No, this isn’t a Bob Ross. This seemingly innocuous and modestly named photograph ‘Forest’ is the work of Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii (1863-1944), presumably shot in 1910 near the town Kyshtym in modern-day Chelyabinsk Oblast. As a chemist, Prokudin-Gorskii was primarily interested in showcasing the utilitarian aspects of the three-color photography process. He put it to great use in creating records of nature, as in this picture of a pine forest. More interestingly, however, the photo recalls a legacy of landscape art produced by painters of the “Itinerant movement” (peredvizhniki) in Russia’s cultural Golden Age, the late 19th century. Take, for example, Ivan Shishkin’s iconic painting Morning in a Pine Forest (1889), used even today on the wrapper of a popular chocolate candy:
Prior to artists such as Shishkin, the idea that Russia even has a landscape worth painting would have seemed absurd. Instead, Russian gentry would look for paintings of the Alps or the Italian countryside to flaunt their cosmopolitan good taste (Ely 254). Since the reforms of Peter the Great, Russia’s attention had been fixed exclusively on the West. It’s not until 1870 that the Peredvizhniki break away from the conservative Academy of Art, eventually overtaking it in popularity. At an exhibition in 1871, of 47 paintings 24 were landscapes; from then on, their popularity only increased (Ely 255). In literature, Russian nationalism finds its culmination perhaps most of all in Dostoevsky, whose characters have a habit of kissing the ground and “bathing the earth with their tears” in a bizarre quasi-pagan Orthodox devotion (Raskol’nikov in Crime and Punishment, Alyosha in The Brothers Karamazov).
The landscape painters were only one facet of the peredvizhniki. Other members of the movement plainly showed the troubling inequality of the social classes, such as in Grigorii Myasoedov’s The Zemtsvo Eats Lunch (1872):
The lower classes are seen squatting outside while the nobility drink wine inside. Following the emancipation of the serfs, a climate of Slavophilism and Russian populism (narodnichestvo) took hold. Intellectual debates on how Russian society ought to go forward, on the meaning of art and its place in society, and much more gave way to an idealization of the peasant’s commune, an “embryonic unit of communism” (Freeze 226); intelligentsia even “flooded into the countryside for the purpose of fusing with the people.” (227) Since Peter I, Russia had been fixed to the West. Now Russia was struggling to determine a new national identity.
Ely, C. “Critics In The Native Soil: Landscape And Conflicting Ideals Of Nationality In Imperial Russia.” Ecumene 7.3 (2000): 253-270. Environment Complete. Web. 21 Jan. 2017.
Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History. 3rd ed. Oxford University Press, New York. 2009.
Image Sources: Wikipedia, Library of Congress
Этот пост заслужил Красную звезду от редакционной команды.