Ivan Ivanovitch Shishkin 1832-1898

The first time I ever saw a Shishkin painting, (way back in 1972, I think) I was completely blown away. This was before the “fall of the wall” and the demise of communism in Europe, so it was a rare privilege to see an exhibition of landscape masterpieces from Russian museums.

I remember admiring works by Kuinji, Levitan, and Repin as well as Shishkin, but I found no reference at all to these amazing painters in any of the art history books available to me at the time.
I’ll try to dig out the catalogue from that long ago Royal Academy Exhibition, and maybe post a couple of scans.

Here’s a small and rather poor version of the Shishkin painting I saw that day:

thumbnail of The Forest of Countess Mordvinova
The Forest of Countess Mordvinova, 1891
The Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow
(Click these thumbnails to see the big images, please)

Ivan Shishkin was a member of The Itinerants, also known as The Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions.

The society was active between 1870 to about 1923. It’s difficult today to discern exactly what the aims of the original group were, because so much of Russia’s history has been hijacked and rewritten since those days.

I’m extremely fortunate to have in my possession a book published in 1974 in the USSR, called “The Itinerants” compiled and introduced by A Lebedev and published by Aurora Art Publishers of Leningrad.

The notes on the flyleaf read:

“The Society for Circulating Art Exhibitions, a major democratic association of Russian realist artists, united many progressive minded personalities of the time.

Members of the Society organised annual exhibitions in St Petersburg and Moscow, which later moved to the provincial towns.

The popularisation of painting is one of the greatest services to Russian art rendered by the Itinerants (Peredvizhniki) as these artists came to be called.

Ivan Shishkin, by Ivan Kramskoy
Ivan Shishkin, by Ivan Kramskoy, 1880

I have to admit that I secretly hero worship Shishkin to the extent that I use a cropped version of this picture as my Flickr avatar. :)

The Itinerants 1888
The Itinerants 1888

It amazes me that it was possible to assemble all these artists in the same room and photograph them behaving almost normally. They’re even wearing suits!

The next picture is one of Shishkin’s masterpieces. It’s called “The Mast Tree Grove”. (A mast tree was a particularly good specimen of pine that was suitable for making into a ship’s mast.)

The Mast Tree Grove by Ivan Shishkin

A couple of years back I was looking for Shishkin’s paintings online, and I was intrigued to find that some of the conservators at the State Russian Museum in St Petersburg had opened an art studio that offered accurate replicas of some of the paintings in the gallery.

I’m trying to imagine one of our stuffy British museums actively encouraging its conservators to open up a similar in-house studio to sell paintings to the public. It would just never happen! Go Russia! Go!

I grabbed these step by step images of one of the conservators painting a replica of Shishkin’s “The Mast Tree Grove” (They’re no longer online, so help yourself here!).

Mast Tree Grove Step 1

Mast Tree Grove Step 2

Mast Tree Grove Step 3

Mast Tree Grove Step 4

Mast Tree Grove Step 5

Mast Tree Grove Step 6

Mast Tree Grove Step 7

Mast Tree Grove Step 8

Mast Tree Grove Step 9

Mast Tree Grove Step 10

You can see a couple of other replica step by step Shishkin paintings here and here.

If you have enjoyed these woodland landscapes, you will like this couple of Shishkin paintings that I have saved at relatively high resolution for your downloading pleasure.

Unknown (to me)
Title Unknown (to me)

This picture recently came up for auction. It was sold by a family who paid Shishkin’s expenses for a trip to Germany, and Shishkin gave them this painting in exchange.

The family owned a shipping company in St Petersburg during the second half of the 19th century, up until the revolution of 1917 when the family moved to Finland.

Oaks, Evening. Study
Oaks, Evening. Study 1887

This last example allows you to see how simple Shishkin’s painting technique really was.

Here’s a link to his Artcyclopedia entry,
and a link to The Russian Museum

One I can’t recommend because of its horrible colour renderings is Olga’s Gallery, even though it has a large selection of Shishkin’s work.

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4 Comments

  1. shishkin is actually genius and very handicraft and artist
    i love artistrys shishkin

    Posted 7 February, 2008 at 7:27 am | Permalink
  2. John Fairclough

    I shall shortly have a copy of the Pan book The Itinerants pub 1982 available. In Association with AURORA ARTS, LENINGRAD. Anyone interested Email me. It includes 4 Shishkins and there’s an eerie pre-echo of Ingmar Bergman in Vasnetsov’s Knight at the Crossroads. Fascinating.

    Posted 9 December, 2008 at 8:53 pm | Permalink
  3. DMac

    That picture, “In Countess Mordvinov’s Forest” appeared in The Christian Science Monitor around 1975. I had never heard of Shishkin, but even in black and white, I was stunned by the palpable air of quiet majesty in that picture. In a beautiful book on Shishkin, published around 1980 there are many more examples of the artist’s supreme ability to render nature’s living presence.

    Posted 4 January, 2009 at 3:09 am | Permalink
  4. I first saw Shihkin’s paintings at the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow in 1957
    when I was a delegate from \Britain at the V1th world festival of youth and students. I was sixteen at the time and in spite of the fact that every day there were wonderful places to see including trips to the Bolshoi, which I did twice I went back to the Tretyakov 3 times during my stay in Moscow and always to see the Shishkin bears.

    Posted 4 August, 2014 at 5:59 pm | Permalink

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