Sunday, March 03, 2013

Exhibitions: Leena Luostarinen, Marjatta Tapiola, The Firebird and the Snow Maiden (fairy-tale themes at the Tretyakov Gallery), Finnish Painters' Union, Free Art School

Leena Luostarinen: Tiger Drawer. Taidehalli / Kunsthalle Helsinki, 3 March 2013. Produced by Suomen Taideyhdistys / Finnish Art Society. Official presentation: "The colourful and strangely mysterious works of Leena Luostarinen have fascinated art lovers already for 40 years. Her beloved felines, ibises and sphinxes all feature in an extensive retrospective presenting work from all stages of the artist's career - there are classics as well as surprises!"

Marjatta Tapiola, 15 Feb - 26 May, 2013. Helsinki Art Museum Tennis Palace, 3 March 2013. "Marjatta Tapiola is one of the greatest names in Finnish painting. Her retrospective exhibition combines the rawness of humanity and ancient figures of legend into a larger than life story. Opposites - life and death, love and rage - play a central role."
    "At the beginning of her career, Tapiola sourced the themes of her expressive art from her environment: her own life, states of emotion and relationships. With the artist's disappointment with humanity, the figures in her works shrivelled up, wilted, and became the living dead."
    "As she tired of painting people, Tapiola found a new, liberating theme in dead animals. The skulls of animals and humans became a theme through which she approached the concept of beauty. Style and expression became the principal elements of her work. Around the turn of the century, sensuality and passion emerged in works depicting potent animal figures. New themes, lavish compositions and glowing hues of red proclaimed a passionate joy of life."

Firebird and Snow Maiden. Fabulous Works from the Collections of The State Tretyakov Gallery, 15 Feb - 26 May, 2013. Helsinki Art Museum Tennis Palace, 3 March 2013. "Russians have always loved heroic myths and fairy tales. During the romantic era, historical events and folk stories of the struggle between good and evil were adopted to further nationalist aspirations. In addition to painting and sculpture, the fairy tales made their way into opera and drama, and through animated films onto the silver screen. After the revolution, the world of heroes was adapted to the needs of the new society. Stories continue to live in contemporary Russian life, society and culture."
    "Firebird and Snow Maiden brings stories and fairy tales to life through classic Russian paintings. Mikhail Vrubel's The Swan Princess, Viktor Vasnetsov's The Snow Maiden and Alyonushka are joined by the illustrations of Bilibin and the theatrical sketches of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. The show includes 152 works by 34 artists: paintings, book illustrations, objects, and sketches for opera costumes and ballet sets from the 1850s to the 1930s."

Marjatta Tapiola, 13 Feb - 3 March, 2013. Galleria Sculptor, 3 March 2013. Nine large-size paintings (tempera, art pen, oil), all created in 2013: masks, masquerades, twelfth nights, minotaurs, oxen, horses.

Taidemaalariseuran teosvälitys / Finnish Painters' Union: Sale Exhibition, Kaapelitehdas, Merikaapelihalli, 25 March 2013. 500 artists - 1500 artworks. From the official introduction: A unique chance to get an overview of Finnish contemporary art. On display are all options: links to tradition, and curiosity for the new. All styles are represented: from the figurative to abstraction, from minimalism to stark colour paintings. Nature, urbanity, and the human figure in various surroundings are on display.

Vapaa taidekoulu / Free Art School: Elävän mallin piirustuskurssin näyttely / An exhibition of life drawing, Käytävägalleria Vaaga, Kaapelitehdas, E, fourth floor, 25 March 2013. A charming exhibition which I knew to visit thanks to a tip from Eija Pokkinen, whose works are also on display here.

The wild expressionist women artists Leena Luostarinen and Marjatta Tapiola, who experienced their breakthroughs in the 19802, have been the most prominent artists of the season, and both are indeed currently experiencing a vital and creative period. Marjatta Tapiola even got to paint the official portrait of Sauli Niinistö, following her own personal approach.

We at Cinema Orion are collaborating with Helsinki Art Museum Tennis Palace whose high profile Russian fairy-tale exhibition is built on works on loan from the Tretyakov gallery. And it is fascinating to observe almost painting by painting how the most beloved fairy-tale motifs have also appeared in the Russian cinema - in animation (our focus at Cinema Orion), but also in live action fairy-tale and fantasy films.

There are also some works by classical Finnish painters in the Tretyakov collection, and the portraits of sages and singers are a reminder of cultural links between Russia and Finland. Albert Edelfelt's painting of one of the greatest, most Homeric singers, Larin Paraske (from Karelia), is very touching to see in this context.

This is the fourth exhibition within a short period where I get to see works by Kandinsky! Here it is The Kantele Player (1907).
Official presentation (Helsinki Art Museum Tennis Palace)

Firebird and Snow Maiden – Fabulous Works from the Collections of the State Tretyakov Gallery

This exhibition takes us straight into the world of Russian fairy tales. Folk tales and their characters have provided inspiration for Russian artists, composers and playwrights. They are part of the living tradition known and loved by all Russians.

The title of the show reflects the universal dualism of fairy tales: good and evil, fire and water, joy and sorrow, hot Firebird and icy Snow Maiden. The exhibition brings the stories and fairy tales to life through classic Russian paintings. Mikhail Vrubel’s The Swan Princess, Viktor Vasnetsov’s The Snow Maiden and Alyonushka are joined by the illustrations of Bilibin and the theatrical sketches of Natalia Goncharova and Mikhail Larionov. Consisting of 152 works of art by 33 artists, the exhibition spans a period from the 1870s to the 1930s, from romanticism and realism to avant-gardism and the early days of the Soviet Union.

The theme of the show is the mysterious magic of fairy tales, which has fascinated humanity throughout the ages. In addition to painting and sculpture, the fairy tales made their way to opera and drama, and through animated films onto the silver screen.

This is the fourth exhibition produced jointly by the Helsinki Art Museum and the State Tretyakov Gallery.

Reformers of Folk Traditions

The Abramtsevo circle was founded in the 1870s by the industrialist and art patron Savva Mamontov (1841–1918). The members of the circle played a key role in the development of national romanticism in Russia. Their goal was to create art that used national traditions as its inspiration. They also wanted to collect surviving folk art before it was engulfed by industrialisation. The Abramtsevo colony included such names as Viktor Vasnetsov (1848–1926) and Ilya Repin (1844–1930).

Another artistic centre that played a role in the development of national romanticism was Talashkino, the manor of Princess Maria Tenisheva (1858–1928). The Talashkino artists wanted to revive craft traditions by bringing them closer to the increasingly modern urban life. Artists working in Talashkino included Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947) and Mikhail Vrubel (1856–1910). Objects made in the Talashkino workshops and studios are more modern in style and decoration than those made in Abramtsevo. The Talashkino artefacts combined Russian national romanticism with international modernism.

Master of Illustration

The artist Ivan Bilibin (1876–1942) became an illustrator by accident. He was so taken with the 1898 folk tale exhibition of Viktor Vasnetsov (1848–1926) that he decided to try his hand at illustrating The Tale about Prince Ivan, the Firebird and the Grey Wolf. The publisher was delighted with Bilibin's work. The bright, festive and truly magical illustrations were so fascinating that Bilibin was commissioned to illustrate an entire series of books.

Bilibin was not only an artist, but also the first Russian photographer specialising in folklore. He made several expeditions to North Russia, and used the material he gathered in his illustrations. Bilibin was one of the first illustrators of his age to conceive a book as being a work of art. For him, a book was a whole composed of text, illustrations, covers and typography.

The Tale of Igor’s Campaign

The Tale of Igor’s Campaign is a late 12th century masterpiece of old Russian literature. It tells about a failed military raid conducted by Igor, the Prince of Novgorod-Seversk. The main theme of the epic poem is the unification of scattered principalities to fight against nomadic tribes.

The names of pagan gods and mythological figures are used as poetic metaphors in the tale. Nature is depicted as an active force in historical events. In addition to animals, also rivers, the grass, trees and heavenly bodies are able to feel, foresee things, and act.

The Tale of Igor’s Campaign was a popular subject for many artists within the national romantic movement.

Mermaids and Water Nymphs

Ivan Kramskoy (1837–1887) painted his romantic canvas The Mermaids (1871) inspired by Nikolai Gogol’s (1809–1852) short story, May Night. The picture was painted in Ukraine. It is a sort of meditation on the mood of the Ukrainian nocturnal landscape and old folk tales.

The composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844–1908) and the artist Viktor Vasnetsov (1848–1926) were both independently fascinated with Aleksander Ostrovsky’s (1823–1886) play The Snow Maiden (1873). They discovered the play in their search for ways to depict the poetic world of folk mythology. The result of their joint effort is a masterpiece of Russian opera. The Snow Maiden had its premiere in Moscow on 8 October 1885.

The inability of these beautiful, mysterious and alluring, yet cold, creatures to live among men shrouds them in a melancholy haze.

Mikhail Vrubel

The work of Mikhail Vrubel (1856–1910) gave depth and complexity to fairy tales. For Vrubel, folk tales and bylinas, epic narrative poems, represented that which was inaccessible in ordinary, everyday life. In his fairy tale works, spirits of the heavens, earth and water merge with the artist’s unfettered imagination. The Swan Princess (1900) is one of Vrubel’s most famous pieces. The boundary between the real and the imaginary is blurred in the picture. It is a typical example of symbolist painting of the early 1900s.

Vrubel was also an accomplished sculptor. He created an entire series of majolica sculptures based on figures in Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s (1844–1908) opera Sadko. Vrubel was quite familiar with Rimsky-Korsakov’s operas. His wife, the opera singer Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel (1868–1913), sang the female lead in many of the composer’s operas.
Guardians of the Past

Born in St Petersburg, Nicholas Roerich (1874–1947) was interested in history and folk stories even as a child. After graduating from the Imperial Academy of Arts, he travelled around old Russian towns. He wrote in the press about the decay of historical sites, appealing for their preservation. Roerich was one of the first artists of his age to draw attention to the artistic value of icons, a genre regarded as old-fashioned at the time.

The sculptor Sergei Konenkov (1874–1971) was born in a village in Smolensk. In the beginning of the 1900s, he created a series of mythological sculptures based on the tales he had heard as a child. In ancient Slavic mythology, Stribog (1910) was a cruel god of the wind, while Svistushkin (1915) was an animated soul of the woods that could destroy humans who violated the laws of the forest. Contemporaries were shocked by the primitive sculptures, because they differed radically from the prevailing ideas of art.

The Sources of Fairy Tales

Several collections of traditional tales were published in Russia around the middle of the 19th century. Composers, writers and artists were also inspired to use folkloric themes in their work. For instance, in his opera Boris Godunov (1874), the composer Modest Mussorgsky (1839–1881) borrows directly from a folk song. Folklore and oral traditions have for centuries been passed on by singers of folk tales. In the age of national romanticism, such storytellers were brought to perform in St Petersburg and Moscow.

Romanticising of the people and national romanticism were fashionable also in Finland at the time. Jean Sibelius (1865–1957) created variations of a folk tune in his symphonic poem Kullervo (1892). The subject of Portrait of Larin Paraske (1893) by Albert Edelfelt (1854–1905) was one of the most famous of all narrative singers in the Baltic region.

Larin Paraske (1833/4–1904) was born in Lempaala in Ingria. She became a true celebrity in the 1890s when she toured Finland performing the poems. A total of 1152 songs, 1750 proverbs, 336 riddles and numerous dirges were recorded from her.

Firebird’s Feather

The Firebird is one of the most popular fairy tale figures in Russian art. It symbolises a yearning for other worlds and aspirations for greater harmony. It represents unfulfilled dreams and a break from everyday life. Avant-garde artists with a penchant for symbolism and mysticism loved the character.

Many Russian ballet productions in the early 20th century employed a distinctly pictorial style. The Firebird ballet premiered in 1910. The music by Igor Stravinsky (1882–1971) was choreographed by Mikhail Fokine (1880–1942). After the huge success of The Firebird, new fairy tale ballets were produced for the stage, marking the beginning of the golden age of folk-tale-inspired dance productions in Russia.

The artist Mikhail Larionov (1881–1964) designed the costumes and stage sets for several ballet productions in 1915–1929. Larionov was not so much interested in the external forms of folk art, his work was inspired instead by ancient rites and popular beliefs.

Viktor Vasnetsov

Viktor Vasnetsov (1848–1926) drew inspiration from folk poetry, peasant life and the ancient traditions of folk art. He said that he sought to “reflect the eternal and the permanent in authentic national imagery”.

Vasnetsov is considered to be one of the foremost national romanticists in Russian art. His work blazed a trail for a younger generation of artists, who, having received a classical art education, fell in love with the folk imageries used by Vasnetsov. Such artists as Yelena Polenova, Mikhail Vrubel, Mikhail Nestorov and Nicholas Roerich all drew inspiration from Vasnetsov’s work.

No comments: