Friday, 13 May 2011

Igor Emmanuilovich Grabar

Igor Emmanuilovich Grabar (Russian: Игорь Эммануилович Грабарь, March 25, 1871, Budapest – May 16, 1960, Moscow) was a Russian post-impressionist painter, publisher, restorer and historian of art. Grabar, descendant of a wealthy Rusyn family, was trained as a painter by Ilya Repin in Saint Petersburg and by Anton Ažbe in Munich. He reached his peak in painting in 1903–1907 and was notable for a peculiar divisionist painting technique bordering on pointillism and his rendition of snow.

By the end of 1890s Grabar had established himself as an art critic. In 1902 he joined Mir Iskusstva although his relations with its leaders Sergei Diaghilev and Mstislav Dobuzhinsky were far from friendly. In 1910–1915 Grabar edited and published his opus magnum, the History of Russian Art. The History employed the finest artists and critics of the period; Grabar personally wrote the issues on architecture that set an unsurpassed standard of understanding and presenting the subject.Concurrently he wrote and published a series of books on contemporary and historic Russian painters. In 1913 he was appointed executive director of the Tretyakov Gallery and launched an ambitious reform program that continued until 1926. Grabar diversified the Tretyakov collection into modern art and in 1917 published its first comprehensive catalogue. In 1921 Grabar became the first professor of Art restoration at the Moscow State University.

An experienced politician, Grabar stayed at the top of the Soviet art establishment until his death, excluding a brief voluntary retirement in 1933–1937. He managed art restoration workshops (present-day Grabar Institute) in 1918–1930 and from 1944 to 1960. Grabar took active part in redistribution of former church art nationalized by the Bolsheviks and established new museums for the looted treasures. In 1943 he formulated the Soviet doctrine of compensating World War II losses with art looted in Germany. After the war he personally advised Joseph Stalin on the preservation of architectural heritage.

In 1901–1902 Grabar presented twelve of his paintings at an exhibition hosted by Mir Iskusstva; these were the first "truly French" impressionist works displayed in Russia by a Russian painter. One painting went straight to Tretyakov Gallery, others were auctioned to private collections.
1903–1907 became Grabar's highest point in painting; according to Grabar's Autobiography, the summit (February–April 1904) coincided with the beginning of the Russo-Japanese War. In this season he practiced moderate divisionism with elements of pointillist technique. Three paintings of this period that Grabar himself considered seminal (February Glaze, March Snow and Piles of Snow) garnered wide and generally positive critical response. Kazimir Malevich wrote that, had it not been for linear perspective that Grabar preserved in his March Snow "as a remnant of narrative from the nineteenth century", the whole picture would blend in "a uniform painterly texture" without clearly defined front and middle planes. In 1905 Grabar travelled to Paris to study the new works of French postimpressionists and changed his technique in favor of complete separation of colours. Incidentally, although Grabar appreciated and studied Cézanne, Gauguin and Van Gogh, he himself ranked "the king of painters" Diego Velázquez above them all.
In the end of 1905 and the beginning of 1906, when Moscow was burning from riots and shellfire, Grabar tackled another challenging subject, frost, at the same time investing more and more time into writing and editing. Snow, and winter in general, remained his favorite subjects for life.
Relations between Grabar and the founders of Mir Iskusstva were strained. Sergei Diaghilev tolerated Grabar as a business asset but feared and distrusted him as a potential new leader of the movement; Grabar' financial backing provided by Shcherbatov seemed especially menacing. Diaghilev's sycophants Nurok and Nouvelle led the opposition, Eugene Lansere and Konstantin Somov followed suit; Valentin Serov was perhaps the only member who treated Grabar with sympathy. Grabar, indeed, used funds of Shcherbatov and Nadezhda von Meck to launch his own short-lived art society that failed to shake Mir Iskusstva and soon fell apart. Memoirs of the period, although biased, indicate that Grabar himself was a difficult person. According to Alexander Benois, Grabar practiced unacceptably patronizing tone and at the same time had absolutely no sense of humour. No one questioned his talent and encyclopedic knowledge, but Grabar was unable to persuade people or barely coexist with them in small communities like Mir Iskusstva. As a result, in 1908 Grabar broke with the movement completely and tried, in vain, to launch his own art magazine.

His work reminds me my recent photograph, i've made this easter.

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