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Peredvizhniki – Bringing Art to the People

In an effort to break away from the restrictions imposed by Russia's Imperial Academy of Arts, in 1863 a group of fourteen art students decided to leave the Academy and form a society to independently promote art to ordinary people. Named Peredvizhniki, this society and group of artists were also referred to as The Itinerants or The Wanderers, and by 1870 the movement became the Society for Travelling Art Exhibitions, giving people far from the main cities of Russia the opportunity to view Russian art and learn to appreciate it. Between 1871 and 1923, Peredvizhniki staged up to 48 mobile exhibitions in the cities of Moscow and St Petersburg before taking the show on the road and visiting numerous other destinations including Kiev, Kazan, Kharkov, Riga, Oryol and Odessa.

Free from the rules imposed by conservative teachers at the Imperial Academy of Arts, Peredvizhniki encouraged artists to give free reign to their creativity. This they did by portraying all aspects of life, often exposing injustices and the poverty faced by people at the time. But they also captured the many aspects of relationships and the traditional way of life passed down through generations, while empathetically highlighting the emancipation movement of the Russian people. Through Peredvizhniki, ordinary people came to see both the hardships and joys of life in Russia in the 19th century. Artists from Ukraine, Latvia and Armenia also displayed their work through Peredvizhniki.

While social issues where addressed by many artists, landscapes were the primary focus for most, and with the breathtaking and diverse beauty of Russia, artists were never short of inspiration. Art has the unique ability to capture beauty at a moment in time, to be appreciated by future generations, and Peredvizhniki wanted to show ordinary people the majesty of the country they live in, with the aim of encouraging them to preserve their natural heritage. Two of the fourteen painters who established the society – Isaak Levitan and Ivan Shishkin – painted only landscapes, with Shishkin becoming known as the "singer of forests" for his portrayal of the wooded areas of Russia, while the landscapes painted by Levitan earned him a reputation for portraying the physical landscape as well as conveying the mood or atmosphere of his subject matter.

By the end of the 19th century, the influence of the society had waned, while aspects of Peredvizhniki art were adopted by the previously conservative Academy of Arts. The last Peredvizhniki exhibition was held in 1923. Nevertheless, the landscapes presented by the artists of Peredvizhniki have such a unique quality to them, that they are considered to be the symbolic personifications of Russian nationality. As such, prints of the original paintings have been made and sold at exhibitions, as well as being used in magazines, books and on picture postcards taken home and treasured as mementos of a visit to Russia.


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