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Exhibition of works by Russian Realist artists opens at the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz
Ingrid Moessinger, general director of the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz, poses in front of the painting 'Barge Haulers on the Volga' by Russian artist Ilja Repin in Chemnitz, Germany, 22 February 2012. The artwork forms part of the exhibition 'Peredvizhniki - Russian Realist Painters' that will open at the museum in Chemnitz on 26 February. EPA/HENDRIK SCHMIDT.

CHEMNITZ.- With the exhibition The Peredvizhniki - Russian Realist Painters, the Kunstsammlungen Chemnitz is showing 90 works on loan from the State Tretjakov Gallery, Moscow, and the State Russian Museum, Saint Petersburg.

The Peredvizhniki were an important and highly influential Russian secession movement in the second half of the 19th century. In their realist portrait, landscape and genre paintings the Peredvizhniki artists opposed the traditional Academy painting, which they regarded as too rigid, both in form and content. The paintings on show in the exhibition have never, or only rarely, been seen to date in Germany.

The Peredvizhniki (which in Russian means Society for the Promotion of Touring Exhibitions) were an artists`group founded in Saint Petersburg in 1870, and including Ivan Kramskoy, Grigory Myasoyedov, Nikolai Ge and Vasily Perov. The aim of the group was to further artistic freedom and autonomy. The movement was initiated by a group of students who got together in 1863 to form the Saint Petersburg Artists` Artel, or cooperative, and by a group of artists in Moscow. Between 1871 and 1922 the Peredvizhniki organized 48 touring exhibitions to numerous cities in their attempts to familiarize people outside of Moscow and Saint Petersburg with their art. Patrons such as, for example, Pavel Tretjakov, who started collecting their work, and contemporary critics like Vladimir Stassov became avid supporters of these artists. Contrary to the more traditional, darker palette, the Peredvizhniki opted for a freer mode of painting in brighter colours. They also intended their portrayals to be more natural and show people in relation to their immediate surroundings. The group was determined to depict contemporary Russian society; they painted poor agricultural labourers, political activists and prisoners with the same dedication as the intellectual elite and mythological or folkloric themes, to say nothing of the idyllic expanses and beauties of the Russian landscape. The Peredvizhniki soon became a driving force in Russian art. The group was finally disbanded in 1923. The works of the Peredvizhniki have enjoyed great popularity in Russia since the late 19th century, whereas they are little known in the western European context. Another striking fact is that very little attention has been paid to this most important 19th century Russian secession movement by German art historians. Although impressive thematic or monographic presentations of Russian art from the era of Tolstoy and Tchaikovsky have already been mounted, this comprehensive exhibition on the Peredvizhniki is really quite unique.

The exhibition THE PEREDVIZHNIKI – Russian Realist Painters presents one of the most important Russian artists` movements in the full diversity of the new artistic `handwritings` it incorporated. Of the 41 artists represented, mention should be made of Ivan Shishkin, Ilya Repin, Vladimir Makovsky, Ivan Kramskoy and Isaak Levitan. The works date mainly from 1870 to 1910, when the influence of the Peredvizhniki on Russian art was at its strongest. The exhibition highlights several of the focal points of Peredvizhniki art, including the major social, intellectual and political issues influencing Russian art at the time and reflected in the works of these artists. Examples are rural and urban life; many of the works on show indicate the artists` courage in treating themes which at the time were often controversial, such as poverty and the consequences of serfdom. Humanity and empathy are prominent features characterizing the artists` approach to their subjects. One example of this is The Volga Barge Haulers (1870-73) by Ilya Repin. The exhibition also draws particular attention to the stylistic diversity exhibited by the Peredvizhniki when celebrating the beauty of their country. The landscape paintings signify a strong sense of homeland and national consciousness. Isaak Levitan and Ivan Shishkin were important landscape painters among the Peredvizhniki.

The artists made use of their artistic freedom to draw attention to economic inequality and abuses of power. The countless portraits in which they captured the cultural and intellectual elite of the Russia of their time for posterity constitute an unsurpassed legacy of the Peredvizhniki. Famous examples of these are the portraits of Leo Tolstoy, whose ideas on politics, religion and morality inspired people the world over. Ilya Repin`s painting Leo Tolstoy Barefoot (1901) shows the writer outdoors, barefoot, and dressed in simple clothing. It embodies Tolstoy`s ideal of the simple, autochthonous life. The historical, mythical or religious motifs in some of the paintings are indicative of other themes which preoccupied the Peredvizhniki. Notwithstanding the fact that important presentations of 19th century Russian art have already taken place, this is the first exhibition in Germany to be devoted exclusively to the works of the Peredvizhniki artists` group.

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February 24, 2012

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