Kuzma Sergeevich Petrov-Vodkin,
Russian: Кузьма Сергеевич Петров-Водкин (1878 – February 15, 1939)
was an important Russian and Soviet painter and writer.
Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin was born in Khvalynsk (Saratov Oblast) into the
family of a local shoemaker. His first exposure to art was in his
early childhood, when he took some lessons from a couple of icon
painters and a signmaker. Still, Petrov-Vodkin didn't quite see
himself in art at that time; after graduating from middle school, he
took a summer job at a small shipyard with plans to get into
railroad college in Samara. After failing his exam, he turned to
"Art Classes of Fedor Burov" in 1896
In April 1895, Burov died and for
some time Petrov-Vodkin took different painting jobs in the vicinity
of Saratov. By chance, his mother's employer invited a well-known
architect, R. Meltzer. Petrov-Vodkin was introduced to the guest and
impressed him enough to get an invitation to study art at Saint
Petersburg. The education was financed by a charitable subscription
among local merchants. He also met at this time Borisov-Musatov, an
important painter resident in Saratov, who encouraged Petrov-Vodkin
to continue his studies.
Petrov-Vodkin stayed in Saint
Petersburg from 1895 to 1897 studying at the Baron Stieglits School,
before moving to the Moscow School of Painting, Sculpture and
Architecture. There Petrov-Vodkin was a student of Valentin Serov,
Isaak Levitan and especially Konstantin Korovin. In 1901 he
travelled to Munich to take classes with Anton Ažbe.
He graduated in 1904.
Beginning of independent work
While in Paris in 1906 he met and married Maria Jovanovic
(1885–1960), a daughter of Serbian immigrant hotel-keepers. She
remained his lifelong companion. They had two daughters, one of whom
died [unverified] in childhood.
Even during his college years,
Petrov-Vodkin managed to enter into conflict with the Russian
Orthodox Church, which discarded his work on a chapel in Samara and
ultimately destroyed it as unacceptable. A number of his early works
were deemed too erotic. His first well-known work was The Dream
(1910), which sparked a discussion among contemporary Russian
artists. The main defender of the painting was Alexandre Benois; his
main detractor was Ilya Repin (hence, Petrov-Vodkin was discussed by
two of the major Russian painters of the time). Other major works of
that time include Boys at play, and, notably, Bathing of a Red
Horse, his most iconic work. The latter became an instant classic,
and, in a sense, trademark for the artist.
During this stage in his artistic
development, Petrov-Vodkin extensively used an aesthetic of Orthodox
icon together with brighter colours and unusual compositions. His
works were often deemed blasphemous and erotic.
From 1924 to 1926 Petrov-Vodkin lived in France with his family. In
1922 he painted a portrait of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova.
During his earlier years,
Petrov-Vodkin developed his "spherical perspective": a unique twist
that distorted the drawing as to represent the viewer high enough to
actually notice the spherical curve of the globe.
He used it extensively through his
works like Death of a Commissar and In the Line of Fire, which make
the observer seem more distant, but actually close. It is argued
that this twist has been built upon Byzantine perspective - an
inverted perspective used in iconography.
Petrov-Vodkin used darker tones
with time, but his paintings became more detailed. He started
painting still life and portraits, stepping further away from his
With help from the Soviet
government, he made several trips across the Soviet Union, producing
many works with didactic purposes.
Later years (1928-1937)
In 1927, Petrov-Vodkin contracted pulmonary tuberculosis and had to
curtail painting for several years. He turned to literature and
wrote three major semi-autobiographical volumes, Khvalynsk, Euclid's
Space and Samarkandia. The first two of these are considered on a
par with the finest Russian literature of the time.
In the spring of 1932 the Central
Committee of the Communist Party decreed that all existing literary
and artistic groups and organizations should be disbanded and
replaced with unified associations of creative professions.
Accordingly, the Leningrad Union of Artists was established on 2
August 1932, which brought the history of post-revolutionary art to
a close. The epoch of Soviet art began. Petrov-Vodkin was elected
the first president of the Leningrad Union of Artists in 1932.
Petrov-Vodkin's other important
pieces during this period include 1919. Alarm. (1934).
In February 1939, Petrov-Vodkin
died of tuberculosis in Leningrad.
Until the mid-1960s, Petrov-Vodkin was nearly forgotten in the
Soviet Union after his curtailment of painting and turn towards
Petrov-Vodkin writings were
republished in the 1970s to a great acclaim, after a long period of
neglect. His most famous literary works are the 3 self-illustrated
autobiographical novellas: "Khlynovsk", "Euclidean Space" and "Samarcandia".
The second of these is of particular importance, as it transmits
Petrov-Vodkin worldview as an artist in great detail.
The largest collection of
Petrov-Vodkin's works is in the Russian Museum in St Petersburg,
where, as of 2012, a whole room in the permanent exhibition is
devoted to the painter.
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