Martiros Sarian was born on February 29, 1880 in the Armenian town of Novaya Nakhichevan, situated near the Don river in Russia (presently part of Rostov-on-Don). Sarian's ancestors originated from Ani - the ancient capital of Armenia. As a result of migration, some Armenians settled in the Crimea. At the end of the 18th century, Russian empress Catherine the Second granted lands on the banks of the Don River in Russia to Armenians displaced from the Crimea by the Tatars.
The parents of future artist owned a farmstead near the Sambek River. The Sarievs (they had this surname up to 1886) usually spent there summer in a small house built by their father Sarkis Sariev. There were nine children in the family. They lived hard life. But Sarian would recall his childhood years in the steppe with special inspiration. This was the time when an inexhaustible admiration for the versatile and multicolored nature conceived in his heart: "I saw everything appear in the glow of the sunlight - slender corn and grass alternately, covered with myriad flowers, with bees and butterflies hovering above… All that impetuously attracted me. I was charmed. I entered the grain field dipping myself into the world of dreams. I walked for a long time and after getting tired I fell asleep on the ground like on my mother's bosom" (from unpublished manuscripts).
The childish perception of the world forever designated the role of the natural sunlight and sheer colors in the artist's visual perception of the world. It has also become fundamental in realization of his direct participation in life of the Universe which is in the constant process of making and self-manifestation.
In 1895 Sarian finished Armenian-Russian school in Novaya Nakhichevan. Already during his school years Sarian's progress in drawing was appreciated by special certificate. After finishing school Sarian worked in a post-office. In his spare time he copied illustrations from journals and sketched some of clients. Willing to encourage Martiros's passion for drawing his elder brother introduced him to his friend, artist A. Artsatbanyan, a graduated student of the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture. Appreciating the inborn talent of the youth, Artsatbanyan trained Martiros for the entrance exams to the Moscow College.
1897 - 1903
In 1987 Martiros Sarian became the student of the Moscow College of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture.
The youth began to imbibe eagerly all the wealth of the Russian capital"s cultural life. Theatres, libraries, concerts, exhibitions: all these captivated him and facilitated the education, the shaping of tastes and predilections of the starting painter.
The Moscow school was the most progressive Russian institution of that time. The important reforms dealing with the overall system and methods of instruction have been conducted during Sarian"s studying there. The best Moscow painters with advanced artistic ideals were invited for teaching in the college.
The basic course of tuition consisted of 4 classes. In the first class the pupils were to master the skills to execute precisely the given objects by copying the plaster casts from the classic sculptures and masks. In the second class supervised by A.M.Corin and K.N.Gorsky Sarian had mastered the oil painting technique and also acquired skills in tempera, watercolor and pastel execution. In the third one headed by N.A. Kasatkin and S.D.Miloradivich, the more profound studying of the drawing have been taught. And finally, the fourth class had dealt with landscape, genre, portrait and animal depiction. Here, the teachers were V.N.Baksheev, A.E.Archipov and L.O.Pasternak.
Thus in fact separate classes and courses of the Moscow school were transformed into personal studios. Sarian"s studies (1903-1904) after graduating from the basic course (1902) at the portrait studios opened and attached to a school and led by the prominent Russian impressionist K.A.Korovin and the remarkable painter V.A.Serov has played an important role in the development of young Sarian"s professional skills. Meanwhile Sarian"s early portraits and landscapes (1987-1903) do not yet reveal the painter"s individuality. They are executed in dun gamut of blended colors with transition from light to shadow. But as at the Moscow College the independence and freedom of art prevailed over the obsolete principles of academic schooling, the pursuits of new methods and daring experiments of young artists had been encouraged; therefore Sarian"s own pictorial style evinced itself quite early.
On this occasion Sarian admitted later: “School … is necessary, and I am very glad that finished it, it has taught me a lot. But at the same time school gives something that I have to get rid of when launching my own creative career. I painted in the same manner like Petrov-Vodkin, Pavel Kuznetsov, Utkin, Truzhansky and others – all of us painted in the same spirit. On finishing the school I started to ponder how to overpower it. I began to travel, to take a good look at life.”
1904 - 1909
|Early period of creative work
Trips to the Caucasus in 1901-1903 were a true revelation for Sarian. In the summer of 1902, Sarian visited Ani, the old capital of Armenia. "In the picturesque nooks of the south of our ancient country, I found again the magic world of my childhood", recalls the artist (“Martiros Sarian”, p.58).Influenced by the southern sun and optical color effects created by its rays, the palette and the imaginary system of Sarian's first individual works changed. "The hardest time in my life was the time of initial seeking… I wasn't satisfied with beaten tracks… I decided to follow my own aspirations…", the artist recalled. "All what I painted from 1904 was a combination of the real and the imaginary - the real insofar as I painted it being guided by my impressions of what I saw, and the fantasy insofar I was synthesizing it in my imagination" (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p.78). Thus, in 1904-1907 Sarian created the watercolor series "Fairy Tales and Dreams". The simplified figures of people and animals depicted by the painter are easily recognized. However, the overall mood created by their interaction is so unusual that carries the viewer away to the world of feelings energizing his imagination with mysterious power. Subconsciously a viewer experiences a marvelous harmony of nature. (The scientific study of "Fairy Tales and Dreams" cycle was presented by A.V.Aghasyan in his recently published book “Symbolism and the Art of Martiros Sarian”.
Some pieces of this cycle were exhibited first at the Crimson Rose exposition in 1904 in Saratov and afterwards at the sensational Blue Rose exposition in 1907 in Moscow. Both exhibitions were to unite the young painters who developed right after M.Vrubel and V.Borisov-Musatov the symbolist trend of the second wave in the Russian art.
Starting from 1908, Sarian completely replaced watercolor with tempera. Works like
"By the Sea. Sphinx", "By the Well. Hot Day", "Poet" reveal the evolution of the color palette of the artist. The clear and bright colors are laid out on the cardboard by long, distinct touches creating sparkling plays of color hues filled with sunlight. Also, it is necessary to point out the early experiments of Sarian in tempera techniques. In 1905, the artist created "Charm of the Sun". Here he creates a simple plot with harmonious combination of synthetic color and shape, sparkling in the light of the strong southern sun. The sonorous color decision in this composition precedes Sarian"s acquaintance with the work of Matisse, the founder of French fauvism. The first exhibitions of French artists from the late 19th to early 20th century from S.Shchukin's and I.Morozov's collections were opened in Moscow in 1906. Sarian wrote about his first impressions of new principles of European painting in his letter to Nina Tazekhulakhova dated by 1909: 'Gauguin is amazing with his new religion that revealed the innermost spiritual world of barbarians to the Europeans. Cezanne is unparalleled, firm, and earnest in his strong and brilliant paintings. Van Gogh is so interesting: a restless and ailing seeker'. (“Martiros Sarian. Letters”, p.72). At the same time, Sarian confessed that acquaintance with the French painting inspired and convinced him even more of the righteousness of his own style and his attitude to painting.
Many Russian artists of the time were influenced by the new French school. However, no one utilized expressiveness that Sarian possessed arising from large planes of pure colors providing the generalized characteristic of visually perceived forms and motions. However Sarian"s works were noted for its peculiar saturation of color decisions and simplification of means of expression. The style of the Armenian medieval miniature was close to Sarian. It is unique by the synthesis of contrasting colors and simple rhythmic lines. The decorative simplicity and symbolic forms, which express spontaneity of national thinking, were creatively elaborated by Sarian.
In 1909, fantastic dreams in Sarian's works were replaced by more real and vital observations of the nature and the world around. The elaboration of the technique, plot motives and overall system of artistic characters, developed in the subsequent period, are typical for the paintings "Self-portrait", "A Running Dog","Hyenas" . A bright and sonorous palette enchant with laconic brevity and accuracy of the image.
During this period Sarian takes an active part in the exhibitions organized by the magazine Zolotoye Runo (Golden Fleece).
1910 - 1913
Trips to the East
The interest in Eastern culture was determinative in the development of 20th century European and Russian art. But for Sarian, a painter of Armenian origin, the appeal to the East was an important self-revelation. The zeal to cognize the world of the East and himself as the part of this world guided the artist during his journeys to the eastern countries - Turkey (Constantinople, 1910), Egypt (1911), Persia (1913).
'I had a goal to understand the East, to find out its characteristic features for to further substantiate my search in painting', wrote the artist.' I wanted to express the realism of the East and find convincing ways to describe and depict that world, discover its new artistic comprehension' (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p.99).
In this period of creating the works on eastern themes, the artist's colorful palette is fully revealed. 'I have lived in Constantinople for about two months. Within that period of time my work was fruitful', Sarian recalled.'Of the biggest interests for me were the streets, their rhythm of life, the flamboyant crowd and dogs… that used to live in extended packs' (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p.102). During that period, Sarian used to paint exclusively on white cardboard. In each of his works the painter summarized his brightest impressions. '…When some things did not turn out well, I used to go to the same place to check and enhance my impressions. My problem was to clearly and laconically convey on the cardboard the scorching heat of the sunlight and the contrast of color connected with it'. (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p.102).
Whishing to re-create the real life of Eastern streets, Sarian scales up his compositions and constructs them on the same plane. The volume and the depth in these planar compositions were acquired by applying dark blue shadows which accompany the figures of women in yashmak lightly passing along the yellow-orange streets or the packs of dogs that got the incredible colors in the light of intense sun.
Upon his return from Constantinople, Sarian displayed his new paintings at the Moscow Fellowship of Painters exhibition. The paintings “Wisterias”, “Fruit Store”, and later were acquired by the Tretyakov Gallery. It was for the first time when a gallery would acquire paintings of a young innovative artist.
The trip to Egypt (Cairo, Giza, Memphis, Luxor) enriched Sarian's art with new works fully expressing his original style. In Egypt the artist was most of all struck by the inseparable connection of ancient and modern culture.' On leaving the Museum of Bulakh one could see in the streets the people who seemed to have been the models for the sculptures in the museum', recalled the painter. 'The same type, expression, gestures, the same manner of walking with slightly raised shoulders... As if they had been wandering through millennia and reached this day together with the fine monuments created by their ancestors at the dawn of civilization'. (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p.120).
The idea of eternity and immortality of soul, incarnated in Egyptian art was in harmony with Sarian's world outlook and his strong belief that a man does not pass away for he is nature himself. It is not accidental that the wooden masks brought by Sarian from Egypt became the symbol of the soul's eternal existence in his art.
Sarian's paintings, exhibited in Rome in autumn of 1911, aroused big interest in artistic circles. . (“Egyptian masks”, “Walking Woman”, “Night Landscape. Egypt”).
In 1912, Sarian traveled to Armenia once again. This time he chose its northwestern parts (Ardanuch, Arcvin, and Ardagan). Unlike the yellow sea of the Egyptian desert and sharp contrasts of the green and dark blue, the artist traced softer colors typical of these places. "The Mount Abul and the Passing Camels" .(The National Gallery of Armenia), "Greengrocer", "Morning. Green Mountains" and others paintings are examples of the new color and thematic experiences of the artist. At the end of the same year that was a great achievement for Sarian to participate in the Second Exhibition of Post-Impressionism in the Grafton Gallery in London.
In 1913, Sarian traveled to Persia ( Enzeli, Resht, Gazvin , Tehran ), where the city bazaar mostly interested him. He observed the languid rhythm of the colorful country, where the life seemed to have immobilized for an instant under the effect of the hookah. In Persia Sarian did only a few sketches. Impressed by the life and culture of this country, he painted a series of paintings with Persian themes in his Moscow studio. (“Persia”, “In Persia”, “Prsian Still Life”).
'Sarian is still in the beginning of his creative accomplishments. But what he has given so far is extremely significant since it gives a new meaning to our attitude to the East. It indicates that the soulless… orientalism is over ', the famous poet and critic M. Voloshin writes in the first extensive review about Sarian published in 1913 in Apollo, the most distinguished art journal of that time in Russia. (“About Sarian“, p.63-64).
1914 - 1920
|New period of the creative work
Sarian was extremely demanding on himself and he would always feel real art. 'I was afraid my success will result in appearance of cliches in my art .I did not want to become a fashionable artist,' he confessed. 'I felt an urgent need to renew my art'. (“About Sarian“, p. 465).
The artist intended to resume his trips to the East. He dreamed of visiting China, Japan, and India but his plans were frustrated by World War I. In the spring of 1914, Sarian left for Tbilisi, Georgia. He participated in the activities of the Armenian ethnographic community. In summer he travels to Gokhtan (Sothern Armenia, presently Nakhidzevan autonomous republic). 'I was happy …I was face to face with the nature that was so dear to me like a mother and greatest teacher', writes the artist (“About Sarian“, p.465). Sarian displayed his new paintings - landscapes and still lifes "Surbkhatch rocks in Kalaki", "Yellow Flowers", "Flowers of Kalaki"), at the World of Art exhibition in Moscow. Then he took part in a Baltic exhibition in Malmo, (Sweden). One of his paintings, "The Tree" (1910), remained later in the Art museum of Malmo.
However, the further development of Sarian's art was interrupted by the tragic events taking place in Armenia. 'But in 1915 I learned about the disaster that Armenia was experiencing. I closed my studio and left for my home country. In Etchmiadzin and in its suburbs I witnessed crowds of people fleeing from the Genocide in Turkish Armenia … People were dying right in front of me but I was almost unable to help them… I was deeply depressed and was taken to Tiflis with an obvious emotional disorder', Sarian recalls (“About Sarian“, p. 465-466).
The artist could not work for a long time. But the first thing he created after this ordeal was the picture with a big bouquet of red flowers. Sarian was seeking the way of salvation. This way was found: 'The art has to call a person for life and struggle, inspire him with hope and faith by timeless and common to all mankind ideas. It should never depress with its tragic subjects'. (“Sarian about Art”, p. 59).
Another event that brought Sarian back to creative life was the meeting with the beautiful black-eyed Lusik Aghayan, daughter of the famous Armenian writer and pedagogue Ghasaros Aghayan. 'This was an encounter of two persons who seemed to have known each other before but were temporarily separated', the artist recalled (“About Sarian“, p.466).
At the end of 1915, Sarian once again participates in the World of Art exhibition.
In 1916 in Tiflis, Sarian established The Fellowship of Armenian Artists with the participation of the painters E. Tatevosyan, V. Surenyants, and P.Terlemezyan and created the sketch of its emblem wrote. (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p. 198).
A new period had started in Sarian's personal and creative life. 'In those days of sufferings I became related to my nation with all my heart. I would not have become an artist nor been myself if not the feeling of a homeland. I dedicated all my subsequent creative life to it'. (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p. 200).
Martiros Sarian and Lusik Aghayan got engaged near Tiflis in the Tskhneti village church on April 17 of 1917.
At the end of 1917 the artist participated for the last time in the World of Art exhibition in Moscow. The 'Poetry of Armenia' anthology designed by Sarian and edited by Russian poet Valery Brusov was published. Afterwards, Sarian and his wife moved to Nakhichevan where they lived in his mother's house. The painter made frequent trips to Tiflis and was there at the time of the October Revolution.
In the same year, their son, Sarkis, was born. He later became a literature critic and specialist in Italian and Armenian literature.
In 1918 -1919, Sarian lived with his family in Novaya (New) Nakhichevan, which then became a region of Rostov-on-Don. He initiated the establishment of an Armenian Local Lore museum. At the Lotus exhibition, where Armenian and Russian painters were exhibited, Sarian displayed 45 paintings. Aside from his earlier paintings, his latest paintings were also exhibited and revealed the oriental theme in a new way: "Portrait of N. Komurjdjian", "Old Tiflis", and "Red Horse".
The artist also designed G.Chalkhushian's Red Book on annihilation of Armenians in Turkey and in Osman Empire at the end of the19 – in the beginning of the 20 centuries and M. Shahinian's collection of poems titled "Orientalia".
Sarian's second son, Ghazaros (Lazar), was born in 1920. Later he became a famous composer. In Rostov Armenian Local Lore Art museum was opened. Sarian worked as a director there.
1921 - 1925
On the invitation of A. Myasnikyan, chairman of People's commissioner's council, Sarian permanently moved to Yerevan with his family. He organized a State museum of archeology, ethnography, and fine arts. Aside from that, he participated in the establishment of the Yerevan Art College and Artists Union of Armenia. In 1922, Sarian sketched the National Emblem and the flag of the Soviet Armenia. In the other remarkable work of this period, the sketch of the curtain of First Drama Theater in Yerevan, the artist depicted a synthesized image of his reborn homeland. The artist's goal was to depict the real life in Armenia. 'I want to show the world that this rocky piece of land on the slopes of Mount Aragats does exist', said Sarian. '… This piece of land has gone through storms and profanation, but has been washed by blood and sanctified by faith. This piece of land keeps on its bosom a small handful of hardworking and talented people'. (“Martiros Sarian”, p.86).
Changes in creative objectives resulted in changes in work methods and enhancement of style. Traveling to various regions in Armenia the artist painted his canvases in the open air, contemplating and depicting instances of nature's life. The zeal to convey the real and tangible side of nature and the nation's life resulted in a quick, sketchy manner of oil painting. Like shot after shot a valley scorched by the sun ("Armenia, sketch"), low clay huts with flat roofs ("Erevan, sketch"), summer heat, ("Mount Aragats in summer") and the lovely cool of shady gardens ("Courtyard in Erevan") appear one after the other.
Overcoming the impressionistic manner of transforming an object into a substance of color and light, Sarian strove to create a complete image in its material and volumetric integrity. However it is not the passive reproduction of the visible, but the ability, with one snapshot, to convey the inner essence of life evolving over time and space with the help of vivid imagination. 'To look with the eyes and see through the heart', Sarian used to say.
In the paintings of 1924, Sarian once again generalized the image of the world, by not confining to his country borders, but activating our emotional and intellectual perception of life as a whole. ("Yerevan", "Midday Calm", "Flamboyant landscape" ,"Portrait of E.Charents"). Sarian exhibited his new paintings at the 14th International Exhibition (Biennale di Venice) where they were a great success and were reproduced for the first time.
Avetik Issahakyan, the Armenian poet, resided in Italy at the time published an article in the 'Hayrenik' newsletter (Paris). He highly appreciated the creative work of Sarian as a phenomenon of historical significance for the development of Armenian culture. 'He is building the scientific basis for our painting', the poet wrote. 'More exactly, he revitalizes and evolves the old traditions as the elements of this new art live in the depth of centuries of the history of our Motherland'.
The Italian press has also highly praised the art of the Armenian master. 'Sarian's paintings are of such a bright expression of strong and unique temperament that they produce a tremendous impact on a viewer. Both the colors and the portrayal deserve a great attention for those seeking a modern art point of view', the Italian critic J.Sprovieri wrote. (“Sarian”, p. 9).
In 1925, for the first time during the Soviet years, Sarian's paintings were displayed in Moscow at the Four Arts exhibition where they were highly praised by the metropolitan press. In the summer of the same year, the paintings left after the 1914 exposition held in Malmo (Sweden) were returned by I.Grabar and sent to the exhibition of Russian art in America. At the end of the year, Martiros Sarian was awarded the title of People's Artist of Armenia.
1926 - 1928
After the success at Moscow exhibition, Sarian got an opportunity to travel abroad. 'I certainly wanted to visit the capital of artists - Paris', Sarian confessed.
Arriving in Paris, the artist, who had already gained a steady and considerable reputation in Russian and Armenian modern art, worked to enhance and advance his art striving to apply anew the experience of French Post-impressionism to already formed principles of his own style. Thus, he managed to synthesize the pictorial traditions of the East and the West.
Sarian wrote from Paris to his friend, artist N.Ulyanov, 'Artists here work in an interesting manner. You can find everything here. But the most important you feel the smell of art… From the beginning of the war (WWI), as consequence of a shock (the Socialist Revolution), we lost a lot. Now I try to revitalize myself and summarize what I have done for long years'. (“Martiros Sarian. Letters”, p.379).
A. Efros, the famous Russian critic, who met Sarian in Paris, wrote: 'He didn't strive to be a Parisian. He didn't trouble about glory… Here he lived for himself and … studied. There were sketches on the easel, at his studio walls, the ones that Parisian neophytes used to do... The creative tactics was obvious. He yet again was making his way through to the best of himself '. (“About Sarian”, p. 127).
In Paris, Sarian twice exhibited his works at exhibitions of Russian and Armenian art. But his personal exhibition opened in January of 1928 in the Sh.O.Girard salon was the most remarkable. The text for the exhibition catalogue was written by famous critic Luis Voxelle. This exhibition comprised about 40 paintings created by the artist in Paris. The Armenian theme, which acquired a new stylistic elaboration, prevails in these works. Only in some of his sketches Sarian turns to the nature of France, depicts the Seine and Marne banks and a view from his studio. At these years the artist also made stage designs to the play 'Zuleyka' by K. Gozzi for the 'Bat' theater of N. Baliev. Sarian's art was a great success which was rare for a foreigner. The 'exam', as the painter himself said, was passed. However, presently it is difficult to assess this important period of the artist's creative evolution. Regretfully, on the voyage back to Armenia, Sarian's paintings burned down. 'The French ship Frigi that was transporting my paintings was supposed to embark eggs in the Novorossyisk port. That was the reason sawdust was loaded with the cargo. The boxes with paintings were put on the sawdust… In the port of Constantinople the ship caught fire - accidentally or deliberately. Only a piece of a canvas remained from my 40 canvases', the artist recalled with pain. (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p. 267).
The only paintings that survived had been sold by Sarian in Paris, as well as several small canvases that he had taken with him. Among these works there were: ‘Mountains Geghama’, ‘To the Spring’, ‘Gazelles ’, ‘Corner of a Caucasian Town’, ‘On the Marne River’, ‘Out of the Studio Window’.
1929 - 1945
|Back in Armenia
Fate had prepared an ordeal for the artist. However, Sarian mobilized all his will as it was typical for a creator of such a remarkable life-asserting art and returned to work. As A.Efros wrote, 'It was not enough for the artist to acquire the intensified skills. He had to harmonize them with what was going on around him and catch up with his country, not as a time-server but as a genuine and rigorous painter as he has always been'. (“About Sarian”, p.128).
At the time, Erevan was being constructed from mounds of disordered ruins. 'When the sound of hammers was all around, when a thought began to work and muscled arms got to work, everything changed. ‘Small sad Yerevan began to smile and shine like a sun soon after’. (“Martiros Sarian. From My Life”, p.244-245). At this period the urban scenes became the most favorite genre for Sarian. Laconism of the plot, oversimplified depiction of human figures in their characteristic motion - that was Sarian's style in those years. One after the other the following paintings appeared: A Courtyard in Erevan in Springtime’, ‘Old Erevan’, ‘The Old and the Newest’, ‘The Zangou Banks in Erevan’, ‘Corner in Old Erevan ’, ‘Construction of a Bridge. Yerevan’.
From 1928 -1929, Sarian displayed his paintings at various exhibitions in Yerevan and Moscow. Starting from 1930, the artist's paintings boldly expressing the advanced search of the modern art were regularly exhibited at the Soviet Art exhibitions in Europe (Stockholm, Vienna, Berlin, Venice, and Zurich).
In 1930, the Almast opera by A.Spendiarov, designed by Sarian, premiered in the Odessa Opera House. In 1932, Sarian designed the second act of the Golden Cockerel opera by N.Rimski-Korsakov staged in the Moscow Stanislavski Theater.
In 1934, Sarian traveled to Turkmenistan and created a series of paintings in which one could obviously see the artist's previous attraction to oriental motives. At the same year Persian poet Firdausi's Rustam and Zohrab poem illustrated by Sarian and edited by the famous Armenian poet E.Charents was published.
However, the Stalin's policy of ideological suppression of cultural figures started to be gradually enforced in the early thirties. The Soviet state, as the only customer and buyer of art, demanded Socialist realism that meant simplicity (the ignorant officials associated the national character with primitivism) and illustration of political doctrines. The decisions of 1932 confined the artist's freedom of creation. The so-called iron curtain policy impeded Sarian's contacts with the western culture and removed his creative work from the context of the world modern art. Sarian's works of art were severely criticized because of their decorativeness and extensive vividness of colors. The artist was called a formalist and was accused of flaw of idealistic world outlook.
Oftentimes, the artist 'held back' the colors of his paintings trying to 'paint simpler'. But his craftsmanship took over. ‘The Self-Portrait with a Mask’ expresses his zeal to keep the beliefs of his creative work and the loyalty to the eternal and humanistic ideals of genuine art. When he was demanded to paint the portrait glorifying Stalin, Sarian replied that he couldn't paint from photo and used to portray from life. This was becoming a problem. Sarian didn't create a single portrait of Stalin.
In 1937 the period of harsh repressions began. Sarian's 12 portraits of the brightest literature and public figures subjected to repressions were burnt at the yard of National Gallery. Only one of them survived. The museum workers managed to hide the ‘From the Artist’s life. Portrait of Lusik Sarian’ and ‘Self-portrait. Three Stages of Life‘. These works were innovative in the portrait genre. By means of juxtaposing events from different epochs as it was typical for oriental painting, the artist reveals the inner life and emotional experience of his models.
Thus, in the above portrait of Lusik, a fruit in the wife’s hand is reflected in the mirror as a long-awaited letter from their son: for six months the parents had no news from the son who had fought in the forefront in Kiev. And the centuries-old history of his native land that was to be protected from the enemy the artist juxtaposes to his life story represented by combination of three images: him as a young man, in his mature years and on the threshold of his old age. The artist’s weapon here is his brush, palette and pencil. He defends his country with his art.
Marking the victory and the return of his son, Sarian created his largest picture in the genre of still life "Flowers to Armenians who Fought in the Great Patriotic War" (1945, the National Gallery of Armenia).
1946 - 1972
|The last period of creative work
Sarian's original and innovative art always evoked controversial opinions. In 1941, the artist was awarded the State Prize for designing the Almast opera by A.Spendiarov (its new performance was staged in the frames of the decade of Armenian art in 1939 in Moscow). In 1947, the Academy of artists of USSR was established, and Sarian became its member. But at the same time he was accused of anti-nationalformalism - the most terrible verdict for the artist of that time (1948). The Soviet Art journal stated that Sarian's art was 'the armenianized version of the French bourgeois formalism' and could not be considered national'.
It was a hard experience for Sarian to be subjected to slashing criticism. In an outburst of pain and disappointment he cut one of his best canvases ‘Egyptian Masks’ into pieces. Fortunately, young artists who were always around Sarian snatched out the pieces of this canvas from the painter. With the participation of O.Zardarian the picture was pasted on cardboard, but the hems on it could be still noticeable nowadays.
In 1951, Sarian went to 'Uzkoye' sanatorium near Moscow for heart treatment. Gradually he recovered and his great love to art returned him to painting. During these years, Sarian's interest in the portrait genre continued. The vast portrait gallery of the prominent figures of Armenian and Russian culture and science happens to be a portrayal of the time when in spite of everything the brilliant figures due to their creative work had marked the landmarks of the cultural progress in the Soviet Union. A great number of prominent figures of Armenian and Russian culture and science were portrayed. These were the portraits of those ones who created the culture of Soviet country and whose significance is important till nowadays. Sarian painted astrophysicist V.Hambartsumian, poetesses A. Akhmatova and S. Kaputikian, writer I. Ehrenburg, composer D.Shostakovich .
In the 1950's, Sarian painted others of his not so prominent contemporaries who went through dramatic events of the epoch. Working at the portrait Sarian never compelled the model to sit in an artificial pose for a long time. He talked with them about exciting and painful items, which would lead them to take the natural pose and countenance most characteristic for them. That was immediately grasped by the artist who used to finish the portraits in two sittings. In each person's eyes portrayed by Sarian one can read the history of the time.
When N.S.Khrushchev came to power, the situation in art has changed. Sarian was able to breathe freely. His interest in landscapes creating in the open air that had been outlined in his creative method since 1952 acquired further development. The artist traveled throughout Armenia once again creating a series of landscapes in Dvin, in Lory (1952), in Sevan (1953) and in Byrakan (1957-1958). Yet again, Mount Ararat rises in the artist's paintings - two-peaked biblical mountain in the shine of sun beams. The painter sustained the ability to observe, amaze, admire, and rejoice in every unique instant of life. Some works of this period were included in the series 'My Motherland', for which Sarian was awarded the Lenin prize in 1961.
The 85th jubilee of the artist was widely marked in 1965. His personal exhibitions were organized in Moscow and Yerevan. Sarian was awarded a Hero of Socialistic Labor. Armenfilm studio created the "Martiros Sarian" film (director L.Vagarshyan, author of the text I. Ehrenburg, music by L. Sarian).
In 1966, Sarian received the State Prize of the Armenian SSR. The artist's collection of memoirs From My Life was published in Armenian and later edited in four languages. In November of 1967, the Martiros Sarian House-museum was opened in Yerevan. Painter's personal exhibitions were held in Romania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and GDR.
A. Kamenski, the author of numerous articles about M.Sarian, neatly noted:' Sarian responded in equally the same way to both great success and reckless attacks by standing near his easel and creating new works'. Sarian went on creating until the last days of his life. In 1969, an expression of a new, cosmic vision of the world could be observed in Sarian's paintings (a response to the first flights to space). The stylistics of his works modified. ‘The Earth’ and ‘Fairy Tale’ convey the perception of the infinity of the Universe. 'The conquest of technical progress has stunned so many people that they even started speaking about art dying out', said Sarian. 'Well, I think art is in demand nowadays as never before. What else, if not art, is able to humanize and make all the outstanding discoveries of science and technology more conceivable to people' (“Sarian about Art”, p.43).
In 1971-1972 Sarian created a series of felt-tip drawings in which the artist's return to the harmonious melodies of his early series 'Fairy Tales and Dreams' is evident. Still, these drawings are different due to some meditative immersion in the images of Armenian nature, which were in the heart and memory of the artist. The final drawing is dated by the Master 04 - 04 -72, which was a month prior to his death.
Martiros Sarian passed away at the age of 92, on May 5 in 1972.
Martiros Sarian's gravestone in Komitas pantheon.
The author - architect Jim Torosian