Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Mikhail Vrubel: Square-Brush Paintings

Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910) died blind and not totally sane. Before that, he was one of the most interesting artists Russia produced as the traditionalist-academic school of painting crumbled and Modernism worked its way to ascendancy.

Vrubel had a law degree, but then studied painting at the Imperial Academy of Art in St. Petersburg. For a few years he worked on a project in Kiev to replace 12th century murals and was able to travel to Venice, but also began to work on images of a demon based on an epic poem by Mikhail Lermontov. His first Demon painting in 1890 was noteworthy enough to launch his career. This and more biographical in formation can be found here and here.

Vrubel could vary his style, but his best-known paintings feature a good deal of square-brush work to create a fragmented, jewel-like effect around more smoothly painted faces and other features of his subjects. The best place I know of to view Vrubel's art is in Moscow's State Tretyakov Gallery a short distance south of the river bordering the Kremlin. When I was there, an entire room was devoted to Vrubel.


Head of a Woman (Emilia Prakhova) - study for "The Virgin and Child" - 1884 or 1885
Pencil and gouache. I include this to show Vrubel's approach early in his career. Later drawings were more wispy with plenty of possibly excess lines included.

Nadezhda Zabela-Vrubel - 1904
The artist's opera singer wife. This was painted not long before he lost his sight. Vrubel was not completely wedded to the square-brush - jeweled effects he is most famous for.

Seated Demon - 1890
As noted, he made several Demon-themed paintings, and this is the first and most famous.

Swan Princess - 1900
His wife depicted in a role she sang in a Rimsky-Korsakov opera. Another of his best-known paintings.

Fallen Demon - 1902
Vrubel continued the Demon a dozen years after the first painting.

Artist's Wife in a Stage Dress - 1898
More of a sketch than a finished work here.

Siren - 1900
Absent the woman, this would be an abstract painting.

Six-Winged Seraph - 1904
Another classic Vrubel image.

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