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Gorodets Painting
September 15, 2009 20:15

Gorodets painting is one of the most famous folk arts and crafts of Russia, and a vivid phenomenon of the so-called naïve art. Bright and laconic Gorodets painting (genre scenes, figurines of horses, roosters, and flower patterns) performed with free strokes of paint brush, with white and black graphic outlining, decorated distaffs, furniture, doors and shutters. Though Gorodets masters did not follow the laws of perspective and their designs were flat, painting always turned to be stunningly light and transparent. It is saturated with rich colours of Russian summer with its motley grass, and lit with bright noon sunlight, pouring on luxurious garlands of flowers and fanciful birds.

Gorodets painting sprang from carved Gorodets distaffs that were manufactured in villages nearby Gorodets town in the Nizhni Novgorod Region. Initially Gorodets craftsmen used the incrustation technique to ornament the distaffs: they carved figures out of a different species of wood and inserted them into a hollow of a corresponding shape.

Horsemen, soldiers, ladies and gentlemen, and dogs – these were the images of the unique style and technique of carved Gorodets distaffs. The inserted figures of fumed oak were surrounded with additional carved motifs of tree stems and branches, and birds sitting on them. Compositions with these traditional motifs are still present in Gorodets painting, but the most important is the Horse, embodying the notion of power and beauty.

The mid 19th century saw the transition from incrustation to painting of distaffs. That process started with undecolouring of carved distaffs.

Painting, being a less restrained technique, enabled masters to create new plots and taught the beauty of free painting stroke. Within the span of 50 years Gorodets painting took its shape, with its peculiar style and designs of large and laconic colour patches. Besides distaffs, Gorodets artists painted baby carriages and chairs, and bast boxes for keeping yarn hanks.

Nowadays Gorodets craftsmen have switched to oils and expanded the palette, and do not paint distaffs any more, but they keep up the traditional technology and use similar imagery and motifs in their works. These are decorative panels, caskets, boxes, various sets of kitchen stuff, such as hardboards, bread bins, saltcellars, etc., as well as children furniture and toys, including the most popular painted rocking horse.

Genre scenes give the main impression in the painting. Among the most popular themes there is merrymaking, tea drinking, the famous Gorodets horse with a horseman, and folk festivities. All these pictures are symbolical in character, utterly free and decorative in form, sometimes bordering on caricature.

Alongside with genre realistic motifs Gorodets painting is inhabited with idealized decorative images of birds and animals. These can be exotic lions and leopards, and the especially favoured ones: a powerful horse or a rooster in a proud, bellicose pose. Most often these are pair images, facing each other in heraldic manner. Gorodets artists are fond of flowers; the latter are scattered in jolly garlands and bouquets. Decorativeness of motifs is emphasized with the decorative colours and techniques. The most favourite backgrounds are bright green or intensive red, deep dark blue, and sometimes black, against which the multicolored Gorodets palette looks especially rich. Whitened paints give rich tints of colour gradations. Painting is performed with free strokes of brush, without any preliminary marking. The painting technique varies from a broad dab to a thinnest line and a virtuoso stroke.

In spite of the periods of decay of Russian arts and crafts in the early 20th century (World War I) and the transitory period of the late 20th century, the art of Gorodets painting has survived. The factory “Gorodets Painting” existing from 1965 has an experimental laboratory, where new genre compositions are devised. The themes are changing, with appearance of unusual motifs, including architectural ones. Along with preserving the artistic tradition and stylistic, dating to the 19th century, modern Gorodets painting keeps developing.

In 1995 the factory established an icon-painting workshop, reviving the icon-painting technology of the 14-15th cc with adherence to all church canons.

Gorodets masters also keep up tradition of solid Gorodets carving, which nowadays has found a use for heraldic works, carved icons and unique authors’ works of art.


Tags: Russian Arts and Crafts Russian Miniature Painting Gorodets Nizhni Novgorod Region  

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