The colors are saturated, rich and deep. A track winds across the plains, and we follow it from shadow into light and then off into the distance. Green slopes rise into the blue of distant mountains and sky. Dark rain clouds surround a patch of blue sky with a single sunbathed cloud in it. The sun shining from behind the clouds creates a broad, glowing rainbow in front of them. Underneath the cloudbreak, the earth glows with light.
The landscape is vast, but the light focuses our attention. The wet gleam and curve of the track leads us toward the slope on our right. On top of the slope, where the light falls, we glimpse buildings, tiny in the broad reach of the land around them. The rainbow frames the scene below, glowing most beautifully where it lies above the slope and the buildings.
It is the singular vision of a singular, and strong, man.
It took will and determination to survive, and to become the man and artist Arkip Kuindzhi became. He was born into a poor family in what is now Ukraine, then lost his parents when he was six. To keep body and soul together he supported himself working at different jobs, from grazing animals to working as a retoucher in a photo studio. He tried to set up his own studio, but failed, and went instead to St. Petersburg to study painting.
Kuindzhi did not find it easy to become an artist. For a while he studied independently until, after failing several times, he gained entrance to the Academy of Fine Arts.
He graduated in 1872, and a couple of years later he joined the Wanderers, that group of Russian painters focused on realism and the building of national awareness and pride. Not surprisingly, given his very individual views of life and art, he did not stay a member. Five years after he joined he had a disagreement with another member and left the group.
He had traveled to Europe after he graduated from the Academy to study the great painters there. Something that he found on his travels set him on the path he was to follow. After his return he began to use techniques that allowed him to create the kind of art he became famous for: panoramic scenes with high horizons, strong light effects and intense colors.
These paintings were very popular with the public, but much less so with his fellow artists, who criticized his work for creating illusions instead of reflecting reality. That may have been one reason he stopped showing his work in exhibitions in 1882 – or perhaps he was simply not interested any more.
He continued to follow his own path. Though later he became a professor at the Academy he had worked so hard to enter as a young man, he did not remain there long – he was fired for supporting protesting students. So he continued to teach privately, funded his students’ travels to study art in Europe, and nurtured a new generation of Russian landscape artists, sharing his ideas and creating a legacy that might not have been possible had he stayed within the Academy.
Kuindzhi remained true to his own ideas, followed his own vision. Doing that he created scenes that touch us with their beauty.
Like these fields of light.
You can enjoy more of his work, thanks to shpngg: