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Friday, September 11, 2015

Konstantin Savitsky

To the War, 1888, Konstantin Savitsky
Portrait of the Artist Konstantin Savitsky,
1871, Ivan Kramskoy
I suppose it's only natural that, as an American, I tend to look with a biased eye at American (meaning U.S. art) as being at least a little bit superior to that of any other country. I could cite hundreds of artists to make my point, and still not prove anything inasmuch as "art appreciators" from other countries could easily do likewise. It would be a hard to make a case suggesting American creative endeavors are superior to French, Spanish, British, German, or Italian art. Those countries have such a long artistic heritage as compared to American art. And comparing American art to that of the orient, and other diverse culture would come down to comparing apples and pomegranates. Until I started writing about art a few years ago, and especially within the last year or two, I would never have even considered comparing American and Russian art, probably because I grew up during the Cold War era when all things Russian were seen somehow as being "evil." With the demise of the Soviet Union that prejudice has receded somewhat. Also, having visited Russia for a day or two helped me to level the playing field. It might be oversimplifying to say that Russians are just like us, but in comparing their art to ours, that's very much the case. I'm constantly amazed, as I search for notables about which to write, at the sheer number of excellent artists which have come from Russian stock. Just when I think I know them all, a surprising new one whom I've never heard of pops up. That was the case as I recently came upon Konstantin Savitsky.

Morning in the Pine Forest, 1886, Konstantin Savitsky,
allegedly painted on Ivan Shishkin's landscape.
Enoch (The Monk,) 1897,
Konstantin Savitsky
In being a painter of Realism, I'm naturally drawn to such art when I encounter it filtered through the culture of another country. In Savitsky's case, it wouldn't be going to far to compare him to Norman Rockwell, though Russia has never had anything to compare to the Saturday Evening Post, nor did Savitsky leave behind such an impressive body of genre works as did Rockwell. Nonetheless, in style and content, they are comparable, though Savitsky seems to lack much of Rockwell's dry sense of humor and irony. His portrait of Enoch (right), also known as The Monk, from 1897, is a telling example the two artists' similar styles. Broader in scope, Savitsky's To the War (top), from 1871, is every bit as colorful and rollicking, yet poignant as anything Rockwell ever put forth during the war years of the 1940s. And Savitsky's playful Morning in the Pine Forest (above) has Rockwell written all over it. Interestingly, Savitsky is said to have taken a painting by Ivan Shishkin and added playful bear cubs in one of the more unusual collaborations in Russian art. Savitsky later disputed the claim. Art historians seem to be in a quandary as to which man should be credited with the work. Recently, Shishkin seem to be the favorite.

Repairing the Railroad, 1874, Konstantin Savitsky
The Witch, 1869, Konstantin Savitsky
Konstantin Savitsky was born in the small coastal village of Taganrog (on the far eastern edge of the Black Sea east of Crimea). The year was 1844; his father, a doctor at the Taganrog Gymnasium (school) for Boys where the family lived during the harsh winter months. They rented a summer house in Frankovka (now in Slovenia, just north of Zagreb). As a young boy, Konstantin showed remarkable innate abilities in sketching the picturesque landscape of the area bordering the Azov Sea. However young Savitsky's life changed suddenly with the sudden death of both his parents when he was about eleven. Konstantin was taken to live with an uncle in present-day Latvia. In 1862, Savitsky graduated from a private boarding school then enrolled at the Imperial Arts Academy in St. Petersburg. There Savitsky became one of the top students, his academic work receiving both silver and gold medals. Unfortunately much of his early work has been lost. The Witch (above, left) from 1769 is probably his earliest existent painting. Repairing the Railroad (above), from 1874, is his earliest major work of that time dedicated to the life of the working class.

Suspicious People, 1882, Konstantin Savitsky
Family Quarrel, 1890,
Konstantin Savitsky
After graduating from the Academy, Savitsky spent the next twenty years of his life teaching art in various schools in St. Petersburg and Penza (central Russia). Savitsky's Suspicious People (above), from 1882, is typical of the artist's smaller scale genre pieces from this period. His Family Quarrel (right) depicting a distraught mother with her unhappy child needs only a magazine masthead to suggest work by a 19th-century Norman Rockwell. The same could be said for Savitsky's Travelers in Auvergne, (below) from 1875. Later, in 1897, Savitsky became a member of the Imperial Academy. He died in 1906 at the age of sixty-one. Though he lived and died in Penza, Savitsky's earlier home in Taganrog is seen as something of a local shrine (bottom). Two of his paintings can be found in the Taganrog Museum of Art. Several others might also be seen there today except for the fact that the museum's entire collection was looted by the Nazis during WW II and never recovered. Since that time their collection has grown to include some six-thousand items.

Travelers in Auvergne, 1875, Konstantin Savitsky.
Notice the broad segments of wealth and social standing included in the work.
House of Savitsky, ca 1890, in Taganrog.


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