Russian Painting: 18th Century
History, Characteristics of Portraits, Murals, Landscape Paintings.

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Princess Ekaterina Aleksandrovna
Lobanova-Rostovskaya (1754)
The Russian Museum, St Petersburg.
Portrait by Ivan Argunov.

For characteristics of art
movements, see: History of Art.
For chronological details, see:
History of Art Timeline.

Russian Painting: Eighteenth Century


18th Century Russian Art Under Elizabeth (1741-61)
I.Vishnyakov (1699-1761)
Ivan Argunov (c.1727-1797)
Anthony Losenko (1731-1773)
18th Century Russian Art Under Catherine the Great (1762-96)
British Painters in Russia
Fedor Rokotov (1735-1808)
Dmitri Levitski (1735-1822)
Vladimir Borovikovski (1757-1825)
Ivan Firsov (1733-85)
Architectural Portraiture
Landscape Painting
Simon Shchedrin (1745-1804)
Other 18th Century Russian Landscape Painters
Fedor Alekseev (1753-1824)

The Hermitage St Petersburg.
Built in 1764 by Catherine the Great.

As well as providing opportunities
to foreign painters, Tsarina Elizabeth
also gave significant support to
local Russian artists. Thus in 1757
the Imperial Academy of the Arts
was founded in St Petersburg.
This led to a strong tradition
of academic art in Russia.

Art Under Tsar Peter the Great
For the history and characteristics of sculpture and painting during the reign of Peter the Great (1686-1725), see Petrine Art. This article also reviews Russian architecture under Peter and his immediate successors (c.1686-1760).


Following the death of Peter the Great at the age of 52, Russian art entered a phase of great uncertainty. Ruling cliques headed by Catherine I (1725-7), Peter II (1727-30) and Tsarina Anna (1730-40) came and went, before Peter the Great's daughter Elizabeth (1741-61) became Empress. This triggered another period of growth for Russian culture which was sustained under Elizabeth's successor, Catherine the Great (1762-96). Eighteenth century painting in Russia was dominated by decorative works, especially mural painting, and portrait art. Architectural portraiture and topographical landscapes appeared later in the century, as did early forms of landscape proper, as well as cityscapes. With some notable and important exceptions, Russian artists during the 18th century lagged behind their western counterparts. Despite this, huge artistic progress was made, which led directly to the magnificent achievements of 19th century Russian painting.

For earlier movements, see: Russian Medieval Painting (c.950-1100) and Novgorod School of Icon Painting (1100-1500).

Portrait of E. N. Khruschova and
Princess E. N. Khovanskaya (1773)
The Russian Museum, St Petersburg.
By Dmitri Levitski.

For top creative practitioners, see:
Best Artists of All Time.
For the greatest portraitists
see: Best Portrait Artists.
For the greatest genre-painting, see:
Best Genre Painters.

For details of eighteenth century
3-D art, see: Russian Sculpture.

18th Century Russian Art Under Elizabeth (1741-61)

During Elizabeth's reign, with the exception of portraiture, painting and sculpture continued to serve as appendages of architecture and interior decoration. In fact the majority of paintings of the period were a form of decorative art, intended as embellishments for ceilings and walls, while sculptures were in the main designed to adorn gardens and parks. Secular works greatly outnumbered examples of Christian art, in keeping with the new mood of scientific and philosophical enquiry. Most of the decorative paintings executed for the Empress were the work of Italians, such as Valeriani, Perezinotti, Borozzi and Torelli. The role of Russian artists was typically confined to that of assisting the principals. Even the most famous, such as the brothers Alexis (1720-1796), Efim (1730-1778) and Ivan (1732-1784) Belski and John and Ivan Firsov (active c.1740-1750), worked in accordance with the instructions of the Italians. Furthermore, ceiling decorations were usually executed on canvas, and this practice enabled the Empress to follow Peter the Great's habit of commissioning paintings from eminent Western artists, who executed the work at home without having to visit Russia. The ceiling painted by Tiepolo for the palace at Oranienbaum was the finest of these importations; in conformity with the taste of the age its subject was allegorical. Like the palace, it is reported to have been destroyed by the German troops before their retreat in 1943. Earlier in the century scenes of gods and goddesses at play extending over the entire ceiling were the fashion, but towards the middle of the century more abstract decorative designs began to come into favour, both as far as imports were concerned and when the work was executed locally.



The painted panels on the walls, above the doors and between the windows, were usually the work of the artist who had been responsible for the ceiling, and their subjects were complementary to the larger scheme of the ceiling. When the rooms formed long interconnecting suites, perspective painting was especially in favour, for it helped to carry the eye forward from panel to panel and from room to room. The panels were in turn reflected in the looking-glasses which were so popular, so that the vista unfolding ahead was amplified and multiplied indefinitely. Much work of this type was executed by Carlo Bibiena Galli in the style of his illustrious grandfather, Ferdinando Bibiena Galli.

Like the decorative paintings, portraiture was also frequently entrusted to foreign artists; Groot, Lagrenais the elder and Torelli were the most important figures. As the century proceeded, however, the demand for portraits developed and the number of Russian portrait-painters increased. Most of them still continued to paint in a semi-iconographic style reminiscent of the seventeenth-century Moscow school of painting than to the new style of Matveev, and they were as a result overshadowed by the foreigners. Four Russian painters did nevertheless continue in the line traced by Matveev and Nikitin in their striving after realism and naturalism, and they succeeded in producing work of a certain quality.

I.Vishnyakov (1699-1761)

The earliest of the four, I.Vishnyakov, executed his most important works between 1730 and 1740. Yet, although a pupil of Caravaggio, he was unable to break completely free from the iconographic tradition. His pupil, Alexis Antropov (1716-1795), was at first similarly hampered, but he later emerged as a really gifted portrait-painter with a clear-cut and definite style of his own. However, his directness made him unpopular at Court, and he had for a time to earn his living in Kiev as a decorator. Several of the early portraits he executed there survive. They are rather naive, and their somewhat crude colouring is reminiscent of folk art, but the likenesses seem striking, and since most of the people who sat for him were clerics, his rather iconic style was not wholly unsuited to his subject. Later Antropov moved to St. Petersburg, where he developed a more subtle sense of colour. The delicate pastel shades of these works mark a great advance, but the paintings lack depth, for Antropov remained content with catching a physical likeness without attempting to depict the character or spirit of the sitter. Though in a greater painter this would have been a fault, it gives the works of Antropov a certain simple honesty which enhances its value in comparison with the more skilled and sophisticated, yet less genuine and sincere canvases of Western portraitists at work in Russia. Antropov's Portrait of Peter III (1762), which permits the Tsar's degeneracy to appear regardless of his imperial trappings, is a far more interesting and revealing document than the conventional portraits painted by the more sycophantic if more skilled foreigners. It is, however, hardly surprising that its frankness should have failed to reinstate Antropov to imperial favour.

Ivan Argunov (c.1727-1797)

Ivan Argunov, a brother of the architect, and likewise a serf, was also first hampered by the icon-painting tradition, but he quickly broke free of it, and attracted much attention as a painter owing to his skill in reproducing the texture of fabrics. He was particularly fond of detail, and paid much attention to the painting of hands, but in addition he was able to convey a realistic, frank and sincere impression of his sitters. The plain good-natured face of his wife, incongruously appearing above her fashionable dress, is characteristic of Argunov's holiest approach, as well as of the kindliness which removed any hurt from his frankness. Similarly pleasing is his painting of a peasant girl, produced in 1784, when Argunov was quite an old man. It is charming in its ingenuity and assumes an important place in the history of Russian painting, since it was the first painting of a peasant girl wearing her national dress. This was a new departure for Russian art, which had concentrated in turn upon icons, religious or classical subjects and portraits, and had so far overlooked the peasantry. It had a considerable influence on Argunov's pupils and immediate followers, and eventually served as a spring-board for the large group of nineteenth-century Russian genre-painters.

Anthony Losenko (1731-1773)

The most important of Argunov's pupils was Anthony Losenko, who became the leader of a group of painters which included men like Cyril Golovachevski (1735-1823) and Sablukov, and probably also Firsov. Although nothing is as yet known of the latter, his only surviving picture, showing a portrait-painter at work, is so imbued with Losenko's spirit that it was until recently attributed to him. Losenko was an excellent technician. Like Argunov, he showed a great interest in the texture and detail of clothes, but he also knew how to construct his pictures, how to give them depth and how to present his sitters to their best advantage. He had a good eye for colour, but was perhaps over-predisposed to shades of green-gold. His portraits of women are inclined to be a little mannered, but although they lack Western refinement, they are nevertheless far more sophisticated and elegant than the paintings of any of his Russian predecessors. They retain an essentially Russian intimacy, and in addition to catching a physical likeness, they strive to portray some of the psychology of the sitter. Losenko's Portrait of an Actor is a vital and original work; it is the first character-study in Russian art. It was perhaps a misfortune that Losenko won a travelling scholarship which took him to France, for whilst in Paris he lost interest in portraiture, a branch of painting in which he might easily have excelled, and turned to history painting. In this genre he adopted a formal, mock-heroic manner, one alien both to himself and to Russian art. Its effect on young painters of Catherine's era was, as we shall see, considerable.

18th Century Russian Art Under Catherine the Great (1762-96)

During the latter half of the 18th century, Russian painters extended their range, adding views of houses and landscapes to their portraits of people. They also experimented with genre painting and additional forms of historical pictures. At the same time, however, they devoted increasing attention to portrait paintings and to interior decoration, in both of which they achieved major successes, perhaps because these were the two branches of art with which they had familiarized themselves most closely during the past century. In portraiture their achievements were so great that some of their finest pictures can hold their own with those of Joshua Reynolds (1723-92) and Thomas Gainsborough (1727-88). This comparison is, moreover, not fortuitous, for the spirit of the Russian works appears quite closely akin to that of eighteenth-century English figurative painting. The resemblance must, however, have been accidental, and not due to any contacts, since most eighteenth-century Russians were completely ignorant of contemporary English painting. The similarity should therefore be ascribed to a like outlook and manner of living by the gentry of both countries, as well as to the influence of the same proto-types on the art of both.


British Painters in Russia

Apart from Alexander Cozens (c.1717-86), there were four English painters who worked in Russia in the eighteenth century. Of these, Richard Brompton (1734-82) had been a pupil of the eminent Richard Wilson (1713-82) and of Anton Raphael Mengs (1728-79), though he painted in the manner of Reynolds, He might thus have influenced the subsequent development of Russian painting, but his work was of such poor quality that it was not valued in Russia, though he worked there from 1778 till his death in that country.

Of the others, John Augustus Atkinson (1770-1831), who at the age of fourteen accompanied James Walker, his distinguished future father-in-law, to Russia, was a topographical water-colourist; if he exercised any influence, it can but have been in this particular field. John Walker, the engraver's son, worked in Russia around 1800, and was appreciated mainly in St. Petersburg for his lush landscapes and somewhat unconvincing historical pictures. Finally, Edward Miles, who went to Russia in 1797 to paint the Imperial family, produced only indifferent, work and had no influence on the development of Russian painting.

Regardless of this paucity of intercourse and apparent lack of influence the finest mid and late eighteenth-century Russian portraits have the same grace, the same restfulness and assurance, the same freshness and spontaneity as their best English contemporaries. They have, too, something of the elegance of France, but lack the affectedness of that school. Above all, they are characterized by an essentially Russian sincerity, as well as by the vitality so often found in a young school of painting.

Fedor Rokotov (1735-1808)

Fedor Rokotov was an outstanding painter of his day. He studied under Claude Lorrain and Rotari, and greatly admired Toquet. From quite an early age he proved himself as good an observer of character as he was a colourist and technician. As a result his first major work - a painting of the young Grand Duke Paul, executed in silver and grey - is not only elegant and vital, but is also an interesting and convincing portrait. Catherine the Great was so impressed by it that she decided to sit in person for Rokotov, though she had never honoured any previous artist in this way. Her portrait, dated to 1763, is a three-quarter length composition, showing her in profile. Although her head is imperiously raised and her hand holds the sceptre, there is less formality and more individuality in this picture than was usual in royal portraits at that time, and the deep reds and greens, which Rokotov introduced, serve to emphasize Catherine's vitality rather than to accentuate her sovereignty. The portrait pleased the Empress and - had Rokotov wished it - he could have made his career as a Court painter, but, with characteristic integrity, he chose to abandon St. Petersburg for Moscow, where he could work unhampered by etiquette. There he developed an essentially psychological approach, concentrating mainly on the portraits of women. His study of a Lady in Pink is typical of his fully developed work; it is as much an honour to his brush as an act of homage to Russian girlhood. Just as Pushkin was to extol Russian womanhood in his Tatiana, and Tolstoy to depict girlhood at its most delightful in his enchanting Natasha, so did Rokotov seek to immortalize the ideal debutante. He shows her to us as confiding yet adventurous, pliant yet determined, a girl such as Jane Austen would have pounced on for a heroine. In a less sincere artist the fragility of her face, the elongation of her eyes, her mysterious smile, might well have degenerated into a mannerism. But this never happened with Rokotov, and the picture, so imbued with the girl's personal life, with her curiosity, her confidence in the future and her naive coquetry, reveals the understanding and grace with which Rokotov approached his sitters.

Dmitri Levitski (1735-1822)

Rokotov's contemporary, Dmitri Levitski, is again an artist of European stature, and in Russia his genius dominated his contemporaries. His father, an engraver attached to the Monastery of the Caves at Kiev, gave him his first lessons, and when Antropov visited Kiev in 1752 young Levitski scrounged a few additional lessons from him. Later he moved to St. Petersburg, where he studied for two years (1758-1760) under Lagrenais, Valeriani and Antropov. This, however, did not alter the nature of his very individual approach or his personal conception of the portrait-painter's functions; he was largely a self-formed painter, and his manner remained strongly realist and essentially Russian.

Unlike many Russians, Levitski had a gay temperament, and his sense of humour verged at times on ridicule. The edge of his wit was, however, always blunted by kindliness and a sense of fun, and his good nature invests even his most formal portraits with a winning humanism. He was perhaps because of this, more perceptive, more versatile and more accomplished than Rokotov, and was able to produce successful results to some extent regardless of his sitters, whereas Rokotov was more subject to their personal appeal. Levitski's sensitivity enabled him to understand his subjects, even if their appearance or character was unsympathetic to him. As a result he not only tried what many artists would have shirked, but also generally succeeded brilliantly. This power is well to the fore in his series of portraits of Schoolgirls of the Smolny Institute - Catherine's St. Cyr - which he painted for the Empress. In these canvases Levitski admirably expressed the girls' charm and gawkiness, their childishness and their dawning maturity. Whether pretty or plain, the girls are all alive, and all the paintings show deep appreciation of character. All the girls are painted full length and life size, posing either against a curtain or before a landscape. The younger ones are represented either dancing or at play, the older ones reading or playing a musical instrument. The artist's delight in their exuberant gaiety did not blind him to their immaturity, their careful schooling could not succeed in obscuring their individuality from him.

Similar insight illuminates Levitski's Portrait of Count V.Demidov. This is a deliciously light-hearted and penetrating study. The great magnate stands in front of two pillars, pointing with satisfaction at two rather mediocre plants which he has presumably grown himself, since he leans upon a watering-can. The height of the pillars and the magnificence of the mansion seen in the distance detract considerably from the impressiveness of this horticultural achievement; but since Demidov's clothes are no more suited to his pastime than those worn by Gainsborough's Mr. and Mrs. Andrews when they walked amidst the corn, Demidov's rusticity need be taken no more seriously than theirs. His deprecating smile suggests that he is not even himself deluded by it.

Levitski's Portrait of Diderot, painted in Geneva in 1773, shows him in a more serious vein. The great thinker's sensitive mouth and penetrating eyes are particularly forceful and convey a more penetrating realization of his character than the portraits of him by others. Diderot was probably aware of this, for he made a special point in his will of bequeathing this picture to his daughter. Today it hangs in the museum at Geneva. Many of Levitski's other portraits - such, for example, as those of his father and of the architect Kokorinov - do not fall short of the high standard he attained when painting Diderot.

Levitski was probably the first Russian painter whom his countrymen considered the equal of foreign artists. Even so, they thought of him merely as a fashionable painter, and failed to realize that his humanism, his gaiety and his instinctive recognition of essentials gave his work wider and more lasting significance. These characteristics were present even when his work was clearly prescribed by convention, as, for example, in his first portrait of the Empress. Thus, although Catherine's expression is aloof, she appears without any imperial trappings, and her femininity is stressed by her antique robe, which clings to the figure, instead of falling loosely from her shoulders. She is, in fact, represented more as a queen-mother than a spinster sovereign.

Vladimir Borovikovski (1757-1825)

This conception of Catherine was carried still farther by Vladimir Borovikovski, who painted a full-length portrait of her as a benign old lady taking her dog for a walk in her park. The painter seems to take more interest in the stateliness of her surroundings and in the obelisk which the Empress had raised as a tribute to Razumovski than in her rank. Just as Queen Victoria wished, some eighty years later, to be thought of as a dear old lady, so Catherine appears as one here, but as seen by a romantic artist, not as sentimentalized by middle-class propriety. An earlier portrait of Catherine represents Borovikovsky's first attempt at easel-painting, and serves as evidence of his extraordinary ability.

Borovikovski's history was curious. He was born in the charming Ukrainian town of Mirgorod in a family of icon-painters, and, like his father, his uncle and his three younger brothers, he, too, started work in that vein. When Catherine set out in 1787 on her journey across Russia to visit her newly won Crimean territory, Potemkin arranged for special houses, most of them temporary constructions and some mere camouflage, to be erected along the route she was to travel. Those in which she halted for the night were elaborately decorated. It fell to Vladimir Borovikovski to paint the murals of the structure in which Catherine was to halt in the town of Kremenchug. In one of its rooms Borovikovski painted a mural showing Peter the Great ploughing, followed by Catherine sowing, with two winged genii, her nephews Alexander and Constantine, hovering in the sky. Catherine was so enchanted with the allegory that she invited Borovikovski to come to St. Petersburg, both to perfect himself in his painting by studying at the Academy, and to take up the profession of portrait-painter. Borovikovski excelled in this sphere. His Petersburgian work was permeated by his romantic outlook, which revealed itself in his preoccupation with sentiment, and an interest in the general as opposed to the particular. He thus established a new departure in Russian painting, which had so far been concerned first with realism, then with character.

The majority of Borovikovski's pictures are of women. As women tend to be more impressionable than men, it is natural that Borovikovski, as a true romantic, should have favoured them as sitters. His romanticism is clearly to be seen in the Portrait of Princess Lopukhina - one of his finest works. If compared with one of Levitski's Smolny schoolgirls, it is at once obvious that Borovikovski, regardless of the success he always achieved in catching a likeness, actually conveyed current emotions rather than the individual's real attitude to life. Borovikovski's Princess Lopukhina is thus definitely a young lady of the 1800s, redolent of all the dreaminess and sensitivity, of her period, but lacking individual characteristics. Levitski could never have painted her in this way as a period piece; Borovikovski could not dissociate her from her age and the set she moved in. Nevertheless, there is more than the stereotype about her and her irrepressible smile and her gentle flirtatiousness are all her own, even if the pose Borovikovski chose for her and the feelings he set out to emphasize are characteristic of her day rather than of herself.

Mention has already been made of Anthony Losenko's early work as a portraitist. He was also important however as the creator of historical pictures, dealing with scenes from Russia's past as well as with classical subjects from ancient Greece. These works attracted considerable attention in St. Petersburg in their day, and Losenko can be considered the first Russian academician to paint historical themes.

The late 18th century Russian painters Peter Sokolov (1752-1791), Ivan Akimov (1754-1814) and Gregory Ugryumov (1764-1823) followed in Losenko's wake, helping to establish the style he had evolved. Like Losenko, they painted in a manner which scarcely differs from the works of inferior academicians of Western origin. A whole group of followers worked in the same style.

Losenko was also noted for his pencil drawings of genre scenes, which were both more important as regards their influence on the future of Russian art and more valuable in themselves. Unfortunately he produced only a very few of them. They show all the sincerity lacking in his historical reconstructions, and are finer technically, for Losenko's powers of quick observation enabled him to sketch what he saw with rare economy of line; his pencil-strokes vividly convey both the idiosyncrasies of his subjects and the texture of their costumes. His sketch of a group of tourists attending a guide's talk about Rome in various stages of polite boredom and fatigue is unrivalled, and his Russian sketches in the same vein link him, in painting, to Count Fedor Tolstoy, and in literature to Anton Chekhov.

Ivan Firsov

Another painter of quality was Ivan Firsov, who is thought to have studied in Paris from 1748 to 1756. He is at present known to us by one work only, which was ascribed to Losenko until recent cleaning disclosed Firsov's signature. The style suggests that Firsov was strongly influenced by Losenko's genre-sketches, or that both artists came under the same influence when they were in France. Whatever the source of inspiration, this canvas, where we see a young artist engrossed in painting the portrait of a little girl, is the first truly intimate picture in Russian art, and over a hundred years were to elapse before a like success was once more to be achieved in the same vein by Valentin Serov (1865–1911). In Firsov's picture the little girl, tired of posing, leans wearily against her mother; the young painter sits with his back to the spectator. Firsov relied on his matted hair to convey the intensity with which he concentrates on his work. The triangle formed by his easel carries the eye to the pictures on the wall of the studio and to the vaguely Chardinesque still life on the table, and serves both to draw the composition together, and to dissociate the boy from the woman and child sufficiently for us to realize that each group is a fine psychological study, the one in concentration, the other in parental relationship. This is the first complex picture in westernized Russian painting, for it is complex both in composition and in psychological insight. Its exceedingly competent execution suggests that Russian painting would have rapidly matured, producing superb results long before the end of the nineteenth century, had not politics intervened to deflect it from its natural course.

Architectural Portraiture

It is thanks to Russia's devotion to architecture during the earlier part of the eighteenth century that there grew up a new type of pictorial art - that of architectural portraiture. Pictures whose principal subject-matter is architectural are as characteristic of Russia as the conversation piece or topographical landscapes are of England. The earliest painters in this vein - men such as Alexis Zubov, who was employed in the Palace of Arms Studios in 1690 - were principally concerned with leaving for posterity a complete pictorial record of the cities in which they worked. Zubov thus produced a full series of views of St. Petersburg before he died, while another, Michael Makhaev (1716-60), left numerous engravings of St. Petersburg and Moscow. Makhaev was a pupil first of Valeriani and then of two Russian masters of engraving, Ivan Sokolov and Kachalov. Although both he and Zubov dotted human figures about their pictures, they must be considered primarily as topographers. The younger generation of painters who followed in their steps should, however, be regarded as more than this, for instead of simply recording a town's lay-out, they painted the portraits of their surroundings with spirit and vivacity.


The earlier painters of this group were particularly fascinated by parks, the later by specific palaces and houses. At first both found their main outlet in executing interior decorations, for towards the 1770s architectural scenes had begun to oust classical deities from painted walls and over-doors. These compositions were composed in accordance with Pannini's precepts and groups of ruins with truncated columns figured prominently in such mural painting. Perezinotti and Alexis Belski excelled in painting them, and many such decorations in the imperial residences in and around St. Petersburg are to be assigned to them. Gradually the problem of setting such ruins in a suitable and natural landscape brought about an appreciation of scenery in and for itself, and before very long the landscapes became as important as the columns, the complete houses as essential as the ruins, and there grew up with it an interest in the Russian countryside as opposed to the original Italian or Aegean setting.

For the greatest view painters, see: Best Landcape Artists.

Simon Shchedrin (1745-1804)

At this date, landscape painting was not as yet taught at the St. Petersburg Academy of Fine Arts. Had it been, landscape art in Russia would probably have instantly acquired the naturalism that characterized it in Europe, instead of evolving as it did gradually by way of formalism. Thus the first Russian landscape-painter, Simon Shchedrin, was really what one may term a primitive portraitist of scenery, with all the formalism of an early Holbein.

Shchedrin partly owed his experience as a landscape-painter to study abroad, and was partly self-taught. In later life he became the first teacher of landscape-painting in the St. Petersburg Academy. Before that, he was Court painter to Paul. Most of the work which he executed during this period was intended as decoration for the palaces of Gatchina and Pavlovsk; indeed, it was particularly successful in this, filling the allocated spaces above doors and between windows with particular success. These paintings were primarily devised to please Paul's wife, and consisted of views of the exteriors of these palaces and of the Empress's favourite walks in the English parks which were just growing to maturity around them. The panels reflected a peaceful, dreamy atmosphere, which was particularly sympathetic and delightful. As a concession to the decorative artist's tradition, the palaces were often shown in perspective, sometimes with people in the half-distance, with their backs turned to the spectator, but the quality of the work, the sensitive rendering of Nature in her various moods was that of accomplished painting, and the scenes were more than first-rate decoration; they were also lovely pictures which could hold their own in any gallery. Shchedrin was, in fact, as sensitive to scenery as was Levitski to people, and he must be ranked alongside Levitski as one of Russia's most outstanding painters of the 18th century.

Other 18th Century Russian Landscape Painters

Shchedrin's contemporary, Michael Ivanov (1748-1823), ended as a landscape-painter, though he began as a war artist. Chance had sent him in the wake of the army to the Crimea in the 1780s to record the battles which the Russians were waging against the Turks. Once there, he seems to have been thrilled by the sight of some of the finest scenery in the world, and to have as a result turned his main energies to portraying Nature. In doing so Ivanov eschewed all formalism, as well as all architectural appendages and decorative embellishments, and concentrated on Nature in the most natural aspects, proving himself a true disciple of Rousseau's teaching, though one who was doubtless converted quite independently.

The architect Andrew Voronykhin (1759-1814) also did quite a lot of work as a painter. His pictures stand half-way between Shchedrin's and Ivanov's. Unlike the majority of his contemporaries, who elected to follow Ivanov in the pursuit of naturalism, Voronykhin preferred scenery which had been moulded by man and, perhaps because of his profession of architect, he liked it all the more if it contained a house, more particularly if it were one he had himself built! His oil painting of the villa which he built for Count Stroganov on the large Neva river in St. Petersburg (1795-1796) affords a very delightful example of his work.

Fedor Matveev (1758-1826) and Fedor Alekseev (1753-1824) were also fine landscape-painters, attaining greater lushness than either Shchedrin or Voronykhin. Matveev's romanticism was affected by his admiration of Nicolas Poussin, and he invariably included an arresting object, such as a waterfall or ancient ruin, as the nucleus of a picture. Yet his painting of sky, air and vegetation is limpid, direct and truly poetic.

Fedor Alekseev (1753-1824)

Alekseev was less dramatic, and more ready to accept scenery of a less spectacular kind. In fact he was clearly more influenced by the delicate responsiveness of Canaletto, whose work he greatly admired, than by Poussin. He had spent some years in Venice, a city quite similar to St. Petersburg, and the influence of that city, combined with his innate appreciation of decorative aesthetics, greatly affected the development of his style. He was, in fact, appointed "decorator" to the Imperial theatres in St. Petersburg. During the tenure of this office he painted his loveliest landscapes, or rather city-scapes, for they have for their subject St. Petersburg. Like Pushkin, Alekseev was obsessed by St. Petersburg's beauty, by the magnificent sweep of its great river Neva, by its stately streets and squares, by its glorious buildings, its quiet canals, its limpid atmosphere and the curling transparency of its mists. He painted the city with the same adoration as did Alexander Benois (1870-1960) early in the twentieth century, and the work of both is equally outstanding.

So successful were Alekseev's views of St. Petersburg that in 1802 he was sent to Moscow to record the more picturesque aspects of that town, interest in which had begun to revive with the turn of the century. As he had to work there in the dual capacity of topographer and artist, and could not entirely follow his own desires, this series of pictures is more exact and detailed, less poetic than that of St. Petersburg. In both, however, Alekseev appears as a realist, even if a romantic one, and sets the standard for a whole series of late painters, of whom Ivan Shishkin (1832-1898), Arkhip Kuindzhi (1842-1910) and Vasily Polenov (1844-1927) were among the most important. Their work was exact and accurate, and not devoid of sensitivity, though lacking the white heat of genuine inspiration. Nevertheless their pictures served as a spring-board for the development of Russian Painting in the 19th-Century, exemplified by such magnificent painters as Isaac Levitan (1860-1900) and Valentin Serov (1865-1911). See also: Famous Landscape paintings.

Works of 18th century Russian painting can be seen in the best art museums across Russia, including the Hermitage (St Petersburg), Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts (Moscow) and the Tretyakov Gallery (Moscow), among many others.

• For the characteristics of important 18th century pictures, see: Famous Paintings Analyzed.
• For information about Russian painting and sculpture, see: Homepage.

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