Ivan Shishkin was known in Russia as the ‘master of the forest’. He trained at the St. Petersburg academy under Ivan Kramskoi, who would later go on to paint one of his most celebrated portraits of Shishkin. Kramskoi described the student Shishkin as a voracious sketcher, always with pencil and sketchbook in hand, drawing away in the pub while others talked and drank.
Shishkin’s trademark was his attention to detail, particularly of trees. Pine Forest in Vyatka Province, painted in 1872, when the artist was 40 years old, is typical of his adoration of the forest and highly detailed style.
Shishkin was primarily a tonalist painter and remained relatively uninfluenced by impressionism, despite a career which had considerable chronological overlap with Monet’s. Perhaps it was the influence of his former teacher Kramskoi, another Russian master who never adopted much influence from impressionism. His drawings, which he continued all through his career, bear witness to his fascination with details and value over colour. Forest Stream, below, is a classic example of how much atmosphere he could generate with such limited means.
Shishkin was to be a major influence on the next generation of Russian landscape painters, the rising star of which was Isaac Levitan. Levitan shared Shishkin’s love of the forest and indeed his subject matter seems very closely matched to that of his mentor. Both artists were member of the ‘Peredvizhniki’ or The Wanderers, a society which protested against academic tradition and held the landscape in great esteem, and included Ilya Repin.
Levitan however, was more influenced by the colour experiments of the impressionists. His paintings not only contain more chromatic colours, but he actively sought out colour contrast. See how blue the shadows are in his painting March below,
Or the bright, acidic greens in his Sunny Day, Near the Isba, painted in 1899, in which one can clearly see the looser, blockier brush strokes of impressionist influence.
Author Tom Greenwood