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Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Lev Lvovich Kamenev

Landscape, 1861, Lev Lvovich Kamenev.                        
Pretty, but pretty boring, too. Even the title is boring.                     
According to the statistics for this blog, I have between seven-hundred and nine-hundred readers per day. They come from all the English-speaking countries of the world as well as virtually all the European countries of the world; and quite a surprising number of Asian countries. Google is apparently quite good at translating my words, though art is such an international language, and English nearly as much so, that, so long as I steer clear of slang and local idioms, my thoughts and opinions often speak for themselves. With that in mind I also try to bring to light artists from the various foreign countries with whom readers in the U.S., the U.K., Canada, and Australia are likely not to be familiar. Sometimes such blog entries turn out to be among my most popular. I don't flatter myself by thinking this is because I'm such a fantastic writer, but because details about these less well-know, non-English-speaking artists, their art, and their times, are often not in English, poorly presented on line, and sometimes even conflicting. "Art Now and Then" is thus a place where I discuss in layman's terms (usually) the filtered information and interesting details gleaned from dozens of different Web sources of highly variable accuracy and quality.
Lev Lvovich Kamenev, (possibly a self-portrait).
Russian artist, Lev Lvovich Kamenev, is a typical example. First of all there are two famous Russians named Lev Kamenev. The other was a Bolshevik politician (and unfortunately the more famous of the two). Lev Kamenev was exclusively a landscape painter. I've never written about a Russian landscape painter before. And though he gained a fair amount of recognition during his lifetime, even his lifetime is somewhat in question. Sources can't decide if he was born in 1833 or 1834 (not that it matters a whole lot). Art historians are pretty sure he died in obscure poverty just fifty-three years later in 1886. That alone makes digging into his carreer as an artist more difficult, narrowing the window of relevance in his case to around twenty years (less than half the working life many painters have enjoyed). It also limits the number of works from which I have to choose in visually imparting the look and feel of his work.
The Dam, 1864, Lev Lvovich Kamenev, one of the few paintings in which the
center of interest is not overwhelmed by his landscape.
The Brook, Lev Lvovich Kamenev
This is especially the case with Kamenev. It would be an injustice to say, "If you've seen one Russian landscape you've seen them all," but in the case of Kamenev's limited lifetime portfolio, such a barb comes close to being true. While Kemeneve was undoubtedly a master of composition, atmospherics, and technical skills, there tends to be an overwhelming "sameness" to much of his work. Often his paintings seem to lack focus, devoid of any center of interest other than the fleeting beauty of nature in Russia. His 1861 painting, titled simply Landscape (top), typifies this element in his work. And when he does include a point of interest, it is often so understated and overwhelmed by the landscape as to be seen as barely significant. Did you notice the two tiny figures near the end of the path? One gets the feeling that, though academically trained, he was technically uncomfortable painting any human encroachment into his nature paintings of brooks, streams, skies, and trees...lots of trees...lots and lots of trees...

Winter Road, 1866, Lev Lvovich Kamenev. One of his most popular works.
As a landscape painter, Kamenev was at his best when painting the Russian winter. It's been said that no place on earth has winters as harsh as those in northern Russia (Kamenev spent nearly all his life in the St. Petersburg area). That distinction does not apply to Kemenev's depictions of Russian summers, which could be in any of a thousand locations around the world. When his Winter Road (above) was accepted by Moscow's prestigious Tretykov Collection in 1866, (one of three there now) it was the first bit of important recognition he was to receive. He was granted the title of Academician of the Academy of Arts in landscape painting. Later in his brief carreer, he was a founder of The Association of Traveling Art Exhibitions, which he used as a means of exposing his own work, as well as that of others to an art-starved Russian populace at the time. Kamenev's landscapes were probably not the highlight of the shows. In Russia at the time, there was little appreciation for nature or Kamenev's snowy depictions of it (below). Russians had far too much of the real thing to buy paintings of it. Moreover, in the Russian hinterlands, nature was something to be dreaded and overcome, not admired and hung on a wall.

Winter Landscape, 1871, Lev Lvovich Kamenev. A little smoke from the chimney
and a few Thomas Kinkade lights in the widows might have warmed the place up a bit.


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