Arhip Kuinji, great russian artist painter. Biography, art gallery
The well-known landscape painter Arkhip Ivanovich Kuinji was born in 1842 in the town of Mariupol on the Azov Sea. Kuinji was of a Greek descent-during the reign of Catherine II his ancestors, together with other Greek refugees, settled in the steppes near the Azov Sea.
Kuinji lacked formal education, but his eminent gifts helped him attain a notable success in art. He evidently was allowed to attend classes at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, after training as an apprentice in the workshop of the famous marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky and frequenting the classes of the Society of Art Lovers. In 1868, on passing exams in general educational and special subjects at the Academy of Arts, Kuinji was given a diploma of free-lance artist for his independent works.
The young Kuinji tended towards the art of the Itinerants, members of the realist-minded Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions, with many of whom he was on friendly terms. The social undertones of Kuinji's early pictures reflected his attachment to the ideas of the Academy's students, who, captivated by contemporary social attitudes, demonstratively refused to paint the obligatory mythological and biblical subjects they were offered for their graduation works.
Kuinji's canvases of that period-Autumn Weather (1870), Lake Ladoga (1870) and On Valaam Island (1873) re-created the scenery of the austere Western region Qf Russia. They are marked by the dramatic treatment of Russian reality.
Dominated by sad grey tones, they look monochrome, although the artist's colouristic mastery can be felt in the subtlest chromatic variations depending on a dim sunlight or the diffused light of an inclement sky.
These paintings, especially View on Valaam Island, brought Kuinji a recognition. In spite of a predominantly realistic observation of a modest Russian countryside in the pictures Lake Ladoga and View on Valaam Island, they still bear the vestiges of heightened romanticism in their tense psychological atmosphere created by tumultuous light-and-shade effects. These landscapes revealed Kuinji's knowledge of European art and the particular influence of German and Scandinavian painters. Kuinji visited Western European countries in 1873.
He travelled around Germany (Berlin, Diisseldorf, Cologne, Munich), France, Switzerland, and Austria and thoroughly studied the work of great masters. On his return to Russia, however, Kuinji painted works which were absolutely unlike those he had seen in European museums.
These paintings were Deserted Village (1874) and The Chumak Road(1875). Their message echoed the acute social feelings evoked by the Itinerants (Kuinji became a member of the Itinerants' Society in 1875). In these two paintings, while depicting man's natural environment, he succeded in touching upon the burning issues of life with which the most advanced of his contemporaries, keen to social injustice, were concerned. Although his denunciatory tendency linked Kuinji with the general trend expressed by the realist artists of the 1860s and the Itinerants' genre works, Kuinji stood apart from other landscapists of the time.
In the Deserted Village and The Chumak Road ethic problems dominated over the artist's aesthetic feelings. Probably realizing the insufficiency of a merely poetic evocation of the world portrayed, a world whose fascination he increasingly unveiled, Kuinji changed his creative orientation. From his critically charged works he abruptly turned to »pure poetry», focusing on the enchantment of natural scenery. Moreover, the images of Kuinji's works acquired a distinctly romantic colouring. Already in his Ukrainian Night (1876) the folk background of his world outlook became evident, although its somewhat simplified idiom gave the picture a look of naive expressiveness.
The Russian democratic art of the 1870s and 1880s was marked by a specific vision of the world, which was viewed as if through the eyes of the common man. That was a principally novel attitude towards reality, devoid of exoticism characteristic of earlier romantic efforts. In the Ukrainian Night the world is perceived as a blessed land bestowing a variety of beautiful impressions upon man. The motif of a naive world perception, seemingly confirmed by the prosaic, narrative subject, betrays Kuinji as the artist striving to capture the national ideal of beauty.
In this painting Kuinji for the first time used complementary colours, thus irrevocably breaking with the tonal palette of his predecessors. He boldly used the priming as part of his colour scheme and highlighted the deep blue darkness of a night by the faery spots of whitewashed peasant houses.
Starting with the Ukrainian Night, romanticism in Kuinji's work entered a principally new phase. He resolutely abandoned the epigonous academic romanticism of his early efforts to enter a period of an innovatory romantic art in which a resplendent decorativeness based on new plastic achievements came to the fore. Exhibited at the Paris World Fair in 1878, the Ukrainian Night attracted the attention of the eminent French critics P. Nanz, E. Duranty and J. Claretti.
Kuinji developed a new vision in his next painting, Birch Grove (1879). The treatment of the landscape in this painting has nothing reminiscent of the national tradition or popular ideals. The image of a sublime and perfect nature suggests the artist's desire to reach a full-blooded evocation of life, an approach that would be echoed in the dream-like fantasies of the artists of the next generation.
Nature in the Birch Grove is both real and conventionalized; it looks as a condensed essence of reality. Kuinji's imagery tends towards the symbolic concentration and generalization of the fundamental features from all similar phenomena. The pure plasticity of the painting differs from a mundane approach to beauty.
Kuinji had a keenly appreciative eye. Legends were told about his striking ability to grasp the subtlest nuances of colour. However, the sensitivity of the eye itself would not provide an artistic effect, were it not combined with the perfect command of the harmony of colours and tones.
In 1880 Kuinji completed the painting Moonlit Night on the Dnieper. It was exhibited together with the Birch Grove in a dark room, with the directed ray of an artificial illuminant effectively emphasizing the depth of space. Kuinji used the property of warm colours to be brightened by artificial light and of cold colours to be absorbed by it. The exhibition was a great success. Kuinji became an idol of the public. The plastic innovation of the picture was in producing an extremely convincing illusion of light. The effect was attained by means of numerous glazings, light and colour contrasts, and the use of complementary colours.
The Moonlit Night on the Dnieper portrayed not so much a concrete view as an infinite heavenly space-the universe. From that time onwards Kuinji's art was characterized by a contemplative, philosophic perception of the world, permeating one with a feeling of a grandeur of life. Unlike his previous works in which reality took quite definite forms, now he began to look for new dimensions.
He now sought to render not the dramatic states of nature and not even its beautiful physical appearances, but something more significant and eternal-a sense of the universe as a palpitating organic unity of nature and mankind. The solemn phosphorescent colours of the Moonlit Night on the Dnieper evoke lofty feelings, arouse meditations about the earthly life and the celestial world, solemnly restful in its slow movement. The »romantic languor» present in the picture suggests a comparison with Kuinji's German predecessor Caspar David Friedrich.