When talking about music, literature, dance, and any other art form throughout history, there is always at least one Russian composer, writer, ballet dancer, or painter on someone’s list. Russia’s history is filled with pioneers and visionaries that have always striven to push the limits, cross boundaries, and redefine what is considered conventional. As such, some of the best Russian painters have also left their mark on the world of art, influencing and changing it during their lifetime while also inspiring many future generations of young talented artists.
From the medieval period until now, the country has produced many top-class artists that made their contributions to a variety of movements from Neoclassicism, Realism, and Social Realism to Modernism.
So, if you are wondering who some of the best Russian painters are and would like to know a bit more, here are just a handful of them.
1. Ilya Repin
As a Social Realist, Repin often used imagery that plays into an individual’s emotions, showcasing the working class and more occasionally peasants and the poor in his works. He was always looking for ways to enhance his paintings and give them more depth which he achieved by constantly learning new techniques, giving him an amazing ability to powerfully capture people’s lives.
Repin was an extremely influential figure in the 19th century, doing his part in making Russian art more mainstream, especially in Europe. Although he is mostly known for his stellar paintings of the poor, he was also exceptional at portraits, his most notable portrait being of one of the most famous classical writers in the world – Leo Tolstoy.
2. Vassiliy Kandinsky
Kandinsky is not only the most famous Russian painter but he is a pioneer as well. He was a master in Abstract art and is credited for being its founder as well. When talking about Modern Art, Vassiliy Kandinsky cannot be overlooked as he was one of the leading and most influential figures of the era. Moreover, he was a theorist, publishing books that greatly influenced future generations.
Interestingly, he did not start off as a painter but was actually a teacher who, at one point in his life, decided to pursue his passion. Another amusing fact is the way he used to name his works, calling them improvisations when he produced them spontaneously and compositions the ones that were thought out carefully and planned in detail.
Kandinsky was a prolific artist with some of his best-known creations being Composition VII, The Blue Rider, Yellow-Red-Blue, On White II, Dominant Curve, and Several Circles.
3. Andrei Rublev
Very little is known about the life of the most famous medieval painter in Russian history. Moreover, as creators did not leave their signature on their artworks until the 17th century, most of the paintings were accredited to his name by either their style or due to written evidence.
Despite everything, he was a master in Orthodox icon and fresco painting, always showcasing serene and calm characters and perfectly combining mannerism and asceticism into a perfect blend. In 1988, he was declared a saint by the Orthodox church. If you are interested in learning more about Andrei Rublev or if you would like to take a look at some of his masterpieces, you can read more here.
4. Ivan Shishkin
Shishkin was the type of person who strongly opposed traditional academics and its restrictions and was highly critical of the country’s social environment as well.
He wanted to show people to the beauty of Russia’s nature and make them realize why they should do their best to preserve it. This especially applies to the forests that Shishkin enjoyed painting, so much so, that there was no one more skilled at painting trees than he was. He studied nature while placing it on a canvas and is responsible for creating one of the best-known landscape artworks in Russia – Morning in a Pine Forest. Other masterpieces include Sandy Coastline, The Forest Clearing, Rye, and many more.
5. Isaac Levitan
Although his family was poor, they were educated and enthusiastically encouraged Levitan to pursue his passion for art. He was a student at the Moscow School of Painting but was left homeless and an orphan at the age of 15 after the death of his parents.
His life and state were often reflected in his paintings, choosing his subjects based on a certain mood. This is exactly what led to the creation of mood landscapes, something Levitan is credited for. Alongside Shishkin, he is considered one of the best landscape artists in the country’s entire history.
His favorite motif was showcasing the smallness of mankind as compared to the vastness and raw power of nature and this can be seen in many of his creations, for example, Autumn Day, Sokolniki, The Vladimirka Road, Golden Autumn, Above the Eternal Peace, and Evening Bells.
6. Marc Chagall
One of the pioneers of Modern Art, Chagall was a part of several art movements. He greatly took pride in his Jewish heritage and was the most prominent Jewish painter during his lifetime.
His creations were often extremely lively, full of bright colors, imaginative, and a bit quirky. He created his own folk style which he enjoyed combining with many others. He died at the age of 98 and left behind many masterpieces such as I and the Village, Birthday, The Promenade, America Windows, White Crucifixion, and Green Violinist.
One can say with certainty that Russia does not lack talent, artistry, and masterpieces. All the painters mentioned above, as well as many others, have undoubtedly left their imprint on the international art world.
Whether you are an avid art lover or a casual museum visitor, you will surely be able to enjoy all the wonderful paintings these talented individuals have created. After all, everyone interprets a single piece differently and art will always have the power to make us feel so many things at once. However, what those emotions are and how we perceive a masterpiece is completely up to us, as everyone is different and has an opinion of their own.