It is improbable that more nonsense has been written about aesthetics than about anything else: the literature of the subject is not large enough for that (Clive Bell)


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Monday, February 3, 2014

Der Blaue Reiter Almanac : David Burliuk

David Burliuk, "Horses", 1908

David Burliuk, "Head" (of the artist's mother), 1910


This next essay was written by David Burliuk (1882-1967).  He may have outlived the other contributors to the Almanac by at least a decade, but he is also the least well known -  at least in America, even though he lived in the New York art world  for 45 years.  (the Met owns 2 paintings and 2 drawings - none are currently on display)

The above black-and-white reproduction was included in the Almanac -- but the original has vanished - so above it I posted a color reproduction of a painting he did in the same year -- possibly under the influence of his fellow Blue Riders.

David Burliuk, "Illustration for the Almanac, A trap for judges", 1913

I don't know whether this piece was intended for the next edition of the Almanac -- but that's what the date and title would lead one to believe.


Here is the complete text of Burliuk's  contribution:


Realism changes itself into impressionism. Remaining completely realistic in art is unthinkable. In art everything is more or less realistic. But it is impossible to found a school on the “more-or-less” principles. “More-or-less” is not aesthetics. Realism is nothing but a species of impressionism. But impressionism, i.e., life seen through the prism of an experience, is a creative form of life. My experience is a transformation of the world. Becoming absorbed in an experience leads me to creative activity. Creating is at one and the same time creating experiences and creating creations. The laws of creation are the only aesthetics of impressionism and at the same time the aesthetics of symbolism. “Impressionism is a superficial form of symbolism” (Andrei Bely).’

I don't know whether the first person pronoun appears this dramatically in the original language of this text --- but the version above is centered on "My experience"  that "leads me to creative activity".

Franz Marc's essays addressed  knowledge and the power of ideas --  Burliuk's is more about his own prodigal self.   His "laws of creation" proceed from "I am alive"


“I have no doubt that from a study of the works of Raphael or Titian a more complete set of rules can be drawn than from the works of Manet or Renoir, but the rules followed by Manet and Renoir were suited to their artistic temperaments and I happen to prefer the smallest of their paintings to all the work of those who have merely imitated the Venus of Urbino or the Madonna of the Goldfinch. Such painters are of no value to anyone because, whether we want to or not, we belong to our time and we share in its opinions, preferences, and delusions”    (Henri Matisse - "Notes of a Painter", 1908)

“A renaissance is caused not primarily by perfect works but by the power and uniformity of the ideal in a generation full of life” (Maurice Denis).

The congress of Russian artists, planned for December, must try above all to create an atmosphere necessary for such a uniformity. This objective, if it can be accomplished, will also unite the young artists who are not self-satisfied, but who search for new ways in art and prefer the ideal aims of international art to national and pecuniary interests.

A hundred years later, it seems odd that all three of these profoundly different, self-driven, creative individuals (Burliuk, Matisse, Denis) would have been so enthusiastic for "uniformity of the ideal"

Burliuk might have thought differently about such  uniformity after state terrorism enforced it in the Soviet Union.

Russian folk sculpture (possibly from collection of Kandinsky)

Art is something special. If a congress were to meet for the benefit of some technical interest—aviation, navigation, auto racing, etc—all its members would certainly admit unanimously that “we are lagging
behind other nations,” that “compared with Western Europe, Russia lags far behind.” And it would still be stated today, just as it was during the time of Peter the Great, that Western European culture should be the desirable goal for us.

Things are different in each of the spiritual disciplines and thus in painting as well. In the latter, the visible evidence of a flying airplane is lacking. Art, after all, is no Krupp cannon, which has a great deal of argumentative force. Every theoretical conceit  is silenced here. And, unfortunately, conceit is a characteristic Russian quality—the less culture, the greater this delusion. This delusion is naturally very comfortable: it eliminates the restless search, the restless creating, which are the greatest enemies of “Oblomovism.” The art critic Alexander Benois  has already observed correctly that “Russian artists distinguish themselves by a dreadful laziness—yes! Russian artists are suffering from Oblomovism —and in this case they are truly national !“

I can't follow the second paragraph at all - especially the following assertions: "Every theoretical conceit is silenced there, and unfortunately conceit is a characteristic Russian quality"

Ilya  Repin, "Ivan the Terrible", 1885
(not included in the Alamanac)

Aside from this criticism, other sad aspects of contemporary Russian painting are to be observed. The earlier leaders of the World of Art gradually reached  the deathlike silence of the Federation, which finally sank to the level of the Wanderers. (It is known that the term “Wanderer” is used today as an invective.) 
In the l890s Repin even sneered at Puvis de Chavannes and Degas, whom we find overly saccharine today. 

Ilya Repin, "Demonstration of 17 October 1905", 1911
( not included in the Almanac)

It appears that Burliuk had some difficulty organizing the variety of sometimes conflicting emotions that were swirling around in his head.  Is Repin to be disparaged along with the other Wanderers -- or to be admired for sneering at Degas and Puvis ?

Though you might notice that Burliuk has the  Wanderers disparaged here with a passive verb - so he does not take full responsibility.

It's unlikely  that Kandinsky or Marc dared  edit his manuscript -  thereby preserving  it's 'savage' quality.

(note: Repin painted the above crowd scene the same year that the Almanac was published - depicting the same enthusiastic confusion that Burliuk exemplified)

Vladimir Burliuk, portrait, 1911

This painting by Burliuk's brother was included in this section of the Almanac-- but since the original was lost, I included another portrait from the same year to show something in color:

Vladimir Burliuk, portrait of Benedikt Livshits, 1911
(not in the Almanac)

At this point the World of Art was still completely liberal, eagerly reproducing the French impressionists, whom I would call intimists. They are representatives of a sweet art without principles, of an art which lost ground and advanced only as far as the idea of exterior beauty and harmony of color spots.

Konstantin Somov, portrait of Diaghilev, 1893
(not in the Almanac)

Konstantin Somov, portrait of his father, 1897
( not in the Almanac )

Valentin Serov, portrait of Diaghilev, 1904
(not in the almanac)

As the editor notes, The World of Art   (Mir iskusstva) was a  circle of artists including, among others,  Konstantine Somov and Valentine Serov.  Sergei Diaghilev was the  chief editor of it's  magazine that he co-founded in 1899.

 This enthusiasm for French art, however, suddenly came to an end in Russia, after which there developed a movement that paralleled French painting. In the more delicate, pure, talented minds there arose a divine light and a more conscious relationship to art. Around this light an incredible dispute developed, a veritable Walpurgis Night! The academicians were joined in this dispute by groups that earlier had been, at least outwardly, in opposition to the academy.

The academic principles: “values,” coloring, belief in the “realistic,”“right” drawing, in a “harmonious” tone (these parts of the law are rejected by some, who, however, consider the rest to be holy all the same), construction, proportion, symmetry, perspective, anatomy (the rejection of these principles is most important, primary, most characteristic—not without good reason have even Cezanne and Van Gogh, if remotely, pointed to the necessity of liberation from this slavery!).

This dispute produced enough noise to drown out many troublesome questions (being asked by the thin-skinned): “Am 1 right after all?

If only we knew which paintings had provoked so  much controversy.

Is Apollo to be worshiped as I do? Is it really right to paint the same pictures year after year, only changing their names ?“ Now the game is out in the open.

The thing is so widespread, and Russian art is so far behind that Muther, for one, ignored it; but Benois “made up” for this omission. Even Maurice Denis, despite his tact, despite his more than modest encouragement, smiled rather coolly when he was shown Russian works of art.

Richard Muther (1860–1909) was a German art historian. Alexander Benois (1870-1960) was a painter, set designer, art critic, and historian.

For the followers of academic “art” the free search for beauty is nothing but “making grimaces.” A patriotic success of their “genuine” Russian art would offer them the best opportunity to put their untalented “works” on the market. They are a veritable nightmare of art, the death of art. Some of them openly bare their teeth and wear their hides with dignity. They are not the most dangerous ones. The truly evil ones are the others—the wolves in sheep’s clothing. 0 these false sheep! They are the real danger, which means—watch out!

Mikhail Larionov, self portrait, 1910

Mikhail Larionov, 1912

Mikhail Larionov, portrait of Natalia Goncharova, 1915

Natalia Goncharova, Self Portrait, 1907

Natalia Goncharova, 1911

Pavel Kuznetsov

Martiros Saryan, self portrait, 1909

Martiros Saryan, "Heat, Running Dog", 1909

Vasily Denisov, 1904

Pyotr Konchalovsky, self portrait, 1912

Pyotr  Konchalovsky, portrait of Georgy Yakulov,  1910

 Ilya Mashkov, self portrait, 1911

Ilya  Mashkov, Self Portrait with Konchalovskly, 1910

Illya Mashkov, "Two Nudes", 1908

Ilya Mashkov, Still Life with Fruit, 1910

Georgy Yakulov, "Street"

Marianne Von Werefkin, "Country Road", 1907

 Marianne Von Werefkin, "Skaters", 1910

Marianne Von Werefkin, self portrait, 1910

Alexej Von Jawlensky, self portrait, 1912

Alexej Von Jawlensky, Head in Blue, 1912

(note : none of the images of the "new art" shown above were included in the Almanac)

The academicians are the real enemies of the new art, which, fortunately, does exist in Russia and which has different basic principles.

Their representatives, Larionov, P. Kuznetsov, Saryan, Denisov, Konchalovsky, Mashkov, Goncharova, von Wisen, V. and D. Burliuk, Knabe, Yakulov, and, living abroad, Sherebtsova (Paris), Kandinsky,
Werefkin, Jawlensky (Munich), revealed in their works new principles of beauty, as did the great French masters (such as Cezanne, Van Gogh, Picasso, Derain, Le Fauconnier, and to some extent Matisse and

That's quite a list!  Only one of them, Von Wisen, has fallen into total obscurity. A piece by Gondharova currently holds the world's record auction price for paintings done by women, and Mashkov's still-life, shown above, sold in 2013,  setting an auction record  for paintings done by Russians.

I wish these artists were shown more often in American museums.

BTW - Henri Le Fauconnier has not found favor in American museums either.    I can find nothing currently on display. According to Wikipedia: At the invitation of Wassily Kandinsky, Le Fauconnier published a theoretical text in the catalog of the Neue K√ľnstlervereinigung (Munich, 1910).

Let the enemies of this art be convulsed with laughter. The disguised sheep shall favor us as they willingly favor a member of the World of Art.  There is nothing else they can do!  In order to understand the works of the artists mentioned, you have to throw the academic stuff completely overboard. Feeling must be purged, which is not so easy for those who are crammed with all sorts of “knowledge.”
It is always the same old story. Even the greatest draftsmen of the nineteenth century—Cezanne, Van Gogh—had to listen to the refrain.

Our Secessionist painters are convinced to this day that Cezanne was not a bad artist, but mainly lacked the ability to draw. (note: a few years back, I examined this issue here )

The newly discovered law of all the artists just mentioned is nothing but an upstanding tradition whose origin we find in the works of “barbaric” art: the Egyptians, Assyrians, Scythians, etc. This rediscovered tradition is the sword that smashed the chains of conventional academicism and freed art, so that in color and design (form) it could move from the darkness of slavery toward the path of bright springtime and freedom.
What we first thought to be the “clumsiness” of Cezanne and the frantic “handwriting” of Van Gogh is something greater after all: it's the revelation of new truths and new means.

And these truths and means are:

From the Papyrus of Ani, 1250 BC (not in the Almanac)

1. The relation of painting to its graphic elements, the relation of the object to the elements of plane (which we see signs of already in Egyptian “profile painting”).
2. The law of displaced construction—the new world of construction drawing! Connected with it:

I have no idea how the "law of displaced construction" may be kept or broken - or how Burliuk considered it different from the law that follows.

Mikhail Larionov, 1909 (not in the Almanac)

3. The law of free drawing (main representative: Kandinsky; also to be found in the best works of Denisov and especially clear in Larionov’s Soldiers). 

Yarulov, "Cafe Chantant", 1910 (not in Almanac) 

4. The application of several viewpoints (which in architecture has long been known as a mechanical law), the combination of perspective presentation with the basal planes, that is, the use of more planes (Yakulov’s Caf√© Chantant).
5. The treatment of the plane and its intersections (Picasso, Braque; in Russia, V. Burliuk).

6. The equilibrium of perspectives, which replaces mechanical composition.

7. The law of color dissonance (Mashkov, Konchalovsky).

Unfortunately, internet images are utterly hopeless for color - so this law of dissonance must remain a mystery to me.

And with no idea of how the other laws might be kept or broken,  they might  as well  be replaced by only one law:   the  prohibition of realistic pictorial space.

These principles are inexhaustible sources of eternal beauty. Much may be obtained here by those who have eyes to see the hidden meaning of lines, of colors. It beckons, allures, and attracts man!

Thus the chain that, because of various rules, had fettered art to the academy was shaken off: construction, symmetry (anatomy) of proportions, perspective, etc.—laws that are eventually mastered easily by the untalented—the pictorial kitchen of art!
All our expert as well as amateur critics should be the first to understand that it is high time to pull up the curtain and to open the window of true art! 

1 comment:

  1. Fantastic post. So much information. Thanks. May I ask a question? I have seen reference to Vladimir Burliuk and Natalia Goncharova being members of the Blue Rider. Do you know if this is true?