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Sunday, July 12, 2015

Illarion Pryanishnikov

Resurrection Day in the North, 1887, Illarion Pryanishnikov
When I was a young child in about the third grade (around nine years old) I had just learned to read comfortably with a fair degree of comprehension. I had my first course in history (world history in this case). We were learning all about the 16th-century explorers, Magellan, Vasco Da Gama, Sir Francis Drake, Ponce de Leon, Hernan Cortez, etc. I'm not sure why, but in doing so I recall the realization coming to me, "Hey, this is interesting." That's when I first realized my lifelong fascination with history. I came by this interest honestly--my mother was a history and genealogy buff. She traced my dad's lineage back to 1620 when an Englishman named Job Lane first came to these shores. His farm still exists as a minor colonial attraction just outside Bedford, Massachusetts. My dad always enjoyed telling people he could trace his ancestors back to Job.
Easter procession, 1893, Illarion Pryanishnikov.
When's the last time you celebrated Easter by having your icon kissed?
Illarion Pryanishnikov, 1862, Vasily Perov
Far more than all the names, dates, and places which burden the study of the past, what I find most interesting is historic trivia--little factoids, unimportant in themselves, but the tiny surprises, which make history "juicy." Painting brings these "juices" to the surface, especially in the area of history and genre painting. Virtually every country in the world has, or has had, a significant cadre of artists adept at bringing us visions of the past. We're well aware of those painting American history, artists such as Emanuel Leutze, John Trumbull, Benjamin West, George P.A. Healy, and others. However, the more foreign, the more obscure, the more remote the culture, the more important are the painters who have preserved for us the rare glimpses we have of how their people worked, played, suffered, survived, laughed, loved, lived and died. One of the best of these from the 19th-century, was the Russian painter, Illarion Pryanishnikov. His Resurrection Day, (top) and his Easter Procession (above) speak volumes as to how less than two centuries have changed not just Russia, but the entire world.

The Jokers, The Merchant Yard in Moscow, 1865, Illarion Pryanishnikov
The Artist Studio, 1890, Illarion Pryanishnikov
Pryanishnikov was born in 1840 and grew up in the tiny Russian village of Timashovo, today called Kaluga Oblast (far western Russia near southern Poland). His father was a merchant. Young Illarion studied, painting, sculpture, and architecture in Moscow. He graduated in 1866, shortly after painting his first "important" work, The Jokers (above) completed in 1865. Pryanishnikov deals with a theme of the humiliation of human dignity in a callous and cruel world, where everything a price to be bought and sold. The artist depicts tipsy merchants compelling a poor, elderly official to dance under the concertina thereby authentically demonstrating a whole gallery of moral deformity and complacent ridicule. The painting caused outrage within the official academic art world. They felt that the young painter appeared to destroy the high ideals of their art--the expression of beauty and eternal truths. Perhaps, but Pryanishnikov did expressed an eternal truth--man's inhumanity toward his fellow man.

Before the Wedding (Waiting for the Best Man), Illarion Pryanishnikov
Few genre/history painters were better at bringing forth the "juice" of Russian daily life. Artists struggle. Apparently so do their models, in this case, simply to keep warm as seen in Pryanishnikov The Artist Studio (above, right) from around 1890, relatively late in his career. Love happens. So do weddings, so, apparently, do "hitches" in wedding plans, as Pryanishnikov depicts in his Before the Wedding (Waiting for the Best Man) (above). The artist was equally adept at painting history, though he seemed to prefer the minor moments, history genre so to speak, such as his French Retreat in 1812 (below), from 1874. Notice he doesn't depict the Emperor Napoleon's retreat from Moscow but, sympathetically, the plight of Bonaparte's devastated foot soldiers.

French Retreat in 1812, 1874, Illarion Pryanishnikov
Although Pryanishnikov couldn't have visualized it at the time, no element of daily life in Russia, or anywhere else in the world, has changed as much as how we get around. The Empties (below, left) presents us with a whole parade of homemade "one-horse open sleds," although it's unclear why they are empty or where they are going to or coming from. There's no doubt, however, that Pryanishnikov is depicting something of a joyride procession in his The Return from the Fair, (below, right) from 1883. And speaking of the fair, Pryanishnikov depicts one of its frightening highlights, a ride on a wooden "Ferris" Wheel (bottom).

Empties, 1872, Illarion Pryanishnikov
The Return from the Fair, 1883,
Illarion Pryanishnikov

Wooden Ferris Wheel, 1893, Illarion Pryanishnikov.


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