The album is devoted to the life and work of Russian artist Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin (1832-1898). His pictures comprise gems of great museums and pride of private collections.
In the history of painting, he remained both genius artist and wise teacher. Russian nature was the main theme of his work. In each Shishkin's picture one can see unlimited vastness and forest thickets, light birch groves and sunny clearings. Contemporaries and colleagues called him 'the czar of the forest'. I.I. Shishkin contributed greatly in the development of Russian landscape. His profound artistic heritage consists of pictures, drawings, and etchings. Besides, the painter was one of the first to introduce and develop the art of photoengraving.
The album you are holding in your hands is one of the most complete collections of I.I. Shishkin's works.
A quiet provincial town of Elabuga was dreaming in the depth of Russian northern forests when in 1832 Ivan Shishkin was born there in the family of a merchant. His father was not devoted to his profession very much preferring scientific studies, wood and stone carving. It was he who first showed the beauty of art to the little boy. In order to provide the boy with good education, his father took him to study in the large town of Kazan. There, however, eagerness of the boy to draw did not meet any support and he, 'afraid to become an official', as he would later write in his notes, returned back home.
In his native Elabuga, Ivan spent much time in the surrounding wilderness, fond of its gloomy romanticism. The feeling can be clearly seen in his early works. At last, the youth decided to go to Moscow to study at the College of Art, Sculpture, and Architecture. And while still at home, until the age of 16, he had been trying various techniques (graphic, watercolours) before turning to oil painting in 1848. Ivan Shishkin arrived in Moscow in 1852 and, with the help of his father's friends, became a student at the college. There he was struck by foreign landscape and was wondering why nobody had painted native Russian forests and fields, which he found more to his liking. His success in this unexplored area provided him with widespread fame at the college. Shishkin's landscapes of that period, however, more resembled 'drawing in colour' for the painter was too occupied with details to pay due attention to undertones.
In 1856 Shishkin moved to St. Petersburg to enter the Art Academy for its higher quality of teaching. It was not hard for the young artist to pass the exams, and his pencil drawings attracted attention of the professors. For his summer practice, after each term Shishkin was sent to the island of Valaam in the North-West of the lake of Ladoga; nature of the island, which housed a famous monastery, became symbol of the northern Russian beauty with its rocks among evergreen conifers. In 1859 his picture "Gorge on Valaam" was awarded with a small golden medal. Meanwhile, long winters at the Academy were devoted to mastering a new art of making lithographs.
According to the Academy tradition to send its most gifted graduates abroad to complete their studies, Ivan Shishkin left for Berlin in the spring of 1863. In the summer he travelled about Switzerland, made lots of mountain landscapes, being, however, engrossed in nostalgia. Meanwhile, the years were full of crucial events for Russia; not only emancipation of the serfs was decreed and the judical system revised. The Art Academy, too, faced necessity for reforms. Fourteen most talented students led by Kramskoy demanded revision of the curriculum and, ignored by the professors, left the Academy and founded 'The Fellowship of Travelling Exhibitions'.
Coming back to Russia in 1865, Shishkin, although a great friend of Kramskoy and his group, did not officialy belong to the Fellowship. In 1867, Shishkin participated in the International Exhibition in Paris. The following year he exhibited his "Pinewood" at the Academy and was awarded with the Order of Stanislav. In the same year Shishkin married Evgenia, a sister of his fellow artist Fyodor Vasiliev.
In 1872, a faculty of landscape painting was established at the Academy. Although M.K. Klodt was appointed its headmaster, Shishkin was also named as its potential professor, which proves his talent as a landscape painter. The summer of 1872 Shishkin together with Kramskoy and Savitskiy spent at Luga where he made his masterpiece "Backwoods". The picture was acquired by the Academy and Shishkin was presented with the rank of professor for it.
The winter of 1873-1874 was a time of hardships for the artist. His close friend and follower F. Vasiliev died; after it, he lost his wife and son. The artist, bent by misfortune, took to drink. However, his success as a painter saved him. His picture "Rye" (1878) became his next masterpiece. Like each true master, Ivan Shishkin had his followers and apprentices. And the only girl among other youths, talented painter Olga Lagoda became his wife in the summer of 1880 and they had a daughter named Kseniya. However, the happiness did not last long. When their daughter was only a month old, Olga fell ill and died.
Shishkin's work "Pinery" was truly unique as the artist diverted from academical principles and borrowed elements of genre: in the centre, among mighty pines, two bears are trying to get honey from a beehive, tied high up a tree. The picture won the first prize at the contest held by the Society to Encourage Artists. In the late 1880 - early 1890 Shishkin's fame reached its peak. In the autumn of 1891 Ivan Shishkin, rightly called 'the czar of the forest', made a show of his more than 200 drawings and over 300 sketches created for forty years. The exhibition was very successful, however, his colleagues did not like the fact of cooperation with the Academy and accused him of betrayal the principles of the Fellowship. But Arkhip Kuingi, another gifted lanscape painter, helped to reconcile Shishkin and the Fellowship. Some months later, however, several noted members of the Fellowship and Kuingi among them, were made professors at the Academy and got a possibility to influence its policy. At first the two faculties of landscape painting led by Shishkin and Kuingi coexisted peacefully but at last in the autumn of 1895 Shishkin retired to lead a lonely life of an old man in the country. Despite problems with health, he still worked fruitfully making a great number of works. One of his last works, "Shiptimber Grove", he sent to the museum of Alexander III; but the notice that the Czar had decided to buy it came after the death of the artist, which happened on the 8th of March, 1898. In the history of Russian landscape painting Shishkin remains, perhaps, the most gifted drawer of very special and poetical talent.