Thursday, July 25, 2013

What can a painting tell us about an artist?

Something I’ve always wondered: how much can you guess about the personality of an unknown artist just by looking at one of their paintings? Can you guess the century or the decade or the country in which it was created? Can you tell anything about the artist's temperament? Does each painting contain all of of an artists's personal and cultural DNA?

This painting dates from 1985 1885 and is by the Russian painter Konstantin Kryzhitsky (1858-1911). I don't know anything about him—if you do, tell us in the comments. But if this painting is any evidence, he must have had a deep soul, a love of mystery, melancholy, and music, and a keen sense of nature's moods that must have come from long walks through the countryside. This painting couldn't have been done by a flippant, urbane, or shallow person.

The great composer, Sergei Rachmaninoff once wrote, “Music should, in the final analysis, be the expression of a complex personality…A composer’s music should express the country of his birth, his love affairs, his religion, the books that have influenced him, the pictures he loves. It should be the product of the sum total of a composer’s experiences.” 


jeff jordan said...


mp said...

The way it appears that the end of the path (of life) goes up in smoke, which is actually the tops of the trees... Looks to me as though the artist was, in addition to the qualities you mentioned, also a wit. Love the painting.

Korsaktion said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Korsaktion said...

This is a fascinating idea-What can be told of the artist just by the painting. I listened to a recent interview with Marshall Arisman on Sam Weber's Your Dreams My Nightmares where they discuss whether an artist leaves behind an aura on his painting from creating/being in contact with it and if it is observable. I'm curious what it is specifically about the painting above that makes you characterize the artist the way you have. Especially why you believe he has a deep love of music.

Erik Bongers said...

That road looks so sinister, the word 'melancholy' seems like an understatement to describe the artist's mood.

But after having looked at some of his other paintings, there's no 'dark' theme that unites them.

The only thing that I noticed is that in most of the paintings, little happens in the foreground. Things start happening halfway, and the center of attention often lies on the horizon.

Which brings me back to the first painting. If indeed we can assume that the elements in the background are dominant, then it's not the gate, but the sinister road towards the horizon that is the real subject. Food for therapists indeed.

Kevin Mizner said...

Andrew Wyeth once said, "I want to be anonymous in my paintings." Of course, he never could be. Art does go through fads, don't you think? A landscape executed in 1885 looks quite different from a landscape done in 1935. Popular tastes, teaching and influences, along with the artists perception all go into a painting.

Kimberly M Zamlich said...

Absolutely~esp. in drawing..I find that many artists will draw characters in the same proportions as they perceive themselves. (I am a character artist)When I was working at Stormfront Studios several of us artists were doing paintings for a game~and we could always tell who did them in a collection. One man, painter Billy Sullivan would paint his character thin and gangly. I would draw my female characters with short legs and meaty, fit. (I am Japanese and we don't have the long legs that caucasians have, and regularly work out). So whenever I draw characters, I have to remember to add LENGTH to them and not make them so toned! I was also an artist at Disney Feature Film and did many clean up drawings from the animators drawings. On Atlantis, I was on the crew of Milo, who was almost in every scene. We had a lot of animators on this character and even now, when I see the scenes, I can tell you which animator drew Milo. We had a crew of about 20 in my dept~huge for clean up on one character. Mario Menjavar animated his Milo with a small head and oversized clothes~drawing probably of what he intuitively understood himself to be as a young man, his physique in his youth, Joe Haidar drew his Milo very fit and we worked out in the gym together sometimes~he practiced boxing...I notice that many artists draw their characters in the spirit of how they see themselves in their own mind's eye~a pschycological imprint that persists even thru maturity..You can also tell the age of most artists by the subject matter and the line. When I draw I know that growing up reading Mad Magazine influenced me and many of my same age colleagues~Kimberly

Unknown said...

I find the piece to be moody, yet melancholy. Not sinister at all. Which prompts me to I think that the perception of a piece has nearly as much to do with how we see ourselves as it does any intent by the artist (conscious or unconscious). The viewer brings his own life experience to the table when looking at a piece of art. I agree that try as we might as artists to be "invisible" in a painting, as Andrew Wyeth suggests, it is impossible. Every artist brings a piece of himself and offers it up in paint while the viewer likewise searches for his own soul in that expression. Viewing a piece of art becomes a symbiotic relationship that can, in time, span centuries. That is why I love to create and look at art.

Unknown said...

Hi there. My English is not very good, sorry, but I can tell about this artist.

The famous russian artist Konstantin Yakovlevich Kryzhitski was born in 1858 at 17h may in Kiev in merchants family. From 1875 to 1876 he studied at Kiev Art School, his teacher was N.I. Murashko. In this years young Kostya demonstrated amazing drawing talent, so in 1877 he go to Emperor Academy of Art in Saint Petersburg. M.N. Klodt - the teacher and artist - was his lecturer. Kryzhitski was very talented and hard worker, so soon his paintings start rewarded and he became a very popular landscape-painter. In 1884 he graduated the Academy.
From 1884 to 1906 he was teaching art in Nikolaevsk orphan school.
As a landscape-painter he involved in different exibitions, and his paintings were sold to personal collectioners and even Emperor Aleksandr II. Kryzhitski worked with oil, aquarrel, graphite and he was a greatest coal artist at his time. He was inspired by landscapes from Kiev and Saint Petersburg region, taked sketches and (by the time) photos.
In 1889 he became an academician of Emperor Academy of Art. Also, he was a member of Russian watercolorists. He traveled a lot in Russia, Ukraine and Europe. In 1910 he had an idea - to pass routes of Russian and French armies to celebrate the 100 years anniversary of Russian-French War of 1812. Unfortunally, it standed as a dream. On 4th April of 1911 Konstantin Yakovlevich has suicided. The maid found him hanged. In his Death Note the Artist said that the reason of his suicide is persecution by the foes - some people (and even magazines and papers) blamed Kryzhitski in plagiarism, and sensitive and vulnerable nature didn't withstood this.
His legacy is more than 400 paintings. Some of them you can see at Tretiyakov's Gallery or Russian Museum.

Sorry for my English again :X

Unknown said...

Thank you, Clever Sprat, for the above history of Kryzhitski.

free to imagine freedom said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
free to imagine freedom said...

Imagine if this notion where held to be true by everyone who viewed an image. Imagine how hard it would be for the freedom of expression to prevail when judgments would segregate anyone from producing anything critical from being reflected. Or simply the fear that would be induced from creating something that the popular mind disagreed with.

Scorchfield said...


James Gurney said...

Jeff: Thanks--Fixed!

MP: That line of sky between the trees misread as smoke to me, too. Perhaps on the original it wouldn't have that effect so much.

Korsaktion: I'm just guessing about his love of music, because the piece feels "poetic" to me and because most of the Russian painters from that period were friends with composers.

Erik: I would probably pick the word elegiac or melancholic more than sinister. The painting shows an overgrown estate gatepost and the line of trees leading back to an estate house that's probably semi-abandoned, so I assume that's the context here.

Kevin: You're right, and I'm always totally amazed when I get fooled by a contemporary painting that I first think is from the 19th century. About A. Wyeth, he also believed a deleted element of a painting retained an invisible presence--a cool notion.

Kimberly: That is so interesting! Thank yo for sharing that perspective. I always wondered whether animators' individual styles showed up in the shots. I guess the director has to assign the right work to the right artist so that those unique sensibilities help the final result.

Greg: yes, and I'm glad you brought that up. Each viewer projects onto a painting, and the challenge of an art historian is to leave most of their baggage at the door and try to really look at the painting, guided by what they can learn about the artists' intentions.

Clever Sprat: Thank you so much for sharing that information! Your English is excellent. It is so hard to find anything on this artist in English. How sad that he took his own life.

Free to Imagine: I'm not really sure I understand what you mean. If an artist is stifled by worries about what someone might say about the work or about them, then they can choose to be private or not share their work. The intense curiosity of viewers to know more about a work and its creator is entirely natural. A creator can choose to be as anonymous as they can (such as Bill Watterson, J.K. Rowling, or J.D. Salinger), but you can't blame people for wondering about who made a picture. If I'm missing the point you made, let me know.

Robert J. Simone said...

Begs the question, "What can you tell about the personality of someone who posts a comment speculating on the personality of a painter based on his painting?"

I do wonder who is putting more emotion into a work of art. The artists or the viewer?

free to imagine freedom said...


It is amazing that you replied to everyone.

Your right, I meant for no blame in curiosity. I think it is extremely important that we all remain intensely curious. I may be naïve, but in my experience, and even when it comes to creating characters, or other type of project, image-makers are unable to leave the realm of ideas. Still, even in the United States, differing ideas can hurt the pocket book.

As we know, in Russia, the social situation changed dramatically a short time after this painting was made. As it had changed dramatically a short time before it was painted. In a short time to come art of this type became known as socialist realism, an official state art. With a little more historical context, could this painting be “the writing on the wall?” It a cold and gloomy painting with a narrowing path beyond the horizon, could it be a comment of the bureaucracies at play?

I have been convinced that image-makers do leave a fingerprint of how it is painted, with line quality and the like, but I think all else is suspect to question.

Connie Nobbe said...

My comment is only about this painting, not necessarily about the topic at hand... I love the mood of it, and how the snow seems to be glowing like a light source.

I find that I really love paintings I see online that are by Russian artists. I know it's a generalization. I have a friend who is always sharing images of old paintings by Russian artists, and I love the mood and lovely paint handling in all of them.

Pavel Pinzhin said...

With thanks to Clever Sprat, I'd like to give a bit more of crude translation on Kryzhitsky.

Part 1:

Konstantin Yakovlevitch Kryzhitsky (17.05.1858–04.04.1911) was born in Kiev, Ukraine, to a wealthy merchant’s family. His childhood was spent in father’s mansion at Vladimirskaya Gorka – one of the most beautiful regions of the city. His room windows were opened to a wonderful view of Dnepr river and vast green ranges to the very horizon. Those early impressions, no doubt, became a great influence for his famous landscape paintings, full of atmosphere and light, especially his Far Forest Reaches.

Kryzhitsky’s artistic talent was discovered as early as during his gymnasium school, but actual training in Arts began relatively late, at the age of seventeen, when Public School of N. I. Murashko was opened in Kiev. Talented landscape artist and skillful teacher, Murashko became a first teacher for such future masters as Valentin Serov, Mikhail Vrubel, Nikolay Pimonenko. The main way of teaching at the school was life drawing and painting. All summer long, teacher and his students were at plain-air studies at scenic countryside of Kiev, which later became great works of Kryzhitsky: Green Street, Hamlet at Malorossiya, Gathering Storm, Ukrainian Night, Hamlet on Dnepr, and many others.

In its full strength, Kryzhitsky’s talent as a landscape painter was established during his years at St.-Petersburg Academy of Arts (1877–1883). He was considered one of the most promising and talented students. Nevertheless, he almost quit the Academy being already quite close to graduation. The main object of his discord with his professors was his devotion to the art of Arkhip Kuindzhi, that was not accepted by the Academy’s strongly traditionalist faculty. Kryzhitsky became his devotee earlier, in Kiev, and it was not just an interest. The two artists were kindred spirits. Their art was close to each others, not just by technical approaches, but mainly by their bright perception of the world, by the ability to see light through the clouds or night gloom. It is not surprising, that later they became close friends in person for long years to come.

Fortunatelly, the Academy incident resolved positively, and Kryzhitsky’s graduation work Oaks received a Lesser Gold Medal. This work already bears his artistic idioms: high technical level, careful detailing on one hand, - and wonderful ability to channel atmosphere, light, and mood on the other. Kryzhitsky’s paintings, while being strictly realistic, are enormously emotional. And emotions are bright, always, even if the subject is a gloomy autumn or night – the artist still creates a sense of close-by sun (his works Sunset, Early Snow, Autumn, River, Edge of the Wood, Lake, and others).

The more interesting the fact that actually bright and sunny landscapes of South (more southern latitudes than his native Ukraine) were of no interest to the artist. He was fascinated by the places where sun is scarce, where its warmth has more value. Russian fields and forests, gloomy Baltic waves, cold Norwegian fjords and cliffs – that’s what we see in his paintings. Among those is spectacular Zvenigorod, a true ode to Russian nature in its high summer season. Sunny sky, almost festive bright whiteness of monastery’s walls, reflected in the river surface, sun specks off of church’ golden domes… You can almost hear a distant bells sounds, rolling over the river waters!..

Both Kryzhitsky’s workshop in St.-Petersburg and his estate in Valday were always open to visitors, guests and students. He was a great teacher and always has been surrounded by youth. And his students – such as great artist A. Rylov – later always remembered him with great respect and warmth. Kryzhitsky taught by his own example: diligence, sharp attention to the details, to nature in its ever-changing variety.

Pavel Pinzhin said...


He lived and worked in a hard time, at the turn of the century, when new theories were born, new ways of life and art. For the most of his colleagues it meant defiant opposition to anyone who’s not share their point of view. It’s either realism – or modernism, the Itinerants – or the World of Art! Kryzhitsky found himself among the few, who adopted almost impossible task: to harmonize conflicting parties by reminding them – however different their ideas or aesthetics might be, first and foremost they are all Artists.

With this in mind, he tried to publish “The Artist” magazine, and then, when it failed, he became a co-founder of Kuindzhi Society. This institution held as it’s goals the aid to any artist no matter what movement his art belongs to; aid in creative work and in material life: exhibitions arrangement, benefit payments, etc. The Society was named after Kuindzhi for a reason: Kryzhitsky’s friend, the great artist was not only a co-founder, but he gave almost all his material wealth for the Society’s needs.

It became crucial for Kryzhitsky to take part in Society’s work. Since his young years, thanks to his first teacher N. I. Murashko, he gained a strong conviction: all artists are ought to perceive the world differently by default. One’s own unique view is a true creator’s feature, but not a purpose for confrontations! He tirelessly continued to remind this idea in his private and public conversations.

“…I care a lot about other’s labor, — he wrote, — and with great care I do touch other person’s soul, and besides, I acknowledge every artist’s right to exist and to have a role in common evolution of Art. On the ground of this tolerance I started to found Kuindzhi’s Society with hope to unite artists in one great family with no parties or beliefs, assuming that only by common efforts can they contribute to a common cause, the equally dear to everyone of them Russian Art”.

Alas, there were almost none of like-minded persons. At that time, by the words of Alexandre Benois, one of his main opponents, “it’s not the conciliation under the sign of beauty became … the motto of every aspect of life, but the bitter struggle… And anyone who would come with olive branch will claim the reputation of a ridiculous simpleton.”

Kryzhitsky was not afraid of such a reputation. He was taking his social activities very seriously – and felt deeply for every failure. Acknowledged as a man of rare hearty purity by his friends and foes alike, he always felt at a loss in a face of dishonesty, lucre, indifference. In the end of all, it became his doom.
Fall 1910 in London, at the exhibition of Russian fine arts, Kryzhitsky’s latest work – The Scent of Coming Spring - was presented. The special pre-spring atmosphere was depicted with wonderful finesse in this painting. Deep blue shadows in the melting snow, mighty oaks, bathing in the clean sun rays… By looking at the painting one can feel the joyful anticipation of coming warmth; it speaks loudly about artist’s long and creative life to come.
Soon after the exhibition one of St.-Petersburg newspapers – simply for the sake of a cheap sensation – accused Kryzhitsky in plagiarism. The injustice of such accusations was evident to everybody. But the artist could not live through such an insult: on 4th of April 1911 he committed suicide.

Konstantin Kryzhitsky’s legacy counts up to 400 paintings, the greatest number of which is treasured in Russian and Ukrainian art museums.

After the book of N.G. Vasilieva “Great collection of Russian artists, vol. 3: Sergey Vasilkovsky, Iosif Krachkovsky, Konstantin Kryzhitsky, Vladimir Orlovsky”

Also here's a bit more of reproductions than at Wikimedia:
Little previews are a bit ugly, but the big pictures are quite good, especially if you right-click on them an select "Open Image" - the actual files are even bigger than displayed in "framed" form. I can also provide the translations of the painting names a bit later.

James Gurney said...

Wow, thank you Pavel. You have added so much to what Clever Sprat was able to translate. I hope it would be OK with you to do a future post with your discoveries so that this information is available on a normal Google search. As it stands, comments can't be found in a search, and I would love for your work to be seen by anyone who happens to be looking for more about this artist.

Pavel Pinzhin said...

Mr. Gurney: It is absolutely OK to use the information provided - all I did is just translated Russian text from public on-line sources. The only thing is that I'm quite embarrassed by the quality of translation, especially in direct quotes from the artists - these are written in quite a lofty style which I'm really not familiar with in terms of translation. So it would be really nice if the text will be edited in this regard :)

Also, I'm really glad to be useful, and I'd like to offer any further help concerning anything involving Russian art and artists :)

Pavel Pinzhin said...

And here's a translated list of images with links:

Part 1:

Baltic Sea. - 1897, oil on canvas, 60 x 90 cm.
Art Museum of Karelia Respublic, Petrozavodsk, Russia.

The Swamp. - 1885, oil on canvas.


Spring. - 1894, oil on canvas, 31 x 45 cm.
Private collection.

Ukrainian Evening. - 1901, oil on canvas, 90 x 142 cm.
Donetsk Art Museum, Ukraine.


Water Mill. - 1883, canvas on cardboard, oil, 32 x 50 cm.
Vologda Art Gallery, Russia.

Gathering Storm. - 1885, oil on canvas, 52 x 74 cm.
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

Reaches. - 1901, oil on canvas, 27 x 38 cm.
Volsk Local History Museum, Russia.

Yard. - 1888, oil on canvas, 32 x 45 cm.
Cherepovets Art Museum, Russia.

Riverside Village. - 1905.


Trees at the River. - 1890-s, oil on canvas, 95 x 119 cm.
Private collection.

The Road. - 1899, oil on canvas, 62 x 89 cm.
Shovkunenko Art Museum, Kherson, Ukraine.

Path in the Rye. - 1893, oil on canvas, 25 x 20 cm.
Volsk Local History Museum, Russia.

Oaks. - 1893, oil on canvas, 57 x 50 cm.
Vologda Art Gallery, Russia.

Spruce Forest. - 1907, watercolor and white on paper.
Ulyanovsk Art Museum, Russia.

Sunset. - oil on canvas, 21 x 35 cm.
Tyumen Art Museum, Russia.

Zvenigorod. - 1895, oil on canvas, 31 x 45 cm.
State Museum Union "Art Culture of Russian North", Arkhangelsk, Russia.


Winter. Homestead. - 1882, oil on canvas, 36 x 63 cm.
Private collection.

Winter Landscape with Haystacks. - 1910, oil on canvas, 53 x 81 cm.
District Art Gallery, Khanty-Mansiysk, Russia.

Forest in Winter. - 1906, paper on cardboard, gouache.
M. Vrubel Art Museum, Omsk, Russia.

Forest Farmstead. - 1880-s, oil on canvas, 99 x 79 cm.
Private collection.

Far Forest Reaches. - 1886, oil on canvas.
Shovkunenko Art Museum, Kherson, Ukraine.

Sea. - 1894, oil on canvas, 57 x 90 cm.
V. Surikov Art Museum, Krasnoyarsk, Russia.

Seascape. Rocks. - 1890-s, oil on canvas, 28 x 42 cm.
Private collection.

Sea Surf. - 1908, oil on wood, 107 x 143 cm.
Private collection.

Little Ravine. - 1907, canvas on cardboard, oil, 25 x 34 cm.
M. Vrubel Art Museum, Omsk, Russia.

Pavel Pinzhin said...

Part 2:

Lake. - 1897, oil on canvas, 45 x 90 cm.
M. Vrubel Art Museum, Omsk, Russia.

Lake. - 1896, oil on canvas, 54 x 85 cm.
Vladimir & Suzdal Museum of History, Art and Architecture, Russia

Mountain Lake. - 1898, oil on canvas, 69 x 105 cm.
Rybinsk Museum of History, Art and Architecture, Russia

Autumn. - 1900-s, oil on canvas, 65 x 51 cm.
Novgorod State Museum, Russia.

Sedge Grass. - 1908, oil on cardboard, 37 x 31 cm.
Private collection.

Lazenki Park. - 1886, oil on canvas, 55 x 94 cm.
Tver Art Gallery, Russia.

Landscape. - 1895, oil on canvas, 71 x 114 cm.
Far-Eastern Art Museum, Khabarovsk, Russia.

Landscape with Oaks. - 1883, oil on canvas, 98 x 167 cm.
Novgorod State Museum, Russia.

Landscape with River. - 1890-s, oil on canvas, 86 x 125 cm.
Private collection.

Before the Rain. - 1880, oil on canvas, 52 x 92 cm.
Rybinsk Museum of History, Art and Architecture, Russia

Before the Noon. - 1885, oil on canvas, 75 x 132 cm.
Kostroma State Art Museum, Russia.

The Scent of Coming Spring. - 1910, oil on canvas, 81 x 109 cm.
Kharkov Art Museum, Ukraine.

The Field. - 1891, oil on canvas, 33 x 50 cm.
Sumy Art Museum, Ukraine.

Clearing off. - 1893, oil on canvas, 89 x 142 cm.
The State Russian Museum, St.-Petersburg, Russia.

Early Snow. - 1897, oil on canvas, 62 x 92 cm.
Altai State Art Museum, Barnaul, Russia.

Early Spring. - 1904, oil on canvas, 45 x 64 cm.
Krasnodar Region Art Museum.

From the Fair. - 1890-s, oil on canvas, 53 x 69 cm.
Vladimir & Suzdal Museum of History, Art and Architecture, Russia.

Silver Ponds. - 1891. oil on canvas.
Private collection.

Skete at Moonlight Night. - 1898, oil on canvas, 106 x 69 cm.
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow, Russia.

Sunny Day. - 1889, oil on canvas, 89 x 152 cm.
Shovkunenko Art Museum, Kherson, Ukraine.

Ukrainian Night. - 1895, oil on canvas, 50 x 80 cm.
Private collection.

Hamlet at Malorossiya. - 1887, oil on canvas, 97 x 166 cm.
Zaporozhe Art Museum, Ukraine.

Hamlet on Dnepr. - 1885, oil on canvas, 37 x 60 cm.
Chelyabinsk Art Gallery, Russia.