Russia • 1842−1910

Biography and information

Arkhip Ivanovich Kuindzhi (January 15 (27), 1841, the town of Karasu (Karasevka), now Mariupol, Ukraine - July 11 (24), 1910, St. Petersburg) was an outstanding Russian artist, master of landscape painting. He was also known for his charity and teaching activities. He was the teacher of Nicholas Roerich. Kuindzhi set a precedent by arranging an exhibition of one painting (“Moonlight Night on the Dnieper”) in 1880 - the first one in the history of Russian painting.

Features of the artist Arkhip Kuindzhi: Kuindzhi’s landscapes were often based on the contrast of light and shadow. First and foremost, he was considered a brilliant colorist.

Famous paintings by Arkhip Kuindzhi: “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper”, “A Birch Grove”, “Night”.

If Arkhip Kuindzhi lived in our time, he would surely be invited to conduct motivational seminars and give lectures on the topic “How to make it on your own.” An orphaned son of a shoemaker, he came to Petersburg with empty pockets and became a millionaire by the age of 40. The self-taught provincial man, whose metaphorical technique was used to make fun of the capital’s snobs, quickly gained fame as the main Russian landscape painter. Kuindzhi was truly the man of a strong character. When he set a goal, he did not stop until he achieved it: according to Repin, “he was drilling through the earth.” Perhaps, he lost only one battle in his entire life – the battle with the world order. The hopeless idealist Kuindzhi believed that the world could be made better. And for the sake of that utopian task, he spent a lot of money, time and health.

In his last years, having been already seriously ill, Kuindzhi had noticeably cooled to what was commonly called human civilization. He was often gloomy, irritated by trifles. Once unbending man, he was disillusioned. Kuindzhi thought that he had failed to change the world. He did not like to leave things unfinished, and he did not know how to leave them like that.

The defender

Arkhip Kuindzhi was born in a village near Mariupol in the family of a shoemaker and tiller Ivan Khristoforovich. His parents died when Arkhip was five - his aunt and older brother looked after the boy. He grew up a strong boy. Usually smiling and good-natured, he would become so angry if someone offended a cat, a puppy right before his eyes, or, God forbid, a bird. Even teenagers were afraid of that well-built beyond his years young boy. Later, Kuindzhi would say: “Since childhood, I got used to the fact that I was stronger and had to help those around me.” He lived his whole life without breaking that rule of his.

In the meantime, Arkhip was studying – first, in the “free school” (where an illiterate Greek from the local people “taught”), then in the municipal school. Young Kuindzhi was indifferent to science, but he was obsessed with painting.

Kuindzhi’s first solo exhibition was held when he turned 11. Arkhip worked on the construction of the church and lived for some time in the kitchen of his employer. Of course, the walls of the kitchen were completely painted with coal. The owners did not mind and even invited the neighbors to the vernissage. The audience was also presented with ledgers and books on the acceptance of bricks, painted by young talents through the length and breadth. Particularly successful was the portrait of the local churchwarden. Since then, all the inhabitants of the village (except, of course, the churchwarden) bowed to the boy, as if he was a celebrity.

At the age of 15, Kuindzhi got a job in the house of a prosperous baker, and that person, noticing Arkhip’s passion for drawing, advised him to go to Feodosia to Aivazovsky himself. Rumors about the responsiveness of the master turned out to be exaggerated: he refused to teach Kuindzhi. However, Aivazovsky entrusted him to paint his fence. With such experience, Kuindzhi had no doubt that he had only one road - to the St. Petersburg Academy of Arts.

At home alone

The Academy did not immediately open its arms to Arkhip Kuindzhi. He was rejected several times. Once, he was the only one who didn’t pass the exam out of 30 examined. Eventually, for the painting “A Tatar Village on Crimea’s South Coast by Moonlight ” he was awarded the title of “non-class artist”, which Kuindzhi refused, asking in return for permission to be a student. Thus, in 1868, the 28-year-old artist was finally enrolled in the Academy.

Kuindzhi dropped out of school having reached the class of outdoor painting. It was not a matter of the influence of the Peredvizhniki movement, which in those years was a clear opposition to the “academicians” (by the way, Kuindzhi also left Peredvizhniki movement (English: the Society of Wanderers) after being there for five years). And it was not even about a stubborn, freedom-loving self-taught person who was constrained by any boundaries, whether it be a mossy academic program or an innovative acutely social course of the movement.

The thing was that Kuindzhi understood pretty early in life that creativity was a road which nobody else could accompany him on. He was not a hermit. He could spend hours fiercely arguing with RepinKramskoi or Vasnetsov about the purposes of art, the nature of genius, and other things. But when tobacco and gunpowder smoke dissipated, Kuindzhi was left alone with the canvas. At those moments, he was not interested in the advice of mentors, nor was he wondering about the opinion of his friends. The reaction of the public was also not the first thing that came to his mind in those times. That deliberately chosen creative loneliness was sometimes mistaken for weakness. For the first time (Kuindzhi was still a student then) he disappeared “from the radar” for about a year: he did not appear at the Academy, did not exhibit his works, and did not take part in friendly feasts and debates. His classmates believed that Arkhip, unable to cope with poverty, fell into despair and went back home. They thought like that until Fyodor Burov met Kuindzhi at one of the Petersburg photo shops, where he worked as a retoucher. Viktor Vasnetsov immediately went to Kuindzhi to persuade him to return and not to abandon painting. But it was in vain because Kuindzhi never stopped painting for a day. On the contrary, far from discussions and “competent opinions” he was thriving as an artist.

A truly grandiose success came to him in 1880: the painting “Moonlight Night on the Dnieper” became a real sensation. An unprecedented exhibition of one painting, organized by The Imperial Society for the Encouragement of the Arts, was accompanied by unprecedented excitement. People almost pushed each other in kilometer-long lines, critics choked with delight. From then on, it became clear even to ill-wishers that, no matter how naive was Kuindzhi’s works, as a colorist, he had no equal. He became famous in Europe and strengthened the title of the main Russian landscape painter.

And in 1882, he “disappeared” again for twenty years. At the peak of fame, Arkhip Kuindzhi pulled away from social and public life, being perfectly content with the company of his wife and closest friends. And he did not exhibit his new works until the beginning of the 20th century.

The Birdman

By the 1890s, Kuindzhi became rich. Moreover, the main source of wealth was not paintings (they were sold well), but rather risky real estate transactions. Arkhip Kuindzhi bought and then profitably resold several apartment buildings on Vasilyevsky Island. In addition, he acquired a plot of land in Crimea, which at the beginning of the 20th century was estimated at a million.

The situation in his house remained as modest as in his student years. There were no servants in it; for lunch they served the simplest and not too plentiful food. But since childhood, the learned rule “I am stronger and I should help others” had acquired new proportions. Kuindzhi literally handed out his money left and right. “After all, do you know what is being done? There is such poverty around you that you don’t know who is full, who is not ... They are coming from everywhere, everyone needs help...”- he justified his “wastefulness”. He donated hundreds of thousands to charity, to prizes for aspiring artists and the installation of vernissages. Kuindzhi was not conceited and demanded nothing in return. It happened that when he heard in a conversation that someone had a hard time, he embarrassedly transferred money through acquaintances with the words: “I am unfamiliar with him; I’m embarrassed, so you ... You tell him that.” However, Kuindzhi helped not only distressed colleagues: neither the neighboring tramps, nor the novice inventors, nor ordinary crooks knew anything about the refusal. The glory of the generosity of Arkhip Ivanovich was carried throughout St. Petersburg, and there was no end to the line of the suffering people. It got to the point that Kuindzhi’s wife, Vera Leontyevna, had to run a “petition acceptance office.”

Kuindzhi was especially kind to his favorite birds. His love for them had even become the subject of caricatures in the press, and Kuindzhi was firmly entrenched with the nickname “bird doctor”. He bought grain for birds with bags, spent hours on the roof, “talking” with pigeons, and was very proud that he had once made a tracheotomy to a breathless crow, which after the operation lived happily in his house.

Behind Enemy Lines

In 1894, Arkhip Kuindzhi emerged from the shadows in a new role. The vice-president of the Academy, Count Tolstoy, invited him to head the landscape workshop. For Kuindzhi, returning to the Academy with the rank of professor was an opportunity to break all those educational stereotypes and cliches against which he rebelled even in the period of the Peredvizhniki movement. Kuindzhi’s pedagogical methods were not innovative, but rather revolutionary. He patronized his students more zealously than pigeons and jackdaws. Professor Kuindzhi was always willing to help not only as a mentor, but also as a friend or even a father. His student, Nicholas Roerich, recalled: “As in the old workshop, where they really taught life art, the students in Kuindzhi’s workshop knew only their teacher, they knew that for the sake of art he was separated from them in all ways, they knew that the teacher is their closest friend, and they themselves wanted to be his friends. The clerical side did not exist for the workshop. What was needed was done ...

Kuindzhi drove his students to the museums of Vienna, Dresden, and Paris. He climbed ahead of everyone the Crimean mountains. If someone ordered an expensive meal on the trip during lunch, Kuindzhi insisted that everyone should have given the same (he, of course, paid the bill himself). Is it necessary to say that in the studio he was the same utopian and democrat?

Students idolized Kuindzhi, the academic results of his workshop were enviable.

In 1897, the seedlings of free thought sown by Kuindzhi led to a logical result: a student strike and the resignation of a professor.

Kuindzhi remained in the Academy Council. For several more years he tried to introduce reforms, was engaged in charity work, and established the Society of Artists, which he hoped to turn into a “new Academy”. But the incident that happened in 1897 broke that man of a strong character - he increasingly preferred to be among his favorite birds, not among people. He started complaining about heartaches. In the summer of 1910, Arkhip Kuindzhi died in St. Petersburg.

According to the stories of his loved ones, before his death, he spoke with pessimism, which was rather unusual for him, about religion, political doctrines, and the “moral progress of mankind.” It seemed to Kuindzhi that he was unable to change for the better neither art, nor the Academy, nor, especially, the world.

On the day of the funeral, many beggars, tramps, and ragged people joined the procession — those whom Kuindzhi had helped more than once to not starve to death. They probably could argue.

Author: Andrey Zimoglyadov