Levitan (Russian: Исаа́к Ильи́ч Левита́н; August 30, 1860 –
August 4 [O.S. July 22] 1900) was a classical Russian
landscape painter who advanced the genre of the "mood
Life and work
Isaac Levitan was born in a shtetl of Wirballen, Augustów
Governorate in Congress Poland, a part of the Russian Empire
(present-day Lithuania) into a poor but educated Jewish
family. His father Elyashiv Levitan was the son of a rabbi,
completed a Yeshiva and was self-educated. He taught German
and French in Kowno and later worked as a translator at a
railway bridge construction for a French building company.
At the beginning of 1870 the Levitan family moved to Moscow.
In September 1873, Isaac Levitan entered the Moscow
School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture where his
older brother Avel had already studied for two years. After
a year in the copying class Isaac transferred into a
naturalistic class, and soon thereafter into a landscape
class. Levitan's teachers were the famous Alexei Savrasov,
Vasily Perov and Vasily Polenov.
In 1875, his mother died, and his father fell seriously
ill and became unable to support four children; he died in
1877. The family slipped into abject poverty. As patronage
for Levitan's talent and achievements, his Jewish origins
and to keep him in the school, he was given a scholarship.
Levitan. Portrait by Valentin Serov (1893)
In 1877, Isaac Levitan's works were first publicly exhibited
and earned favorable recognition from the press. After
Alexander Soloviev's assassination attempt on Alexander II,
in May 1879, mass deportations of Jews from big cities of
the Russian Empire forced the family to move to the suburb
of Saltykovka, but in the fall officials responded to
pressure from art devotees, and Levitan was allowed to
return. In 1880 his painting Осенний день. Сокольники
(Autumn day. Sokolniki) was bought by famous philanthropist
and art collector Pavel Mikhailovich Tretyakov. (See also
In the spring of 1884 Levitan participated in the mobile
art exhibition by the group known as the Peredvizhniki and
in 1891 became a member of the Peredvizhniki partnership.
During his study in the Moscow School of painting,
sculpturing and architecture, Levitan befriended Konstantin
Korovin, Mikhail Nesterov, architect Fyodor Shekhtel, and
the painter Nikolay Chekhov, whose famous brother Anton
Chekhov became the artist's closest friend. Levitan often
visited Chekhov and some think Levitan was in love with his
sister, Maria Pavlovna Chekhova.
In the early 1880s Levitan collaborated with the Chekhov
brothers on the illustrated magazine "Moscow" and
illustrated the M. Fabritsius edition "Kremlin". Together
with Korovin in 1885-1886 he painted scenery for
performances of the Private Russian opera of Savva Mamontov.
In the 1880s he participated in the drawing and
watercolor gatherings at Polenov’s house.
The landscape of mood
Levitan's work was a profound response to the lyrical charm
of the Russian landscape. Levitan did not paint urban
landscapes; with the exception of the View of Simonov
Monastery (whereabouts unknown), mentioned by Nesterov, the
city of Moscow appears only in the painting Illumination of
the Kremlin. During the late 1870s he often worked in the
vicinity of Moscow, and created the special variant of the
"landscape of mood", in which the shape and condition of
nature are spiritualized, and become carriers of conditions
of the human soul (Autumn day. Sokolniki, 1879). During work
in Ostankino, he painted fragments of the mansion’s house
and park, but he was most fond of poetic places in the
forest or modest countryside. Characteristic of his work is
a hushed and nearly melancholic reverie amidst pastoral
landscapes largely devoid of human presence. Fine examples
of these qualities include The Vladimirka Road, 1892 Evening
Bells, 1892, and Eternal Rest, 1894, all in the Tretyakov
Gallery. Though his late work displayed familiarity with
Impressionism, his palette was generally muted, and his
tendencies were more naturalistic and poetic than optical or
In the summer of 1890 Levitan went to Yuryevets (Юрьевец)
and among numerous landscapes and etudes he painted The View
of Krivooserski monastery. So the plan of one of his best
pictures, The Silent Monastery, was born. The image of a
silent monastery and planked bridges over the river,
connecting it with the outside world, expressed the artist's
spiritual reflections. It is known that this picture made a
strong impression on Chekhov.
In 1897, already world-famous, he was elected to the
Imperial Academy of Arts and in 1898 he was named the head
of the Landscape Studio at his alma mater.
Levitan spent the last year of his life at Chekhov’s home
in Crimea. In spite of the effects of a terminal illness,
his last works are increasingly filled with light. They
reflect tranquility and the eternal beauty of Russian
He was buried in Dorogomilovo Jewish cemetery. In April
1941 Levitan's remains were moved to the Novodevichy
Cemetery, next to Chekhov's necropolis. Levitan did not have
a family or children.
Isaac Levitan's hugely influential art heritage
consists of more than a thousand paintings, among them
watercolors, pastels, graphics, and illustrations.
A minor planet 3566 Levitan, discovered by Soviet astronomer
Lyudmila Zhuravlyova in 1979 is named after him.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia