Russian Impressionism 

by Cathy Locke

Philippe Malyavin, “Whirlwind,” 1906, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery.

Just like Russian Impressionism, Russian Post-Impressionism did not mimic its European counterparts. Painters like Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin were creating work that was distinctively different from the European Impressionists and by 1910 Russian Impressionism was also undergoing a series of changes. Light, soft colors started to shift to richer reds and ochres. Brush strokes became shorter and more directional with the use of flat-bristled brushes. Shadows became more active by using lighter and brighter shades of color. In addition, there were distinct differences between the artists from Moscow and those from St. Petersburg. The movement saw a new wave of artists, which included Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin and Alexander Gerasimov. The Russian artist, Igor Grabar, probably had the greatest single influence on the evolution of Russian Post-Impressionism. Grabar worked in a divisionist manner starting in 1904, using pointillist-type brush strokes of pure color. In 1907 the French Fauvists elected Grabar to become a member for life at their Salon d’Automne.

The motif of social criticism started to return in the works of Russian Post-Impressionists. Valentin Serov, also considered one of the fathers of Russian Impressionism, fine-tuned the psychological portrait which was a device handed down from his teacher, Ilya Repin. Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin’s painting, Alarm (1919), painted two years after the 1917 Revolution, is a far cry in mood from Paul Gauguin’s paintings from Tahiti. Even Abram Arkhipov’s work from 1915 to his death in 1930 seems to be a prelude to the propaganda of Soviet Realism. Stylistically, one cannot argue that the works by these Russian artists was not influenced by the loose brushwork of their European counterparts. However, the Russian works from 1900 to 1930 do not seem to have the same abandonment of a social statement or nationality as those of the Europeans.

Russian Impressionism continued to exist as a movement throughout the 1910s. Unfortunately the public’s interest in Impressionism started to fade as the Russian Avant-Garde and Neoclassicism started to emerge. Korovin’s lovely portrait of Fyodor Chaliapin (1911) did not receive one kind word when it was exhibited. Perhaps the nation was turning its attention to the revolution and the art that supported political change. After the 1917 Revolution many of the Russian Impressionists, including Korovin, Vinogradov and Malyavin, emigrated. Grabar, Arkhipov, Vasnetsov and Gerasimov remained in Russia and continued to work in Moscow, and their work became the classics of the new Soviet art. Russian Impressionism continued even through the Stalin era of Soviet Realism. Sergei Gerasimov, a student of Korovin, painted in an Impressionistic style while working on Stalin-approved themes. By 1932 Stalin condemned Impressionism as “decadent” art. The movement, based on harmonic union of the human with the surrounding environment, was in direct contradiction with the values set by Communist ideology. Stalin’s decree literally crippled the artistic fate of many Russian painters. After Stalin’s death in 1952, new works emerged, such as Alexei and Sergei Tkachev’s Windy Day”(1957) and Arkady Plastov’s Midday (1961), that seemed to pick up the Impressionist spirit from the past.

There are many gallery dealers around the world today who claim that Russian Impressionism and Post-Impressionism movements are still alive and well, spanning over 100 years. Personally, I question even using the term “Russian Post-Impressionism.” Rather, should it not be “Pronto Soviet Realism” or even “Revolutionary Impressionism?”

The Laundresses
Abram Arkhipov, “The Laundresses,” 1899, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery.

Being on a Visit
Abram Arkhipov, “Being on a Visit,” 1915, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.

Abram Arkhipov, “Girl,” 1920, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.

Philippe Malyavin, “Verka,” 1913, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.

A Girl
Philippe Malyavin, “A Girl,” 1903, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.

Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Lubov Brodskaya, on the Terrace
Isaak Brodsky, “Portrait of the Artist’s Wife, Lubov Brodskaya, on the Terrace,” 1908, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.

Flowers and Fruits
Igor Grabar, “Flowers and Fruits,” 1904, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.

Still Life
Igor Grabar,“Still Life,” 1907, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery.

Igor Grabar,“Chrysanthemums,” 1905, oil on canvas, Tretyakov Gallery.

Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin, “Alarm,” 1919 oil on canvas.

Alexei and Sergei Tkachev, “Children,” 1957-1960, oil on canvas.

Vyacheslav Zagonek, “Morning,” 1959-1960, oil on canvas, Russian Museum.