Wednesday, July 14, 2010

A lesson from Ivan Shishkin

Shishkin is my favorite Russian painter. He is roughly of the same era as our Luminist painters and there is a similarity in their work. A reader from England e-mailed me this image,and I am excited to show it to you. The painting is unfinished, that gives a peek into his working methods. Here's what I see.

He was known to do heavily rendered paintings outside. I have a friend who lives in that area of Russia and told me what may be part of Ivan's secret. It stays light in the summer there halfway through the night. That would be a big advantage to a landscape painter doing tight rendering.

Looking at the painting a number of things are noticeable. I believe I will load up a few bullets and blaze away at it.

  • Shishkin is working from left to right, which is a bit unusual today, but wouldn't have been particularly unusual in that day.
  • He probably had a pencil or charcoal drawing made on location, but this may have been done on location as well. This is an academic and not an impressionist painting.
  • He has painted the foliage in and then is going back into it with a darkened sky not.That is a little different, but logical. He gets those big masses in and maintains them, drilling decorative patterns of holes through them with that sky note.
  • Shiskin has painted the lights with that yellow green so the whole painting is tied together by that unifying note. It also is a very effective color for showing the sunlight.
  • His shadows are painted a warm violet which is the compliment of that color in the light.
  • He is working on a white ground with no tone over it, "rub in" or underpainting.
  • Each of the two big trees has another leaning to the right behind it. That gives a rhythmic flair to the painting.
  • The tree on the left and the top part of the tree on the right are placed against a dark background. That makes them pop. The contrast between that dark and the illuminated trunks really takes our eye to that area. That is a tonal climax, that is the lightest light and the darkest dark are placed together at the center of interest. That's a handy trick to know.
  • Most of the lines in the painting carry the viewer up and to the right, giving as rising buoyant feeling to this sunny painting.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for those interesting observations, Shishkin is a fascinating painter. I wonder, what are your thoughts on the changes he made between this study and the final work?

Lucy said...

Thank you for introducing this artist. I've never heard of him. Just saw a u tube video of his work. Beautiful.
Is the technique about filling in a drawing in one or two layers? and, by not impressionist do you refer to palette or procedure? It looks like mostly earth tones. I wonder if he was working around the same time as Timkov. In any case it's great to contemplate and always nice to see unfinished works.

billspaintingmn said...

Good analysis Stape! I discovered Ivan recently and wondered how he got such realisim. Your bullets have helped diagnose his approach.
Much poety in this!(With a dash of mystery)

Jim Nolan said...

The green on the trees, leaves, and grass has an evenness of colour. Do you think Shishkin did this with a glaze?

Philip Koch said...

Shishkin rocks!

My mother's second husband (after my dad died) was a very difficult man who grew up in Latvia. About the only nice thing I have to say about him is that he told me about Shishkin's paintings. I looked Shishkin up at my school's art library (this was way before internet) and was amazed that I'd never heard of this artist. He can be extremely good.

French Impressionism tends to get the spotlight, but there were many many excellent painters out there in the late 19th and early 20th century. One of the great pleasures is discovering them.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Thanks, I used that in the blog tonight.

Stapleton Kearns said...

By impressionist I mean philosophy. If you search my archives (white box on the upper left) under impressionism you will find a definition thereof.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Bullets are a a great way to organize things. Someone in the comments originally asked for them and I stuck with the things. I like that they have such a warlike name. Sounds tough.

Stapleton Kearns said...


Shiskin is one of my favorite landscape painters and not much known in the states. Latvia however is even less well known.

Stapleton Kearns said...

I think that the grass etc is probably not a glaze. Generally a glaze effects a layer of paint or and underpainting already applied and dry.

Dot Courson said...

Good to read again... I've had fun tonight reading your blog and tweeting your neck tattoo suggestions at @DotCoursonArt. Waiting on Santa in a pre Christmas lull here in Mississippi........Merry Christmas, Stape!