Russian Painter, 1842-1910
Ukrainian painter, active in Russia. Initially self-taught as an artist, he twice failed the St Petersburg Academy's entrance examination, despite coaching by the marine painter Ivan Aivazovsky. In 1868, however, he was accepted as an external student. He persevered against conservative prejudice and poverty throughout his early career, supplementing his income by retouching photographs. In his early landscape paintings he often sought to capture seasonal moods, as in Autumn Mud (1872; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus.). A more human focus, however, is noticeable after 1874, when he joined the travelling exhibitions society the WANDERERS: the village houses dominate the landscape setting in Evening in Ukraine (1878; St Petersburg, Rus. Mus.). Kuindzhi's principal interest, however, was in lighting, and he obtained striking effects by using vivid colours, chiaroscuro contrasts and simple but cleverly conceived designs. Spectacular paintings, such as the Birch Grove (1879; Moscow, Tret'yakov Gal.), greatly moved contemporary viewers. Through years of experimentation, Kuindzhi developed a highly original technique, which he applied to an increasingly typical, at times almost visionary, treatment of subjects such as snow-covered mountains and moonlight (e.g. Elbnis: Moonlit Night, 1890-95; Moscow, Tret'yakov Gal.). Due to imperfections in the paints he used, many of his canvases soon darkened.