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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov

The Apparition of Christ to the People, 1837-57, Alexander Ivanov.                   
John the Baptist is the central foreground figure, who               
apparently demanded his followers be baptized in the nude.              
Alexander Ivanov, Sergey Postnikov, 1873,
painted posthumously from a photo.
Artists are fortunate today in that they are free to paint pretty much anything they like in any style they like. It's only when they attempt to sell their work, or gain acceptance in various competitions, that social restrictions begin to apply. Even at that, if the artist is shrewd enough to enter the most appropriate competitions and if he or she markets their work to the right receptive audience, such restrictions fade in importance. Of course, that's a couple pretty big "ifs" and, as they say, easier said than done. Almost two hundred years ago, the Russian artist, Alexander Andreyevich Ivanov had the same problem. He painted in a classical style, classical and religious subjects at a time when both were fading in popularity. Even as a young, struggling artist, his work was deemed by his peers as "old-fashioned."
A Study of Heads, 1840, Alexander Ivanov
Nikolai Gogol, 1847, Alexander Ivanov
Alexander Ivanov was born in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1806, the son of the painter, Andrey Ivanovich Ivanov. As was quite common at the time, most of Alexander's early tutilidge in art came from his father, which probably explains the younger Ivanov's life-long adherence to a style of painting that was fading in respect and importance. As a young man, he studied at the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts, but again, under his father who was an instructor there. Around 1824, Ivanov broke free from his father and moved to Rome, a place where they still appreciated Classicism. There he became influenced by the Nazarene Movement (not the present day religious denomination) and met the Russian writer of short stories, Nikolai Gogol, beginning a life-long "friendship," something of a "mutual admiration society."
The Cleansing of the Temple, 1824, Alexander Ivanov
Head of John the Baptist, Alexander Ivanov,
a study for his Apparition of Christ.
In Rome, he painted portraits and proved himself quite adept at capturing facial expressions and character. Around 1837 Ivanov began what has come to be known as his single masterpiece, The Apparition of Christ before the People (top). He worked on it for some twenty years, producing a large number of preliminary drawings, even finished paintings as preparatory studies, many of which survive, and are considered masterpieces in their own right. During his many years in Rome, Ivanov completed other religious scenes such as the unfinished Cleansing of the Temple and a surrealistic Dream of Joseph (below, painted before Andre Breton was even born). The painting is quite distinct from Ivanov's usual, staid Classicism.

The Dream of Joseph, 1855, Alexander Ivanov
As was the habit of may academic classicist painters, Ivanov seldom wasted an opportunity to include nude figures in his work. However it doesn't take long in studying his paintings to realize the vast majority were male, with a predisposition toward painting nude adolescent boys. I'm always reluctant to frame artists according to suspected sexual orientation, but in this case, Ivanov not only seems to have been gay, but quite possibly a pedophile. His Nude Boy on a White Blanket (below) from 1850, is one of his "less offensive" such efforts. He appears to have gone so far as to "insert" nude figures in his religious works to the extent they become curious by their presence and state of undress, forever raising the question, "why?" His mythological work such as his Apollo, Hyacinth and Cyparissus Singing and Playing (too erotic to display here), even his genre scenes, are replete with numerous such depictions.

Nude Boy on a White Blanket, 1850, Alexander Ivanov.

Bellerophon Is Sent to the Campaign Against
the Chimera, 1829, Alexander Ivanov
Alexander Ivanov died relatively young, in 1858 at the age of fifty-two. As quite often happens in the case of artists such as Ivanov, his work grew in acceptance and appreciation after his death. Succeeding generations, perhaps more attuned to his art rather than the man, came to admire the thoroughness with which he approached his work as well as his command of human expressions and the male nude. Ivanov's French and Italian admirers seem to have had a greater love of such work as Ivanov's 1829 Bellerophon Is Sent to the Campaign Against the Chimera (right) than did fellow artists in his home country, which then, as now, seems to have a low tolerance for homoerotic art imagery.


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