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  • Writer's pictureRomina Rosso

Contemporary Russian Art. Olga Suvorova and Igor Samsonov: Dream and Metaphor

Updated: Apr 10, 2021

Olga Suvorova, The memory of Rembrandt

There are different movements in contemporary Russian art and one of these is Symbolism.

Flourishing in the late 19th-early 20th century, symbolism aspired to convey in art intuitive insights into different realities: the reality of dream, reverie, memory, fairy tale, legend, or that of a different, higher world.

The Russian Symbolist movement spanned in three generations, from 1890 till the second decade of the twentieth century.

The most notable artists of the first generation were Alexandre Benois (1870-1960) and Konstantin Somov (1869 –1939). Painting was purely an aesthetic experience for these artists, as they worked toward creating a mood or emotion through their use of colour and traditional elements of Symbolism. Two important painters of the Symbolist Movement whose work spanned the first two generations were Mikhail Vrubel (1856-1910) and Mikhail Nesterov (1863-1942).

These two painters were the first to incorporate mystical themes, which later became the trademark of the second and third generations of Russian Symbolist painters.

Both Vrubel and Nesterov developed a series of paintings based on Russian fairy tales, which became very popular with the Russian people. Nesterov was especially interested in the religious life of old Russia and began exploring religious fables in his search for the Russian religious ideal.

Art with its credo, "Beauty will save the world", was again aspiring to beauty. Like other countries in Europe, Russia was looking for a unique national beauty and a national style with original roots reaching back to the Middle Ages and a source in folk art.

Symbolism used different styles, such as Impressionism and classicism. The impressionist element of light and air was especially suitable for the representation of the different, volatile and mysterious reality, whether the higher reality of the transcendental world, the borderline states of the psyche (like dreams, reveries, memories and visions), or the surreal atmosphere of myth, fairy tale or legend. Myth-making was one of the main objectives of Symbolism, as the poet Fyodor Sologub wrote: "I take a piece of raw and dirty life and make a legend from it, since I'm a poet."

European Symbolism had an impact on its Russian counterpart. The two had common roots, including primarily the art of the Quattrocento painters Fra Angelico, Giotto and Botticelli, and the English Pre-Raphaelites, William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, John Everett Millais, and especially "the father of Symbolism", the French painter Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

The Russian masters were attracted to those European painters whose worldview was closest to their own Russian mentality in its purity, naivety, sincerity and lyricism.

A special movement Mir Iskusstva also was born in the city that at that time was the capital of the Tsardom of Russia and the subsequent Russian Empire: Saint Petersburg.

The Mir Iskusstva (known in Europe as The World of Art) was both an art movement and art magazine that was most active for six years between 1898 and 1904. The art movement was founded in 1898 by a group of students from the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg.

These students included: Alexandre Benois, Konstantin Somov, Dmitry Filosofov, Léon Bakst and Eugene Lansere. The aim of this art movement was twofold: First, these artists wanted to address the low artistic standards of their predecessors the Wanderers. Second, the members wanted to consolidate all Neo-Romantic Russian artists under one banner. The subjects of particular interest to these artists were carnivals, dreams and fairy tales. The idea was to create the concept of painting as a magical experience. They turned their attention to the extravagant rococo world of 17th century France and Catherine the Great’s Russia, where the endlessly theatrical worlds of masquerade existed.

This style is followed by contemporary russian artists, one of the best examples is the art of Olga Suvorova.

The artist was born in Leningrad in 1966 and she is representative of the dynasty of Suvorov artists, which includes the three generations of St Petersburg artists: the Honored Artist of RSFSR Igor Suvorov (her father) with works in the Mariinskiy Theatre and in museums of St. Petersburg, Natalia (her mother) watercolourist with works in different museums in Russia and in the ex-countries of the Soviet Union and Ekaterina (her daughter) conservator in the Hermitage and painter.

In 1998 Olga Suvorova graduated from Saint-Petersburg Academy of Arts named after Ilya Repin, the workshop of A. Mylnikov.

Olga Suvorova has formed her authentic style of painting historical costume portraits of personages in the style of various periods, such as the Renaissance and Rococo. Her work is reminiscent of the popular in the 20th century Saint Petersburg artistic movement Mir Iskusstva (The World of Arts) which was inspired with the art and culture of the 18th century.

Olga Suvorova, Dance
Olga Suvorova, Dance

The central and most important part in her works are the silk costumes that are loud and iridescent, evoking the extravagance of a Venetian masquerade or opera as we can see in works as The Dance, Music and Expectation.

Olga Suvorova, Music
Olga Suvorova, Expectation

For the costumes another inspiration is the Mir Iskusstva artist Leon Bakst, especially his sketches of theatrical costumes. She used a lot of gold as Gustav Klimt who she admired for his ability to depict the interaction of gold and picturesque images of specific individuals, like in the Portrait of Adele Bloch Bauer.

Many of the paintings are self-portraits of the artist, with in her side a young boy who is her son.

The biggest influences of her creativity are the Pre-Raphaelites in the high level of performance of works.

John William Waterhouse and Edward Burne-Jones influenced her in terms of creating paintings on religious themes as in the series: The golden Annunciation and The Queen.

Olga Suvorova, The golden Annunciation
Olga Suvorova, The Queen

In all her works is possible to see her deeply admiration for the Italian Renaissance painters as we can see in the Theatre.

Olga Suvorova, Theatre

Botticelli is her favourite Italian painter, especially in his drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, who inspired her to paint Pierot’s Dream.

Olga Suvorova, Pierot's Dream

Her paintings are like theatre sceneries or secret gardens where it is possible to see a kind of melancholy but at the same time the intensity of the thoughts of the sitters. The subjects of her paintings can change but every character has a particularity, has an appeal that catch your attention to discover deepest feelings.

Her paintings are sensual, emotional and they have an enigmatic and unknown mystery that attract the viewers.

The richness of the colours, the luxury details and the choice of the subjects delight and attract the most refined art collectors in the world.

Another really interesting Russian artist is Igor Samsonov.

He was born in Voronezh, Russia in 1963. After earning a degree in mathematics from Voronezh State University, Samsonov began a job at the Institute of Research. Though he enjoyed math’s abstract side, he soon grew tired of mundane projects and routine formulas. He could no longer waste his artistic soul working a nine-to-five office job that he disliked. Inspired by Vincent van Gogh who started his painting career at 29 years old, Samsonov left his job after one year and applied to the exclusive Ilya Repin Leningrad Institute for Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture. He was accepted in 1990 and had the great opportunity to study under some of the finest painters in Russia, including Oleg Eremeev, who was a great influence on him.

From Eremeev, Samsonov learned the concept of “total art,” which says that an art piece is more than just the sum of its parts, that it must have the artist’s emotional signature. Samsonov began to understand that each painting must have a meaning, a personal message, an identity that would tell its audience, “This is a Samsonov!” He graduated from Repin in 1997.

While influenced by great masters such as Piero della Francesca, Vermeer, Bosch, Henri Rousseau, Gauguin, and Matisse, Samsonov has also developed his own unique style.

Igor Samsonov, Holy Song

His paintings show to the viewers characters depicting in sumptuous and lavish oriental dresses in party atmosphere as in the Holy Song. It is possible to see in the painting a kind of solemnity, dignity and harmony, a balanced composition and the delicate light skilfully covering all the scene.

Igor Samsonov had been deeply inspired in his art technique by the Venetian painters with their characteristic gold and green colours.

The Venetian painters of the XV centuries were influenced by two different cultures: Byzantine and Flemish/Dutch.

Igor Samsonov took in his works the majesty spiritualism of the Byzantine icons and the detailed naturalism of the Flemish and Dutch painters.

His favourite Old Master is Giotto with his beautiful and magnificent frescos in Padua and Assisi.

We can see the influence of Giotto and Flemish and Dutch artists in works as the A bird a philosopher and a warrior and Duet.

Igor Samsonov, A bird a philosopher and a warrior

In this last painting we can see also the clear influence of the symbolist Pierre Puvis de Chavannes.

Igor Samsonov, Duet

As the Italian Old Master of the Renaissance his sitters are really static in their pose but he balances it with the facial expressions, with the maniacal precision of the details of the cloths, of the locations and the narrative of his stories.

We can see it in works as Anita Maga or the portrait of Maria with Cockatoo.

Igor Samsonov, Anita Maga
Igor Samsonov, Maria with Cockatoo

One of the characteristics of Samsonov’s works are the presence of bizarre and large hats in his characters as a modernisation of the ones painted by the Flemish painters.

As the Italian Old Master of the Quattrocento, a great space in his works is dedicated to religious subjects.

Many of these traditional biblical stories are completely transformed in the hand of Samsonov who creates a unique and original styles as in the two painting of Salome.

Igor Samsonov, Salome

In the first painting the young Salome is unaware of her mother’s plan and she is sitting in this oriental banqueting. In the second painting he followed the Christian traditions that depict Salome as an icon of dangerous female seductiveness, notably in regard to the dance mentioned in the New Testament, which is thought to have had an erotic element to it, and in some later transformations it has further been iconized as the Dance of the Seven Veils. We can see her elegance in the linear movements and hidden by her pink veil the head of the Baptist placed on a dish.

Igor Samsonov, Salome

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