For centuries, landscapes were considered as a minor genre in western art. Portrait was something more noble, or “nature-morte” as well. There was always something more important to pay attention to than Landscape. Yet, in history certain nations like Ancient China or Rome as well as Russia in the 19th century, have developed an extraordinary know how in painting landscapes.
It all started with a wise man on top of a mountain
Landscape art is the depiction in art of landscapes, natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition (source: wikipedia). If we had to wait until the 19th century romantism to see landscape art burst in Europe, in China it was already a major art in the year 600. Like this Sui Dynasty Chinese landscape painting by Zhan Ziqian.
The earliest “pure landscapes” with no human figures are frescos from Minoan Greece of around 1500 BCE. From a contemporary point of view, the European Romanticism in the 19th century brought a deep dimension to the landscape art.
19th Century Romanticism, and the landscape became a major art
The Romanticism movement started at the end of the 18th century but its peak really happened around 1850. This movement was in a way a rejection of all the rationalization brought by the philosophers in Renaissance as well as the industrial revolution. The world became suddenly explained at all levels.
The end of the 18th century also brought great advancements in Botany and biology, so in a way, we lost the mystery of nature and our eyes looked at things from an analytical perspective. The 19th century tried to rebalance this situation. It was a complete change of mindset. Nature was not seen with the eyes of Botanists but with the words of the poet. Biologists let the room to painters and Physicists were replaced by Musicians.
Rousseau was replaced by Henri Wallis, Petrarque by Allan Poe. In art, the landscape became a contemplation scenery. Men faces the vast dimension of natural wonders and contemplates the landscape as well as he meditates about the meaning of his life. The relationship between man and what surrounds him becomes more deeper, more sensitive. Here a painting from Caspar David Friedrich – Wanderer above the sea of fog – that illustrates precisely this idea.
Several countries explored landscape in different contexts, always with this romantic layer. Germany was definitely one of the leading countries, especially in literature and painting. Another very interesting country that shaped the art of landscape during the 19th century is Russia. Russian painters had a special sensitivity that transformed landscape art into an iconic master trend.
Russian Landscape art, revealing the Russian soul
Russia in 1860’s, was going through a modernization process, a true transformation in which industrialization would bring you down to reality. There were no more mysteries in nature. Everything was made possible by technical innovations. What would be the position of Russian artists? Some of them would completely turn their back to academicism. They would seek the Russian soul by dressing their art with romanticism and with the idea that men and nature are connected.
The existence of men would be defined by the proper essence of the natural environment that surrounds us.
Artists like Ivan Aivazovsky, Ivan Shishkin or Arkhip Kuindzhi, will explore natural landscapes as a main topic in which men are accessories of decor. Their purpose is to get you in the frame, to allow you to project your own feelings and think about your own life.
Why Russia? Probably because of the amazing landscapes and natural scenery. From great planes, to Siberia, caucasian mountains or the Black sea. Different contexts that would inspire more than one artist.
Ivan Aivazovsky is probably the greatest of all. He was definitely a reference for this artistic trend in Russia. He is also considered as the greatest Marine painters in history.
After studying at the Imperial Academy of Arts, he took the opportunity to travel across Europe and landed in Italy. After his return to Russia he was appointed as the official painter of the Russian Navy. Aivazovsky became very popular in Russia and also abroad. He was one the rarest Russian artists to hold solo exhibitions in Europe and even in the United States.
Russia got a great 19th century of painters. The Russian romanticism was special because of their extraordinary cultural influences and amazing natural environment.
If you wish to learn more about this incredible Russian art period, there is an exhibition started in Switzerland. It is called “Magic of Russian Landscapes“. At the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, you will be able to discover great artists and probably an interesting look into this specific period in the Russian history.
This is what the museum says: “For the first time in Switzerland, the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne is showing an outstanding collection of major works from the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow.
Around seventy paintings document the finest achievements of the Russian landscape school in the 19th century.” You will be able to see artworks from Ivan Aivazovsky, Ivan Shishkin, Arkhip Kuindzhi, Mikhail Nesterov, Ilya Repin, Alexei Savrasov, and Vasily Vereshchagin.
Ms Tatiana Karpova, Deputy Director of the State Deputy Director of the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow, and Catherine Lepdor, Head Curator of the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne, are the curators of this exhibition. This year Switzerland and Russia are celebrating their 200th anniversary of diplomatic relationships. So this exhibition is the perfect way to celebrate it. The Museum also highlights the generous support of the Honorary Consulate of the Russian Federation in Lausanne.
Musée Cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne
Palais de Rumine, C.P.
Place de la Riponne 6
CH – 1014 Lausanne
Tél: +41 21 316 34 45
Fax +41 21 316 34 46
Magic of Russian Landscapes: until October 5th 2014.
More than ever, humankind needs to reconnect with its true nature. The modern world can sometimes extract people from their natural condition. The 19th century painters are still valuable to remind us that at the end we should just be a wise man on top of a mountain.
Info sourced at the Musée cantonal des Beaux-Arts in Lausanne and wikipedia. All content is copyrighted with no reproduction rights available.