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The first Armenian to graduate from the Academy of Arts in St. Petersburg was the famous seascape painter Hovhanes (Ivan) Aivazovsky, whose work is also allotted a significant place in the history of Russian art. He gained wide recognition while still a young man, being the first foreign artist to be awarded in the Le'gion d'Honneur and becoming a member of five European academies. Aivazovsky became a legend among his compatriots even during his own lifetime. His work influenced many artists, even those with different styles, for instance, French seascape artists V. Mahokyan, A. Shabanyan and Sh. Adamyan were talented followers of Aivazovsky. 

The Realism asserted by the Barbizon School and Gustave Courbet gained popularity around the world. Following in Aivazovsky's footsteps, the artists S. Nersesyan, Bashindjagyan, A. Shamshinyan and others went on to graduate from the Academy in St Petersburg. 

Among those educated in the French school of Realism, we should note S. Agadjanyan, who gained recognition for his portraits of children, and P. Terlemezyan, a man with a heroic biography who captured the inimitable beauty of Van, his native land. Products of the same school were the fine and original still-life painters Zakar Zakaryan and Hovsep Pushman, who were less well known in their native land. 

Of late 19th century artists, we should note Vartkes Surenyants, who gave history painting a place in national art, working in a style related to Art Nouveau. Egishe Tadevosyan, and after him V. Gaifedjian and others, brought Impressionism to Armenian painting. 

The most important of the graphic artists was Edgar Shahin, whose work was highly prized in France. 

At the beginning of the 20th century, Armenian culture reached a turning point, where its future development depended greatly on the cognition of its roots, on the ability to find new means of expression to assert modern national style. The revival of ancient traditions was a historic necessity for the people with such a rich cultural heritage. 

Poetry and theater experienced a great upsurge, the world of Armenian music was revealed in all its original beauty, and the wonder of medieval architecture were studied and interpreted in scholar papers. 

The Russian avant-garde also helped shape the creative personality of Georgi Yakulov, while a little later Yervand Kochar was greatly influenced by the latest tendencies in French painting. 

In 1915 the Armenian people suffered a terrible tragedy. Whilst Europe's attention was fully engaged by the First World War, a horrendous program for the destruction of the local population was put into effect in Western (Turkish) Armenia and the same fate awaited Eastern Armenia. Victory in the battle of Sardarapat, near Yerevan, in 1918 saved the last plot of Armenian land from destruction and it was here that the Armenian state was born. 

The many Armenians living in this 30,000 square kilometers of land were once more seized by great hope and they set about the recreation of their motherland with great enthusiasm. Members of the Armenian intelligentsia poured in from all over the world. The capital, Yerevan, was built up according to plans drawn up by A. Tamanyan and in the space of a few years the city gained a university, a museum of fine arts, theaters and a conservatoire. The time had come to set about the training of local artists and thus in 1924 the first art schools opened in Leninakan (now Gyumri) and Yerevan, followed in 1945 by the foundation of an art institute. 

The art of the new Armenia was a natural continuation of the colorful, vital art of Saryan. Hagop Kodjoyan turned to mythological and historical subjects, endowing them with heroic and romantic sentiment. Sedrak Arakelyan produced intimate, sincere depictions of local landscapes and traditional Armenian life, employing a delicate color range. This trend was followed by G. Ghurdjian, M. Abeghyan, M. Aslamazyan, E. Isabekyan, H. Zardarian, and others. 

At the same time, there were a number of talented Armenian artists working in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, a traditional place of residence for thousands of Armenians. Among those were, G. Grigorian (nick-named Giotto), H. Karalyan, H. Garibdjanian, and the superb painter Alexander Bajbeuk-Melikian. 

A whole galaxy of artists emerged in the Diaspora. Their art developing under a foreign sky, the artists in the Diaspora projected onto canvas their recollections of the lost childhood. Perhaps it was to be expected that the new Surrealist movement found fertile ground in their tortured souls. "I was born in Asia Minor," said the famous American writer William Saroyan, "and therefore in my head the real and the allegorical are intermixed." The results of such as intermingling were soon to become visible. One important figure in the history of Surrealism was Leon Tutundjian (France), while the founder of Abstract Surrealism was the American Arshile Gorky (Vosdanik Manuk Adoyan). Surrealism also influenced the work the superb French artist Carzou Karnik Zulumian). 

After World War II, there was a widespread tendency towards realism, with artists expressing their longing, their loneliness and depression. This also reflects in the work of the new generation of the Diaspora artists, such as a Jirayr Orakian in Italy, and Jansem (Jan-Hovanes Semerjian) in France. Hagop Hagopyan (Egypt) also worked in this mood, although he was to continue his work in his homeland later on. In Italy, the Neo-classical artist Grigor Shiltrian gained wide renown. 

In speaking of artists of the Diaspora we should remember that their work, while it belongs to their native countries' cultures, has drawn substantially from their national roots, representing the Armenian fate. This, most definitely, allows us to consider the Diaspora art an indispensable part of Armenian culture. 

At the same time, back in Armenia, as well as elsewhere in the USSR, art was going through a period of stagnation, and some kind of incentive was badly needed to save it from mediocre obscurity. In the sixties, a group of young talented artists entered the scene, breaking through the orthodox "socialist realism" dogma: O. Minassian, R. Atoyan, M. Petrossian, A. Melkonian, A. Hovanessian, V. Galstian, A. Sukiassian, R.Khatchatrian, and others. The leader of this group was Minas Avetisyan. Parallel to this there was a revival amongst artists of the previous generation: A. Bekaryan, S. Rashmadjian, A. Ananikyan, G. Khandjian, S. Mooradian and Lavinia Bajbeuk-Melikyan. Also of this generation were two repatriated artists: the fine, delicate painter Bedros Kontradjyan, who returned from France after the war, and the bright colourist Harutyun Galentz, who began his career in the Lebanon. Gayane Khachaturyan and Sergei Paradjanov were born in the same town, the colorful, inimitable Tbilisi, and the work of both is whimsical and full of fantasy. 

Today, Armenian artists continue to develop and change just as they have done throughout history. The Armenian people, as is evident, have contributed significantly to every period of world art. No doubt that they will continue to do so in the future.
 

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. Get acquainted with some of the Armenian artists of the 19th and 20th centuries. Visit these sites (external link) for an excellent collection of artwork (pictures) and the biographies of well known Armenian artists.

Armenian Embassy Washington DC at www.armeniaemb.org
ArmSite at www.armsite.com

History text courtesy of 
Armenian Embassy Washington DC

Pictures courtesy of Armscape.

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Updated 12 January 2000 ..
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