Peredvizhniki 1870 – 1890

Peredvizhniki, often called The Wanderers or The Itinerants in English, were a group of Russian realist artists who formed an artists’ cooperative in protest of academic restrictions; it evolved into the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions in 1870

In 1863 a group of fourteen students decided to leave The Imperial Academy of Arts The students found the rules of the Academy constraining; the teachers were conservative and there was a strict separation between high and low art In an effort to bring art to the people, the students formed an independent artistic society; The Petersburg Cooperative of Artists (Artel) In 1870, this organization was largely succeeded by the Association of Travelling Art Exhibits (Peredvizhniki) to give people from the provinces a chance to follow the achievements of Russian Art, and to teach people to appreciate art The society maintained independence from state support and brought the art, which illustrated the contemporary life of the people from Moscow and Saint Petersburg, to the provinces

From 1871 to 1923, the society arranged 48 mobile exhibitions in St Petersburg and Moscow, after which they were shown in Kiev, Kharkov, Kazan, Oryol, Riga, Odessa and other cities

Peredvizhniki were influenced by the public views of the literary critics Vissarion Belinsky and Nikolai Chernyshevsky, both of whom espoused liberal ideas Belinsky thought that literature and art should attribute a social and moral responsibility Like most Slavophiles, Chernyshevsky ardently supported the emancipation of serfs, which was finally realized in the reform of 1861 He viewed press censorship, serfdom, and capital punishment as Western influences Because of his political activism, officials prohibited publication of any of his writing, including his dissertation; but it eventually found its way to the artworld of nineteenth-century Russia In 1863, almost immediately after the emancipation of serfs, Chernyshevsky’s goals were realized with the help of Peredvizhniki, who took the pervasive Slavophile-populist idea that Russia had a distinguishable, modest, inner beauty of its own and worked out how to display it on canvas

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Peredvizhniki portrayed the many-sided aspects of social life, often critical of inequities and injustices But their art showed not only poverty but also the beauty of the folk way of life; not only suffering but also fortitude and strength of characters Peredvizhniki condemned the Russian aristocratic orders and autocratic government in their humanistic art They portrayed the emancipation movement of Russian people with empathy (The Arrest of Propagandist; Refuse from Confession; Not Expected by Ilya Yefimovich Repin) They portrayed social-urban life, and later used historic art to depict the common people (The Morning of the Execution of Streltsy by Vasily Surikov)

Landscape painting flourished in the 1870s and 1880s Peredvizhniki painted mainly landscapes; some, like Polenov, used plein air technique Two painters, Ivan Shishkin and Isaak Levitan, painted only landscapes of Russia Shishkin is still considered to be the Russian “Singer of forest”, while Levitan’s landscapes are famous for their intense moods The Russian landscape gained importance as a national icon after Peredvizhniki

Even though the number of travelling exhibition visitors from the provinces was increasing during the years, the main audience was the urban elite Local photographers created the first reproductions of Peredvizhniki’s paintings, which helped popularize the works and could be bought at exhibitions The Niva magazine also published illustrated articles about the exhibitions Since 1898 the landscapes of the society have been used in the postcard industry Various books of poems were published with the illustrations of landscapes Ordinary Russian people at that time could not afford to go to Moscow or Saint Petersburg, so popularization of Russian art made them familiar with a number of Russian art masterpieces Even now publishers use the reproductions in textbooks as a visual icon of national identity