Man of the new East. Portrait painting in Uzbekistan of the 1920s – 30s.

Issue #2 • 1590

Development of portrait painting as a genre in the context of formation of genre system in painting of Uzbekistan in the 1920s – 30s shows its significant role. Being connected with specific ideology and culture of the first post-revolution years, it had reflected adaptation to the European traditions and mixture of different tendencies – from realism and impressionism to avant-garde. In general, a portrait became an important document of that epoch and fixed surprising world and people of the new East. Besides, it became a foundation for many figurative and stylistic principles of Uzbekistan painting. No wonder that estimation of that period sometimes did not correspond to real art process because of ideological and some other factors. Earlier portrait painting of that period was not a subject of scientific researches. Among the first turning to this problem was A. Umarov (1). Gradually, more democratic sights at art caused some publications on portrait painting of that time. These are works by M. Zemsky (2, p. 21), R. Taktash (3) and N. Akhmedova (4, p. 20-23). At the same time, artists, devoted to avant-garde of the 1920s-30s, reduced experience of realists within general artistic process. Meanwhile connection and struggle of different tendencies and directions created unique local situation which pushed quick development of entire genre system in painting of Uzbekistan, in particular, portrait painting.

We cannot give clear chronology of its development. However, according to general dynamics of traditional art (for example, Russian and Dutch), attention to a man of new epoch brought the portrait genre to forefront.
Formation of portrait painting has specific features. Combination of many national art schools shows gradual development of realistic principles which are fundamental for development of different genres. Therefore in all genres, either portrait or landscape, content is a basis reflecting reality, thematic structures and position of the artist and his relation to the world. This essential side of this genre determines its structure – figurative and compositional principles, expressive means, etc.

Development of this genre in Uzbekistan was influenced by historical and cultural development in the 1920s – 30s – adaptation of European forms was running on the background of avant-garde artists A. Volkov, M. Kurzin, V. Ufimtsev and others which experience and portrait works formed different concepts of portrait painting and determined atypical evolution of this genre in the republic.

The first portraits of the 1920s – 30s accented typical features of contemporaries, preservation of stereotypes or archetypes instead of individual character. For example, portraits of “Collective farmer” by A. Volkov, “Chaikhana man” by Usto Mumin and “Portrait of Uzbek man” by U. Tansykbaev expose typical features. They reflect a general idea of social type. Such variants of portrait genre and typology of characters formed a base of its further development.

However, avant-garde concept was far from to be only in genesis of Uzbek portrait painting. Impressionist concepts, for example, portraits by P. Benkov, were developing too. In many respects it was connected with plein-air. Central Asia and its nature gave new motifs to this artist. Such his works as “Girl from Khiva” and “Portrait of Tajik” expose sunny atmosphere and opportunity to express nature free of subject thinking. P. Benkov was going into local environment, attracted by local life and ethnic features of oriental people which are the important semantic component in his portraits.

Art of these artists aimed to comprehension of time, man and epoch. Avant-garde concept found the most original and individual realization at A. Volkov. Interest of the artist to traditions went farer than ethnography. He perceived the newest directions of Russian painting which was much influenced by French cubism. The artist was ready to its understanding after M. Vrubel’s works, which symbolism and structural composition became revelation, school of form and color. The 1920s were a period of interesting searches. Cubism in his works played a role of foundation, giving special features to his challenges in neo primitivism and constructivism. Taking basic principles of folk art and creating compositions from geometrical forms and bright local color, he aspired to achieve planarity. Planarity became important in realization of avant-garde ideas. In the 1930s, A. Volkov turned to “portrait – type” (typological portrait). For example, “Girls with cotton” and “Collective farmer”.

“Girls with cotton” is half-length portrait of three collective farmers in front position. The artist, as in some other works the early 1930s, refused to accent expression bordering deformation. He reproduced characters having real prototypes. They are expressive due to individual and psychological features. A. Volkov reached perfect skills in painting of real “alive” nature. The portrait demonstrates decisive turn of the artist to realistic painting of person and nature.

The portrait of “Collective farmer” shows a character – type and at the same time real person – amiable and shiny smiling healthy young man. Healthy elastic form is combined with exquisite color.

A. Volkov’s authority and innovative creative searches played directing role for young U. Tansykbaev, N. Karakhan and A. Podkovyrov. Each of them started in the mid-1920s and by the end of decade had found own painting language. Major impulse in their works goes from the concept of postimpressionism. The main thing that attracted artists and corresponded to their postmodernist searches was understanding of color. Works of U. Tansykbaev and N. Karakhan show that they followed A. Volkov’s principle – to use color in full force and contrasts, to activate its decorative properties.

U. Tansykbaev’s phenomenon was unique and to certain extent untimely. He surprisingly quickly generated into bright creative person with deeply national world vision. In 1927-1928. U. Tansykbaev created portraits representing two art concepts: the first is impressionistic – “Portrait of A. Tashkenbaev” and the second – oriental decorative – “Portrait of Uzbek man”. The portrait genre takes an important place in his work in the 1920s-30s. For example, “Self-portrait in plein-air” was done in spirit of impressionism, then goes portrait of A. Podkovyrov in realistic style, and “Uzbek man. Samarkand” is close to neo primitivism. It should be noted that the artist permanently worked at plein-air. However, the reality brought own corrections to art. Events caused illusions. They started to construct contours of new myths, in which image of new man of the East, beautiful and tragic in his optimism, is taking the first place.

Another avant-garde artist, conceptually close to A. Volkov and U. Tansykbaev, was N. Karakhan. His understanding of form proceeded from naive direct perception of life and decorative color of miniatures and folk carpets. Prevailing contemporary themes reflect work and life of collective farmers. Characteristic of Karakhan deep color contrasts sonorous local colors in such works as “Cotton gathering” and “Women”. First is theme and after – portrait picture.

The portrait genre at A. Nikolaev (Usto-Mumin) is original. His early work “Chaikhana man” shows suprematism principles inherited from K. Malevich. Devotion to Italian painting is expressed in portraits of “Boy and quail” and “Dutarist”. A.Siddiky who started at the beginning of the 1930s is close to A. Nikolaev in spirit. His works “Portrait of collective farmer” and “Self-portrait”, brightly express the style of this master.
Thus, we can conclude that formation of portrait genre in painting of Uzbekistan was connected with such artists, as A. Volkov, P. Benkov and Usto-Mumin. At different stages concepts of these masters either was leading or gave up the place to others. So, traditions of P. Benkov’s realistic portrait had remained basic till the 1970s, and traditions of Usto-Mumin, keeping retrospective principle, were developed by Ch. Akhmarov and his pupils.

Independently from conceptual background of the artists their art aimed to comprehension of time, person and spirit of the epoch. The reality brought corrections to their art. Many of them began to reflect contours of new myths where the new man of the East, beautiful and tragic in his being, takes the first place.

Literature:

  1. Умаров А. Портретная живопись Узбекистана. Ташкент, 1968;
  2. Земская М. Александр Волков. (Мастер “Гранатовой чайханы”). М., 1975;
  3. Такташ Р. Урал Тансыкбаев. Ташкент, 1978;
  4. Ахмедова Н. Художник – эпоха – история.

Lola Paizieva

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