23 August 2009

Mikhail Vruble and his imagination

One of my favour Russian painters is defiantly Mikhail Aleksandrovich Vrubel
(Russian: Михаил Александрович Врубель, March 17, 1856 - April 14, 1910).

He is usually regarded as the greatest Russian painter of the Symbolist movement. His art is so unique and original that he shouldn't be label to any movement at all. In reality, he deliberately stood aloof from contemporary art trends, so that the origin of his unusual manner should be sought probably in the Late Byzantine and Early Renaissance painting.

Seraph based on Pushkin poem

For me personally he is a personality with a great imagination, fantasy and originality. He perfectly fits in my private gallery of unusual, bizzar, different, fantastic in art.

Vrubel was born in the Omsk city (Siberia), in a military lawyer's family and graduated from the Law Faculty of St Petersburg University in 1880. Next year he entered the Imperial Academy of Arts. In his earliest works, he exhibited striking talent for drawing and highly idiosyncratic outlook. Although he still relished academic monumentality, he would later develop a penchant for fragmentory composition and "unfinished touch".

In 1884, he was summoned to replace the lost 12th-century murals and mosaics in the St. Cyril's Church of Kiev with the new ones. In order to execute this commission, he went to Venice to study the medieval Christian art. It was here that, in the words of an art historian, "his palette acquired new strong saturated tones resembling the iridescent play of precious stones". Most of his works painted in Venice have been lost, because the artist was more interested in creative process than in promoting his artwork. In 1886, he returned to Kiev, where he submitted some monumental designs to the newly-built St Volodymir Cathedral. The jury, however, failed to appreciate the striking novelty of his works, and they were rejected. At that period, he executed some delightful illustrations for Hamlet and Anna Karenina which had little in common with his later dark meditations on the Demon and Prophet themes.

While in Kiev, Vrubel started painting sketches and watercolours illustrating the Demon, a long Romantic poem by Mikhail Lermontov. The poem described the carnal passion of "an eternal nihilistic spirit" to a Georgian girl Tamara. At that period Vrubel developed a keen interest in Oriental arts, and particularly Persian carpets, and even attempted to imitate their texture in his paintings.

In 1890, Vrubel moved to Moscow. Like other artists associated with the Art Nouveau, he excelled not only in painting but also in applied arts, such as ceramics, majolics, and stained glass. He also produced architectural masks, stage sets, and costumes.

Seated Demon

In 1890 he finished his large painting of Seated Demon in the Garden (It is to see in Moscow, in Tretyakov Gallery). This painting brought notoriety to Vrubel. Most conservative critics accused him of "wild ugliness", I LOVE IT! Others like art patron Savva Mamontov praised the Demon series as "fascinating symphonies of a genius". Unfortunately the Demon, like other Vrubel's works, doesn't look as it did when it was painted, as the artist added bronze powder to his oils in order to achieve particularly luminous, glistening effects.

In 1896, he fell in love with the famous opera singer Nadezhda Zabela. Half a year later they married and settled in Moscow, where Zabela was invited by Mamontov to perform in his private opera theatre. While in Moscow, Vrubel designed stage sets and costumes for his wife, who sang the parts of the Snow Maiden, the Swan Princess, and Princess Volkhova in Rimsky-Korsakov's operas. Falling under the spell of Russian fairy tales, he executed some of his most acclaimed pieces, including Pan (1899), The Swan Princess (1900), and Lilacs (1900). In 1901, Vrubel returned to the demonic themes in the large canvas Demon Downcast. In order to astound the public with underlying spiritual message, he repeatedly repainted the demon's ominous face, even after the painting had been exhibited to the overwhelmed audience.

The last decade of his life was a very difficult one; he had a severe nervous breakdown, he was hospitalized in mental clinic. While there, he painted a mystical Pearl Oyster (1904) and striking variations on the themes of Pushkin's poem The Prophet. In 1906, overpowered by mental disease and approaching blindness, he had to give up painting.

By the way if you love movies, see Guillermo Del Toro's The Pan Labirynt. There is a such of atmosphere in this masterpiece that reminded me some of Vrubel's paintings.


Kelly said...

Those are beautiful. I love ancient and medieval artwork.

Muminek said...

His art isn't ancient or medieval.....his work was very modern and avant-garde for his time.