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Vasily Ivanovich Shukhaev (1887-1973)

Vasily Shukhaev (1887–1973) is a Russian painter, graphic artist, theatrical designer, film designer, decorator, teacher. Born in Moscow and in due course was awarded as an Honored Artist of Georgian SSR. A Neoclassical master of drawing and painting Shukhaev was also a professor of painting at the Academy of Arts in Leningrad and the Academy of Architecture in Moscow (1935–1937). Neoclassic painters like Vasily Shukhaev were, to a certain extent, followed a path already taken by the Pre-Raphaelites and the Nazarenes in Europe. Modern subjects are lightly stylized in their works in imitation of the painterly and plastic styles of their great predecessors.

During his seventy – year career, Shukhaev produced a large number of drawings, easel paintings, book illustrations, stage and costume designs, and frescoes. A significant number of his work have been collected by major museums and private collectors all over the world.

Vasily Ivanovich Shukhaev lived a long, complex and colorful life that fully reflects all the dramatic twists and turns of the Russian artistic intelligentsia of the twentieth century. Historical events, politics, plus certain peculiarities of the art scene of the pre- and post-revolution Russia and that of Paris between the two world wars — all the above combined in the artist’s personal life and his career alike. His art is as multifaceted as his life, ranging from portraits of World War I officers to caricatures for Vanity Fair, stage sets for plays by Vsevolod Meyerhold and (in exile) for a theater in Magadan, book illustrations, and French and Georgian landscapes.

Vasily Shukhaev’s career can be divided into several stages, each important of the artist’s formation and evolution. The places mentioned here are the places where the artist lived and worked, and some are connected with other circumstances of his biography, such as his scholarship trip abroad, exile, arrests and the Stalinist purges.

Vasily Shukhaev - Landscape (1949) - Tempera on canvas - 24,41 x 31,5

Vasily Ivanovich Shukhaev - Original Painting Available
Landscape (1949) - Georgian period, Signed by V. Shukhaev in Cyrillic
Tempera on canvas - 24,41'' x 31,5''

The Early Moscow period (to-1906)

Shukhaev’s career in art began in 1897, when as a ten-year-old orphan, he was sent by relatives to the Stroganov Central School of Technical Drawing in Moscow. Along with general subjects he studied artistic disciplines: illustration, sculpting, applied industrial drawing, technical drawing, calligraphy and the history of ornamental design. The early Moscow period shaped the future artist’s identity, especially the years at the Stroganov, it was there he found his personal and artistic influence.

The Petersburg-Petrograd period (1906-1920)
(Inclusive of a two-year scholarship trip to Italy)

At eighteen, Shukhaev graduated with a diploma giving him the right to teach drawing, technical drawing and calligraphy at secondary schools. He wishing to continue his studies though, at the Higher Art of School of the Imperial Academy of Arts in Saint Petersburg. From the Academy he was granted a two-year scholarship to study in Italy to perfect his painting technique. The student and scholarship trip years were thus the happiest and richest in Shukhaev’s life. The novice artist lived the full-fledged life of student, learned the basics of professional art, traveled and performed in experimental productions on stage. The beginning of strong friendship and creative collaboration with Alexander Yakovlev, and Shukhaev’s marriage to student artist Elena Yezhova (1887-1965), the mother of his only daughter Marina(1912-1986) were the highlights of this period.

The Period of Exile, Finland (1920)

In 1920, Shukhaev immigrated to Finland. Despite its brevity, Shukhaev’s stay in Finland was quite fruitful. He produced dozens of paintings and drawings, portraits, landscapes, still life’s and narrative compositions including Finnish Village Roofs, Winter in Finland and Rural Landscape of Finland (or Finnish Landscape with Tree. What all the landscapes have in common are elements of genre paintings: a peasant woman tossing water from a basin, a peasant man driving a cow into a cattle shed, and so on. Shukhaev’s drew the subjects for his paintings from life, including using images of nudes in an interior or landscape, as is traditional in academic painting. Such are the paintings Female Nude (Clipping Nails) (Metropolitan Museum); Nude with Wash Basin (Karalkalpak Museum of Arts, Nukus); and Morning Toilet, or Nude with Mirror (Musee du Luxembourg).

During his stay in Finland Shukhaev’s range as an artist expanded: new propensities emerged in his art, reflecting his gradual withdrawal from neo-academic pictorial techniques. His Career and confidence gained momentum in his next period, the French period, which marked a new milestone in Shukhaev’s career.

France Period (1921-1935)

In France the artist spent 14 years. Portraiture was the leading genres in Shukhaev’s painterly work during the French period. In addition to commissioned works the artist painted portraits of people from his acquaintances. Along with the portrait, the other leading type of painting Shukhaev’s worked during the French period was the landscape. But whereas before the artist had been inclined to follow the traditions of the old masters, he now had become more independent. His French period landscapes are distinguished by their well-considered compositions, generalized but simultaneously precise details, soft, airy perspectives, with a restrained color palette. Shukhaev painted landscapes mostly en plein air, but he often touched them up in the studio using photographs taken by Vera Shukhaev. Shukhaev produced an especially large number of landscapes in 1928 and 1929, when he acquired a car and the possibility to travel around the country.

Shukhaev painted most of his French landscapes in egg tempera, which has a kind of matte finish and understated color intensity.

In addition, according to artist it was more convenient for working quickly and dried without getting dusty. Like the old masters, he made tempera according to his own recipe. Most of the works completed during his stay in France are in European and American collections.

Leningrad and Moscow (1935-1937)

The French period in Shukhaev’s life and work ended in March 1935, when after much deliberation Shukhaev decided to return to Russia. Having returned to his motherland, the artist spent a mere two years working in there, it was a happy and productive stint for him, before he was arrested in 1937.

Magadan Period (1937-1947)

Arrested in 1937 for committing “crimes” stipulated in the notorious Article 58 (On the responsibility for counter-revolutionary activities) of the Soviet Criminal Code. His wife Vera Shukhaev was also illegally repressed. He was exiled and served eight years in the Kolyma labor camp (Gulag). After three years of felling trees and working in a motor pool repair shop in Nagaev Bay, he was assigned to the Gorky House of Culture in Magadan, which over time was transformed into the Magadan Theatre of Music and Drama. During the following years, he did the scenography for over thirty theatrical productions and concert programs. Vasily Shukhaev and Leonid Vegener, two leading stage designers of the Gorky Music and Drama Theatre in Magadan, had a better than usual supply of materials (this theatre was built and decorated by the prisoners, who were also its stage designers and players).Yet they were treated like all prisoners and escorted to work under guard.

His profession as an artist saved Shukhaev’s life and helped him endure the hardest of trials. Art and culture took on a variety of forms in the forced labor camps of the Gulag system that existed across the Soviet Union during the first half of the twentieth century. Theater, music, visual art, and literature played a role in camp life for many of the millions of prisoners who passed through the Gulag system.

Georgia Period (1947-1973)

“I was released in May 1945 upon completion of my sentence, but I could not get out of Magadan without the means to travel, and because, as I was working in the theater, I had unfinished work,” Shukhaev wrote about himself. It was only in 1947, after coming to an agreement with the director of the Griboedov Russian Drama Theater in Tbilisi (Georgia), that the Shukhaev’s went to Georgia. They lived there until their deaths. In Georgia, the artist was at long last rehabilitated, regained his membership in the Union of the Artists and became a professor again and at the age of seventy-five he was awarded the title of Honored Artist of the Georgian SSR. The title was bestowed for exceptional achievements in the arts in the Soviet Union.

Life was seemingly starting to turn around, but the “misfortunes did not end there”, according to Vera Shukhaev. “In 1948, we were arrested for a second time, Not for long though. We were released two months later and we stayed in Tbilisi. In 1953, something worse than arrest happened: expulsion from Tbilisi. We trudged and knocked about Georgia for several months, and then we were allowed to return.” This explains as to why the artist produced so few easel works during these years.

And yet, life in Tbilisi gradually came together for the Shukhaev’s. They began traveling in the summer to the mountain village of Tsikhisdzhvari in Borjomi District. For the artist, this place was a crucial chance to draw and paint en plein air, from nature again. Shukhaev produced a number and variety of landscapes in Tsikhisdzhvari, in terms of motifs, composition and palette. “There were intimate landscapes and monumental panoramas, restrained in terms of their palette, which subtly conveyed the light and air, in which the colors took on a vibrancy and saturation.”

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