The Bane of Russian Intellectuals. Part III


Brodsky was lucky to be enrolled into the studio of the impressionist painter Jan Ciągliński (Polish by nationality) and Ilya Repin, one of the most prominent realist painters at the time.

The Academy represented a melting pot of new ideas then. Ciągliński was one of the founders of the World of Arts society, which was grounded in the principle that all art had to do was to reflect the personality of the artist. Repin was one of the founders of the Itinerants who believed art should improve the society by addressing its sores and be done in a way that common people (not just a bunch of decadent intellectuals) would be able to experience, appreciate, and grow spiritually. Very different, I say. Still, the two professors not just coexisted peacefully teaching the same students, but were fond of each other. Repin was sending clients to Ciągliński when he had his hands full or, on the occasion of painting Chopin’s portrait, when he was sure Ciągliński would do a better job.

Ciągliński was an unorthodox professor, who tried to marry music and painting, finding common harmonies and similar compositional logic. He would play piano to his students while they were working on sketching a model in his studio (that’s why Repin thought Chopin’s portrait should be done by the Pole). 

Brodsky would sponge-absorb a lot from both of them. So, before we see the first painting by Brodsky, I suggest we walk through Repin’s and Ciągliński’s galleries.

Repin somehow managed to be both a merciless critic of the Russian society, and an “official” painter who received major Royal and government commissions. What is important to understand though, is that even when he painted the Czar, he tried not to venture too far from the truth. You won’t see everyone’s happy in the Royal Reception, which is a painting respectful of the Czar, but truthful of the people who stand around him

Ciągliński (below) was not a great artist himself, but he was a genius mentor. He would come back to St.Petersburg from one of his exotic trips to Middle East or Africa, invite friends and students to his studio, show them oil sketches he did in those faraway places, accompanying each sketch by an exciting story, and then he’d do a few tracks of Chopin or Beethoven, playing piano for his guests.

Click on Page 3 at the bottom to finally see some Brodsky!


  1. Fascinating! I am familiar with several of the paintings shown in this blog which makes putting the pieces together all the more interesting. “Lenin in his office” could be seen in hundreds, if not thousands of public offices and spaces in Bulgaria too … You are doing a grand service to Russian art. I hope fellow Russians appreciate it. Needless to say, revealing the history of Russian art is all absolutely fascinating for all other readers. You should publish a book and have a TV show, I am serious.

    1. Thank you ) I have a few friends, fellow Russians, who love art and appreciate things I do here. But the mass demand is not there to support a book or TV show. Some of my work is related to television. There are people among my friends who would love to make an art show. The problem is that no one will be watching it. Russia is not the UK. Top blogs in Russia are about politics, fitness and weight management, and one of the most popular is run by a prostuitute who tells the world of her clients, her thoughts about men, women, and family issues. Art, as a theme, just doesn’t fit in, at least not right now )

      I am very grateful for your comment. I still believe there’s a chance all this will be of interest to my fellow Russians one day.

      1. You are probably right. The devaluation of tastes is a global phenomenon, but Russia is 1) a huge country; 2) one where culture has managed to thrive and survive under all sorts of conditions.3) where most illogical things just happen against all odds. So there is good chance. Maybe you can find someone who needs to buy himself some respect – and finance a money losing niche cultural show?
        I have a good collection of art documentaries and when I think about it, they are almost exclusively UK productions. Your post on Brodsky reminded me of one about a museum in Kalpakstan, a province of Kazakhstan which has this superb collection of Russian modern art that was put together by an enthusiast who dedicated his life to it. I am sure you know what I am talking about. There were examples of post revolution artists which did propaganda work for a living and real work in their free time, secretly. It blew my mind away!

It would be grand to hear from you now!

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