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Monday, January 19, 2015

Vladimir Makovsky

The "ugly old men" of Vladimir Makovsky (central figure). The two figures at the bottom center are portraits, the rest are simply character studies in oil.
Portrait of E.I. Makovsky,
1880, Vladimir Makovsky
Yesterday I wrote about an exceptional Russian portrait painter named Konstantin Makovsky (the item just below). He had two brothers who were also outstanding artists, Nikolay and Vladimir. Nikolay was the middle brother (whom I'll cover tomorrow), Vladimir the youngest, born in 1846. Their sister, Alexandra, like her three brothers, was also an artist, however insufficient resources do not permit me to cover her life and work. From all indications, she may have spent more time modeling for her brothers than painting. She was very beautiful. They were the children of the Moscow art collector, Yegor Ivanovich Makovsky (left). It's not uncommon to find art talent which runs in families. It is uncommon to find it running so broadly in one family. Their mother, composed music, their father was an amateur painter also one of the founders of the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture, where all four of his children began their art studies. Vladimir graduated in 1869. I've chosen to deal with these two brothers back to back in that, while there were some similarities in terms of their painting styles, they were quite different in temperament and interests. Both painted portraits; and did so very well. But if Konstantin painted virtually every beautiful young girl in Moscow (later St. Petersburg), it would seem that Vladimir must have taken it upon himself to paint every ugly old man he knew (top).

Prayer Service at the Farm in Ukraine, 1886, Vladimir Makovsky
Vladimir Makovsky Self-portrait, 1893
It's difficult (and probably fruitless) to say one brother was the better artist although both were better than their middle brother, Nikolay. On top of that, older brother, Konstantin, was likely have influenced to some degree his younger brother (by seven years) thus limiting the validity of any qualitative judgments. Both were among the founders of the Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions, though from all indications, Vladimir's art traveled a good deal more often than his brother's. As mentioned above, the content of their paintings differed greatly, and not just insofar as their portraits and figures were concerned, but in other areas as well. Vladimir, almost without except painted lower and middle-class genre scenes depicting the daily lives of the people living around him. Konstantin did a little of this but tended toward genre from previous centuries. Moreover there is an empathy and gentle humor present in Vladimir Makovsky's work that seem totally absent in that of his older brother (eldest siblings quite commonly are more serious and centered upon success). Vladimir seems at times to simply be painting for the fun of it (though there's no word in the entire Russian language for "fun").

Knuckles, 1870, Vladimir Makovsky--boys having "joy."
In Search of Medicine,
1884, Vladimir Makovsky.
Vladimir Makovsky loved to paint children having fun (the Russians would say "joy" or "merriment"). His Knuckles (above) from 1870, depicting peasant boys playing marbles, is a far cry from the stodgy upper-class genre of his brother. This not just an isolated work, Vladimir Makovsky painted several such images, brightly lit and colored depictions of children fishing, picnicking, or just lying about, enjoying the brief, sunny days of the Russian summer. Not all of the artist's work was so lighthearted though. There was also a recurring element of irony, even blatant scorn in his work, as seen in his In Search of Medicine (left) from 1884. Vladimir Makovsky was at his best when depicting character and expression in the faces of his figures. That's not to say he couldn't paint beautiful ladies at least as well as his brother. Compare his full-length portrait of the Empress Maria Feodorovna (below, right) with the oval portrait of the empress painted by Konstantin Makovsky in the item from yesterday (below).

The Collapse of a Bank, 1881, Vladimir Makovsky.
Empress Maria Feodorovna,
Vladimir, Makovsky
Around 1881, Vladimir painted The Collapse of a Bank (above). I'm uncertain if this was keyed to an actually bank collapse or simply one in the artist's mind. The interesting part is that there survives a preliminary oil study of the painting done the year before (below). His "rough draft," Markovsky apparently considered rather unsatisfactory in that there is only a perfunctory resemblance between the two works. A few figures and poses, as well as the general composition he seems comfortable with, but the differences are far more numerous than then similarities. The overall lighting is darker in the preliminary work, the setting, simpler, less interesting and possibly more true to life, perhaps depicting an actual bank. His final version seems to capture better the rowdy panic and confusion of a bank "run." The painting is full of his trademark irony, scorn, and humor.

Preliminary study in oil for The Collapse of a Bank, 1880, Vladimir Makovsky

Jesus Christ, 1894,
Vladimir Makovsky
Unlike his older brother, Vladimir Makovsky sometimes painted religious scenes. His Miracle at Cana (below) dating from 1887, differs substantially from the often overblown, somewhat Romantic religious works common at the time. Likewise, Makovsky's full length Jesus Christ (left) from 1894 is quite straight-forward, seeming to us today to be far more "modern" and natural than what we're accustomed to seeing in late 19th-century religious works. Vladimir, unlike his older brother, who died in 1915, survived to see to beginning violence and turmoil of the Russian Revolution. Moreover, he not only saw it, he painted it, including his January 9, 1905, on Vasilyev Island depicting armed police firing at defenseless citizens. In another painting The Sacrifices on the Khodyn Field, Makovsky depicts the coronation ceremony in 1896 of Nicholas II, when a thousand people lost their lives. Invariably Makovsky stood on the side of the oppressed people of the lower and middle classes. He died in 1920 at the age of seventy-four having helped establish the Realism in the Soviet Social Realism painting style that was to dominate Russian art during much of the 20th-century.

Miracle at Cana, 1887, Vladimir Makovsky.
The Artist and the Apprentice, 1895, Vladimir Makovsky.
The Saturday Evening Post would have loved this one.


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