Thursday, 10 September 2009

The beauty of light...

If the sun felt the need to retreat behind the clouds for much of today, its presence was definitely visible during my first introduction to the development of Russian art within the labyrinth that is 'The Russian Museum'.

I won't attempt to discuss in great detail the history or collection of this vast depository of works, the experience was far more emotive than a list of names and dates. To view these images in a semi-chronological manner unveals the distinct nature of the Russian tradition - to someone who never claimed to be a well informed art historian that is - with passing hints of a European influence that never seems to completely overshadow a move towards the fantastic expression of the beauty of light.

This is epitomised in the work of one of Russia's favourite sons, Ilya Repin, whose paintings dominate the collection from the second half of the 19th century. Alongside his contemporaries work after work shows a keenness for capturing light and the most fantastic colour. The specific names escape me - a return trip is likely after finding yet another discounted student entry - but the effect is permanent.

Religion also maintains a prominant role in the subject matter of even these more contemporary works. From this first introduction it appears that only with the arrival of Peter the Great the impetus to explore more secular themes found a market in Russia. The transition from the Byzantine-esq icons of the early period sees a leap to a more fully formed 'perspective' as the technical achievements of Western art are inherited without the same slavish addearance to classical traditions and narratives.

Instead this collection and the artists that produced it go on to offer a broad, deep and detailed view of Russian society. A multitude of figures each with their own character and stories appear across the works. The symbolism is unfortunately lost of this novice, but the chance to view life outside Western Europe is a joy.

Credit however must also go to my guide and translator Nastya, who ensured the time spent during this short afternoon's private lesson was an invaluable first introduction. The only unfortunate aspect of the trip was the closure of the collection from the Soviet period. However I can foresee this needing an eye unburdened by the aesthetic beauty of the earlier works to appreciate it on its own terms. Hopefully an opportunity will arrise later in my stay to do this.

No comments:

Post a comment