Arkady Alexandrovich Plastov
- Laureate of the Lenin prize (1966)
- Laureate of the Stalin prize of the first degree (1946)
- State prize of the RSFSR named after I. E. Repin (1972)
- Academician of the USSR Academy of Arts (1947)
- People's artist of the USSR (1962)
Arkady Plastov is a prominent realist artist, a recognised classic of Soviet painting, a master of intense, colourful paintings, permeated with a joyful perception of life. Even during the artist's life, reproductions of his paintings have begun to be included in school textbooks and anthologies. The main themes in the genre paintings of Arkady Alexandrovich were peasant life and its peaceful labour against the background of Russian nature, the harmonious unity of man with his environment. Plastov's paintings are deep, sincere, emotional, and poetic. The artist painted only what he truly loved and considered important. Difficult life circumstances led to the problematic beginning of his creative path and its formation. He was not able to receive a professional artistic education at the early age. Arkady was born 31 January 1893, in the old Russian village of Prislonikha (now Korsunsky district of Ulyanovsk region), located about sixty kilometres from the town of Simbirsk in the family of a sexton of the village's church, Alexander Grigorievich Plastov, and a daughter of the rural physician, a descendant from the Russified Germans, Olga Ivanovna Lehman. The family of Plastov is very ancient: among the ancestors of the artist were priests, icon painters, teachers, hereditary honorary citizens. The artist himself described the years of his village childhood as "bliss that will never happen again". The house has always had many books, and one of the first drawings of little Arkady were attempts to copy illustrations from the books of Pushkin and Tolstoy. His parents insisted that young Arkady follow the path of a priest and after three years of rural school, at the age of ten, he entered the Simbirsk theological school. The future artist has spent five years in the walls of the boarding school. This time he has recalled with dreary horror: "The harsh and deadly dull regime, complete isolation from the outside world. We had to pray twenty times a day on command. There was unbridled cruelty of fourth-graders in relation to the juniors. A horde consisting of 250 people left to themselves without a shadow of any leadership from the wardens and teachers".
His first watercolour drawings copies of postcards and icons, Arkady showed to one of the wardens and also an amateur artist in the school. The turning point in the decision to become an artist was the work of icon painters who were invited to refresh the walls of the Church, where the father of Arkady has served. The boy has perceived the work of these icon painters with the greatest awe and admiration and was fascinated by the entourage: cans of paint, the smell of linseed oil, the palette with multi-coloured brushes. From that moment on, he decided to become an artist. Starting to study in Simbirsk theological Seminary in 1908, Plastov has got acquainted with the young teacher and artist D. I. Arkhangelsky. This meeting has become crucial for the young Arkady. The fate of Arkhangelsky was to some extent similar to the Plastov's path: he also studied at the Simbirsk theological school, then in the Seminary; however, he did not become a priest, but chose the path of art - was taking the painting course in St. Petersburg at the Academy of Arts and has passed the exam in order to be a teacher. Plastov has spoken about his first and such important teacher: "For me, everything in his personality, in the method of teaching was unusually new and has captured me entirely. After his lessons, all other subjects seemed to me very grey and useless. I was singled out by him from the very first lesson. From him, I first learned about the Wanderers, the world of art, the Tretyakov gallery. The wonderful world of beauty was rapidly unfolding in front of me". The artist also recalled that when he had just started to get acquainted with the great art, he was especially delighted with the works of Vasnetsov, Nesterov, Surikov and Repin.
The time in the Seminary was fruitful and joyful for young Arkady. In addition to theology, other disciplines that were studied in the Seminary, were extremely diverse and intellectual: philosophy, history, literature, Greek, French, and Latin. The heart and soul of Plastov were desperately craving to go to Moscow. As the artist himself put it, he was "raving about it" so much, that in 1912, the patrons and friends of a gifted young man decided to send him to receive an art education in the capital, providing a monthly stipend for accommodation, arranging for an apartment and sending to the studio of I. I. Mashkov to prepare for the competition in the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in two months. Unfortunately, Plastov did not succeed in entering the Faculty of Painting at the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture, and in an attempt not to disappoint his patrons, he has begun to visit the sculptural studio of the Moscow State Stroganov Academy of Industrial and Applied Arts as an external student. Thus, the rest of 1912 and the whole 1913, Arkady Aleksandrovich spent in wood and ivory carving, bronze casting, copying from wax, drawing ornaments of different styles. This time was not lost, because Plastov was acquiring professional skills and has developed as a creator, as well as, communicated with various artists. One of these artists, a famous theatre artist and teacher of composition, F. F. Fedorovsky, has made a great impression on Arkady Alexandrovich. Plastov has remembered: "For me, he was a real artist. Thanks to him, I lived in some kind of eternally excited obsession, and nothing but art did not own my soul with such irresistible force".
In 1914, Plastov finally entered the School of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture in the Department of Sculpture, which was headed, according to Plastov, by a "kind and pleasant" person, S. M. Volonukhin. Painting was not relegated to second place in the life of Arkady Aleksandrovich because he continued to pay attention to it as often as he could, but under the influence of his passion for the masters of the Renaissance, the artist decided that "it would be nice to study sculpture along with painting so in the future I would have a clear idea of the form". Despite his education, sculptural works in Plastov's oeuvre are limited in number: he has done some sculptural projects in Simbirsk, created in the 1920s, a small number of portraits of loved ones, and fantastic compositions made from the roots of trees that decorated the artist's studio. Arkady Aleksandrovich particularly singled out L. Pasternak, A. Vasnetsov, A. Arkhipov, A. Stepanov as his mentors, those who influenced the development and formation of his artistic vision. Exhibitions and museums, disputes about art, the artistic environment - Plastov eagerly absorbed everything that happened around, in the colourful, bustling cultural life of Moscow's pre-revolutionary years.
In 1917, at the end of the third year, in response to the revolutionary events, Arkady Aleksandrovich had to return to his native village, and the connection with the capital was lost. For many years, the artist devoted himself to the ordinary work in the farm: he ploughed, sowed, mowed on the land, which the state had given to him. He also has taken an active civil position, being in the thick of events of local life: Plastov was a member and Secretary of the village Council, worked in the Committee of the poor and helped in the organisation of assistance to the hungry. Only in 1925, the artist had the opportunity to visit Moscow, where he went during the winter to attend exhibitions and museums. In 1931, he joined the collective farm (Kolkhoz). Every moment of his free time, Plastov continued to devote to painting: he studied nature and carefully watched the world around him, painted sketches, hoping that someday he could use all this material and realise his creative plans. Unfortunately, the fire, which broke out in 1932, destroyed not only half of the village, but also all the massive number of drawings and paintings by Arkady Aleksandrovich that he had accumulated over fifteen years. This tragic moment prompted Plastov to devote himself to painting entirely. His first paintings, "Sheep Shearing", "Haymaking", "The stables at the Kolkhoz", were shown at the exhibition in 1935. Since then, Arkady Aleksandrovich has regularly exhibited genre paintings on the theme of the Soviet village, not only in his homeland but also in New York, Venice, Brussels. In the 1940s, the artist created works on the topic of the World War II, celebrating the patriotic labour of women, elderly and children on the collective farms in a difficult time, and also, portrayed the post-war upturn. Since the late 1940s and early 1950s, Plastov has worked on the creation of illustrations for classical literature, such as "The Frost, Red Nose" by N. A. Nekrasov (1948), "The Captain's Daughter" by A. S. Pushkin (1948 - 1949), works by L. N. Tolstoy (1953) and the stories of A. P. Chekhov (1954). He also created illustrations in the form of watercolours for children's literature.
The artist has gained wide recognition and was awarded numerous titles and medals: the medal "for valiant work in the Great Patriotic war of 1941-1945" and the title of honoured artist of the RSFSR in 1945, the State Prize of the USSR in 1946, the title of full member of the Academy of Arts of the USSR in 1947, the gold medal of the Ministry of culture of the USSR in 1958, the honorary title of People's Artist of the USSR in 1962, the order of Lenin in 1963, the medal of the Indian Society of Arts in Calcutta in 1964, the second order of Lenin in 1971. In 1964, a personal exhibition of Arkady Plastov took place in Bulgaria. In 1968-1972 Arkady Aleksandrovich served as Secretary of the Board of the Union of artists of the USSR. Plastov died on May 12, 1972, in his native village of Prislonikha. The state prize of the RSFSR named after I. E. Repin was awarded posthumously to him in 1972. The artist's works are often exhibited at major exhibitions in the State Tretyakov Gallery, the State Russian Museum and many other major museums in the country.
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