«There exist many painterly manners. However, it is not the manner that matters, but the ability to see beauty» (Alexei Savrasov, the painter)



Articles (About exhibitions):

Romanticists in Realistic Art
Alexander Tsyplakov, Lyudmila Tsyplakova, Anastasia Tsyplakova
08.09.2007

In June 2006 Vladimir Shcherbakov, People's Artist of Russia, invited his friends and admirers to the opening of an exhibition of Russian landscape painters, Image of Homeland, in Vologda. By that time the Art Prima Gallery have collected works of some renowned masters of the Russian realistic school of painting of the early and mid-twentieth century. The Gallery was to decide which way to move further: to remain in the narrow framework of an antique collection or to look for new, contemporary names who are working in the same traditional manner. The conception of Image of Homeland, that was devised as a joint exposition of paintings by the classics of Russian realistic school - Alexei Savrasov, Viktor Vasnetsov, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Stanislav Zhukovsky, Konstantin Yuon, Pyotr Petrovichev, Leonard Turzhansky, Nikolai Krymov, Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya, Sergei Gerasimov, Arkady Plastov, Nikolai Romadin, Viktor Tsyplakov, Vladimir Stozharov - and our contemporary painters, was quite challenging.

The exhibit in Vologda found a great popular response: the exhibition of landscape paintings made it obvious that, despite the stereotyped view, quite widespread nowadays, Russia is still abundant of artistic talent and the paintings by our contemporary artists may be in no way less estimable but, more, they are able to match the best examples of the past.

Planning to mount another Image of Homeland, this time in Moscow, the Art Prima Gallery decided to change its strategy inviting, beside the contemporary painters whose works are harmonious with those of Russian classics of realism, some others who are different stylistically. To our surprise and pleasure, almost all of them, with a few exceptions, turned out to be Moscow's well-known artists and all, without any exception, pupils of Moscow's school of painting, being, consequently, active participants in Moscow's artistic life. Such a principle of selection led to cutting down the number of paintings to be exhibited, but, at the same time, the quality of the collection enhanced considerably, which should be viewed as a great advantage if you were going to mount an exhibit in Moscow. The Art Prima Gallery came to the conclusion that the only true way of making an art exhibition is, in the first place, to show a small collection of every artist's paintings, which enables the viewer to see, understand and appreciate each painter better, that is our task was to arrange a mini one-man show of every master; secondly, the works of two painters who happen to be exhibited alongside one another should not 'disagree' but 'live in peace' and more - be mutually complementary and show one another's merit to the best advantage.

The reality exceeded our expectations: 364 paintings made by 98 artists at different time in the course of the last 1 50 years blended in with one another so well that together they looked like a well-matched orchestra. The exposition was unified and harmonious. It demonstrated some well-tuned spirit that guided the painters of different generations and that was, undoubtedly, associated with the realistic tradition.

The exhibition lasted ten days and was attended by over 25.000 people. We, as the organizers, answered their questions, listened to their opinions and accepted their words of gratitude. We listened to the opinions of ordinary viewers and artists, art historians, art collectors. A festival atmosphere reined in the rooms where Image of Homeland was held in the Central House of Artists. What is there in Russian landscape painting, well familiar and conventional, which produces such emotional impression that made one of the viewers, among many other praiseful comments in the Guest Book, write: This exhibition made me start thinking of returning to my Homeland. An emigrant...?

Musing on this question and discussing it with the painters Yefrem Zverkov, Vladimir Shcherbakov, Vladimir Telin, Alexei Sukhovetsky, Valery Polotnov, Valery Strakhov, whose  works were on display, we came to the conclusion that almost all the painters of the Image were romanticists in realistic art.

Their paintings bring in a romantic atmosphere: they are emotionally positive, always poetic and musical, full of a warm noble feeling for homeland. It explains why their paintings find immediate response in the hearts of the viewers. Realistic in their form and romantic in their meaning, those paintings sing the divine beauty of earth being utterly destitute of any 'taint of practicality' that is of any social implication, criticism or homilies. And because of that those paintings do not need to be explained or appreciated for their 'profound meaning' or 'pioneer method'. Probably, this may be an explanation of the amazing fact that the designers of the Soviet history of art somehow ignored the pure line of romantic realism so clearly demonstrated in landscape painting.

Romantic realism, luckily eluding the grasp and attention of the Party ideologists, was, for nearly a century, the only movement in Russian art that preserved painting per se, painting as pure art, without staining it with ideology, politics, commerce or vanity. From generation to generation among the painters of Moscow's school, from teacher to pupils, there has been transmitted something more than professional skills. It was a most important law discovered by the Russian great landscape painter Alexei Savrasov: there exists a cause-and-effect chain between the painter's way of thinking and the quality of his painting. Konstantin Korovin found amazingly precise words to describe, in his memoirs, his teacher and his homilies: ...I can see Savrasov standing in front of me. He is very tall. His hands are big. His face looks like God's face and everything he says is as if God speaks... 'Only when you can love nature, when you can learn from it, you can find your real self. There exist many painterly manners. However, it is not the manner that matters, but the ability to see beauty... If you lack love for nature, you shouldn't be an artist... What is needed is romantic feeling. Motif. Undying romantic feeling. What you need is the right mood. A painter is like a poet... Relieve your mind, relieve your feelings and start painting... Become high-minded. Art and landscapes are useless where there is no heart... If you have no heart, your painting will be nothing but frigidity and machinery, a useless theory.

Further developments have shown how true the great artist's words were: romanticism has proved really undying, a powerful antidote for baneful allurements in the art of the last century with its pride, self-indulgence, avarice, aggressiveness. The early twentieth century saw the end of critical realism in art, the late twentieth century saw the end of social realism. Both movements of Russian realistic art were defeated by their own social ideas which outlived their usefulness. Under the ruins of the social edifices their superstructures and terminology - 'critical' and 'social' - found themselves buried. At the beginning of the twenty-first century only romantic realism is to resist the destructive assault of the so-called 'modern art'. The army of its adherents is growing.

A convincing argument in favour of the above statement may be the history of a remarkable artistic community that has existed in Moscow since the 1970s, whose major interest and only valuable thing in art has always been painting, pure and simple. The founders of the group were Vyacheslav Zabelin, Nikita Fedosov, Vladimir Telin and Vladimir Shcherbakov. For decades many other artists have joined and quit the group. Zabelin and Fedosov died, but neither the death of the leaders, nor other circumstances could change the principles which lay in the base of the artistic alliance: uncompromising fidelity to painting, artless existence in the Russian rich painting tradition, high professionalism and responsibility for the priceless gift of an artist.

Today this artistic community includes the well-known Russian artists Vladimir Shcherbakov, Vladimir Telin, Mikhail Abakumov, Sergei Gavrilyachenko, Yuri Grishchenko, Nikolai Zaitsev, Igor Orlov, Gennady Pasko, Valery Polotnov, Valery Strakhov, Alexei Sukhovetsky, Alexander Tsyplakov and their colleagues. Without any formalities in their relations the painters are united with their active, deliberately responsible position of an artist. They continue and develop a trend in the Russian realistic tradition which can be defined as romantic realism.

This movement was born in Moscow in the circle of artists close to Alexei Savrasov and the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. It achieved its full expression in the work of the 'painters' wing' of the Union of Russian Artists in the early twentieth century. Romantic realism happily combined the artistic aptitudes of the rich painterly language, which did not only use all the achievements of realistic painting but also the discoveries and novelties of impressionistic one, with deliberate, responsible and entirely true attitude of a painter to his profession as a sacrament of serving beauty. The nature of such devotion was to be devoid of any 'practicality' and aimed singularly at conveying the earth's divine beauty in colour. Romantic realistic painting acquired true freedom breaking the bonds of ideological and stylistic conventions. Actually, it was romantic realism that set the creative potential of Russian artists free and led to the period of unprecedented flourish of Russian figurative arts at the beginning of the twentieth century.

The genealogy of Russian romantic realism includes Alexei Venetianov, Grigory Soroka, Alexei Savrasov, Ivan Shishkin, Fyodor Vasiliev, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Vasily Surikov, Viktor Vas-netsov, Isaak Levitan, Valentin Serov, Mikhail Vrubel, Konstantin Korovin, Andrei Ryabushkin, Mikhail Nesterov, Boris Kustodiev, Abram Arkhipov, Konstantin Yuon, Igor Grabar, Stanislav Zhukovsky, Pyotr Petrovichev, Leonard Turzhansky and the following generation - Vitold Byalynitsky-Birulya, Nikolai Krymov, Arkady Plastov, Sergei Gerasimov, Viktor Tsyplakov, Nikolai Romadin, Alexei Gritsai, Valery Strakhov; as well as the living masters of the twentieth century - Yuri Kugach, Alexei and Sergei Tkachev, Yefrem Zverkov, Valentin Sidorov and many others.

Such an impressive list of predecessors does not only set very high quality standards of painting for contemporary artists but also invests them with great responsibility for the renowned 'ancestors'.

Deep respect for the tradition, careful and thoughtful attitude to the rich legacy are what makes up the base for the work of the painters exhibited at Romanticists in Realistic Art, which betokens the elite character of their paintings. All of them have been 'growing' for years accumulating and studying elaborately the experience of their predecessors, each of them finding his own path to personal and professional heights. As a result, each painter in the gallery of Romanticists has found his individual and easily recognizable manner by himself. In our highly aggressive and pragmatic time, when many artists and their admirers worship the 'idol of novelty', the Romanticists are consistently conservative and because of that their paintings have invariably high quality.

Where does their mastery come from? Do they have any secret? The answer is simple: romantic realistic paintings are a true art. A little over one hundred years ago the sacred meaning of art was so clear to all that its definition in Vladimir Dal's Dictionary occupied no more than three lines: Fine arts tend to create a prototype of beauty, a marriage of the good and the true, the reflection of which we can see in the objective life.

Painting as a fine art plays a special role. Like that of the others, its role may be quite utilitarian and materialistic: a painting can be owned, donated as a gift, sold and bought. Despite that, painting as art, has a nature which is alien to materialistic purposes of this world. It is independent and timeless: it exists out of the boundaries of any 'movements' and 'trends'; it does not matter if it is 'old' or 'modern', Russian or French. There is only one thing we can say about it: 'it is painting' or 'it is no painting', because painting is life and the presence of life in a painting is absolutely necessary, for one cannot be more or less alive. Like any form of life, painting is vulnerable and can only exist in a precisely indicated environment. The environment for painting is the beauty of the world and the purity of the painter's intentions: only enhancement of beauty can be the painter's final goal. Should a painter be allured to other purposes, his painting would vanish, become mere paint on canvas.

Romantic realistic painting brings us the true meaning of art, lost in the wilderness of atheistic criticism, which is nothing else but serving beauty. Beauty is visible and sensual. It does exist in the world created by God. It is a source of life that nourishes the immortal soul. Modern man is hungry for beauty, quite often unconsciously. The twentieth century 'annulled' wonders making the world plain and utilitarian, like a supermarket. Nowadays man remembers God less and less often and, growing more practical and sophisticated, is losing the qualities which differ him from animals - the ability to tell beautiful from ugly, the truth from a lie, the immediate from the eternal, the good from the evil. Nevertheless, each of us, at least once in our lives, has enjoyed a purely unselfish feeling of admiring beauty that can be met anywhere in the world. Then we might have been able to discover the divine beauty of nature and appreciate a real work of art. Endless lines of people of all nationalities queuing to get to the Tretyakov Gallery, the Hermitage Museum, the Louvre, the Prado Museum or Uffizi Gallery, as well as many other international collections of art, speak about our addiction to seeing beauty.

Beauty will save this world. Fyodor Dostoyevsky may have wrote this prophesy about our time.