Aleksei Mikhailovich Gritsai

Aleksei Mikhailovich Gritsai

1914 —1998
  • The laureate of two Stalin Prizes (1951 and 1952)
  • The laureate of the USSR State Prize (1978)
  • People's Artist of the USSR (1974)
  • Academician of the USSR Academy of Arts (1964)
Aleksei Gritsai is a People's Artist of the USSR and is best known for his unique, incredible landscapes. Gritsai has pursued significant reforms in the art and culture of the mid-1950s in the Soviet Union and reflected these changes in his work. At some point of his career, the artist has rejected monumental compositions, carefully thought-out plots, totalitarian propaganda, formulas of Socialist Realism and false sentimental themes in favour of contemplation of the nature and comprehension of the world through poetic motives of the Russian landscape. Unpretentious, pure, straightforward artist's studies of nature have attained no less importance than his 'finished' landscapes. Gritsai studies for his paintings are distinguished by certain emotionality and intensity, because, as the artist himself said, they are 'small-scale works written in dialogue with nature'. For Gritsai these studies meant much more than just an instrument to capture colour combinations or composition, they had to be imbued with meaning and content.

The artist was born on March 7, 1914, in St. Petersburg in the family of a teacher of mathematics. Unfortunately, the boy became an orphan when his father, who served in the Red Army, died in 1917. At the age of five, he was sent from the city to the village Dyundino, in the Smolensk region, where he spent four years. The artist had recalled that when he got to the village, it was spring, and he saw a buttercup in the grass and was engulfed in an extraordinary excitement. During this short period, the future artist had formed the most valuable childhood memories of the world surrounding him, which has influenced his artworks much later. The first impressions of the charming mid-season period, which so often appears in the artist's works, and acquaintance with blooming trees, thick forests, endless fields, and the boundless sky has occurred in the village at that time.

Starting from 1924 and up to 1931, Gritsai was visiting the art studio in Leningrad to prepare himself for the Academy of Arts. There, the young artist received his first introduction to drawing and painting from the sculptor Robert Bach and artist Robert Zaleman, masters of the old Imperial Academy. By the time of admission to the Academy of Arts in 1932, Gritsai has already formed a confident artistic manner following the classical traditions. Gritsai has made a favourable impression on the Selection Committee with his careful, a bit naïve, but very realistic drawings. During the second year of his training, the artist was sent to the studio of an intellectual, V. Yakovlev, who helped Gritsai to acquire a strong base of academic drawing and introduced him to the art of the old masters. Then, the artist was trained in the studio of I. Brodsky, whose works were exemplary models of grand, monumental painting. However, Gritsai's own particular style and artistic path did not assimilate this tendency deeply. The artist has recalled with a great sense of gratitude his teachers and their mentorship, although he later has found his niche in a completely different area. Gritsai began to participate in exhibitions in 1938.

Soon after graduating from the Academy in 1939, Gritsai went to serve in artillery in 1940. All through the Great Patriotic War, the artist had no opportunity to engage in professional painting. For his military service and achievements, Gritsai was awarded the Order of Patriotic War (II degree). After his return from the war, the artist focused on genre painting and portraits. He was awarded the Stalin prize. While still very young, studying at the Academy, the artist craved to make a trip to the Volga and its surrounding picturesque places. Finally, in the 1940s and 1950s, he managed to visit those scenic locations from the paintings by the great artist Levitan, such as Ples, Zhiguli, Uglich. Deeply inspired by nature, Gritsai created paintings filled with a sense of harmony and peace. The artist has attached great importance to the ability to create using the imagination, listening to the inner voice, and not just by copying nature. In addition to Levitan, he listed among the artists that he greatly admired, those of the old school, such as Savrasov and Shishkin. Working in the landscape genre, Gritsai tried to convey not only the motive but also feelings which this motive subconsciously had caused. For this reason, the artist always tried to finish his studies in one hour, regardless of their size, as he worked in the wild, under the influence of the moment. His paintings, on the contrary, could be works in process for many years. Perhaps this 'the spur of the moment' attitude explains Gritsai's strong fondness for transitional conditions in nature. The artist has spent a lot effort on painting the images of autumn and spring, dusks and dawns. He was fascinated by the transience of all the most beautiful things that surrounded him. Often, to convey the real feeling in the picture, the artist had to spend a long period of time in a particular place in search of unity with nature. As he himself stated: 'I have to get used to the area. To live there for a long time so I can feel it. Otherwise, you look at the environment with the eyes of a tourist'.

Gritsai's fame came with his participation in the major exhibitions, including the international ones, in the second half of the 1940s. Art critics and his fellow colleges could not ignore his landscapes. Konstantin Yuon, a remarkable Russian artist, wrote about the works of Gritsai in 1948: 'He has an undoubted sense of nature. Lyrical motifs are especially evident in his works.' Since 1948, Gritsai has led teaching activities at the Surikov Moscow Art Institute and run creative workshops of the Academy as well as worked with young artists serving as a member of the Commission at the Academy of Arts. Gritsai's reputation and influence among the new generations of artists were undeniable, and his professionalism and determination have raised a lot of masters of painting. The artist's works are now exhibited at the State Tretyakov Gallery, Russian Museum, and other art museums in Russia. Gritsay died on may 6, 1998 in Moscow.

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