“Z” - Ketevan Kintsurashvili’s ART LINE

DAVID KAKABADZE

(1889-1952)

A GREAT GEORGIAN MODERNIST


Georgian Origins


The Georgian Entrepreneurs’ Union conferred a scholarship to David Kakabadze and in 1910 he went to St. Petersburg to continue his studies. As it turned out he was not duly prepared to enter the Academy of Arts. He did not withstand the competition but lost no time – he submitted his documents to the Natural Sciences Department of the University. He definitely did not betray beaux-arts. In parallel with studying at the University he entered in the same year the Dmitriev-Kavkazsky private art studio.

The period of studying in St. Petersburg coincided with the hardest cataclysms of world history. It was a city where an epoch of great demolition and changes was being fermented. But David Kakabadze would never walk off the chosen path. He kept on studying and working.


Dmitriev-Kavkazskiy with his students (David standing ninth from left). Circa 1915.


David in Kutaisi. 1908.

The artistic life of St. Petersburg had played a decisive role in his formation as an artist. Here he acquired academic basics of drawing. Here he learned about Symbolism, Art Nouveau. In his earlier works the influence of all styles is felt. But he would tirelessly search for his own style, meaning social at the same time, as he wished to get to the mystery, which would be instrumental in expressing his native, Georgian.

At that time the new Georgian art was only at an embryonic stage. In Georgia, which, due to historic conditions, remained for a long time within mediaeval frame, easel painting did not evolve till the end of the 18th century. But then only portraits were created, on which there was a social demand, and they were painted by visiting artists from abroad. The evolvement of Tbilisi portrait from the beginning of the 19th century, now with the participation of local masters, was of its own accord a progressive, but local phenomenon.


D. Kakabadze. Sketch of hands. 1909.

The country had no access to the trends of artistic development. It was far behind the time. From the end of the 19th century there appeared in Georgia the artists, who had received education in Europe and Russia. Their return to homeland was very important for the development of easel painting, but they did not advance the idea of national form. Besides, their art was based on academic principles, mainly Russian realistic school, and was very far from modernist pursuits. Even the signs of impressionism emerged with great delay. Moreover, all that, in conditions of non-availability of artistic-educational centres (with the exception of several private studios), was unknown even to David Kakabadze. He went to study in Russia, totally unaware of the above tendencies. Instead, he learned from Georgian repoussé icons, to which he, already a student, even dedicated a work; from Persian miniature, which had a great influence on late mediaeval Georgian art, from mediaeval Georgian architecture and frescos, copies of which he used to make, and also from Georgian nature. He searched for the means of expressing the sensation of genuine Georgian (seen with his eyes and borne in his heart)!..


D. Kakabadze. Self-Portrait by the Mirror. 1913.

Russia of that time was one of the centres of avant-garde art. Even Philippo Tomazo Marinetti, the founder of Futurism, came to Petersburg. The traditions of “Mir Iskusstva” (World of Art) seemed outdated to young artists, who were in constant search of new ways. New associations were created, among them the most popular was “Soyuz Molodjozhi” (1909-1914). Then-a-days Moscow also boasted of active artistic movement. Thanks to Schukin’s and Morozov’s collections Impressionism, Fauvism, Cubism were in the area of vision of young people, which was very important. They could discuss those trends, learn from and even oppose them. All the above stated contributed to the emergence of many noticeable names or trends.

Modernism was born and evolved in great metropolises. It could not have spread without the interchange of information, as it is neither trend, nor style. It is an epoch-making thinking, the form of expressing one’s attitude towards the epoch.

Having newly arrived in Petersburg Kakabadze spent his free time in the Hermitage, making copies of old masters’ canvasses. He examined thoroughly and learned. He himself mainly painted portraits. In Georgia he also created landscapes, but the influence of Russian painting is felt even in their colouring.


In autumn 1911 on the Vasiljev Ostrov a Tbilisi native Kirile Zdanevich (1892-1969), Georgian on mother’s and Pole on father’s side, then the student of St. Petersburg Academy of Arts, met Lev Dmitriev-Kavkazsky (1849-1916) – a famous artist and collector, David Kakabadze’s teacher. Because of his love for Caucasus he added a pseudonym to his last name – Kavkazsky. His studio was one of the most famous among artistic studios of Petersburg. During conversation the old artist told Kirile that in his studio there studied a talented Georgian student, whose last name was Kakabadze and he invited Kirile to meet his compatriot. On the following day Kirile went to the studio to see David. After the lesson he took his newly acquired friend to his small apartment, where they had a long conversation. Kirile and his brother – Ilya were at that time infatuated by avant-gardist painting, which appeared to be unknown to David. Kirile invited David to Le Dentue – a young Russian artist of French origin, expelled from St. Petersburg Academy of Arts due to his “leftist” ideas. On Sunday David, Kirile and Ilya went to visit Mikhail Le Dentue. In the course of conversation David defended realistic academic principles, while his new friends told him in excitement about modern art. David viewed with interest Le Dentue’s cubo-futuristic canvasses.


D. Kakabadze. Sketch for Cubist Self-Portrait. 1914.

From historic viewpoint the most important thing, the St. Petersburg of 1910 gave to the world avant-garde art, was Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism, while the latter had organically grown from his own offspring - Cubo-Futurism. In Cubo-Futurism the elements of Cubism and Futurism were intermingled. Le Dentue was an adherent of this style and talked enthusiastically about it. David defended the principles of academic school. But, as it seems, it was after that meeting that there appeared in his sketch-book two sketches, which served as a basis for his cubist self-portrait (1914). David Kakabadze managed to keep up with the new quests.

 


D. Kakabadze. Cubist Self-Portrait. 1914.

In 1913, in the Zdanevichs’ and Le Dentue’s circle Kakabadze saw Niko Pirosmani’s works for the first time, which was the fact of pivotal importance. David Kakabadze found that Georgian which he had been single-mindedly looking for. Here a foundation was also laid for the Georgian (or Tifliss) modernism, which did not live long.

Niko Pirosmani (1862-1918) created his works independently. He based his works on what he saw and, in addition, followed his intuition. Unwittingly he became a precursor of Georgian modernism. What was the reason of it, besides high artistic value of his works?


Pirosmani was discovered in 1912 by the Zdanevich brothers and Le Dentue. Till that time he was known only to the clients and people, who visited samikitnos, dukans (pubs) and shops, in which his works were exhibited to attract buyers. The three students with avant-gardist ideas, who arrived in Tbilisi from Petersburg on holiday, placed Pirosmani in the centre of artistic society. And not only in Georgia. He received more appreciation in Russia, where before long his works were displayed at the “ Mishen’ ” (Target) exhibition. At that time a Neo-Primitivism trend evolved in Russia. Larionov, Goncharova and other progressively thinking young artists, who at the beginning of their careers applied western tendencies in their art, now got interested in local traditions and derived inspiration from samples of popular art. Pirosmani was perceived within this neo-primitivist thinking and in addition he drew attention by the quality of his creative work. This neo-primitivistic tendency reflected the same modernist thinking. The inspiration for formalist thinking, originated in the centers of civilization, ensued from popular traditions, not tainted by civilization and education. Pirosmani’s primitive creative work was in perfect harmony with all this. This is where genuine Georgian origin, sought by Kakabadze, was concentrated.


D. Kakabadze. Self-Portrait with Pomegranates. 1913.

In the same 1913 he created his “Self-Portrait with Pomegranates”, the colouring of which clearly reveals the author’s national descent. This is a property, particularly difficult to express in words, but easily viewed with eyes. This is the origin, which drew special attention of foreign critics during evaluation of Kakabadze’s abstractions.

In the “Self-Portrait with Pomegranates” of great importance is the role, played by the black (as in the case of Pirosmani) and the green’s tonal multicolour (the trousers are green too). As Gr. Robakidze remarks on colouring in Kakabadze’s works: “David Kakabadze has his colour. This means much. The inimitable green of Imereti, obscured in turquoise leaves – this is his inseparable colour. In his pictures this colour prevails” (P. Margvelashvili, “From David Kakabadze’s Archive”, Tbilisi, 1988, p. 11).

 
 


D. Kakabadze. Imeretian Still-Life. 1918.

 

David Kakabadze graduated from Petrograd University with the diploma of a biologist. He returned to Georgia in 1918 and at the exhibition, organized in the following year by the Georgian Artists’ Society and held at the nowadays “Blue Gallery”, presented his fundamental canvasses. At present these works are the treasury of Georgian art. With these canvasses David Kakabadze, side by side with several other Georgian artists, laid foundation for the new Georgian art and is its greatest representative.

 

These works are: “Imereti – My Mother”, “Imeretian still life”, Imereti landscapes. It was due to David Kakabadze and some representatives of his generation that the genres of landscape and still life had evolved in Georgia, while “Imereti - My Mother” is an epic picture, in which Kakabadze intermingled these two genres and generalized the idea of Georgia. By their content these symbolic works fully correspond to the beliefs and pursuits of Georgia of those times. From the viewpoint of form all David Kakabadze’s knowledge and experience, he possesed by then, are combined in them.
 


D. Kakabadze. Imeretia My Mother. 1918.


D. Kakabadze. Imeretia. Red Road. 1918.


In these pictures the artist presents himself as a truly popular artist, highly professional, a classicist and modernist at one and the same time. All the details in his compositions are thoroughly thought out and balanced with one another. Nothing is erratic. But inner rhythm, pulsation are very strong. In these works the heart is beating of a man, deeply in love with motherland and creation, the heart of a great thinker.