Trans Eurasia travel

Your virtual guide to Eurasia! Let's travel together!


Russian expansionism into Armenia and subsequent greater contact with western European painting greatly influenced the development of Armenian realistic painting in the 19th century. The first notable painter to break away from the medieval manuscript tradition was Hakop Hovnatanian (1806-81) whose family had been painters for nearly 200 years. (His grandfather's grandfather had contributed to the decoration of Ejmiatsin Cathedral in the late 17th century.) He painted portraits of his contemporaries in an original manner which fused elements of the painting of illuminated manuscripts with European traditions of portraiture: everything in these portraits is expressed through the face, above all the eyes, and the hands of the conventionally posed sitter.

By contrast Hovhannes Aivasovsky (1817-1900), often referred to as Ivan Aivasovsky - its Russian equivalent - shows little Armenian influence. He was born to an Armenian father at Feodosia in the Crimea and painted wonderful seascapes, calm seas with beautiful lighting effects, violent storms sometimes with men struggling to survive (over half his seascapes) or surprisingly vivid pictures of the historic sea battles of the Russian navy. Though with few equals to his ability to capture the many moods and colours of the sea, his non-marine pictures are decidedly more pedestrian. His achievements were probably more recognised internationally than is the case with any other 19th-century Armenian painter and he was even awarded the Legion d'Honneur in 1857.

Another recipient of the Legion d'Honneur was Zakar Zakarian (1849-1923) who left his home in Constantinople to train as a doctor in Paris but he later turned to painting. His still lifes with their careful composition and interplay of light and dark frequently incorporate a glass of water, interpreted by his contemporaries as expressing his feeling from his Paris home of the tragic events in his homeland. Gevork Bashinjaghian (1857-1920) developed the painting of landscapes with his calm, serene views, mostly of Armenia although he also travelled. Vardghez Sureniants (1860-1921) was a much more versatile artist. Like Bashinjaghian a painter of landscapes, he also painted many Armenian subjects and his 1895 painting Desecrated Shrine was a response to the massacres of the Armenians by the lurks. He additionally painted historical subjects; he was a gifted book illustrator and in 1899 was chosen to illustrate Pushkin's Fountain of Bakhchisarai as part of the centenary celebrations; and as a stage designer he was chosen by Konstantin Stanislavsky in 1904 to design his Moscow production of Maurice Maeterlinck's symbolist drama Les Aveugles (The Blind).

The landscapes of Eghishe Tatevosian (1870-1936) reflect the strong influence of French painters as well as of his teachers in Moscow, and the French influence is even stronger in the works of Edgar Shaheen (1874-1947) who studied in Paris. Vano Khodjabekian (1875-1922) was a complete contrast: a primitivist who on his arrival in Yerevan in 1919 created some moving scenes of the plight of the refugees who had escaped the Turkish massacres. Hovsep Pooshman (1877-1966) was another painter of still lifes, mostly incorporating oriental statuettes with titles such as The Golden Decline of Life and The Murmur of Leaves.

Probably the most brilliant and certainly the most influential Armenian artist of the early 20th century was Martiros Sarian (1880-1972) whose works mirror the creative intellectual ferment in the artistic world of the day and show an amazing feel for colour and form. He was born near Rostov-on-Don in Russia and studied in Moscow. His first visit to Armenia in 1901 resulted in the cycle Stories and Dreams which shows much symbolist influence. From 1909 he turned towards a more representational style using large areas of single colour with great attention to shapes and contrasts and the qualities of light. Another artist working through the revolutionary period was Hakop Kojoyan (1883-1959). He produced haunting landscapes as well as works which take a stylised medieval approach and book illustrations for authors such as Gorki. His Execution of Communists at Tatev, however, seems likely to have been painted for political reasons.

The Soviet period saw those Armenian painters who remained in the country and were approved by the regime supported, while others were harassed regardless of their talent. Gyorgy Yakulov (1884-1928) worked as a stage designer in Tiflis and Yerevan before being invited to Paris by Diaghilev where his work had immense success. He travelled in both China and Italy and his paintings reflect an attempt to combine traditional orientalism with the Italian high Renaissance. Sedrak Arakelian (1884-1942) was a follower of Sarian whose own lyrical landscapes successfully capture ephemeral moments in the Armenian countryside. Another follower, Arutiun Galents (1908-1967), was one of the children who escaped the genocide of 1915. His parents both died and he was brought up in an orphanage in Beirut. Not surprisingly his work reflects the tragic circumstances of his childhood. Minas Avetissian (1928-75) is regarded particularly highly in Armenia. Again a follower of Sarian, much of his work was destroyed either in a fire at his studio in 1972 (widely believed in Armenia to have been deliberately started by the Soviet security forces) or in the 1988 earthquake which destroyed both his frescoes at Leninakan (present-day Gyumri) and the museum dedicated to his work at Dzhadzur, his native village. He himself was tragically killed when he was knocked down by a car which had mounted the pavement. A complete contrast to these followers of Sarian is Alexander Bazhbeuk-Melikian (1891-1966) who can be regarded more as a follower of Degas. He painted women. In warm clear colours, whether exercising on a swing or combing their hair, they are elegant and at ease.

Ervand Kochar (1899-1979) was a sculptor and designer as much as a painter and his best-known work in Armenia is perhaps the striking statue of David of Sassoun on horseback which stands outside Yerevan railway station, while the work most noticed by visitors may be the statue of Haik Bzhshkian, also on horseback, which stands by the road to Garni (see page 138). The three-dimensional quality of his paintings tends to express his interest in sculpture and he created some amazing three-dimensional paintings, examples of which are in the Kochar Museum, Yerevan, and the Pompidou Centre, Paris. An immensely gifted artist, he had lived and worked in Paris from 1923 until 1936 but then, although highly successful there, he returned to Soviet Armenia. After his return he was accused of the Soviet crime of formalism and suffered periods of imprisonment. While in Paris in 1930 he married Melineh Ohanian and the couple had a son. Although Melineh was of Armenian descent, she had been born in France and the Soviet government would allow neither her nor Kochar's son to enter the Soviet Union. Neither was Kochar ever allowed to leave, not even during the period of the Khrushchev thaw, so he never saw his wife or son after his return.

Petros Konturajian (1905-56) was another child who was orphaned by the genocide of 1915. He went to Paris and became a successful painter of the city under the influence of Cezanne and the Cubists. In 1947, he returned to Armenia but he failed to come to terms with Soviet conditions and committed suicide. Hakop Hakopian (1928-75) also moved to live in Armenia at a similar age to Konturajian but was able to adapt, perhaps because life under Brezhnev was less intolerable than under Stalin. His still lifes and landscapes have a dramatic quality expressing deep anxiety. Girair Orakian (1901-63), is another painter who was driven from his home city of Constantinople. He spent most of the rest of his life in Rome. His paintings expressing the struggles between life and death for the poor can again be understood against his childhood background.

If Ivan Aivazovsky is Armenia's best-known 19th-century painter outside the country, the best-known 20th-century one is probably Garnik Zulumian, also known as Carzou (1907-2000). He worked as a stage designer as well as a painter and engraver and his paintings do often reflect a decorative and theatrical quality. Claiming that Picasso was no painter at all, he claimed the only truly great painters were Claude Lorrain, Watteau and Dalf. Carzou's response to the Armenian earthquake of 1988 was the painting Armenia: Earthquake. Hope, in which a naked woman is shown standing over ruins against a background of Armenian buildings and mountains.

Foremost among artists born after the establishment of Soviet power is Sergei Parajanov (1924-90). Although better known as a film director, he also created a wide range of extraordinary works of art including collages and mosaics which were frequently made using everyday materials - perhaps he developed this technique during his involuntary periods in Siberian labour camps. Many of his works display strong egocentricity. Of the artists alive today, the one whose work visitors are most likely to notice is Ara Shiraz (born 1941) as his 9m-high sculpture of Andranik Ozanian riding two horses is at the foot of the slope leading up to Yerevan Cathedral.




You can find all usefull information about Armenia travel here. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact us at any time and we will gladly answer your questions.