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Friday, June 26, 2015

Vasily Polenov

Parthenon Temple of Athena, 1882, Vasily Polenov--a good deal
more rugged looking than when I was there 130 years later

Copyright, Jim Lane
McDonald's by the Wall, Tallin, Estonia, 2012, Jim Lane.
I like to paint the little ironies I find in traveling. The walls
and towers date from 1346. McDonald's, from about 1990.
As anyone who follows these mini-dissertations on art well knows, I love to travel. It's a trait I inherited from my father. However, I've long ago outstripped his meager lifetime itinerary, most of which involved sojourns from Ohio to Florida, though I can recall a trip to Canada as a child. I think my parents once took day-long cruise to the Bahamas. Shortly before they died, they toured the American West. Other than that, they never veered far of I-77, much less traveled abroad. Although my wife and I have logged several thousands miles on land, sea, and air, our son, in the U.S. Air Force, has literally been around the world, and if he's not yet caught up with us, I'm sure he will soon. In general, artists, being curious sorts, and if they have the means to do so, love to travel. They've left us with thousands of paintings and drawings from their journeys, much like I've collected thousands of photos and videos (mostly digital) from our many vacation jaunts, primarily in the U.S. and Europe. I suppose I could be considered derelict in my duties as a painter in that I've completed less than a dozen scenes from places we've visited over the years, such as McDonald's by the Wall (above, right). Maybe in the future, when I'm to old for such foolishness, I'll relive my fond memories by painting them. If so, I can look to an excellent role model along that line, the Russian painter, Vasily Polenov.

Christ and the Sinner, 1886-87, Vasily Polenov.
A preliminary drawing for the work is at lower right.
Vasily Polenov Self-portrait, 1901
Most of Polenov's travels were during he latter decades of the 19th-century, so they were necessarily more limited than my own and of longer duration. Polenov's travels would have been by ship, train, or camel caravan, in that he was particularly interested in archaeological ruins. His love of art he got from his mother, an amateur painter, his interest in ancient ruins came from his father, a senior officer in the Russian Imperial Army. His penchant for traveling likely came from his father as well. Over the course of his lifetime, Polenov visited Germany, Italy, France, and two trips to the Middle East where he made sketches and background paintings for his greatest masterpiece, Christ and the Sinner (above) painted in 1886-87. His preliminary draft is seen in the lower right section of the photo above. His preparatory work in painting the central figure of Christ can be seen below.

Polenov's Head of Christ in two separate studies. He commonly worked first in
pencil then created a preliminary color study in oils before starting the final painting.
Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir, 1860,
Vasily Polenov, one of his earliest works.
Vasily Polenov was born in 1844. He grew up in the culture-rich environment of St. Petersburg where he studied to be a lawyer at St. Petersburg University (to satisfy his father, no doubt) while also taking classes at the Imperial Academy of Arts. Polenov's 1871 painting, The Raising of Jairus' Daughter (below) won him a gold medal and a travel scholarship allowing him to visit many of the art capitals of Europe. While in Paris, he came to admire the work of the Barbizon School of landscape artists, and thus became a consistent devotee to en plein air painting. For a "traveling man" it was a mode which suited him well. Moreover, in returning home, he was among the first to introduce this method of painting landscapes while in the landscape to Russian art. Shortly after his return in 1877, Polenov was elected to the Russian Academy only to be commissioned a war artist during the Russo-Turkish War (1877-78).

The Raising of Jairus' Daughter, 1871, Vasily Polenov.
As did many artist during this period, Polenov joined the group, the Association of Travelling Art Exhibitions. It was through this group that he first exhibited The Raising of Jarius' Daughter (above), painted several years earlier before the war, and his more recent Moscow Courtyard (below) from 1878, though it's more of a farmyard than a courtyard.

Moscow Courtyard, 1878, Vasily Polenov
An Olive Tree in the Garden of
Gethsemane, 1882, Vasily Polenov
Around 1882 Polenov became head of the Landscape Studio of the Moscow School of Painting where he had the good fortune to be "discovered" by the wealthy art collector, Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov, who purchased several of Polenov's paintings, including Grandmother's Garden (below) from 1878, and The Olive Tree in the Garden of Gethsemane (left) from 1882, as well as The Parthenon, Temple of Athena Pallas (top). Tretyakov's collection later became the core of the Tretyakov Gallery in St. Petersburg. In all, the gallery owns seven of Polenov's paintings, many of them from his travels to the Middle East. When he returned about 1886, Polenov produced a number of works of religious art titled, Life of Christ. Examples include, On the Genisaret (Tiberius) Lake, from 1886, Among the Teachers from 1896, They Brought the Children painted in 1896), Baptism, 1897, and What People Think about Me (1900). In virtually all his Middle East paintings Polenov combined New Testament subjects with important actual landscape vistas he'd encountered.

Grandmother's Garden, 1878, Vasily Polenov
In later years, Vasily Polenov was active in theater production designing, and eventually funded a school in Moscow for theatrical education. Around 1915, he retired to his country estate in Borok where he died in 1927 at the age of eighty-three. They've since renamed his hometown Polenov in his honor.

Montenegrin, 1876,
Vasily Polenov
The Bylinas Narrator, Nikita,
Bogdanov, 1876, Vasily Polenov


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