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Архип Куинджи
Архип Куинджи
1870 год


Arhip Kuinji, great russian artist painter. Biography, art gallery, the second page             




The art of Kuinji, sharply differing from the mainstream of the Itinerants' realism and of still deeply entrenched academic art, could not be understood by his colleagues, baffling even his ardent well-wishers. It appeared that they all were not quite ready to perceive his message. For his contemporaries a correct evaluation of Kuinji's art was diffucult because it was difficult for them to understand and accept the new principles of romantic art being evolved by the artist. Kuinji greatly narrowed the gap between decaying academic romanticism and burgeoning new romantic art. But at that time his romantic works produced an impression of a lonely quest. He still had to languish in waiting for support that would come at the beginning of the twentieth century through the work of his pupils.

It was probably this circumstance that led Kuinji to a withdrawal from an active public career and a seclusion in his studio. His colleagues who saw in his art only illusory colour effects, could not support Kuinji's romantic searchings. Any painterly innovation finally works itself out. That is why the public was indifferent both to the second version of the Birch Grove (1882), in which the effect of moonlight was again re-created. Probably the clue to the artist's long retreat into silence lies in his own words which were quoted by his contemporary the artist must participate in exhibitions as long as he has, like a singer, a voice. And once the voice has weakened, you should withdrew so as not to be ridiculed.»

During his »silent» period, which lasted for about thirty years, Kuinji was engaged in an intense creative work continuing his searches for a system of decorative painting, for new plastic solutions which were in keeping with the fast evolution of art at the turn of the century. His artistic searchings in that period were marked by the juxtaposition of the trends which were difficult to reconcile-realist means of expression were used alongside romantic ones, decorative principles were combined with the keen observation of nature, impressionistic plasticity went side by side with heightened expressiveness. Such coexistence of different trends continued until the artist's last days.

Towards the end of the 1870s Kuinji tried to capture the atmosphere using a method that was close to that of French Impressionists, as seen in his pictures North and The Dnieper in the Morning (1881). He never abandoned this kind of experimentation. Impressionist techniques attracted his by their mysterious, hazy interplay of light and colour. Long before Claude Monet's London fogs, Kuinji developed that aspect of pictorial problems the solution to which might well have extended the possibilities of painterly expression and thus enriched the landscape image.

Kuinji was eager to explore the air medium as a subject of painting, to investigate its »response» to the effects of light, its colour structure, with its slightest transitions and, naturally, its emotional impact on human perception. Kuinji discovered the colouristic properties of air and studied not so much its vibrations as the intangible pulsations of air currents. It is strange that he did not follow the Impressionist plastic solutions. His air medium seems to be motionless and is perceived as an independent living entity concealing thereby its mysterious being. This peculiar interpretation of Impressionism is characteristic of a number of Kuinji's works, such as the small studies Winter. Fog (1890-1895), Sunset at the Sea, The Sea. The Crimea (1898-1908), Uzun-Tash. The Crimea, Fog in the Mountains. The Caucasus, Winter (1898-1908) and others.
In the study Winter. Fog the atmosphere is translated into a motley mist, against which faint outlines of trees are barely traceable. Kuinji's investigations of the air medium yielded a good result-he considerably enriched his palette and evolved a peculiar decorative image, since his atmosphere did not dissolve objects but, on the contrary, added to them a new decorative luminosity and colour.
The characteristic trend to decorativeness began in Kuinji's winter landscapes dating from the 1880s. In these works the artist continued his search for a romantic idiom embodied in a decorative pictorial system that comprised the heightened colour, fluent silhouette, elaborate rendition of contour, etc.). The »decorative wave» represents the main trend of the artist's endeavour during the »silent» period.
Decorative transformations in Kuinji's art were connected with his plein-air exploration of nature {Winter. Spots of Light on the Roofs of Peasant Houses, 1890-1895; Spots of Sunlight on the Hoarfrost, 1876-1890). In these works, the real effect of a snow-bound forest and coloured shadows was achieved by a soft, sinuous linear design and highlighted colour tints. The crown of these developments was a small painting, Spots of Moonlight in the Forest. Winter (1898-1908).

Here the nature lies under the spell of an unearthly colour-an impression arising from the heightened brightness of the natural moon colour, which seems to be mixing the lights of the two world, that of the moon, the real one, and an irreal one, coming, as it were, from some cosmic source. In this period Kuinji's work was apparently influenced by the aesthetics of Art Nouveau; he was one of its Russian originators in the field of landscape painting.

The two sets of themes that are clearly singled out within the framework of Kuinji's romantic imagery developed by him along the lines of decorative painting may be referred to as the theme of a blazing, incandescent sun and that of majestic mountains. The romantic pathos permeating the observation of mountain ranges, of glistening inaccessible peaks luring one to the comprehension of the unknown, grew into a symbol of some beautiful and inaccessible realm. Thirty years later Kuinji's infatuation with the theme of the universe would strike the imagination of Nikolai Roerich to become the subject of his Himalayan series with its unusual world perception. Mountains as the giant creations of nature, nearest to the infinite heavens and capable of contacting them-such is the message of the intensely dramatic works of Kuinji's Caucasian series. Combined with a bright decorative setting, the romantic feeling broke down the fetters of the mundane, bringinig forth a beautiful and seemingly unreal image.
The next comprehensive series of works created at the same time as the mountain cycle, was a group of pictures with the red-hot sun, which culminated in the large canvas The Red Sunset (1905-1908), as well as landscapes with the dying-out evening sun of ashy hues. The portrayal of nature in the works of this series is less romantic, although they retain a contemplative mood. Several landscapes with sunsets can be perceived metaphorically-as a quiet passing away of nature, as a completion of the natural cycle of life. Such elegiac, melancholy moods were characteristic of the social consciousness at the turn of the century; they also had their parallels in poetry, philosophy and music.
An elegiac mood was perhaps one of the most common features of the Art Nouveau period. To this period belong a number of Kuinji's superb works, which concentrated, as it were, his elegiac world perception. Its emergence was first observed in the painting Evening (1888), where the cold colours of the violet spectrum evoke a sad, nostalgic feeling. The study Twilight (1890-1895) is full of alarming presentiments; the violet and yellow colours sound as a warning. The disquiet feelings are incited by the juxtapositions of orange and violet, by the dusky half-tones of the earth and the sky.

The emotional key was based on the artist's own experience, but it acquired in the Twilight a universal significance, extremely congenial with the epoch. It echoes in the then popular feelings of disappointment, meditations on the futility of human existence. Somewhat later the poet Alexander Blok would create, in his cycle Ante Lucem, a mythical hero-a belated wayfarer, dragging oneself sadly along the endless road of life. The motif of road, favourite and therefore widespread in Russian poetry and painting, was interpreted by Kuinji as a response to the predominating social mood.


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