Gothic
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Moonlight painting

The Arkhip Kuindzhi exhibition opened in the Tretyakov Gallery, bringing together more than 180 works by the artist and presenting his work from a new perspective – as a forerunner of modernism, which revealed in painting the possibilities of light effects that excite art today. Igor Grebelnikov reports.
The exposition on two floors of the Corps of Engineers is conditionally divided into the “earthly” Kuindzhi with its landscapes written mostly during the day (Valaam and Crimean species, single pines, birch groves, dark oak forests, various states of nature after the rain), and “elevated”, mysterious, mystical. It is dusk, evenings, sunsets, “nights on the Dnieper”, rainbows, clouds and completely out of the general landscape row “Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane”. Large paintings are surrounded by a series of sketches. Because of this, on the one hand, there is a feeling of a detailed meteorological aid, unwittingly compiled by the author. On the other hand, these sketches reveal Kuindzhi’s exceptional predilection for those nuances of changeable nature, which will be strengthened and generalized in the finished work with the color and texture of the stroke, which will seem a miracle to the viewer. A light illusion that will make the artist suspect the use of luminous paint, foil, or even invisible lighting fixtures.
Attention was given to the etudes by the 2008 exhibition in the Russian Museum, timed to coincide with the 165th anniversary of the artist. The current show, although not tied to round dates, is wider (more than 180 works, including those from regional and near-by-abroad museums) and also makes an important emphasis: the central work of the exposition is the unfinished canvas “Crimea” (1900-1905). Indeed, it confidently pulls the headline in the new reading of Kuinji as the forerunner of modernism, and indeed, “to the Crimea” the artist has all the legitimate reasons. As a thirteen-year-old teenager from the Mariupol suburb, he went to Feodosia to study painting from Aivazovsky on foot (he sent him, but he did get some lessons from his pupil Kuinji), and being already a famous author, he bought a large piece of land there, where he created many works.
Having learned to be a free listener at the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, Kuinji soon gained loud success with his landscapes. His “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” (1880), shown in a darkened room under the light of lamps, became a real sensation. Look at the bright green strip of the Dnieper, lit by the moon, lined up in long queues. In fact, it was a light installation, and its effect was so strong that Kramskoy, concerned about the darkening of colors, offered to draw up a detailed protocol of the impression that the picture produces. It didn’t come to that, but at the exhibition one can see a whole series of its repetitions, where the moon’s light, slightly illuminating the village’s roofs, leaves no doubt: Kuindji’s goal was not a specific landscape, but a new audience experience of light perception, even in the picture.
In the same light entourage, Kuindzhi will soon show Birch Grove. Its location is unknown, it can be judged by the author’s phototype, transmitting that optical effect, which led the biologist and mystic Nicholas Wagner to delight: “It is difficult now to predict where landscape painting will go, but something wide, bright, completely new , an unprecedented … about which no one dared to think. ”
Marveling at Kuinji’s paintings and his own feelings, contemporaries suspected the artist almost in alchemical experiments, the reason for which was his friendship with chemist Dmitry Mendeleev and physicist Fyodor Petrushevsky, the inventor of optical instruments, the researcher of light reflection of the surface of paintings and physical properties of oil paints. In fact, scientists attended classes and other artists. A study conducted in the Tretyakov Gallery, nothing supernatural in the colors Kuindzhi not found.
The exhibition has an earlier version of the same “Birch Grove”, surrounded by a number of studies. And as if someone did not see Monet in it (contemporaries noted this), Kuindzhi clearly outpaced the impressionistic style, bringing the painting to the then unknown shores of symbolism, fauvism, expressionism. Particularly convincing of this are the works of the “late” Kuindzhi (by and large the public recognized them after the artist’s death) – sunsets, mountains, clouds, rainbows, which are evident to the philosophy of Russian cosmism. In them, the experience of nature is akin to the spiritual, mystical.
At the peak of fame and commercial success in 1882 (Pavel Tretyakov acquires paintings for huge money, and the Moonlight Night on the Dnieper, for example, even before its completion, Grand Duke Konstantin Konstantinovich buys for an unprecedented 5,000 rubles). and closes the workshop doors even for collectors. He buys a large plot of land in the Crimea, where he lives with his wife for a long time, buys three apartment buildings on Vasilyevsky Island, rents apartments, and then sells it profitably. The money spent is spent on charity, donating huge sums of money to create the Society of Support for Young Artists.

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