Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin


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Russian painter, graphic artist, designer, writer, and teacher. He was born in Khvalynsk, a Volga port in Saratov province, southern Russia, and studied in Samara (1893–5), St Petersburg (1895–7), Moscow (1897–1905), briefly in Munich (1901), and Paris (1905–8). During these years he also visited Italy, Greece, and Africa. After his return to Russia from Paris he settled in St Petersburg, where he taught at various art schools. He was one of the most original and independent Russian painters of his day, creating a highly distinctive style blending Symbolism with the traditions of medieval Russian and Italian Renaissance art: he specialized in large-scale figure groups in which he displayed something of the stately, solemn grandeur of Quattrocento frescos. With this powerful design went strong—sometimes harsh—colouring and a curious sense of space based on a curved horizontal axis (the artist himself referred to ‘spherical perspective’). This style accommodated well to the early years of the regime of Socialist Realism. Death of the Commissar (1928, State Russian Museum, St Petersburg) has something of the quality of a Pietà and seems a natural development from the religious imagery of his pre-revolutionary painting. He also painted still-lifes, in which he showed the same quality of dignified severity that characterized his figure paintings: he thought that ‘a simple apple lying on the table contained all the secrets of the universe’. His other work included stage design and he also wrote several books, mainly autobiographical.

Subjects: Art.

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