Ivan Shishkin ((13) 25 January 1832, Yelabuga of Vyatka Governorate (today Republic of Tatarstan) – (8) 20 March 1898, St. Petersburg) was a famous Russian landscape painter, the master of realistic depiction of the forest. He was taught by Appolon Mokritskij at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture and his other teacher was Sokrat Vorobyov at the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts. He was one of the founders and an active participant of the Peredvizhniki movement. His paintings were exhibited by the founders of the movement until the artist’s death.
Features of the artist Ivan Shishkin: the precision of his paintings, even in the smallest details; absolutely realistic depiction of things (by the artist’s paintings, you can study the structure of plants). Shishkin approached the authenticity of depiction very thoroughly and scrupulously. That was exactly what he was sometimes blamed for. It was widely believed that the skill of Shishkin-colorist was inferior to his talent as a draftsman. His landscapes were very realistic, his attitude to nature was not a romantic delight enthralled by beauty, but rather a calm and thoughtful observation.
When Ivan Shishkin lost his beloved people, experienced the lack of inspiration or fell into a deep depression, he always turned to Yelabuga, the town where he was born. It was the place which helped him to come to senses, regain strength and find a peace of mind. For many years his father was a mayor there, he wrote the History of the City of Yelabuga and, of course, hoped that his son would continue the merchant family business and glorify his hometown. In terms of the latter, everything turned out great: the artist’s paintings praised the beauty of the small homeland and its endless forests.
The failed clerk and the painter who found his way
The young man was not drawn to nor had passion for anything, except for painting. In order to not make anyone second-guess him, Ivan Shishkin studied at the Kazan gymnasium for four years. But then he dropped out of it, having said to his parents that he didn’t have any desire to become a clerk. His family was not delighted with such decision. His father, who clearly understood that the boy was very explicit in his statement and that he seriously intended to be engaged only in painting, sent him to Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Appolon Mokritskij became his first teacher, who instilled respect for drawing in the artist, and the strict correspondence of the forms of the depiction in painting and in reality. Shishkin realized the direction of his talent almost at the beginning of his journey: landscape, landscape and a little bit more of landscape. There was nothing better than the ability to depict nature for him: “The landscape painter is a true artist, he feels deeper, clearer (...) Nature is always different and constantly willing to give an inexhaustible supply of its gifts which we call life. What can be better than nature!” The paintings by Shishkin were unbelievably fascinating and splendid.
Shishkin kept in touch with his teacher for many years. Even despite the fact that he was then taught by Sokrat Vorobyov at the St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts (which was undoubtedly the right step after studying at the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture), Shishkin oftentimes turned to his first teacher for advice. Mokritsky was sad about parting with a student, whose talent he was certainly aware of, and predicted that soon everyone would get to know about the paintings by the artist Shishkin, “if he remains devoted to what he is doing”.
St. Petersburg Imperial Academy of Arts in the life of Ivan Shishkin
Shishkin’s first impression of St. Petersburg was not at all enthusiastic: “This is a cold prim city, where I am thinking about Yelabuga with sadness”. But his home was henceforth in that same exact city. Shishkin studied at the Imperial Academy of Arts, apparently, with the same devotion, which amazed his first teacher so much. At least, that was evidenced by the success of Ivan Shishkin during his studies, and the medals with which his paintings were awarded.
Ivan Shishkin often visited Valaam in summer, where he selflessly painted its harsh nature. Shishkin's famous artworks were painted in the open-airs of Valaam, thanks to which people publicly spoke of him as a major original Russian talent. The academy awarded him with the Big Gold Medal and the right to a pensioner's trip to Europe for his work "View on the island of Valaam. Kukko”.
He lived abroad from 1862 to 1865, mainly in Germany and Switzerland. Also he visited Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, and Holland. Shishkin had become famous in Dusseldorf for his magnificent drawings (the exhibition was arranged in the museum in Dusseldorf), before his paintings were widely known and admired by the public. The work "View in the vicinity of Dusseldorf" brought him the title of academician. Having yearned for his homeland, Shishkin returned to Russia earlier than his retirement period ended.
Shishkin and the Peredvizhniki movement
As soon as he came back, he eagerly started painting his homeland, and plunged into everything that was happening in the artistic environment. And it was quite serious: the famous Riot of Fourteen under the leadership of Ivan Kramskoy, the refusal of young talented artists to follow the dead laws of academism, the requirement to fill the painting with life, the Artel of artists which Shishkin became close with; and then he became one of the founders of the Peredvizhniki movement. He was faithful to the ideas of the movement till the end of his life.
Kramskoy said about Shishkin: “He is the only person among us who really has learnt nature.” Indeed, Shihkin’s depiction of landscapes was very detailed, therefore his paintings could show to the viewer so much more, than even the most detailed photograph in the world. Shishkin was called “a professor of landscape painting” for his work "Forest Wilderness" in 1873.
Personal life and the irreplaceable losses of the artist Shishkin
Shishkin’s personal life wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows. Eugene, the sister of the artist Fyodor Vasilyev, became his first wife in 1868. They were in love with each other. Everything seemed to be easy. They often had guests. But it wasn’t for long. Shishkin was going through hard times since 1872, teeming with the deaths of his loved ones. His father died, whom Shishkin loved very much, then his little son Vladimir passed away. His wife’s brother, Fyodor, died from phthisis (which was then incurable). Shishkin was looking after him for a long period of time and considered him to be one of his true friends. And the next year, the disease took away his wife Zhenka, as he called her. One year later, his son Konstantin was gone. Shishkin then had only his daughter Lidia, and the endless longing. “White light has faded, everything is in black and white engraving, has lost its color. My dear Yelabuga brought me back to life,” Shishkin recalled. Landscapes of the hometown, in which he was born, forced him to take up the brush. Only with his paintings Ivan Ivanovich Shishkin saved himself from despair.
Olga Ladoga was one of the first thirty women accepted to the Academy of Arts as volunteers. Later, she worked in Shishkin’s studio. The artist fell in love with his student. She became his wife in 1880. His happiness turned out to be short-term. A year later, Olga gave birth to their daughter, Ksenia, and the following year she died of peritoneal inflammation. The girl was taken and raised by Olga's sister.
The longest love of the artist’s life was his paintings
It seemed as if Shishkin’s muse was jealous. At least, the facts known to biographers said that he no longer tried to devote a part of his life to a woman, henceforth Shishkin’s paintings became his only passion. The artist travelled a lot across Russian expanses, and created many famous paintings at the time. For two years he was in charge of the landscape studio at the Academy. In addition to painting, Shishkin was making progress in the art of engraving. He also worked in the technique of etching using a mixture called "aqua regia". In addition, he became a member of the Society of Russian Watercolorists.
In the defense of the artist
You can often come across people’s perception towards Shishkin as to an obsolete landscape painter, stuck in his forests and not corresponding to the spirit of the times, and so on and so forth. But we strongly disagree with that point of view. Those who have eyes will see that, for instance, the paintings by Shishkin in 1890s are characterized by an increased interest to the light and air environment, and not just mere interest, but its magnificent realization. Let's take a look at Shishkin’s famous painting “Rain in an Oak Forest”. To depict not just fog, not a state of nature before the rain or after it, but to paint the rain itself – and so convincingly: the diminishing downpour, transparent mist in the air, glimpses of solar reflection on the ripples of a large puddle. Accuracy and realistic depiction of things are still the most admired. There is so much more, than just a great photo – this is the painting by the artist Shishkin. Do you still think that he is not modern enough? Shishkin perfectly knew how to change, while not changing his principles.