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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Titan of the Russian Forest: An Ivan Shishkin Art Gallery

by Alice E.M. Underwood

Today marks the 185th birthday of Ivan Shishkin, a landscape painter whose representations of Russian nature evoke the beauty and vastness of his country. In five decades and hundreds of paintings, Shishkin probably painted thousands of trees. It’s no wonder he earned himself nicknames like “Forest Tsar,” “Titan of the Russian Forest,” “Lonely Oak,” and “Old Pine Tree.”

Shishkin started sketching as a child, graduated from the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts in 1860, and continued his studies in Europe before teaching landscape painting in St. Petersburg – of course, with many trips to the countryside for fodder for his artwork. His dacha in Vyra, south of St. Petersburg, and his hometown of Yelabuga in present-day Tatarstan were favorite spots for capturing the majesty of the Russian countryside.

Shishkin was a true patriot, his love of his native land centered around the natural landscapes unique to Russia. During his studies in Europe he lamented, “why am I not in Russia, that I love so?” And of his work in general, he stated:

"My motto? Be Russian. Long live Russia!"

He wasn’t alone in uniting his love for Russia with his love for art. In the 1860s, he became a founding member of the Peredvizhniki – the “Itinerants” or “Wanderers” – a realist artistic movement in realism impacted by the emancipation of the serfs in 1861 and dedicated to producing a view of Russian life that encapsulated both natural beauty and human suffering. While many works by members of the Peredvizhniki were openly liberal, took on religious subject matter, or made a critical social commentary, Shishkin’s paintings elevated nature in a way that was accessible, yet meticulous. He presented the Russian landscape as a space to be celebrated by all.

Shishkin was a real tree-hugger of an artist, and preferred daytime scenes because they allowed him to depict the interplay of natural light and lush greenery. Despite his preference for the sunlight, he also made his mark on the night sky: in 1978, the minor planet 3558 Shishkin was named after him. He’s not the only Russian artist to have a planet named after him, but his legacy in landscape painting makes him one of Earth’s greatest portrayers.

Take a wander through the Russian countryside with some of his most beloved paintings. 

Morning in the Pine Forest, with Konstantin Savitsky (1886)
Noon. Neighborhoods of Moscow. Bratzevo (1866)
Birch Grove (1878)
Haystacks, Preobrazhenskoe (1890)
Sunlit Willow (c. 1860s)
In the Wild North (1891)

 

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