Russia Travel Guide
Russian Visual Arts

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Rus': The Soul of the People by Mikhail Nesterov, symbolic of Russia's historical spiritual quest

Early Russian painting focused on icon painting and vibrant frescos inherited by Russians from Byzantium. As Moscow rose to power, Theophanes the Greek and Andrei Rublev are vital names associated with the beginning of a distinctly Russian art. The Russian Academy of Arts was created in 1757, aimed to give Russian artists an international role and status. Notable portrait painters from the Academy include Ivan Argunov, Fyodor Rokotov, Dmitry Levitzky and Vladimir Borovikovsky. Realism flourished in the 19th century and the realists captured Russian identity. Russian landscapes of wide rivers, forests, and birch clearings, as well as vigorous genre scenes and robust portraits of their contemporaries asserted a sense of identity. Other artists focused on social criticism, showing the conditions of the poor and caricaturing authority while critical realism flourished under the reign of Alexander II.

After the abolition of serfdom in 1861 some artists made the circle of human suffering their focus. Artists sometimes created wide canvasses to depict dramatic moments in Russian history. The Peredvizhniki (wanderers) group of artists broke with Russian Academy and initiated a school of art liberated from Academic restrictions. Their paintings had deep social and political meaning. Leading realists include Ivan Shishkin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Ivan Kramskoi, Vasily Polenov, Isaac Levitan, Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vasnetsov, and Ilya Repin. By the 1830s the Academy was sending painters overseas to learn. The most gifted of these were Aleksander Ivanov and Karl Briullov, both of whom were noted for the Romantic historical canvasses. Uniquely Russian styles of painting emerged by the late 19th century that was intimately engaged with the daily life of Russian society.

The Russian avant-garde is an umbrella term used to define the large, influential wave of modernist art that flourished in Russia from approximately 1890 to 1930. The term covers many separate, but inextricably related, art movements that occurred at the time; namely neo-primitivism, suprematism, constructivism, rayonism and futurism. Notable artists from this era include El Lissitzky, Kazimir Malevich, Wassily Kandinsky, Vladimir Tatlin, Alexander Rodchenko, and Marc Chagall amongst others. The Russian avant-garde reached its creative and popular height in the period between the Russian Revolution of 1917 and 1932, at which point the ideas of the avant-garde clashed with the newly emerged conservative Stalinist direction of socialist realism.

By the late 1920s the rigid policy of socialist realism enveloped the visual arts as it did literature and motion pictures and soon the avant-garde had faded from sight. Some artists combined innovation with socialist realism including Ernst Neizvestny, Ilya Kabakov, Mikhail Shemyakin, Erik Bulatov and Vera Mukhina. They employed techniques as varied as primitivism, hyperrealism, grotesque, and abstraction, but they shared a common distaste for the canons of socialist realism. Soviet artists produced works that were furiously patriotic and anti-fascist in the 1940s. Events and battles from the Great Patriotic War were depicted with stirring patriotism and after the war sculptors made many monuments to the war dead, the greatest of which have a great restrained solemnity. In the 20th century many Russian artists made their careers in Western Europe, due in part to the traumas of the Revolution. Russian artists such as Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, and Naum Gabo spread their work and ideas internationally. These Russian artists studied internationally in Paris and Munich and their involuntary exile spread the impact of Russian art globally.

Source : Wikipedia Encyclopedia

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