August 1 - September 8, 2021
curated by Natali Begesh
The Russian Ark is pleased to present Classical Tradition, a Capsule Collection that features 21 paintings, drawings and sculptures by 11 contemporary artists: Maria Filimonova, Suren Kharazyan, Nikol Klampert, Andrew Piankovski, Valeria Privalikhina, Samir Rakhmanov, Sofia Saikain, Yaroslava Tichshenko, Varvara Vyborova, Yuriy Ushakov and Ilya Zorkin.
The selected works exemplify the variety of approaches these academically-trained artists pursued in their respective practices when dealing with a classical nude.
The artworks from Classical Tradition are available for purchase exclusively at The Russian Ark. The Capsule Collection runs until September 8, 2021.
FROM THE CURATOR
Nudity is an enduring tradition dating to the beginning of art. Around the 4th century BC, the Ancient Greek sculptor Praxiteles was the first to sculpt the nude female form in a life-size statue of the goddess of love, fertility and beauty Aphrodite.
With its gentle grace and lyrical charm, the disrobed goddess revealed an example of the "ideal beauty" and physical perfection causing a deep commotion in the Greek world and profoundly influencing the subsequent course of Western art.
The iconic subject of the goddess of love and beauty inspired numerous artists throughout the centuries.
The Western visual culture kept returning to the tradition of harmony and the humanistic ideas prevalent in Classical Antiquity and Renaissance.
At different stages, nudity was an important source of inspiration for creators. Even in those periods when it was not a dominant theme, the genre of the nude retained its significance in the context of classical fine art education and in showcasing the artist’s mastery.
Recently, the genre of the nude has considerably evolved in terms of aesthetics, however, it remains an important link with the classical art school, fostering a dialogue between modernity and the classical ideal.
Reconnecting with the centuries-old tradition, the portrayal of the naked body continues to carry certain essential values – those of love and beauty – embodied in a gracious and elegant image of a woman.
CURATOR AND ART HISTORIAN
"The body always expresses the spirit whose envelope it is. And for him who can see, the nude offers the richest meaning."
Yaroslava Tishchenko’s Lying Nude engages in a dialogue with some of the most celebrated and enchanting images of the past, including the Renaissance masterpiece, Venus of Urbino by Titian (Florence, the Ufizzi).
Both works are characterized by a perfectly balanced composition: the model’s sinuous pose occupies the central diagonal of the canvas. The depicted nudes are devoid of any shame for their nakedness, on the contrary, their nudity is exposed, celebrated and heightened – through the adornment in the hair, bracelets and earrings.
Reference Image: Titian, Venus of Urbino, 1534, oil on canvas, 119 × 165 cm, Uffizi, Florence.
"Yaroslava’s model is wearing a light silk robe slipping off her shoulders. The robe, however, does not cover her naked body, but rather serves as a decorative frame for it."
The model’s face stands out clearly from the deep blue background. The darker shades of blue are counterbalanced by the lighter ivory tones of the drapery, the pillow and the underwear positioned in the lower right of the picture.
The fresh, bright skin tones and the sensual rendering of the figure are truly arresting. This effect is enhanced by the loose execution of the pictorial space around the nude, created with wide, quick brushstrokes.
The image before us – a portrayal of a beautiful earthly woman - is steeped in Classical mythology and in particular, carries associations with the goddess of love and beauty.
Girl With a Rose is built on contrasts: the girl is dressed, however, the robe is slipping off her shoulder revealing her breast. Stark black eyes positioned under the high arched eyebrows and the plump lips attract the viewer’s focus onto the woman’s face, but the face is partially hidden behind a loose strand of hair, adding a note of mystery to the overall look. The model’s gaze is directed at the viewer, but at the same time feels rather alienated.
The luscious dark curls are sensually cascading over the woman’s shoulders. A pale rose held in her hands creates a series of metaphorical associations with the theme of love and combined with the loose undulating hair enhances the eroticism of the picture.
The energetic vertical composition is supported by the dynamic brushstrokes which are applied expressively to create an abstract background. This wild sketchy movement around the figure is in surprising contrast to the soft hues of the smooth youthful skin and the sensual rendering of the sitter.
"In Yaroslava Tichshenko’s Nude Sketches <...> the tension between the proximity and inaccessibility creates an aura of intimacy and a feeling of endless striving for the ideal in motion."
The present work by Ilya Zorkin continues the tradition of a classical reclining nude and demonstrates the artist’s fascination with the subject matter and its enticing potential.
The model is reposing on the unexpectedly dark draperies where even the yellow is within the darker tonal range. At the same time, her body is in contact with the cool whites of the linens which accentuate her pearlescent skin note.
For this composition, the artist employed an actual model who is depicted in a recognizable and unidealised manner.
Despite this individualization, the connection between the figure and the viewer is excluded. Positioning the full-length nude half a turn away from the viewer, the artist investigates one of the cultural conventions suggesting that, in essence, a nude is a portrait of the body.
Reference Image: Diego Velazquez, Rokeby Venus, 1647-51, oil on canvas, 122 x 177 cm, National Gallery, London.
Nude on Rose by Andrew Piankovski expresses the artist’s canon of female beauty and could be seen as a modern interpretation of the mythologeme of the goddess of love and beauty. The image calls to mind the Ancient Greek sculpture of Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles (Munich, Glyptothek).
Just like in the famous masterpiece by the great Greek sculptor, the model stands freely and gracefully at full height with nothing obscuring her beauty. Her pose is feminine and mysterious.
Aphrodite Braschi, Roman variant (1st century BC) after Aphrodite of Cnidus by Praxiteles (ca. 350–340 BC), Glyptothek, Munich.
In this image, the artist managed to combine the illusion of intimacy with the absolute inaccessibility of the female character, who seems to embody the classical Western beauty canons: golden hair, pale and limpid tonalities of the skin and a delicate constitution.
The artist envelopes the nude in a variety of soft tones –from pearl to light crimson – which echo the warmth of her body. This delicate colour palette together with the broad painterly brushstrokes contributes to the overall tenderness and sensuality of the image.
The drapes in the background create an organic frame for the undulating curves of the model’s body and seem to melt into the atmosphere.
The subject is rendered with real poetry and undoubtedly reconnects with the classical tradition.
Reference Image: Auguste Renoir, Bather Seated on a Rock, 1892, Private collection.
The present image of a seated nude depicts a perfect yet real beauty: radiant skin, golden hair and fresh youthful nudity.
The classical proportions of her body, naturally flushed cheeks, expressive eyes and eyebrows, a clear contour of her bright lips - we seem to recognize an iconic "Renoir’s girl“ – warm, lively, with a dreamy look on her face.
The background is simplified making the nude figure and the surrounding space shine bright like a "sunbeam".
The artist’s mastery manifests itself in the fresh tonality of the artwork, the unique painterly quality of the brushstrokes that seem to recreate light, the sumptuous sensibility and richness of colour, the soft shadows and exquisite nuances of the colourful reflexes.
Impressionists are known for having had selected only one element from reality – light – to interpret all of nature. In the present work, Yuriy Ushakov reconnects with the tradition of employing the effects of light to convey the aesthetics of the "ideal beauty".
Yuriy Ushakov’s large painting Nudes After Matisse strikes with its bright decorative arrangement of flattened planes of colour reminiscent of the Japanese engravings.
The space surrounding the nude female figures is more than a simple background, it is integral to the success of the composition.
The rich chromatic contrasts and the bursts of pure pigment do not upset the compositional harmony of the artwork. The artists succeeded in finding a balance between the figures and the background, between the spatial depth and the flat planes. All the elements are unified and coordinated by the harmony of colour relationships.
The image of a beautiful sleeping nude reminiscent of a sleeping nymph was largely employed in Classical Antiquity and at a later stage was embraced by the Venetian painters.
The figure is elegantly reclining on richly adorned draperies occupying the central plane of the canvas. The curves of her body form a "sleeping cloud“ with her dreams seeming to fill the space of the painting.
The brightly coloured curtain behind the model verges on abstraction creating a detached space. With its decorative flat planes of colour, it serves as a background, enhancing the decorative appeal of the painting.
With its rich colour and the arresting atmosphere of tranquillity and sensual bliss, the artwork draws the viewer’s eye deeper into its inner space bringing the motive of sleep, of indolence and relaxation to its aesthetic maximum.
Reference Image: Giorgione, Sleeping Venus, 1508-10, oil on canvas, Old Masters Picture Gallery, Dresden.
The present pastel is a brilliant example of Samir Rakhmanov’s signature style and the artist’s ability to capture the beauty of a fleeting moment.
Even though the model’s pose is relaxed and static – she is leaning back in her chair – the composition is filled with movement.
In this pastel, the artist managed to preserve the freshness of a sketch, substituting the polished finish with the deliberate sketchiness. Despite the omission of unnecessary details, the image of the model is individualized and possesses a certain portrait quality.
Purely graphic attributes, a strong contour line delineating the body, a delicate play of light and shade emphasizing the volumes, the artist’s ability to capture the passing moment – all these elements reconnect Samir Rakhmanov’s work with the pastels by Edgar Degas.
A clear focus on modernity and the interest in the world around us constitute an important part of the artist’s method.
Reference Images: (left) Edgar Degas, After the Bath. Woman Drying Herself, c.1895, pastel on paper, 67.7 × 57.8 cm, Courtauld Institute, London. (right) Edgar Degas, After the Bath, c.1898, pastel on paper, 70 × 70 cm, Louvre Museum, Paris.
"Suren Kharazyan’s delicate and sensual sculptures from the Between Sky and Earth series depict lovers suspended in a different dimension. Their bodies recline, stand, levitate and otherwise defy the laws of time and gravity."
The soft, thin lines of the lovers' bodies confer to the scene a very delicate and sensual character.
There are no clear contours and smooth surfaces, but a feeling of movement, lightness and fluidity.
The motive and the power exercised by these sculptures on the viewer connect the works with such masterpieces as The Kiss by Gustav Klimt and The Kiss by Auguste Rodin.
However, by no means Suren Khazaryan’s output is derivative, the works are truly original and are typical of the sculptor’s maturing style.
With merely two human figures, Suren managed to express complex, boundless concepts. We seem to witness primordial, celestal love.
The connection between the figures seem to transgress the bounds of reality conferring to the touch, to the kiss the meaning of a cosmic scale.
Reference Images: (left) Auguste Rodin, The Kiss, 1882, marble sculpture, height: 181.5 cm, Musee Rodin, Paris. (right) Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (Lovers), 1907-08, oil and gold leaf on canvas, 180 cm × 180 cm Galerie Belvedere, Vienna.
What immediately strikes in the drawings by Nikol Klampert is the artist’s virtuosity and unrestrained, rebellious creativity.
The viewer is attracted by the elegant shapes found by Nikol Klampert to express the sensual and suggestive poses, by the graceful linework describing undulating forms of the female figures, by the illusion of depth and volume created in a two-dimensional space.
The created images feel very modern and in tune with the zeitgeist. The cleanliness of the line gives them a touch of eloquent simplicity.
At times, there is no distinction between light and shadow; the empty spaces inside and outside the body’s contour may appear completely flat – it’s just a clean sheet of paper and yet - it contains all the movement!
Oriental Nudes by Valeria Privalikhina is a feast for the senses. With its subtle painterly quality, rich and delicate colours, the artwork’s mood is tender and lyrical. Despite having been painted from a staged composition, the resulting artwork feels natural and relaxed.
Valeria Privalikhina succeeded in conveying everyday beauty. The girls – immersed in their thoughts – are caught at their toilette. The smooth curves of their bodies are in beautiful contrast with the vertical embroidery and the folds of the drapes. The metallic jugs decorating the room are rendered with great delicacy; the light is bouncing off their reflective surfaces.
The shades of burgundy dominate the entire picture and are beautifully contrasted by blue-grey accents. The opulent boudoir interior is reminiscent of the Orientalist tradition and creates a feeling of intimacy.
The warm skin tones and the softness of the female bodies stand out even more against the orderly harmony of the background.
Swimmers by Sofia Saikåin exemplifies the artistic tradition of the “imperfect nature“, discovered by Caravaggio and further enriched by the great Spanish masters of the 17th century including Diego Velázquez and Jusepe de Ribera among others.
Unlike the Renaissance artists, who often exaggerated anatomical features of their nude models for the sake of a successful composition and artistic effect, the artist depicts the figures with uncritical directness highlighting their individual features and making their images portrait-like.
The chromatic structure of the painting is intriguing: it is made of white, black and small accents of red.
The sports theme reconnects with the Social Realist tradition where female figures were primarily employed to promote a healthy lifestyle and a hardworking attitude. At the time, the sports theme was almost the only one that could justify nudity in art.
The present work by Sophia Saikåin offers an interesting modern interpretation of the image of the goddess of love and beauty enriched with the beauty canons developed during the Soviet era.
Reference Images:(left) Alexander Samokhvalov, After Cross-Country Running, 1935, tempera on canvas, 143 × 64 cm, The State Russian Museum, St.Petersburg. (right) Alexander Deineka, The Ball Game, 1932, oil on canvas, 123 × 123 cm, The State Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow.
Nude by Varvara Vyborova is imbued in a sophisticated interplay of richly-coloured shadows and reflexes. The agitated and dynamic brushstrokes fill the space with air and vibration.
The subject – immersed in a translucent shadow – is placed along the diagonal axis of the painting. The nude is beautiful, elusive, ephemeral. Her appearance expresses a state of serenity and peace.
The shimmering display of bright colours creates the illusion of light. This light is streaming across the silver-grey, blue and pink-toned reflections echoing the hues of the model’s body.
The application of paint in wide sweeping strokes enlivens the otherwise static poses and brings life and energy to the image.
Even though the subject is easily recognizable, the artist did not strive to achieve formal completeness thus creating a more enigmatic aura.
Sitting Nude and Nude by Maria Filimonova reconnect with the prehistoric female imagery. They possess the archaic integrity typical of the marble figurines from the Cyclades.
Their relaxed poses are liberated from any trappings of the civilization, their nakedness is primordial, organic and instinctive. They embody the bare, raw nature.
Reference Image: Cycladic figurine from Crete, standing pregnant woman, canonical type, between 2800 and 2300 BC, Archaeological Museum, Heraklion.