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).
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
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
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
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
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