. After the Revolution, he created his best book illustrations, especially for Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District by Nikolai Leskov and Russia by Zamyatin. Boris Mikhailovich died in Leningrad on 26 May 1927.

Art Katalog: zhivopis i grafika

http://www.art-catalog.ru/artist.php?id_artist=12 (in Russian)

Sunday, 11 May 2008

Meet the Artist: Ilya Yefimovich Repin

00 Valentin Serov. A Portrait of the Painter Ilya Yefimovich Repin. 1892

A Portrait of the Painter Ilya Yefimovich Repin

Valentin Serov

1892

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REPIN Ilya Yefimovich

Born: 24 July 1844, Chuguyev, Kharkov Guberniya

Died: 29 September 1930, “Penatakh”, village of Kuokkala on the Karelian Isthmus

I wish to recreate a correct and whole picture of life in its full essence, in its full animated perception, to being into complete harmony the manner of the people depicted and the whole vital movement of the spirit in my paintings… this task is immense. I try to reproduce this ideal, which is an aspiration of most intelligent people, striving to live up to the highest ethical and aesthetical demands!

Ilya Repin

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The portraiture of Repin reached the highest peaks known to the artistic spirit. Some of them are simply stunning in approach and execution.

Aleksandr Benois

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00 Ilya Repin. The Prayer Over the Chalice. beginning of the 1860s

The Prayer Over the Chalice

Ilya Repin

beginning of the 1860s

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Ilya Yefimovich Repin, one of the greatest Russian artists, was born in Chuguyev in Kharkov Guberniya on 24 July (5 August, new style) 1844 into the family of a Great Russian military veteran settled in the region. His first formal artistic training was at the local school for military topographers (1854-57), then, he studied with I M Bunakov, a local iconographer. From 1859, when he was only 15-years-old, he undertook commissions to paint icons and church frescoes.

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00 Ilya Repin. A Newspaper Vendor in Paris. 1873

A Newspaper Vendor in Paris

Ilya Repin

1873

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After moving to St Petersburg in 1863, he studied at the drawing school of the Society of the Encouragement of the Arts. Whilst studying there, he was introduced to the famous artist Ivan Kramskoi, and he continued his training at the Academy of Fine Arts (1864-71). Living on a stipend granted him by the Academy, he travelled through France and Italy from 1873 to 1876, where he thoroughly absorbed the currents found in Impressionism and Symbolism. In 1877, he returned to Chuguyev, then, he went to Moscow, and from 1882 he lived in St Petersburg. He moved into his much-loved estate “Penatakh” near Kuokkala on the Karelian Isthmus in 1900. Repin was one of the most active members in the exhibitions of the Peredvizhniki (Wanderers) and he warmly supported the Mir Iskusstva (World of Art) movement in the early 1900s.

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00 Ilya Repin. Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus. 1871

Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus

Ilya Repin

1871

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His early religious paintings done according to the programme of the Academy’s exhibitions such as Job and His Friends (1869) and Christ Raises the Daughter of Jairus (1871) already show his surprising gift of artistic-psychological concentration, a skill that subordinated all the means at his disposal to create a major dramatic impact. He became a sensation with his Burlaki (Bargehaulers on the Volga) (1870-73), a work he completed only after doing numerous studies, some of which he painted whilst he was on a voyage down the Volga with fellow-artist Fyodor Vasiliev. The youthful Repin created a picture that is redolent of the impressively bright expressiveness of nature, yet it also rings with a terrible force of protest that is ripening in these outcasts of society.

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00 Ilya Repin. Refusing Confession (Before the Execution). 1885

Refusing Confession (Before the Execution)

Ilya Repin

1885

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The best works by Repin became landmarks of Russian social consciousness. Pathos and protest were inseparably connected in them at first, as in the solemn, yet also sarcastic, Easter Procession in Kursk Guberniya (1880-83), now in the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. His other social protest works divide into two main parallel streams. Thus, together with his “revolutionary cycle” about the tragic disorder in society, Refusing Confession (Before the Execution) (1879-85), They Didn’t Expect Him (1884), The Arrest of the Anarchist (1880-92), and The Demonstration on 17 October 1905 (1907), he also painted canvasses lauding the pomp and circumstance surrounding the ceremonial façade of the Empire, such as The Reception of the Small-Holding Elders by Tsar Aleksandr Aleksandrovich (1885) and The Solemn Session of the Supreme Council of State (1901-03). His spirited brush was saturated with a powerful emotional force in depicting the historical tales found in The Zaporozhe Cossacks Write a Mocking Letter to the Turkish Sultan (1878-91) and Tsar Ivan Grozny Murders His Son Ivan (1885). Now and again, these emotions literally splashed outside the canvasses. In 1913, the iconographer A Balashov, positively hypnotised by Repin’s portrayal of the mad tsar Ivan Grozny, slashed the painting with a knife. This became the genesis of a public debate between Repin and M A Voloshin about the boundaries between art and reality.

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00 Ilya Repin. A Portrait of Baroness Varvara Iskul von Gildebrandt. 1889

A Portrait of Baroness Varvara Iskul von Gildebrandt

Ilya Repin

1889

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Repin’s portraiture is amazingly lyrical and attractive. He created sharply-characterised general human studies such as A Peasant with an Evil Eye and The Protodeacon (both 1877), numerous depictions of prominent cultural figures such as Modest Mussorgsky (1881), P A Strepetov (1882), Pavel Tretyakov (1883), and several of Lev Tolstoy. He also created graceful portraits of figures in high society such as the Baroness Varvara Iskul von Gildebrandt (1889). His canvasses featuring his family are especially colourful and sincere, as in An Autumn Bouquet (Daughter Vera Repina) (1892), and a whole series of paintings featuring his second wife, Natalia Nordmann-Severova. He was also a virtuoso at graphic portraits done in pencil or charcoal, such as in works portraying E Duze (1891), Princess M K Tenishyova [1898], and Valentin Serov (1901). Repin was also a skilled and exemplary teacher, being the professor-leader of his own atelier (1894-1907), and the rector of the Academy of Fine Arts (1898-99), whilst simultaneously teaching in the school workshop of Princess Tenishyova.

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00 Ilya Repin. What Freedom! 1903

What Freedom!

Ilya Repin

1903

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Even in his old age, he continued to astonish the public. The apogee of his impressionistic-picturesque freedom, and at the same time, a sign of his deep insight into the psychology of his subjects, was found in his portrait studies for The Solemn Session of the Supreme Council of State (1901-03). In his mystifying and contradictory painting What Freedom! (1903), with a young couple rejoicing on the shores of the iced-up Neva, Repin expressed an ambivalent attitude to the new generation, one could call it “love-hostility”.

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00 Ilya Repin. Christ Wearing the Crown of Thorns. 1913

Christ Wearing the Crown of Thorns

Ilya Repin

1913

fresco on cement plate

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After the October Revolution in 1917, the artist found himself outside of Russia as the part of the Karelian Isthmus where his estate “Penatakh” was located became part of independent Finland. It became part of Russia again only in 1946, after the artist’s death. In 1922-25, he painted some of his best religious canvasses, especially the pitch-dark tragic work Golgotha (now in the Art Museum of Princeton University in the USA). In spite of high-level invitations, as was shown by a letter from Klimenty Voroshilov in 1926, he did not return to his native land, although he kept in close contact with his friends there, especially K I Chukovsky. Ilya Repin died on 29 September 1930 at his beloved “Penatakh”. In 1937, Chukovsky issued Repin’s memoirs and an anthology of articles on his art entitled The Distant Close One (Dalekoye Blizkoye). The book has seen numerous reprints up to the present.

Art-Katalog: zhivopis i grafika

http://www.art-catalog.ru/artist.php?id_artist=24

Friday, 29 February 2008

Ilya Repin. Tsar Ivan Grozny After Killing His Son on 15 November 1581. 1873

Ilya Repin. Tsar Ivan Grozny Killing His Son on 15 November 1581. 1873

Tsar Ivan Grozny After Killing His Son on 15 November 1581

Ilya Repin

1873

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This is one of the most famous paintings by Repin, and rightfully so. The portrayal of the horror of the tsar at what he has done is depicted ruthlessly and without pretense. One of the great paintings of the world, I say. Raw emotion… unflinchingly put down for the ages.

BMD

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