Sattar Bahlulzade (1909-1974), an artist from Azerbaijan, Laureate of the National Award and the founder of lyrical landscape in the fine arts of Azerbaijan, is known not only in his home country, but also far beyond its boundaries. “Sattar is fond of flowers, but the flowers are fond of him even more”, – this concise and accurate characterization of his art was given by a French artist Andre Foujeron.
Amirajany village near Baku where Bahlulzade was born is situated in Apsheron and is known for its centuries-old and sometimes conservative traditions. Men worked in the fields and orchards from dawn to dusk, and the custom was not to send boys to art schools – drawing was considered a children’s hobby. Perhaps, if Sattar were born in a different epoch, he could have become a master of some traditional craft. However, in 1920s vocational schools opened in Azerbaijan, including art schools. The gifted boy painted so much and so enthusiastically that his family did not have a heart to obstruct him. In 1927 Sattar entered vocational art school of Azerbaijan where one of the faculty was Azim Azimzade, the most senior artist in Azerbaijan, patriarch of cartoon, whose famous drawings were known across the East through the pages of a popular satirical journal “Molla Nasreddin”. In 1933, following Azimzade’s recommendation, Bahlulzade entered the department of graphic arts of Moscow Institute of Arts named after V. Surikov. This how M. Najafov, artist and art critic, describes that period in the life of Sattar Bahlulzade: “Sattar’s teachers in the drawing workshop were V. A. Favorskiy and L. A. Bruni. “Bahlulzade forever remembered instructions given by Favorskiy who, through word and deed, cultivated love for beauty in his students. When many years later Bahlulzade amazed us with his finest landscape drawings, we all, the admirers of his talent, could sense an endless love of the Azerbaijani artist for the great Favorskiy and his unsurpassed graphic art” (1, p. 125).
In his third year Bahlulzade gets transferred to a painting department where he studies in the workshop of a famous Russian artist G. M. Shegal who demanded that his students be spontaneous and truthful when doing studies. When working au plain air, students worked in Crimea and in Kozy (summer base of the Institute). “There Shegal noticed a student who used to disappear with his painter’s case and return with sound works. In these studies the experienced master observed an inclination towards colouristic saturation and saw in Bahlulzade an artist with developed sense of colour” (2, p. 4).
After graduation Bahlulzade returned to Baku and turned to the battle genre, the most relevant during the years of the World War II. His painting titled “Defending the Fortress of Bazz” (Bazz Fortress is the stronghold of Babek, Azerbaijan’s national hero (9th century)) depicted one of the most remarkable moments in the military history of Azerbaijani people summoning warriors to fight the enemy. An example of heroic and patriotic theme is the portrait of Fatali-khan, one of the 18th century Azerbaijani rulers who fought for the unification of the nation and the establishment of the independent state.
After the war, Bahlulzade faced another choice, perhaps the most critical in his entire life. He was known as the author of monumental works and a portrait painter, yet he dreamt about painting nature. The choice proved to be the hard one, but as history was to demonstrate, it was the right one too. Sattar chose landscape.
In 1950s Bahlulzade created a series of landscapes dedicated to Kube area (in the north-east of Azerbaijan, famous for its beautiful nature): “The Shore of Gudiyalchai”, “A Road to Gyz-Benevsha”, “The Valley of Gudiyalchai”, and “The Green Carpet”. Bahlulzade’s Kube landscapes prove in him a true landscape artist and a painter with a keen sense of beauty of his native land. When travelling for work to Neftyanye Kamni that was then a unique city on piles built right in the sea to produce oil, the artist spent a lot of time at sea. This gave the origin to his “Caspian Beauty”, “Dusk over the Caspian”, “Pier”, “Morning”, and numerous drawings and sketches showing oil rigs, piers and oil industry workers.
In 1960, for his contribution to the development of fine arts, Bahlulzade earned the title of Honorary Artist of Azerbaijan, and in 1963 – the title of the People’s Artist of Azerbaijan.
Bahlulzade dedicated a series of landscapes to historical monuments of Baku and Apsheron villages.
The first personal exhibition of Bahlulzade was held in 1966 in Prague (Czechoslovakia). This is how critics assessed it: “It was an exciting event. And not only for Sattar himself who in his modesty was not actually in raptures about his success, but for the entire team of the country’s artists. That was the first personal exhibition of a soviet Azerbaijani artist in Europe. Selected sheets of that milestone exposition were presented to the Parisian museum as gift from the artist” (3, p. 5).
Gradually, Bahlulzade comes to a turning point in his career. He no longer paints landscapes in realistic style, but tries to portray his impressions about things he saw. Critics began to compare his art with the one of French Impressionists and find elements of pointillism in his works. For a soviet artist in 1960s it could be dangerous. The artist fell into disfavour, and art administrators were no longer willing to organize his exhibitions. Perhaps that was the reason why Bahlulzade resumed keeping his diaries in which he shared his thoughts and experiences. In his diaries he wrote about his teachers, meetings with artists and analyzed some of his paintings. Still the artist continued working hard. “Ancient Shemaha”, “The Waterfalls of Laza”, “Dede-gyunesh”, “Shakhdag”, “Bazardyuzyu”, “The Beauties of Mugan”, “The Teardrop of Kyapaz” and many other canvases of the artist are not copies of those places, but a result of analyzing the nature and ceaseless work of the artist who found his unique style in painting. Bahlulzade travelled across all of Azerbaijan, went out to do studies, worked in all weather conditions without taking a rest or a day-off. People in many regions recognized the slender-built artist wearing a raincoat and a hat, with his ever-present easel over his shoulder. People knew and loved him, calling him “the poet of nature”.
Still-lives play a special role in the art of Bahlulzade. He paints them with traditional Azerbaijani household objects, such as tea-cups of many colours, jugs, flowers and fruits. Many of them are part of Azerbaijani nature masterfully presented by the artist in the framework of a canvas. “Still-life with kelagai”, “Pomegranates from Apsheron”, “Still-life with Shemaha Cover”, “Melons from Jorat”, “Still-life with Saffron”, “Tangerines from Astara” and others are quite unusual in terms of performance and colour. Critics wrote: “In Bahlulzade’s still-lives one can sense the emotions of a patriot generated by the beauty of his native land” (4, p. 82).
Bahlulzade was fond of classic Azerbaijani poetry, especially the art of the 16th century poet Muhammed Fizuli to whom the artist dedicated a series of his works. “He tried to experience and immortalize in himself and in his works the subtlety, grace, purity and humanity of Fizuli’s poetry. It was repeatedly noted that the lyrical poetry of great Fizuli played a major role in his development as an artist, along with ancient miniatures, the art of carpet weaving and historical monuments. Bahlulzade tried to create Fizuli’s portrait, reproduce his ghazals in the brush-strokes, and show the suffering of Mejnun. In fact, the spirit of Fizuli infiltrated his finest lyrical and poetic landscapes” (5, p. 17).
“Along with the images and rhythms of classic Azerbaijani poetry, famous Tebriz miniature and Azerbaijani carpet, the art of the painter was inspired by the best achievements of Russian plain air landscape and Impressionistic landscape”, noted M. Najafov (6, p. 3). This is evidenced by his “Azerbaijani Fairy Tale”, “Ancient Lights of the Land of Surakhan”, “Shakhnabad Mountains”, “Country Houses of Mardakya”, “Piti”, and “Still-life with kelagai”, which earned the artist the National Award of Azerbaijan in 1972.
Generosity of Bahlulzade is known to many, for he often presented his works to colleagues, friends, writers, composers and foreign guests as gifts. Expressive appearance of Bahlulzade always appealed to artists and sculptors, and he eagerly sat for his colleagues. For instance, Fuad Abdurrahmanov, Tagi Tagiev, Omar Eldarov, Torgul Narimanbekov and many other artists created nice portraits and sculptures of Sattar. Poets also turned to the character of Bahlulzade.
In 1974 the artist passed away. The 1977 Moscow exhibition of Sattar Bahlulzade’s drawings displayed over 80 drawing created with colour felt pen and Indian ink. Following the exhibition, the Tratyakov Gallery, the Fine Arts Fund of the USSR and a number of other galleries acquired his works. Subsequently, the works by Bahlulzade were exhibited at the exhibitions of contemporary Azerbaijani painting in Cairo, Damascus, Paris, Montreal, Havana, Vienna, Berlin, Riga, Kiev and other cities. His personal exhibitions were organized in Baku, Tbilisi, Minsk, Moscow, New York, London, Istanbul and Bohn. A well-know Arab writer Salim Adnan expressed his feeling by saying, “Sattar Bahlulzade, in love with beauty and happiness, gave eternal springtime to the children of his century. Such master is truly happy!”
The 34th UNESCO General Assembly issued a resolution on marking the 100th anniversary of Sattar Bahlulzade in 2008-2009. In keeping with it, a number of events were organized, including art exhibitions.
Residents and guest of Tashkent city had an opportunity to see the works of Sattar Bahlulzade at his personal exhibition that opened on the 11th of September 2009 at the Central Exhibition Hall of the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan. The exhibition was organized in the framework of the Agreement on Humanitarian Cooperation between the Republic of Azerbaijan and the Republic of Uzbekistan, following the initiative of the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan in the Republic of Uzbekistan, and the engagement of the Ministry for Culture and Tourism of Azerbaijan and the Academy of Arts of Uzbekistan. The exhibition also presented some photographs showing the milestones in the life and art of the artist, and a documentary titled “This is Sattar Bahlulzade” created by Azerbaijani documentary film-makers based on a story written by Anar Rizaev during the artist’s lifetime. The works of Sattar Bahlulzade – his landscapes and still-lives, the character of Leili and Mejnun, proved to be well-understood and dear to the connoisseurs of art in Uzbekistan. His work is yet another evidence of the fact that true art has no boundaries.
1. Наджафов М. Искусство, рожденное революцией. Баку, 1981.
2. Наджафов М. Саттар Бахлулзаде. М., 1985.
3. Гаджиев П. Саттар Бахлулзаде. М., 1977.
4 Farzaliyev Ch. Naturmort janri haqqinda. Baki, 2003.
5. Fizuli dunyasi rasmlarda. Baki, 1995.
6. Наджафов М. Саттар Бахлулзаде. М., 1985.
Parzad Abdinova (Azerbaijan)