Isaak Levitan:
Wise Master of Russian Landscape

Issak Levitan
Artist: Valentin Serov (1893)

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“Painting is not a record but an explanation of nature with paints and brush”. This was Isaak Levitan’s understanding of art. The 30th of August marks the 150th anniversary of this wonderful Russian landscape-painter’s birth.

Isaak Levitan entered the history of Russian painting as the creator of the so-called landscape of mood. But his name is one of the key names in the history of Russian culture in general. Levitan managed to grasp the main motive of Russian nature, simple and stirring, and thus he grasped and conveyed the intonation of a whole epoch in his art. It was a lyrical intonation, this is why Levitan’s name stands in the same line with those of many other great Russian lyricists – composers Tchaikovsky and Rachmaninoff, and poets Tiutchev and Bunin.

Levitan’s most sensitive contemporaries felt his belonging to his epoch. One of them was the famous impresario Sergey Diaghilev who created the Russian painters’ union “The World of Art”. Diaghilev said: “If you look for the freshness of Ivan Turgenev’s morning, or the fragrance of Leo Tolstoy’s haymaking, or Anton Chekhov’s keenness of vision in Russian artists’ canvases, Levitan deserves shaking hands with these writers”.

Levitan lived only for 39 years, 20 of which were devoted to art. For his short life he created the “main body” of Russian landscape and his pictures in this genre outnumbered those by all his Russian contemporaries. Landscapes by Levitan are well-known to all Russians, starting with ABC pictures. “A Summer Evening”, “Golden Autumn”, “March” and “The Lake” never lose their significance. Probably, the reason is that “Levitan, unlike landscape-painters before him, was a philosopher.” This is the opinion of Sergey Krivondenchenkov, an art historian and a leading expert of the Russian Museum in St. Petersburg, which he expressed in his interview for “The Voice of Russia”.

“In the late 19th century, - Sergey Krivondenchenkov goes on to say, - many artists came to the conclusion that it was not necessary to paint pictures in a smooth manner, with disguised texture of painting. Originally, the Russian Academy of Arts encouraged “completed” pictures, with no noticeable brush strokes, which looked like photographs. Russian painters tried to achieve this ideal for many years. But in the 1860s and 70s, they crossed this border when they started solving the problems of pleine air painting. Young artists who did not belong to the old school had a different thinking.

Developing lyrical landscape in the footsteps of Vasiliev and Savrasov, young Levitan reached the climax of its evolution.He had a painting technique, new for his time and used even today, which did not exist in the middle of the 19th century, - the art historian says and enumerates the components of this technique: elaborately painted details, modern understanding of the colour which meant painting colours on the canvas with special brush strokes, nearly impressionistic, and so on. Levitan worked in a free manner. He was a universal artist who could paint landscapes close to the realistic understanding of nature in a free and airy manner”, the expert sums up.

In his work, according to the painter himself, Levitan sought to make each brush stroke “an expressive word”, he most of all suffered if the viewers saw his “unfinished sentences”. But there were no such pictures among those that Levitan exhibited in Russia and abroad. Today his canvases can be seen in the largest Russian art museums, first of all, in the Moscow Tretyakov Gallery. Once you see them you will agree that Isaak Levitan, as one of his younger colleagues said, “was the largest and wisest master of Russian landscape”.

Source:The Voice of Russia
30 August, 2010