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Andrei Rublev ‘Holy Trinity’ (1410)
Tretyakov Gallery

An Introduction to
Russian Art

from Medieval to the Twentieth Century

Report of the lecture
given by Theodora Clarke
on June 25th 2014

Theodora Clarke, a young and knowledgeable lecturer, spoke with enthusiasm and clarity.  She condensed the art of Russia into a lecture lasting just over an hour, an amazing achievement, and filled with so much information that it was difficult to absorb all the facts that we were given.  In fact, since the title of the lecture was “An Introduction to Russian Art” this was entirely understandable.

Ms Clarke began with a brief outline of Icons in Medieval times and one of the main reasons they were so popular with artists.  It seems the only way that one was paid to paint was to join an icon workshop!  She showed us photographs of two of the most famous icons: “Our Lady of Vladimir” and the “Rublev Trinity”.

Then, in the reign of Peter the Great, art was used for the first time as propaganda.  One portrait showed him in armour before a window overlooking his new and powerful navy.  Catherine the Great continued the tradition using portraits to show whatever she wished to convey to the public and more importantly to her enemies.

Repin ‘Portrait of Tolstoy’ (1901)
Tretyakov Gallery

In the 19th Century Bryullov, Repin and Surikov were all artists who began to be influenced by artists from other countries and, in the last decade of the century, Shishkin painted a wonderful landscape: “Morning in a Pine Forest” which could have been painted by many of his French contemporaries.  Another famous work was “The Ninth Wave, Light on Water” by Aivazovsky.

There were the Cezannists of the early twentieth century, Falk, Mashkov and finally Kandinsky, at last a name that meant something to me!  Chagall who painted “The Birthday” whose characters were so happy they levitated.

Kazimir Malevich ‘Black Square’ (1915)
Tretyakov Gallery

Malevich began his New Alphabet of Painting with his famous “Black Square” which he displayed not on a wall but in a corner like an icon.

But, then came the Revolution and all creativity that did not conform to Stalin’s idea of politically correct representation was forbidden.  Many artists left the country if it was possible and those who remained had to conform and create literal representations of the Revolution for the peasant masses.  All imaginative creativity was stultified and lay dormant for many years.

This is a very, very abridged version of the lecture and I would advise going on Theodora’s website to learn more in detail, especially about the Russian Art Week that she is organising next November.

Katrina McDonald

Related Links (open in new windows):

Theodora Clarke's website
Russian Art and Culture (Editor: Theodora Clarke)

Our inspiring and entertaining speaker, Theodora Clarke