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.
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.
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
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.
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).
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.