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Palmov’s dogs, or Colour painting and childishness as an artistic method

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His paintings are like dreams through which childhood memories emerge. It takes a long time to get these ghostly visions out of the head afterwards. Artist Viktor Palmov created a new style in art, colour painting. In the article, we have combined statements about the art of the artist himself and stories about the painter by Dmitry Gorbachev, an art critic, an avant-garde specialist.

Loving Ukraine in Siberia

Viktor Nikandrovich Palmov was born in Samara. He studied art at the Penza and Moscow schools of painting, sculpture and architecture. He worked for the Moscow magazine LEF, later he moved to Ukraine, where he founded the Ukrainian Union of Artists and taught at the Kyiv Art Academy. He died of an unsuccessful operation at the age of 40. Ihor Dychenko, a collector and connoisseur of Palmov’s work, believed that the artist was intentionally "stabbed" on the operating table, since his views did not suit the government of the time. For a long time, the work of Viktor Nikandrovich fell out of sight of art critics, but now it is regaining its position. And this is wonderful, because once you see Palmov’s canvases, it is already impossible to forget them.

Palmov himself connected his artistic development with David Burliuk. Together they visited Siberia and Japan. In Siberia, Viktor Nikandrovich got acquainted with the life of… Ukrainian village.

Viktor Palmov. 1914 photo

"David Burliuk Ukrainized Palmov", Dmitry Gorbachev told Arthive. "In 1920, they visited Siberia, Zeleny Klyn area (aka Green Ukraine, because according to the 1926 census, 303 thousand Ukrainians lived there). There, Palmov first began to paint a real Ukrainian village. By the way, in 1918, Zeleny Klyn declared itself a part of the Ukrainian People’s Republic. There is evidence that its representatives even sent a telegram to the head of the UPR, Mykhailo Hrushevsky; however, he never replied it. But this meeting decided a lot in the fate of Viktor Palmov. As early as 1925, he moved to Kyiv, Ukraine forever."

Viktor Palmov. Ukrainian Village in Winter. Canvas, oil, 1919—1920 (50×65)
The Ukrainian Village in Winter painting (1920), painted in Siberia, was awarded a gold medal at one of the exhibitions in Japan. By the way, note the dog on the canvas. Later, it would become one of the iconic symbols of Palmov’s paintings. When he moved to Ukraine, although, another image of a dog appeared in his arsenal, which would also wander from picture to picture.



Viktor Palmov. Village. Night.
Canvas, oil. 1929. Collection of the National Art Museum of Ukraine

Colour painting and childish drawing

The poet Nikolai Aseev described his impressions of Viktor Palmov’s paintings as follows: "Transparent tones, powerful structure of forms, unexpectedly hot colour. He knows how to pour this red-hot lava of colour into a constructive form born of his original artistic foresight with the self-control of a real master. Palmov carries all the signs of a world master, he absorbed the experience of Western European rationality with the fiery energy and will of a Scythian artist into his palette."
At the same time, in his theoretical works, Viktor Nikandrovich Palmov proposed his own definition of the realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
concept, more precisely, the reality of a colour picture: "When colour influences, when it is perceived emotionally, that is, there are formal elements of artistic realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
, then the picture is real."

According to the artist, the significance of the canvas is determined by its emotional impact on the viewer. That is why a special role should be assigned to colour, since, as Palmov argued, the reality of the depicted is only perceived if an imprint (association, emotion) remains in the viewer’s imagination. Hence emerged a kind of artist’s manifesto: "I consider colour within the canvas as the main goal, but not a means. I see the realism
Realism (from late Latin reālis — “real”) is considered to be the beginning in the development of modern art. In a strict sense, “realism” is an art movement that faithfully and objectively reproduces reality in all its details, regardless of how beautiful are the objects in the picture. Read more
of modernity in action of colours."
Palmov also had his own vision of working with pure paints in tubes: "Paints are processed as follows: by mixing them with white paint. This increases the colour strength of the paint. In the absence of white, on the contrary, it goes down."

Palmov’s students recall how he gave them tasks: to create a canvas based on the nuances of one spectral colour. Professor Viktor Nikandrovich even composed still lifes of different objects of the same colour for his students.

The concept of "colour painting" developed by the artist was finally formed in the Kyiv period of the master’s work (1925—1929). Viktor Nikandrovich tried to change the art vector towards spontaneity, unexpectedness, in order to focus on the uniqueness of the moment of perception and imagination. For this purpose, he first filled the pictorial base with coloured spots, and then painted object images, which, in his opinion, corresponded to their psycho-emotional mood. Palmov himself wrote about this: "I am interested in coloured expression, I try to understand my thematic stimulus as colour before I imagine it as an additional means of influence."
This "additional means of influence" was childish drawing. More precisely, an image simulating it.

"Viktor Palmov loved children very much. And he was very serious about their work," art critic Dmitry Gorbachev told the Arthive correspondent. "After all, he not only painted on his canvases in a childish manner, he often even signed his paintings, as a child would sign them: naive and illiterate."

The main thing in Palmov’s paintings is still colour. Therefore, the artist’s canvases "do not sound" in reproductions. They need to be perceived alive in order to see the natural colour, and not how it is displayed even by modern devices.

Identified by the heel

After the artist’s sudden death at the age of forty, paintings by Viktor Palmov could be purchased for a pittance. Collector Ihor Dychenko recalled how he discovered one of the most famous works by the painter, the Beach: "I managed to find those who kept some of Palmov’s works in Kyiv. They asked a symbolic amount about 28—30 roubles for one of his paintings then… One day, while visiting them, I noticed a corner of the canvas protruding from their cabinet, on which a heel was depicted. My Don Juan imagination immediately completed the rest. The canvas hidden behind the closet was Viktor Palmov’s finest Beach. I also found his Ukrainian Village painting there, the one for which he received his medal in Japan."
Viktor Palmov. Beach. Canvas, oil. 1926
One of the stories from the artist’s life, which the art critic Dmitry Gorbachev told Arthive, can also be associated with the Beach.

"Palmov's wife, Kapitolina, could not swim," the avant-garde
Avant-garde is how modern art critics refer the general trend of new artistic directions that arose in world art at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. A very thin line separates it from the concept of “modernism”. Read more
expert told us. "So Viktor Palmov performed such a kind of peculiar performance: he took his wife to the middle of a reservoir on a boat and then pushed her into the water. "I knew you didn’t love me anymore!" the poor woman shouted. Palmov caught her, of course. Therefore, Kapitolina learned to swim afterwards".

In the Beach, one can trace what Palmov considered the goal of his art, about which he wrote: "My task is to arrange one colour to another so that all the colours in the picture area acted as a common chord of colour sound."

V. Palmov. Self-Portrait with Wife. Canvas, oil. 1920. From the collection of I. Dychenko

So why are the dogs different?

But back to our dogs. More precisely, to Palmov’s dogs. Why are they so different and similar at the same time?
V. Palmov. Village. 1928
V. Palmov. Date (detail) 1926
V. Palmov. Village. Night. (detail) 1929

V. Palmov. Village. Night. (detail) 1929

V. Palmov. Forge. 1925
Arthive put this question to art critic Dmitry Gorbachev.

"It is not surprising that Palmov painted dogs so often: they are protectors of the Ukrainian village," the art critic answered. "However, why they are different — this is a question for everyone looking at the picture to decide for himself."

In any case, colour is to be followed.