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Culture news, 05.03.2004 11:36

Portraits that capture time in suspension

Portraits that capture time in suspension The exhibition "The Art of Yaroslavl and Kostroma of the 14th-20th centuries," which opened on Feb. 26 at the Manezh central exhibition hall, demonstrates that the traditional Russian opposition metropolitan/provincial could be interpreted not as good/bad, but rather as "mature" verses "childish."

The show is the fruit of collaboration of eight provincial museums and Moscow restorers, who have discovered and restored most of the exhibits. Unfortunately, icons that were promised as part of the show haven't been included in its St. Petersburg outing. So the exhibition consists of two parts only: the portraits by provincial painters of the 18th and 19th centuries and pictures by Yefim Chestnyakov.

The portraits are extraordinary. Most of them date from the end of the 18th century and the first half of the 19th century, but, judging from their style, they could be attributed to the early 18th century, when Russian artists had just begun to master European-style painting - in other words, to the time when Russian portraiture was in its infancy.

Compared to the masterpieces of their famous Russian contemporaries - Dmitry Levitsky, Fyodor Rokotov, Vladimir Borovikovsky - the provincial portraits may seem immature and primitive. However, each case can be judged on its merit. These portraits should more properly be compared, not to children's painting, but to other cases of primitive painting: some of them bear a strong resemblance to American primitives and even to the "surrealistic primitives" of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo.

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