Arhip Kuinji, great russian artist painter. Biography, art gallery, the last page
The road of human destiny, the contemplation of the sky and of the majestic Caucasian summits immersed in proud solitude, with which one converses mentally-these are Kuinji's favourite themes at the turn of the century. While in his elegiac sunset motifs the artist appears as a pacified pagan, in the central painting of his »solar cycle», The Red Sunset, he seems to be a sun-worshipper. In his observations of the elements Kuinji tried to study their opposite aspects: day and night, gust and calm, weakness and power. The moonlit night appeared in his work as a glimpse into the infinite universe. The sun, on the contrary, was placed on the surface of the celestial vault.
It was treated in a twofold way: either as calm, perishing and dying out or as violently blazing.
In 1901 Kuinji made up his mind to show some of his hidden works to the choice public specially invited for the occasion. One can imagine how risky it was for the artist, who did not exhibit his works for twenty years, to show them to the connoisseurs of art. He displayed the paintings Evening in the Ukraine, The Dnieper, the third version of the Birch Grove and Christ in the Gethsemane Garden (all 1901).
One may surmise that the Evening in the Ukraine was shown in a somewhat reworked state-he had exhibited the picture as Evening in 1878. Strictly speaking, it should be dated 1878-1901. The painting is evidently the most illustrative of Kuinji's creative method. The effect of complementary colours was brought here to its highest limit-the turqouise, being juxtaposed with the crimson, enhanced the effect of the light which was glowing on the walls of peasant houses. The colour lent the whole scene a sense of enchanted immobility, an unusual repose of some unearthly vision. Kuinji's decorative style has here revealed itself to the utmost.
The image has a folkloric character, the impression being achieved by its slightly simplified, as if »naive» drawing, reminiscent of folk primitives. The decorative impression was achieved by means of several devices: the system of complementary colours enhancing one another, the composition recalling us of stage decoration (with its cut-off objects, their stage-like display and the suggestion of coulisses), the monumental generalization of objects and the applied colour spots.
The system of complementary colours was used in another picture shown by the artist in 1901, Christ in the Gethsemane Garden. Nobody had hitherto achieved such decorative effects in Russian art of the early twentieth century. Kuinji's picture has retained to this day its significance as a work of art created according to the laws of plastic movement, without an illusory reconstruction of the objective world. This is especially evident in the sketch Autumn (1890-1895), where different decorative devices were used: a planar juxtaposition and the intensification and applique-like superimposition of colours.
In the painting Night Grazing (1905-1908) the faithful, deeply poetic perception of nature seems to blend with romantic elements resulting in a complex combination of romantic and realist imagery. This farewell work shows Kuinji's recollections of childhood and his marked preference for the motif of the sky. The elegiac, lyrical sorrow adds a minor key to the pale colours of the horizon and to the languid light of the smooth river surface. The romantic image found by Kuinji is a dreamland where magnificent nature gives pleasure to its beholder.
Kuinji created an autonomous poetic world, confined within a realm of fanciful beauty and seperated by invisible borders from ordinary life.
This tendency was quite typical of Russian art and literature at the beginning of the twentieth century-the creation of an imaginary world full of symbolic undertones, riddles and revelations, the conveying of a sense of starry cosmic space were among the major characteristics of Russian art in that period.
Involved in this creative mainstream, Kuinji still retained his bond with the mother-nature, where everything down-to-earth was of vital value for him. This is an idea underlying his third version of the Birch Grove (1901). The generalization of colour masses was there even more daring than in the second version. However, Kuinji emphasized the three-dimensionality of birch-trunks there in the same way as in the second version. He did not recourse to the flattened approach by built up the space in depth by the brook, birch-trees and forest flanking the central perspective, and by diminishing the intensity of colour with the distance.
The world presented in the third version of the Birch Grove resembles a magical edifice of nature existing in some other-worldly dimension.
The pattern of Kuinji's generalization can well be observed in his studies and sketches. In his small but expressive study A Tree Against the Background of the Ukrainian Evening Sky (1890-1895), the artist evolved a kind of formula of a tree-image. This generalized type of tree would recur in many of his works. It was included without changes in the painting Oaks (1905). This »formula» is a kind of a massive cloudy form of a whimsical shape. In this way the artist put concrete earthly forms on a par with conventional heavenly shapes. The cloudy mass of tree-tops in the centre of the composition looks monumental and significant.
It evokes the image of a resplendent nature fed by the powers of earth, both real and transformed by the artist's imagination.
Each age develops its own system of imagery. Therefore the romanticism of the twentieth century differs from that of the turn of the century. In romantic art, more than in any other, the principle of re-compensating the imperfect is revealed. It mainly compensates our lack of the untrivial, lofty and non-prosaic. In the process of re-compensating, the artistic image concentrates in itself man's spiritual and psychic life, in a measure and volume which exceed the »accustomed» norm of an emotional perception of the world. Hence, the romantic image is based on a hyperbole, on markedly exaggerated bright feelings or condensed dramatic emotions.
The dramatic conflict of nineteenth-century romanticism gave place to another sort of drama in which the artist immersed the viewer into an imaginary world dominated by the aesthetic medium that was different from, or opposed to, traditional contemporary art. Kuinji's romanticism seems to assert the idea that the beautiful is possible in real life no less than in imaginary realms.
Kuinji's legacy has lived a long life. His influence can be traced not only in the works of his pupils and contemporaries but also in the creations of the subsequent generations of artists. Romanticism has not died. Art is sensitive to its every chord. And as long romanticism is alive, it will »recollect» the art of Arkhip Kuinji.
Author - Vitaly Manin.