Thursday, August 26, 2010

Road to Exile

Like many of his compatriots, Russian landscape painter Isaac Levitan was interested in the aesthetic movements of western Europe, but he was never completely won over by the notion of ‘art for art’s sake.”

This painting, called “Vladimirka Road” has plenty of abstract beauty. We can appreciate the close values of the clouds in the sky, the rough texture of the road in the foreground, the thin tendrils of the trails, and the small accents of the man-made objects.

But to see this painting only in abstract terms is to miss its deeper resonance. The Vladimirka Road was the route by which exiles and convicts were marched to Siberia.

The title suggests the human suffering without showing it directly. The road is empty, except for a distant figure praying at a roadside shrine.

Levitan said he hoped “to discover in the simplest and most everyday things the intimate, deeply moving characteristics that invoke a mood of melancholy. The spectators should be touched to the very depth of their souls.”
More about the painting and Levitan's own exile.
Wikipedia on Levitan


Jean Spitzer said...


craigstephens said...

This has always been one of my favorite paintings!

Don Cox said...

Interesting to compare it with Hobbema's The Avenue.

Petr Mores said...

Hi James, thank you very much for posting on Levitan who is little known outside Russia. For me personally, no other painter's landscapes strike me so deeply as his.

What you mention regarding the fusion of aesthetic and external/social elements in his work was something that was typical of many Russian artists of the time. Russian society, unlike the West, skipped the period of Enligtenment and quickly transformed from medieval, traditionally religious society into a secular imperial state. The clash of the 19th century rationalism and deep-rooted spirituality produced special ambience in the 19th century Russian art, not just visual, but music and most notably literature as well. Levitan himself, like Dostoyevsky, was a product of this dilemma. Many of his landscapes have spiritual, even religious overtones, yet he was a "libertine" and eagerly researched the newest developemnts of European painting.

Also, it was not customary for Russian artists to produce art as a mere display of skill, since the tsarist regime was generally viewed as corrupt, unjust and unsustainable and it was considered an artist's moral duty to fight it - see for instance numerous political Repin paintings.

JonInFrance said...

Nice! some great recent posts, James

Mary Bullock said...

Your blog is just like what Forrest Gumps Mom said "Life is like a box of chocolates - you just never know what you're going to get". Love your blog - each day is a surprise.