"An artist observes, selects, guesses and synthesizes" - the Russian painter Andrei Petrovich Ryabushkin
10 May 1904, the Russian painter Andrei Petrovich Ryabushkin died at the age of 42 in Lubvino, 50 miles southeast of St Petersburg.
“After us they’ll fly in hot air balloons, coat styles will change, perhaps they’ll discover a sixth sense and cultivate it, but life will remain the same, a hard life full of secrets, but happy. And a thousand years from now man will still be sighing, “Oh! Life is so hard!” and will still, like now, be afraid of death and not want to die.“ (Anton Chekhov, “The Three Sisters”)
It might have been all John Constable’s fault. When his rural landscapes were exhibited at the Salon de Paris of 1824, a few locals had their own artistic Damascus Experience. Trying to keep up with the Constables, they took up their still quite cumbersome easels and paint pots and went out into the great wide open to paint. Mainly the landscape around the Forest of Fontainebleau near the village of Barbizon and over two generations of 19th century artistic development, the Barbizon school helped painters to develop their own approach on Realism and later Impressionism. The invention of the French field easel and ready-made paint in tubes during the 1870s advanced the approach rapidly, not only in France, but all across Europe and to a certain extent to the Americas. Painting en plein air became a commodity as well as political statement in regards to Academic salon art. Russian art did not constitute an exception, save that landscape painting in the wake of pan-European Realism was a even more revolutionary idea with a highly political component. A group of artists calling themselves the Peredvizhniki, the Wanderers, Repin, Shishkin and Surikov among them, set the hare running away from imperial academic distinction between high and low art and official support and painted their Russia in her picturesque beauty and naming and shaming conditions, often with the same brushstroke. For a while, a young, likewise academy trained artist from the Tambov Governorate, somewhere between the rivers Oka and Don and south of Nizhniy-Novgorod, old Kievean Rus-territory, joined and wandered with the Peredvizhniki, but somehow lost his way and ended up in the 17th century. It was Andrei Petrovich Ryabushkin, a romantically unromantic phenomenon in late 19th and early 20th century’s Russian art.
|Seventeenth-Century Moscow Street on a Public Holiday|
Having learned his trade originally from his brother, an icon painter in his native village, Ryabushkin painted a religious scene as diploma work that somehow did not meet the expectations of his tutors. It was good enough, though, to get him provided with a stipend for travelling abroad, to France or Italy. Ryabushkin, however, who had already earned a few Roubles as illustrator of historic sets for Petersburg magazines and sketched the people of Moscow and the streets of St Petersburg, used his grant to see to the old Russian cities of Kiev, Novgorod and Yaroslavl, studied the ancient architecture, customs and costumes and created his first imaginations of 17th century Russia instead of contemporary conditions. Consequently, he broke with the Peredvizhniki and promptly fell through the cracks. The moderns and realists didn’t like his histories while the establishment had no use for his depictions of rural or small town scenes, populated with just the peasants and merchants from back then with a distinct lack of blood and thunder or prominent patriotic significance on the eve of the Great War. Admittedly, his well-researched images convey the memory of very long and very dreary afternoons, covered in snow or mud, more often than not, contemporary testimonies that emerged 300 years too late. Not that Ryabushkin’s artistic approach on art itself was historicising in itself. His manner was almost hyperrealist, sometimes somewhat impressionistic with a note of art nouveau, not quite avant-garde around 1900, but still modern enough. Working in his studio in rural Lubvino, 50 miles southeast of St Petersburg, Ryabushkin absorbed local provincial life into his oeuvre as well, around 1900 certainly no less dreary than back in 1600, at least according to Chekhov and Ryabushkin himself, where a young man stumbling into a girls’ dance during a folk festival is an event worth to be remembered with an oil painting. Ryabushkin fully rejoined the late 19th century Bohémien with contracting tuberculosis in 1903, though. He went to Switzerland for a short while, but the Magic Mountain-treatment did not work and he died back home in Lubvino, a misjudged genius of capturing contemplative boredom.
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